Charlemagne was born around 742, to Bertrada of Laon and Pepin the Short, who became the monarchs of the Franks in 751. Charlemagne’s exact birthplace is still not known for certain, though two possibilities are Liege, Belgium and Aachen, Germany. Little is known of the famed emperor’s chidhood and education, though as an adult he was proficienct with a number of languages, and could speak both Latin and Greek. After his father Pepin’s death in 768, the Frankish kingdom was divided between Charlemagne and his younger brother, Carloman. The brothers had a difficult relationship but, with Carloman’s death in 771, Charlemagne become sole ruler of the Franks.
Rise to Power
Over the next the next thirty years, Charlemagne, a ruthless warrior, continually expanded his kindgdom. In 772, he began a three-decades-long series of battles to reduce and beat the pagan Saxons to submission, while also waging campaigns against the Lombards in northern Italy, the Moors in northern Spain, and the Avars in modern-day Austria and Hungary, all of which he conquered and absorbed into his Frankish Kingdom. The Saxons were finally subdued in 804, many of them converting to Christianity in the process. They were now ruled by a triumphant Charlemagne, who had been crowned as Holy Roman Emperor at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day, 800 AD.
Charlemagne conquered much of Europe, uniting his own Germanic tribes with many other peoples. He ruled with great administrative and diplomatic skills to an extent which rivaled the Western Roman Empire. Crucially, he ensured the survival of Christianity in the West, at a time when it was being increasingly threatened by Islam. Apart from this, he was a kind of Medieval humanist, promoting education and encouraging the "Carolingian Renaissance", a period of renewed emphasis on scholarship and culture. He instituted economic and religious reforms, and patronized the creation of a standardized form of writing. The latter ultimately became the basis for modern European printed alphabets.
It must be remembered that, above all, Charlemagne was a conqueror. Indeed, however progressive he may have been as a ruler, his conquests bathed Europe in blood. His three decades of warfare against the Saxons were particularly savage, marked as they were by pillaging, hostage-taking, mass kilings, deportation of rebellious Saxons, and draconian measures to enforce their acceptance of Christianity, acts which would not hardly endear him nor Christianity to his new subjects. As a ruler, he was doubtlessly far more feared than appreciated for his contributions to the advancement of culture and learning in his own time. Most of the benefits of his social reforms would only become apparent to most many years after their instigation.
Death and Legacy
According to his personal servant and biographer, Einhard, Charlemagne enjoyed good health until the last four years of his life. At that time he suffered from fevers and began to limp. After bathing in some warm springs, he developed a serious fever and died of what may have been pleurisy in 814. The empire he had founded with such energy didn’t last through the century, though Charlemagne’s name still endures. Historians have picked holes in his achievements, for example, criticizing his religious reforms for being too limited in breadth and scope, and his cultural program of having a clerical bias. Nevertheless, he’s widely regarded as a great unifier, and, to some, the father of Europe as we now know it.
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