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The Carolingian World: Europe in the Early Middle Ages (c. 500-1000)
SEE PAGES 160-166!
The Frankish Kingdom (France or Roman Gaul) was established in the 500s AD when
Roman soldiers were called from all parts of the empire back to the city of Rome to
defend it from barbarians. When Roman soldiers left Gaul, the Franks (the native people
of Gaul) seized the Roman fort of Paris and held control of Gaul. The first king of Gaul
after Roman withdrawal was Clovis. The former Roman province of Gaul becomes
France in the 500s.
Clovis (r. 481-511) unified & Christianized the Franks. This tribal chieftain of the Franks
named his heirs as his successors. They were called the Merovingian Dynasty. Clovis
was the first king of France.
The heirs of Clovis, the Merovingian Dynasty, are called the “Do Nothing Kings” by
From their capital at Paris, the Merovingian Kings who succeeded Clovis desired the
power that came with kingship but disliked all the work. Therefore, they set up a
governmental system that required them to do nothing but hold the title, “king.” That
system looked like this:
Mayor of Palace
Scribes, accountants, lawyers
The Mayor of the Palace, like kingship, was passed from father to son. In France from
511 to 751, the mayor of the palace performed all the king’s duties. He was aided by
scribes (book keepers), accountants (tax collectors), and lawyers (law makers and
enforcers.) Dukes and counts were landowning Franks who served the mayor of the
palace in whatever capacity was needed.
Charles Martel reigned as the mayor of the palace from 714-741. He drove the Muslims
out of France at the Battle of Tours in 731 and was given the name, “hammer”, for his
pounding of the Muslim enemy at this battle. Many Franks called for Martel to overthrow
the king for whom he worked. Martel refused. His son succeeded him as mayor of palace.
Pippin III (r. 751-768) “the short” succeed his father, Charles Martel. Pippin was
extremely ambitious and wanted to be king of the Franks (France). He asked the pope,
Zacharias, for advice. Pope Zacharias sent Pippin a letter which stated, “He who holds
the power, should have the title.” Pippin took this as papal permission to rebel against the
Do Nothing Kings. He revolted, drove out the last Merovingian king, and became King
Pippin III of France. Pope Stephen, successor to Pope Zacharias, asked for Pippin’s aid
against a barbarian group who controlled Rome at the time. These barbarians were called
Lombards. Pippin defeated them and donated Rome and its surrounding areas to the
Pope. This is known as the Donation of Pepin.” Pippin died and left France to his son,
Charles the Great or “Charlemagne”
Charlemagne, (r. 768-814) as the king of France, fought 54 military campaigns and added
to France the following areas: Saxony, Bavaria, Spanish March, etc. SEE MAP ON
PAGE 163. His campaigns took him into Rome in the year 800. While attending a mass
to honor Christ’s birthday, Charlemagne was crowned “King of the Romans” on 12-25800. Pope Leo III was acknowledging that Charlemagne was the most powerful political
figure in all of Europe. He and Charlemagne had an uneasy alliance; Charlemagne was
recognized as the political leader of all of Europe and the Pope was recognized as
Europe’s religious leader. This alliance shows a break from the Byzantine Empire; popes
would no longer take orders from the Eastern Roman Emperors. Europe breaks from
Byzantine control. Charlemagne’s empire is commonly called Christendom, a term
which indicates both political and religious unity for Europe.
Charlemagne relied on the Frankish counts to help him administer his vast territory and to
ensure their loyalty he used spies called, “missi dominici,” or messengers of the lord
Charlemagne was illiterate but he appreciated smart people. He recruited bright people
from all over Europe and brought them to his palace, Aachen. Here he started a period
known as the Carolingian Renaissance. He encouraged these smart and educated people
to add lower case letters or miniscule to the Roman alphabet and to copy Classical
Literature (the works of Greeks and Romans). Since the printing press had not yet been
invented all books were hand copied. 90% of the Classical Literature we have today we
owe to Charlemagne.
Life in Christendom was dominated by the Church. In this period the Catholic Church,
stated that marriage was permanent and monogamous. Divorce was not allowed. They
believed that birth control was not necessary because sex was only for procreation and
that bathing was immoral. Medical practices were not as advanced as the Romans or
Greeks, superstitions were common and most people died before the age of 40.
Charlemagne’s empire did not last long after his death.
The disintegration of Christendom was due to the following factors:
1. Invasions: Three groups invaded Christendom.
Magyars from Eastern Europe, Vikings from Northern Europe, and Muslims from the
Middle East.
2. Louis the Pious (r. 814-840) who succeeded his father was disinterested in kingship.
Louis’ three sons fought for control of the empire but none was powerful enough to gain
the whole empire.
3. Treaty of Verdun 843
Charlemagne’s empire was divided into 3 parts in 843 among his grandsons. This is the
birth of Europe as we know it today. Lothar gained the Netherlands, Belgium,
Switzerland, Alsace and Loraine and Italy. Charles gained France and Louis got