The First Carolingians
The later Merovingian kings were a sorry lot who were uninterested in
the details of governing. The office of Mayor of the Palace, whose initial duties were
mostly domestic, gradually grew in power to become the most influential figure at the
Frankish court. The mayors ruled the Franks in all essential points, and the Merovingians
were mere figureheads.
By the early 700s, this position had become hereditary in the house of Carolus
(Charles). The first Mayor of significance was Charles Martel, who is usually credited
with first raising the family to a position of prominence. He defeated a Muslim raiding
party near Poitiers in 732; since this battle (sometimes erroneously called the Battle of
Tours) marked the northernmost penetration of the Muslims into France, it has taken on a
symbolic significance. Charles did not stem an invasion, he simply defeated a small army.
But such victories helped establish him, rather than the king, as the leading power in the
Martel's son was named Pepin and he succeeded Charles as Mayor of
the Palace. Later in his rule, the reigning Merovingian king
being an incompetent drunkard, Pepin sent a letter to the Pope
asking for his support in deposing the king. The pope gave his
approval. Pepin was crowned king of the Franks by St.
Pepin united Gaul under his rule, for under the later
Merovingians large sections had become largely independent.
Pepin had two sons: Carolus and Carloman. When he died in 768,
Pepin divided the kingdom between the two, giving the larger
portion to Carloman even though Carolus (Charles) was the
The two brothers fought repeatedly, for Charles could not abide
Carloman receiving the better inheritance. Fortunately for
Charles and for the kingdom, Carloman died in 771, leaving
Charles the sole claimant to the title of King of the Franks.
Charles the King
We know a good deal about Charles the Great because we have two
biographies of him written by men who were close to him. The
more important of these is by Einhard.
Einhard describes Charles as being moderately tall (around six
feet tall) and powerfully built with a thick neck and deep chest.
He had the red hair and blue eyes of his tribe and was possessed
of both strength and stamina.
He was typical of the Franks in his love for hunting and for
feasting, but Einhard notes that his king drank in moderation--a
mere three cups of wine with a meal.
Charlemagne was an ambitious king, aggressive and ruthless, but
equally notable was his perseverance, his ability to carry
through on a plan. He was not a great general, but he was a
dogged campaigner and was often able to wear the enemy down
through sheer force. Indeed, one of his more important attributes
was his physical energy. Einhard notes that Charlemagne was able
to work longer and harder than his commanders or his
He was no intellectual, but he had a keen mind and appreciated
literature, which he had read to him by others. He was a patron
of scholars and brought many of them to his court.
All these accomplishments created a wide net of loyalty.
Charlemagne had admirers within the Church and among his
nobility. His enemies feared both him and his armies. He did not
command perfect obedience among his vassals, but none defied him
successfully or for long.
Charlemagne had one other virtue that is needed if a king is to
be called "Great" -- a long life. He ruled the Franks from 768 to
814, creating an empire that would be the envy and model for many
an ambitious monarch after him.
Three Aspects of Charlemagne's Rule
In the pages following, I will treat three different aspects to
Charles' rule: his conquests, his government, and the cultural
activity associated with his rule. Each is important in its own
right, each illuminates the man himself, and together they
illustrate the blending of the three great currents of the
medieval world: Christianity, the inheritance of the Roman
Empire, and the influence of the Germanic traditions.
I will then take up the coronation of Charles as Emperor of the
Romans in 800 AD. This event is a major event in the development
of Europe; it also serves as a summary and a symbol of those
three currents: imperium, ecclesia, and gentes.
The Lombards had moved into Italy in the later 500s, destroying
what was left of the Gothic kingdom and establishing their own.
They ruled northern Italy for the next two centuries, until
Charlemagne brought their rule to an end.
Charlemagne was married to the sister of the Lombard king. He was
not interested in maintaining the marriage, however, and while
still a young man he repudiated her and sent her away, claiming
the marriage was not valid.
This enraged the Lombard king,
Desiderius, who immediately began
conspiring to harm Charles however he might. To this end, he
plotted rebellion with some Frankish lords. When this plot was
discovered, Charles had all the excuse he needed to go to war.
Charles invaded Italy in 773. He defeated Desiderius at the
Battle of Pavia that same year, capturing the king himself, whom
he sent off to a monastery for safe-keeping. Charles proceeded
then to claim for himself the iron crown of the Lombards and with
this the Lombards fade into the background.
