Charlemagne, who is also known as Charles the Great or St. Karl, was a medieval emperor ruling much of Western Europe from 768 to 814. In 771, he became king of the Franks, which is a Germanic tribe in present-day France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Western Germany. He embarked on a mission to get all Germanic peoples united into one kingdom to baptize all his subjects under Christianity, and he spent much of his reign engaging in warfare, with his great military strategy and skills, in order to accomplish his goals.
Pope Leo III crowned him emperor of the Romans in 800, after which Charlemagne then encouraged the Carolingian Renaissance—an intellectual and cultural revival in Europe. By the time he died in 814, his empire encompassed much of Western Europe and he ma de sure Christianity in the West would survive. Let us take a closer look at the accomplishments of this great historical figure.
1. He Was The First Of The Holy Roman Emperors.
This is probably the most obvious of Charlemagne’s accomplishments. The title of the Holy Roman Emperor was not used at the time, and instead, it was the Emperor of the Romans. His empire was comprised of what are today Switzerland, France, the western and much of the central part of Germany and much of the Low Countries. The Western Frankish Kingdom (France) split off, extending his empire through Eastern and Northern Europe later. As typical with a lot of medieval leaders, he was not a truly great general, but he was tenacious, tireless and wise planner. His strong personality traits had gained him the loyalty of competent secretaries and allies. In his lifetime, he commanded around 50 military campaigns.
2. He United All Germanic Peoples And Converted Them To Christianity.
Once he was crowned, Charlemagne had sought to unite all the Germanic peoples into one kingdom and to convert his subjects to Christianity. To realize this mission, he engaged in military campaigns. Then, he successfully conquered the Avars (Austria and Hungary), the Lombards (Northern Italy), Bavaria and other regions. He waged a bloody, 3-decade war against the Saxons, which was a Germanic tribe comprising pagan worshippers, and gained a reputation for ruthlessness from this campaign. At the Massacre of Verden in 782, Charlemagne reportedly ordered the killing of some 4,500 Saxons, and eventually forced this group of people to convert to Christianity, declaring that anyone who would not get baptized and follow Christian traditions be executed.
3. He Was a Successful Defender Of Christianity.
During his reign, Charlemagne was a zealous defender of Christianity, who gave land and money to the church and protected the popes. As a way to acknowledge his power and reinforce his relationship with the church, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne as a Holy Roman Emperor on the 25th of December in 800 at the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Also, his support to the church greatly strengthened Catholicism, helping it spread widely during his reign. In fact, the Carolingian Renaissance was the result of his support and patronage and proof of peace and prosperity in his time.
4. He Was a Great Leader.
As Roman emperor, Charlemagne proved to be an able administrator and talented diplomat of the vast empire he controlled. He encouraged the Carolingian Renaissance and promoted education, which encompassed a period of renewed emphasis on culture and scholarship. He also instituted religious and economic reforms. He was a driving force behind the Carolingian minuscule, which was a standardized form of writing that became a basis for printed alphabets in modern Europe later on. The emperor ruled from a number of palaces and cities, but he spent significant time in Aachen, where his palace included a school that recruited the best teachers in the region.
5. He Successfully Continued And Systematized The Administrative Machinery Of His Predecessors.
During his leadership, Charlemagne allowed conquered peoples to retain their own laws and issued several capitularies, which were gathered in the Monumenta Germaniae historica. One of his most noteworthy achievements was the creation of a system through which he supervised his administrators even from a great distance, with his missi dominici or personal representatives given power to regularly inspect their assigned districts. He also strove to educate the clergy and imposed direct control over the appointment of bishops, acting as arbiter in theological arguments by summoning councils. One notable event that is related to this was at Frankfurt in 794, where some of the decrees of the Second Council of Nicaea were condemned and adoptionism was rejected. Moreover, he entertained friendly relations with England and with Harun ar-Rashid, as well as stimulated foreign trade.
6. He Had Great Contributions To Providing Education To His People And Was a Great Patron Of The Arts.
During his reign, Charlemagne established the court at Aachen, which became the center of intellectual renaissance and filled with some of the best artists and thinkers of his time. Under the leadership of Alcuin, a scholar, poet, ecclesiastic and teacher from York, the palace school became so popular. Aside from these, numerous children’s schools that accept students of all classes were also established throughout his empire. Charlemagne’s initiatives aided the preservation of classical literature.
7. He Was Historically Influential On The Economic System Of Europe.
Charlemagne established the silver standard, which then became the major standard of European mints for the next 500 years. He also established a unified measurement system, with remnants that can still be seen today. During his time as emperor, commerce and trade flourished, with long-distance trade being revived in some regions, especially Frisia.
8. He Unified Much Of Western Europe.
Politically, he unified much of Western Europe and laid the foundation of modern Germany. He established a system of local administration, which had a great impact on the development of feudalism. Moreover, he codified laws, so judgments could be reached accordingly.
To end this article, let us add more bits of details about this great leader. Charlemagne was also called “The Horse Prince”, and some historians even credited him for the invention of the stirrup—a winning factor in calvary combat. Also, while he himself did not learn to read until the later part of his life, he ensured the first steps towards compulsory education. Today, Charlemagne is referred to by some people as the “Father of Europe”.