The Legacy of Charlemagne


In 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne, the eldest son of Pepin the Short. This date represents the beginning of a flourishing era of Frankish legislation and the general rise of scientific thought in medieval Europe. The king’s possessions covered a large part of modern France, Belgium, a significant part of the territory of the Netherlands, and Germany. In modern Europe, Charlemagne is considered one of the forerunners of European integration, and many historians argue that Charlemagne was a great emperor. In general, the expansion of Franks’ territory, cultural revitalization of the West, the improvement of social and military policy, and the personal traits proved the significant contribution to the status of Charles I as a great ruler.

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The Personality of Charlemagne

No doubt, the personality of Charles I was one of the key factors of his success. To start from one should state that he was moderate in his habits. On ordinary days, his outfit did not differ from the clothes of a commoner. Besides, he hated drunkenness and led a quiet social life. At the same time, every aspect of the political, economical and social life of the empire was under the attention of the king. His decrees were connected to the variety of issues starting from the management of monasteries to the social problems of the peasantry. Charlemagne worked out the provisions relating to these and hundreds of other secular, religious, political, social, and legal aspects. Furthermore, despite the fact that he was a barbarian warrior, he had a keen mind and a talent for science and attended lectures on grammar and the subjects he was interested in.  Finally, he was a true warrior, with great military achievements which meant that most of his life was not spent in the palaces but rather on the battlefields. Therefore, the way of his life and his attitude to all the problems confirm his greatness as ruler.

The Military Legacy of Charlemagne

The numerous conquests of Charlemagne were the basis of his achievements as a king. Speaking about the military developments, Charles created a regular army consisting of vassals with its charter and binding set of weapons, and also set up a large naval fleet. Wars started by Charles I were aimed at the expansion of the Christian world. In total, during his reign, the Franks organized 53 campaigns, and the king led 27 of them. For instance, in 773 and 774, at the invitation of Pope Hadrian I, Karl started the military campaign to Italy and defeated the Lombards. 

As a consequence of all the armed conflicts, the Frankish state doubled. The longest was a war with the Saxons in 772-804 which resulted in their Christianization and incorporation into the kingdom. The military campaigns in Spain against the Arabs in 778-810 led to the creation of the Marca Hispanica in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula. In 787-796, Charlemagne conquered the Avars’ territory that was situated on the territories of the present Austria and Hungary. The victory over these rich and powerful people who had terrorized the Byzantine Empire for several hundred years was one of the greatest achievements of Charles’ Empire. To continue, in the year 785, his army took control over Friesland, and in 789 and 812, Charlemagne conducted successful military campaigns against the Polabian Slavs. The strengthening of Christianity in the conquered lands, the construction of new monasteries, and temples in the image of the Byzantine Empire became the important accomplishments of all the mentioned above conquests.

The Social Legacy of Charles I

After all the military conflicts, Charlemagne was able to prepare rebirth of the Roman Empire as the area of the seized lands was ten times larger than the initial size of the country in which he once came to the throne. Moreover, the Emperor of the West built good diplomatic relations with all the neighboring states, which he could not or did not want to subdue. In the Imperial Palace in Aachen, he had audiences with numerous ambassadors and concluded profitable agreements. Furthermore, Charles marked the development of feudalism in his state. Charlemagne published the decree ordering every free man to find a lord under whom he had to serve, and such a policy increased the number of dependent peasants. Additionally, the Empire was divided into districts headed by appointed monarch from the local nobility with administrative and military authority. Naturally, the sovereign envoys controlled the activities conducted on these territories. Moreover, there were the congresses of the highest secular and ecclesiastical aristocracy on which Charles presented general decrees relating to all aspects of life including the church.

The Cultural Legacy of Charlemagne

Charlemagne was also famous as a patron of the arts and sciences. The cultural blossoming during his ruling was a true Renaissance initiated personally by the king. Charles I deliberately encouraged secular culture and invited philologists, architects, musicians, and astronomers from all the lands of the empire as well as Ireland and England. Under the guidance of the great Anglo-Saxon scholar Alcuin, he managed to revive the system of education, which received the name of the Carolingian Renaissance. In the courtyard, there was a famous Charles Frankish Academy, the scholar’s circle of historians, poets, who, in their works, revitalized the ancient Latin canons.

Besides, the influence of antiquity was apparent in great Carolingian art and architecture. However, the Frankish masters were seeking to surpass the ancient samples, and created their special architectural style. Furthermore, Charles I restored the study of classical Latin, encouraged the growth of poetry and also worked on correcting the Gospel texts Additionally, the ruler realized the great importance of the literacy spread among the people. As a result, Charlemagne opened new schools in monasteries and churches and controlled the education of the children and indigent people. Moreover, he introduced new Christian order with the focus on the significance of religious education in his empire.Under the general supervision of Alcuin, church schools became centers for the dissemination of common religious texts. Consequently, the cultural impulse of Charles I continued to be felt for a century after his death.

The Urban and Infrastructural Legacy of Charlemagne

Besides the conquests and cultural development, Charles contributed to infrastructural and urban development.. There were detailed and extensive regulations relating all the transformations There were policies aimed at the reconstruction and building of roads, bridges, palaces and churches, and the introduction of rational methods of agriculture. For instance,  a bridge over the Rhine at Mainz was constructed at that time. In addition, by order of Charles I, people drained swamps, cut down forests, built monasteries and towns. In 793, Charles began the construction of the Carolingian channel, which was supposed to connect the Rhine and the Danube, North Sea, and the Black Sea, but the structure remained unfinished. According to the decree of Charlemagne, people built the Palace and the Chapel in Aachen, and his contemporaries regarded the palace one of the wonders of the world. To sum up, the changes initiated by him with regard to the cities were among his fundamental achievements.


Charlemagne made a huge contribution to the development of the Franks’ state. He centralized power of Western Europe, united many nations, and became the founder of a new Roman Empire. Besides, he led victorious wars, captured new lands and expanded his empire in several times. Charles I implemented effective economic and agrarian reforms, raised the level of education and solved complex religious issues. He also initiated the Carolingian Renaissance, the cultural and intellectual revival in the West. The king held the power in his hands with regard to all aspects of public life and had the personal traits of the true leader. Therefore, the contribution of Charlemagne in the development of Frankish Kingdom confirms his greatness as a king.

May 27, 2020 in Informative
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