Remember this. Charles, king of the Franks, was now also king of
the Lombards and thus lord of northern Italy. Central Italy was
not his because Pepin had given it to the Pope. Southern Italy
was still in Greek or Moslem hands. But the Kingdom of Italy, as
it came to be known, was ruled by a northern prince. This is why
later German kings will claim to have rights and powers here.
The story of Saxony was quite different from that of Lombardy.
Saxony (which is today northwestern Germany and parts of the
Netherlands) was still ruled by the Saxons, who had remained
pagan. They were a semi-nomadic people who lived in part by
preying on farming communities and they were a sore thorn in
So, in 772, he decided that it was in the interests of both realm
and Church that he do something about the Saxons. He gathered an
army, marched into Saxony and defeated the army that was fielded
against him. He pushed forward as far as the Weser River,
receiving the submission of local chiefs. Then he went home
The next year he was pre-occupied by the business in Lombardy,
and the Saxon chiefs quickly ignored their oaths to receive
missionaries and to send tribute payments to the Christian
In 775, Charles again invaded Saxony and again defeated the army
that was sent against him. This time he scoured Saxony from one
end to the other, to make sure there were no chieftains left
undefeated. To make doubly certain of his new subjects, he forced
the chiefs to convert to Christianity.
This worked, for a while.
Conquests: Saxony, Part 2
When Charles was busy elsewhere, the Saxons rebelled again,
killing the Christian priests, rebuilding their pagan temples,
and refusing to pay the tribute money.
So, in 782, Charles returned again to the swamps and forests of
Saxony. Once again he devastated the land, defeated the armies,
converted the chiefs. The Saxon rebellion was more serious
because the Saxons were nominally Christians now and so were
guilty of apostasy, a crime that justified the use of any sort of
force against them. Thousands of Saxon warriors perished and
many villages were destroyed.
Again, Charles returned home, taking his army with him, leaving
priests behind. He was not gone long before the Saxons rebelled
yet again. This time, their leader is recorded: a war chief
named Widukind led the whole people in rebellion.
Back came Charlemagne, in 785. He defeated Widukind and so
thoroughly destroyed the Saxon army that further resistance was
impossible. Charles now embarked on a policy to eliminate the
Saxon threat forever.
Once again he imposed Christianity at sword point, but he went
much further. He founded monasteries and filled them with Franks.
He founded villages and filled those, too, with Frankish
peasants. He carved up Saxony into administrative units and gave
them to his nobles to rule.
Charles went further yet. He destroyed the pagan temples, of
course, as he had done before. He destroyed hundreds of Saxon
villages, as before. But now he actually removed the Saxon
peasants, resettling them into other lands. It was a Saxon
diaspora, a scattering of a people. The Saxons were destroyed as
a culture, and they would never again rebel.
Lombardy shows Charles in rivalry with another king. Saxony shows him at war with the
pagans. Bavaria is a case of war within the realm.
Bavaria was technically part of Charles' realm. The duke of Bavaria nominally owed
allegiance to the king of the Franks, but in reality the Bavarian dukes had long gone
their own way and obeyed no one. Charles determined to insist on his rights.
Not surprisingly, the duke disagreed with Charles' view of matters and a brief war
ensued. Charles won, and he divided Bavaria among his counts.
With victory in Bavaria came a new obligation, however. Bavaria had been serving as a
buffer between the Christians in the West and a fierce, pagan tribe of horsemen known as
the Avars. Since Charles now ruled Bavaria, the task of fighting the border wars with the
Avars fell to him.
He was completely successful in his role. In 791, Charles met virtually the entire Avar
nation in battle and so thoroughly defeated them that they virtually disappeared as a
tribe. Charles now had eliminated three whole peoples: the Lombards, the Saxons, and the
Avars. Little wonder that few Frankish nobles dared to risk rebellion.
The final area of conquest (that I will discuss here) was Spain, and here again the
issues and outcome were different. Here, Charles was not so successful.
The great threat from this quarter was Islam. Charles' grandfather had defeated a
couple of raiding armies, but he had not met the full brunt of Moslem invasion. Spain had,
and most of the peninsula had fallen. The few Christians who remained were in the north
and they appealed to Charles for help.
In 778, Charles led a great army over the Pyrenees. He did manage to win back a couple of
cities, and he established an outlier of his realm known as the Spanish March. But he was
unable to win any great victory, was unable to negotiate anything substantial, and finally
had to return to Gaul with not much accomplished.
The whole affair is not of great significance except for Iberian history, except for
one rather trivial incident during the retreat that came to have an importance all out of
proportion to the event itself.
During his retreat over the mountains, Charles had in his train a good deal of booty.
The Pyrenees were a perfect place for an ambush, not least because they were infested with
both Moslems and Basques, neither of whom cared much for the Franish invaders.
So Charles set a rear guard, to cover his retreat. Their job was to ensure no Moslem
army should advance suddenly and catch Charles on the march. Once the Franks were safely
over the mountains, then the rear guard could catch up and join the main force.
The captain of these defenders was a young Breton prince named Roland. Charles had
assessed the risk correctly, of course. The covering force was indeed ambushed and Roland
and his men died while the rest of the Franks won free.
Such incidents surely happened more than once--some hero sacrificing himself and his
men for his king. But this incident somehow found a poet. The original author of the tale
is unknown, and the Song of Roland was not actually written down for another two
centuries, but it survives to this day. The Song of Roland is a major work of medieval
literature, but it is the story of an insignificant action during a retreat after an
expedition whose success was mixed at best. Hardly the stuff of legend, you might think,
but Roland became the center of not one but countless legends. He is to the Franks what
Arthur is to the Britons.
The territories conquered were important and affected the shape of politics throughout
the rest of the Middle Ages and beyond: the tying of northern Italy to the Empire, the
claim of French kings to Navarre (the Spanish March), the elimination of the Saxons and
Lombards and Avars, the claims of French kings to parts of what would later be Germany.
But the campaigns carried a more immediate result, too.
Take a look at the pace of the wars:
785: Saxony 787-788: Bavaria
That addes up to twenty years of campaigning, and this short list overlooks the lesser
battles that occurred almost annually. Any one of these campaigns would have sufficed for
another king; taken together, they mean a whole generation grew up with Charlemagne as
their (ever-victorious) commander and king.
The wars gave Charlemagne immense prestige among his barons. It brought him land and
tribute money and plunder with which to satisfy their greed and ambitions. And 20 years of
warfare forced Charles to rely on a governmental structure that could support not only the
wars but the victories. The Frankish royal tradition had not much to say about ruling
foreign peoples and vast territories.
Charlemagne found it necessary to improvise as he went.
Charlemagne ruled more territory than any other Frankish king. The institution of
monarchy among the Franks was not equipped to deal with this situation. The Merovingians
had signally failed to rule other peoples, or even themselves, and it was this system that
Charles had inherited.
Charles either created new offices, or adapted old ones to new purposes, to meet the
challenge. Typical of the changes he made were those that concerned the governors of his
Within the Frankish realm, he relied on his counts (French=comtes). A count was
appointed by him to rule a particular region within France, these regions being still
defined more by the peoples living there than by any specific geographic boundaries. These
were areas that were settled and on whose loyalty the king could usually rely.
Newly-conquered territories, however, were another matter. The ruler here had to be a
warrior, whose principal duties were military. Such a territory was called a March. Thus,
the territory won by Charles when he invaded Spain is called the Spanish March.
Most such marches were on the eastern borders, in German territories. The German word
for count is graf, and the word for march is mark. Long after Charlemagne, and even long
after the Middle Ages, there were lords in Germany called margraves (e.g., the Margrave of
Brandenburg), still reflecting the administrative inheritance from the early Middle Ages.
Above the counts were the provincial governors, whose duty it was to govern the
principal divisions of the realm. These took the ancient Roman title of duke (Latin=ducis,
leader). The dukes were either members of Charles' own family, or else were trusted
comrades. These titles, too, long outlasted Charlemagne; examples include the Duke of
Saxony, the Duke of Brittany, and the Duke of Aquitaine.
You should not picture this system as being rigid or consistent. Not all counts
reported to a duke; some regions a duke ruled directly, with no counts under him; some
regions were ruled by Charles directly and were known as royal lands. And some lands were
ruled by none of these, but by the Church. Jurisdictions overlapped; some duties and
powers were military only, some were administrative or fiscal or judicial. And sometimes a
lord exercised power as he saw fit or until Charles intervened.
It was not efficient. It reflected the history of Carolingian conquest rather than any
carefully considered plan of governing. But, as noted above, much of it survived its
creator and gave shape to the political geography of medieval Europe.
Charles knew that his system was inefficient. More importantly, he knew that there was
a constant tendency for his dukes and counts to act independently of him, to do as they
wished and for Charles' own decrees to be ignored or circumvented. To counter this
tendency, Charles invented new court officers.
These were called missi dominici, or servants of the lord. Their
purpose was to act as inspectors general, investigating the behavior of royal officials
and reporting back to the court. As direct emissaries of the king, they carried all the
prestige of Charlemagne and the implied threat of his power.
They were appointed in pairs, with one being drawn from the Church and one from the
laity, so that neither one side nor the other should have its interests predominate. They
were always posted to places outside their native lands so they should have no local ties
or loyalties. And lest they develop such, the king shifted them about, neither leaving
them long in one place nor posting them to the same place consecutively. They were to
serve Charles, not local interests.
The system worked quite well under Charles. The missi were able to keep Charles
informed as to what was going on in all his scattered lands and among all his vassals.
More importantly, their mere presence and frequent visits served to remind an ambitious
lord that there was a limit to his ambition, so long as Charles and his mighty army was
And that, of course, was the system's great weakness, and a weakness shared by all
medieval monarchs. It worked only on the prestige and accomplishments of the king himself.
So long as he was strong, the system was strong. But let a weak king come along, or a
child king, or no king at all, and the system could evaporate almost over night.
Charles had a direct hand in a number of innovations and important developments
regarding law, of which I emphasize two here. He created a body of imperial law that has
served as an important source for our knowledge of his manner of governing. And he
fostered the collection of tribal laws that likewise have been an invaluable source for
Local Law The
different peoples of the Carolingian empire continued to live according to their own
national laws. Everyone understood law to be something that was peculiar to each nation,
each people. It was unthinkable that a Saxon should be tried by Frankish law, even though
they both had the same king.
In order for his margraves, especially, to rule the conquered peoples, Charlemagne had
their customs set down in writing. He sent scholars to interview those who knew the law --
shamans, tribal elders, and the like -- and they recorded the answers. He then had the
laws published and enforced.
Because of Charles' work, we still possess the law of Salian Franks, for example. We
know the fine imposed when a free man stole from another, as opposed to when a slave stole
from a free man. More importantly, we know from such documents something of the social
structure and how those people thought about law and justice. Charles was thinking only of
providing a clear set of guidelines, not of creating sources for historians, naturally.
Imperial Decrees Over and above these local laws, Charlemagne began issuing laws that affected everyone and
that were imposed throughout his realm. These are called capitularies, after the Latin
word for chapter. They were often brief, a page or less, and treated a wide variety of
subjects. Whatever their topic, however, a capitulary always superseded the local law.
Many of the capitularies concern the business of the king: terms of military service,
for example, or the administration of royal estates. The capitularies are the primary
source we have for the entire system of the missi dominici. But the capitularies
could and did range widely, and Charles issued decrees even concerning the conduct of the
The Carolingian Renaissance
Charlemagne was no scholar, but he had a great respect for them and he genuinely
desired to revive learning at his court. He loved listening to the classics, such as
Augustine's The City of God. He studied Latin and Greek, though he spoke only
Frankish. But he recognized that learning in his day was in disrepair, and he deliberately
gathered the leading intellectual lights of his age at his court.
Among these scholars was Alcuin. A Saxon, Alcuin trained at York, in England, and
founded a school at Aix-la-Chapelle.
Another figure was Peter the Grammarian, from Pisa. Another was Paul the Deacon, also from
Italy, who wrote a history of the Lombards. There was Einhard, a Frank, the royal
biographer. And Theodulf, a Visigoth from Spain, who trained at Seville.
I recite these names to illustrate the wide geographic dispersal of the scholars. A
Spaniard, two Italians, an Englishman, and a Frank, and these are but a handful. Charles'
court at Aix-la- Chapelle was a beacon for men of learning, and the king funded their
activities. It was from these, and others, there originated a burst of activity that would
have a strong influence on medieval intellectual life.
Many of the scholars came from monateries. One of the primary and stated purposes of
monasteries was to preserve learning, primarily through copying books. The greater ones
had schools attached to them and these trained the sons and daughters of the local
One of the greatest was Fulda, in Germany. Einhard trained here, as did Hrabanus
Maurus, who compiled a massive commentary on the Bible. Fulda also produced Walafrid
Strabo, who became a poet and scholar. These latter two men influenced the tradition of
biblical exegesis - the gloss.
You should keep in mind that a term like the Carolingian Renaissance can make the whole
thing seem more widespread that it really was. This renaissance of learning was confined
to a few monasteries and the court of Charlemagne, leaving the lives of most people
One of the greatest accomplishments of the monasteries of the Carolingian era was the
preservation of manuscripts. Not only did the monks copy the Bible, the works of the
Church Fathers, and other sacred writings and commentaries, they copied works of classical
authors as well. Almost 90% of the works of ancient Rome that we possess exist in their
earliest form in a Carolingian manuscript, and almost nothing that survived up to 800 has
subsequently been lost.
