A map shows the empire of Charlemagne, from 768 to 843.
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Charlemagne built an empire his descendants could not hold together.


Charlemagne's empire in 814.

Predict Consequences

What might be one result of the division of his empire? Explain.

Charlemagne Builds an Empire

In 768, the grandson of Charles Martel became king of the Franks. He built an empire reaching across what is now France, Germany, and part of Italy. The founder of this empire became known as Charlemagne (SHAHR luh mayn), or Charles the Great.

Charlemagne spent much of his 46-year reign fighting Muslims in Spain, Saxons in the north, Avars and Slavs in the east, and Lombards in Italy. Charlemagne loved battle and was a successful conqueror who reunited much of the old Roman empire in Europe.

Emperor of the Romans

In 799, Pope Leo III asked Charlemagne for help against rebellious nobles in Rome. Charlemagne aided the pope against his attackers. On Christmas Day in the year 800, the pope showed his gratitude by placing a crown on Charlemagne's head and proclaiming him Emperor of the Romans.

This ceremony would have enormous significance. A Christian pope had crowned a Germanic king successor to the Roman emperors. In doing so, Pope Leo III revived the ideal of a united Christian community, which came to be called Christendom.

The pope's action also outraged the eastern Roman emperor in Constantinople. The Byzantine emperor saw himself as the sole Roman ruler. In the long run, the crowning of Charlemagne would deepen an already growing split between the eastern and western Christian worlds. Perhaps even more important, the crowning sowed the seeds for a long and desperate power struggle between later popes and Germanic emperors.

Creating a Unified Christian Empire

Charlemagne set out to exercise control over his lands and create a united Christian Europe. Many of his subjects were pagans, as non-Christians were called. Charlemagne worked closely with the Church to spread Christianity to the conquered peoples on the fringes of his empire. During his reign, missionaries won converts among the Saxons and Slavs.

Like other Germanic kings, Charlemagne appointed powerful nobles to rule local regions. He gave them land so they could offer support and supply soldiers for his armies. To keep control of these provincial rulers, he sent out officials called missi dominici (MIH see daw mih NEE chee) to check on roads, listen to grievances, and see that justice was done. Charlemagne instructed the missi to “administer the law fully and justly in the case of the holy churches of God and of the poor, of wards and of widows, and of the whole people.”

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments