III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 1. Western Europe in the Early Middle Ages, 461–1000 > g. The Empire of Charlemagne and Its Disintegration
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 739)
g. The Empire of Charlemagne and Its Disintegration
Pepin the Short, who attempted to conciliate the Church by granting and restoring lands to it.  1
Pepin was elected king by the Frankish magnates. Both the house of Pepin and the papacy (in the process of securing independence from the emperor at Constantinople) needed each other's support. The immediate need of the popes was for protection against the expanding Lombard monarchy. Aistulf, king of the Lombards, had taken Ravenna (751), the seat of the exarch, besieged Rome, and exacted tribute.  2
Pope Stephen II arrived in Gaul, anointed Pepin, and by conferring the title Patricius Romanorum (which could legally come only from Constantinople), designated him in a sense regent and protector of Italy. The result was to give some authority to Pepin's new title as king of the Franks.  3
Pepin marched into Italy, defeated the Lombards, and required them to hand over the exarchate and Pentapolis to the pope. The Lombards failed to do so.  4
Pepin returned and, after defeating the Lombards again, made his famous Donation. The Donation of Pepin established the Franks, a distant, non-Italian power, as the allies and defenders of the papacy.  5
Pepin conquered Septimania, disciplined Aquitaine, and so brought effective Frankish rule to the Pyrenees. On his death his lands were given to his sons, Charles receiving Austrasia, Neustria, and northern Aquitaine; Carloman, southern Aquitaine, Burgundy, Provence, Septimania. The brothers ruled together, 768–71; Charles alone, 771–814.  6
Charles the Great (Charlemagne), a reign of the first magnitude in European history. Charles was well over six feet tall, a superb swimmer, with an athletic frame, large expressive eyes, and a merrydisposition. He understood Greek, spoke Latin, but did not learn to write. He preferred the Frankish dress. In general he continued the Frankish policies: (1) expansion of Frankish rule to include all the Germans was completed (omitting only Scandinavia and Britain); (2) a close understanding with the papacy; (3) support of Church reform (which settled the foundations of medieval Christian unity).  7
Already overlord of the Lombards, Charles married King Desiderius's daughter but soon repudiated her.  8
Charlemagne conquered Lombard Italy and became king of the Lombards, whose kingdom was absorbed into the Frankish Empire. Charlemagne also established his rule in Venetia, Istria, Dalmatia, and Corsica.  9
At Roncesvalles near Pamplona, on a pass in the western Pyrenees, the Basques destroyed the rear guard of Charlemagne's army as it was returning to France. The battle inspired the late 11th-century poem The Song of Roland, the most famous of the chansons de geste, or medieval epics. The poem celebrates Roland as the perfect chivalric knight and Charlemagne as the ideal Christian king. The poem was popular in French, Spanish, and Italian literature of the later Middle Ages; the values expressed are those of the 11th, not the 8th century.  10
Bavaria was incorporated; its duke, Tassilo, first made a vassal and then deposed.  11
Saxony, after a costly and bitter struggle of 30 years that involved 18 campaigns, was conquered, and Christianity was forcibly introduced despite stubborn pagan resistance. Foundation of the bishopric of Bremen (781).  12
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.