The illuminated manuscripts were beautiful, but these could be found in other than
Frankish lands. What was notable now was the conscious revival of classical learning and
an attention to preserving classical documents.
All this copying activity led to and was caused by a reform of handwriting. Merovingian
script all but unreadable, and each copying led to new corruptions in the text. With the
Carolingian Renaissance there was a new emphasis on accuracy, and this drew attention to
the need for better handwriting.
The most long-lasting result was the invention of Carolingian miniscule, developed at
abbey of Corbie. This script is characterized by clear, neat letters, with each word
clearly separated from one another, rather than all run together as Merovingian script
often was. Alcuin formed a scriptorium, a writing office, which produced many books in the
new script and influenced writers far and wide. One of Charlemagne's capitularies is
entitled "On Scribes - That They Should Not Write Corruptly". Carolingian
miniscule was revived during the Renaissance and has survived as our lower case letters
(the capital letters come from ancient Rome). Although this "renaissance" was
not much, it was never completely extinguished, and without it the thread that leads from
Greece and Rome to ourselves would have been completely broken.
The Carolingian Renaissance: Summary
You should keep clearly in mind how limited was this re-birth of learning, and keep in
mind, too, that it was no re-birth of European learning. That it was limited and not
unique does not, however, detract from the accomplishments of its scholars or the king who
Most of Europe knew nothing of Einhard or Walafrid Strabo. Not only was the common man
oblivious, so were the nobles. The activities of Alcuin and others at the court of
Charlemagne are admirable, but they were more or less confined to the court and were
dependent on the court for their continuance. As Carolingian rule faltered in the course
of the 9th century, so too did the court scholars.
More lasting were the activities of the monasteries. The seeds sown at Fulda and
elsewhere took permanent root. Not only did the monasteries preserve manuscripts, incubate
Biblical studies, and initiate reforms in handwriting, they passed on these values and
accomplishments to subsequent generations. There is a continuity from the Carolingians to
the later Middle Ages that not even the disruptions of the tenth century could erase.
As we examine and praise the Carolingians, however, we must not lose sight of the
accomplishments of the Celtic monasteries in England and Ireland, of Visigothic Spain,
still less of the more vigorous intellectual life of Byzantium and Islam. Medieval Europe
drank from all these springs.
Emperor: The Background
In the late 790s, Pope Leo III (795-816) was in serious trouble. The office of the
papacy had become the prize to be won in the feuds and battles among noble Roman families,
and these feuds had often affected the fortunes of the popes.
In 799 a rebellion against the pope broke out, led by his family's rivals. Leo was
attacked while in a procession, was beaten and imprisoned for a time. When he escaped, he
fled Rome and appealed for aid to Charlemagne's court. The faction that rebelled brought
criminal charges against the pope to Charles, who was now in the position of arbitrator
between the two sides. There was no authority in Rome competent to judge a pope, but the
king had great prestige.
Charlemagne went to Rome in person, and brought Leo back with him to settle the matter.
On 23 December 800 Charles convoked a council of prelates and nobles. Leo took an oath
affirming his innocence and the council absolved him of wrongdoing. With a royal army
nearby, no one could dispute the findings of the council.
A Christmas Present
Charles went to Christmas mass at St. Peters. The pope himself said the Mass,
and Charles' nobles, plus a number of local Romans, were in the church at the
time (this was not the big one that stands today, but a smaller predecessor). It
was a very great affair--the greatest king of the day and the greatest prelate,
together at one of the most important Christian festivals.
As the king arose from prayer before the altar, the pope
produced a crown and set it on Charlemagne's head. The people in the church - the high
clerics of the Church plus the great nobles of the realm - cried out the traditional acclamatio
that greeted a new Roman emperor: "To Charles Augustus, crowned by God, great and
peace-giving emperor, life and victory!"
By this act, Charles was made emperor of the Romans. He was the first in the West to
claim this title since Odacar the Goth did in Romulus Augustulus in 476. It was a
momentous event and it has caused controversy from that day to this.
The principal question was that of motive. Who's idea was this coronation: Charles? The
Pope? Who stood to benefit? Those who claim it was Leo's idea point out that he needed a
permanent protector against his enemies. Moreover, only a friendly Roman emperor could
legitimize papal rule over the Papal States, which had belonged to the Byzantine emperor
until Pepin had snatched them away.
Others say that Charles arranged the affair. They note that his advisors had wanted the
imperial title for Charles. We have writings that refer to the "Christian
empire" for the first time in history, and his advisors had repeatedly argued that
Charles could treat with the Byzantines only as equals.
Charles himself showed sympathy with these ambitions. But all the evidence is that he
was surprised that Christmas day. It seems most likely that he came to Rome expecting to
be made emperor, but that he did not at all care for the manner in which the title was
conferred. He had expected only the acclamatio; the coronation at the pope's hands
angered him, as it implied that he could receive the title only at the pope's hands.
Einhard notes in his biography that Charles once declared that, had he known of the
coronation, he never would have entered the church that day.
It appears that Leo made the most of the situation as it was handed to him. To be
protected from his enemies, he would have to agree to Charles being made emperor. But by
crowning the emperor himself, he further insinuated the papacy into the business of making
kings -- or, rather, making emperors. From that Christmas day on there would be a tension
between pope and emperor, and a tension over how an emperor was created.
We will see this theme return more than once in this course.
Significance of the Coronation
The coronation of Charlemagne as emperor goes beyond the conflict between Church and
state. It is a symbolic event, a convenient point to gather some separate threads.
It marks the arrival of a new inheritor of Rome and a competitor to the Byzantines.
This inheritor would come to be called the Holy Roman Empire, and its existence meant that
the West as well as the East would inherit the classical tradition. It also marks the
union of the Roman and the German, of the Mediterranean civilization and the northern.
Until now, these two civilizations had been separate, though intertwined. Increasingly,
the dividing line would be between east and west, and the lands west of the Elbe and the
Adriatic would be regarded by others as a single society.
It marks the emergence of Western Christian society: that society with its religious
capital at Rome and its military center north of the Alps. It was still in its rough
infancy under Charlemagne, this new society, but it proved strong enough to withstand some
terrible trials in its immediate future. It was a society clearly distinct from both
Byzantium and Islam; it was truly a civilization.
In this sense, the coronation of Charlemagne marks the beginning of "European
history" in the strict sense, for only now do we begin to have something like a
Europe. The people of the Middle Ages called it Christendom, a term that could include or
exclude the East depending on the usage. But it is the immediate ancestor to Europe.
Charles' Successors: Louis the Pious
Charles had only one son who survived him: Louis, whose patronage of the Church earned
him the nickname of Pious. Louis was a good king but an unremarkable one. His principal
accomplishment was to preserve and further his father's accomplishments, and to have a
long life in his turn.
Louis had three sons. His settlement of their estates demonstrates how far the Franks
still had to go in political understanding, for he divided the Frankish empire among the
three of them, splitting what his forefathers had brought together with so much toil.
The division of the empire made perfect sense to the Franks. The titles, privileges and
lands of Louis belonged to him, not to some abstraction known as the State. They were his
in the same sense as were his hounds and horses. Wanting to provide properly for his three
boys, he divided the titles and lands and privileges, as indeed Charlemagne would have
done had his son Pepin survived.
Louis' son Charles got the western portion of the empire and ruled the Franks. Louis'
son Louis got Germany. Lothar got Italy and a strip of territories between Germany and
France. All three were unhappy with the arrangements and went to war after Louis' death.
in 849, at Verdun, the three agreed on the final arrangements, which weren't much
different from what I've just described.
Look at a map of Europe today. There is France to the west, and Germany to the east.
Between them you can still find the fragments of Lothar's kingdom, the Middle Kingdom:
Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland. The divisions made at Verdun would
persist for over a thousand years.
The Later Carolingians
The Frankish practice of dividing the realm led to further splits, not only of land but
of rights and powers. No new Charlemagne emerged from these families to unite the lands
anew, and many of the kings were outright incompetent. Their names are indicative: after
Charles the Great and Louis the Pious, we get kings with names like Louis the Fat and
Charles the Simple.
To add to their woes, the later 800s and early 900s were not a time for incompetents.
The hundred year stretch from 850 to 950 was filled with the worst of the Viking
invasions, to which were added Moslem raids and pirates in the south and Magyar raids from
the east. Against these pressures the Carolingians could not stand.
Charles' great empire collapsed steadily, fragmenting into dozens of pieces. The
monasteries were plundered, the towns burned. Even the very title of emperor was lost
again for a time. When it reappeared, it was taken by a German king.