Carolingian dynasty

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The Carolingian dynasty (German: Karolinger) was a dynasty of Frankish rulers. Initially, they had the position of "Mayor of the Palace" (German: Hausmeier), an office that developed from being in charge of the household to that of regent or viceroy, with the Westgermanic kings from the Merovingian dynasty eventually being figureheads. Finally, the Carolingians also took the title of King of the Franks. The name derives from the large number of family members who bore the name Charles, notably Charles Martel and Charlemagne.


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Carolingian Empire (800–888)

The term "Carolingian Empire" is a modern convention and was not used by its contemporaries. The language of official acts in the empire was Latin. The empire was referred to variously as universum regnum ("the whole kingdom", as opposed to the regional kingdoms), Romanorum sive Francorum imperium[1] ("empire of the Romans and Franks"), Romanum imperium ("Roman empire"), or even imperium christianum ("Christian empire").[2]

The Carolingian Empire (800–888) was the final stage in the history of the early medieval realm of the Franks, ruled by the Carolingian dynasty. The size of the empire at its zenith around 800 AD was 1,112,000 km², with a population of between 10 and 20 million people. With its division in 843, it also represents the earliest stage in the history of the kingdom of France and the kingdom of Germany, which in the High Middle Ages would emerge as the powerful monarchies of continental Europe, Capetian France and the Holy Roman Empire, and by extension the predecessor of the modern nations of France and Germany. The beginning of the Carolingian era is marked by the coronation of Charlemagne, or Charles the Great by Pope Leo III at Christmas of the year 800, and its end with the death of Charles the Fat. Because Charles and his ancestors had been rulers of the Frankish realm earlier (his grandfather Charles Martel had essentially founded the empire during his lifetime, and his father, Pepin the Short, was the first King of the Franks), the coronation did not actually constitute a new empire. Most historians prefer to use the term "Frankish Kingdoms" or "Frankish Realm" to refer to the area covering parts of today's Germany and France from the 5th to the 9th century. Though Charles Martel chose not to take the title King, as his son Pepin III the Short would, or Emperor, as his grandson Charlemagne would become titled, he was absolute ruler of virtually all of today's continental Western Europe north of the Pyrenees. Only the remaining Saxon realms, which he partly conquered, Lombardy, and the Marca Hispanica north of the Pyrenees were significant additions to the Frankish realms after his death. Martel was also the founder of all the feudal systems and merit system that marked the Carolingian Empire, and Europe in general during the Middle Ages, though his son and grandson would gain credit for his innovations. Further, Martel cemented his place in history with his defense of Christian Europe against a Muslim army at the Battle of Tours in 732. The Iberian Saracens had incorporated Berber lighthorse cavalry with the heavy Arab cavalry to create a formidable army that had almost never been defeated. Christian European forces, meanwhile, lacked the powerful tool of the stirrup. In this victory, Charles earned the surname Martel ("the Hammer"). Edward Gibbon, the historian of Rome and its aftermath, called Charles Martel "the paramount prince of his age." Pepin III accepted the nomination as king by Pope Zachary in about 751. Charlemagne's rule began in 768 at Pepin's death. He proceeded to take control over the kingdom upon the death of his brother, a co-inheritor of Pepin. Charlemagne was crowned Roman Emperor in the year 800. [...] Lothar II died in 869 with no legitimate heirs, and his Kingdom was divided between Charles the Bald and Louis the German in 870 by the Treaty of Meerssen. Meanwhile, Louis the German was involved with disputes with his three sons. Louis II died in 875, and named Carloman, the eldest son of Louis the German, his heir. Charles the Bald, supported by the Pope, was crowned both King of Italy and Holy Roman Emperor. The following year, Louis the German died. Charles tried to annex his realm too, but was defeated decisively at Andernach, and the Kingdom of the eastern Franks was divided between Louis the Younger, Carloman of Bavaria and Charles the Fat. The Empire, after the death of Charles the Bald, was under attack in the north and west by the Vikings, and was facing internal struggles from Italy to the Baltic, from Hungary (Magyars) in the east to Aquitaine in the west. Charles the Bald died in 877 crossing the Pass of Mont Cenis, and was succeeded by his son, Louis the Stammerer as King of the Western Franks, but the title of Holy Roman Emperor lapsed. Louis the Stammerer was physically weak and died two years later, his realm being divided between his eldest two sons: Louis III gaining Neustria and Francia, and Carloman gaining Aquitaine and Burgundy. The Kingdom of Italy was finally granted to King Carloman of Bavaria, but a stroke forced him to abdicate Italy to his brother Charles the Fat and Bavaria to Louis of Saxony. Also in 879, Boso, Count of Arles founded the Kingdom of Lower Burgundy in Provence. In 881, Charles the Fat was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor while Louis III of Saxony and Louis III of Francia died the following year. Saxony and Bavaria were united with Charles the Fat's Kingdom, and Francia and Neustria were granted to Carloman of Aquitaine who also conquered Lower Burgundy. Carloman died in a hunting accident in 884 after a tumultuous and ineffective reign, and his lands were inherited by Charles the Fat, effectively recreating the Empire of Charlemagne. Charles, suffering what is believed to be epilepsy, could not secure the kingdom against Viking raiders, and after buying their withdrawal from Paris in 886 was perceived by the court as being cowardly and incompetent. The following year his nephew Arnulf of Carinthia, the illegitimate son of King Carloman of Bavaria, raised the standard of rebellion. Instead of fighting the insurrection, Charles fled to Neidingen and died the following year in 888, leaving a divided entity and a succession mess. The Empire of the Carolingians was divided: Arnulf maintained Carinthia, Bavaria, Lorraine and modern Germany; Count Odo of Paris was elected King of Western Francia (France), Ranulf II became King of Aquitaine, Italy went to Count Berengar of Friuli, Upper Burgundy to Rudolph I, and Lower Burgundy to Louis the Blind, the son of Boso of Arles, King of Lower Burgundy and maternal grandson of Emperor Louis II. The other part of Lotharingia became the duchy of Burgundy.[3]

Mayors of the Palace

In the Roman empire large households were run by an official known as major domus ('mayor of the house'), from whom we derive our major-domo. The Frankish kings adapt this system, calling their chief administrative officer major palatii, the mayor of the palace. Administrators of this kind always tend to enlarge their own fief. The mayors of the palace gradually add to their domestic duties the roles of tutor to royal princes, adviser to the king on matters of policy and eventually even commander of the royal army. From the mid-7th century the usual conflict between Austrasia, Neustria and Burgundy evolves into a power struggle and outright warfare between the mayors of the respective palaces. In 687, for the first time, one mayor controls all three kingdoms. He is Pepin II, who fights his way to this pre-eminence after becoming mayor of the palace in Austrasia in 679. His rule can be seen, with hindsight, as the start of a new royal dynasty. But the turmoil following his death in 714 makes this seem, at the time, improbable. Pepin's only male descendants at his death are legitimate grandsons and an illegitimate son, Charles. Civil war results, by 727, in victory for Charles. His military prowess brings him the title Charles Martel ('the Hammer'). And from his Christian name (Carolus in Latin) his descendants become known to history as the Carolingians.[4]


For other Carolingian kings, see List of Frankish kings. For the later emperors, see Holy Roman Emperor.

Name Date of imperial coronation Date of death
Charlemagne 25 December 800 28 January 814
Louis the Pious 1st: 11 September 813[5]
2nd: 5 October 816
20 June 840
Lothair I 5 April 823 29 September 855
Louis II 1st: Easter 850
2nd: 18 May 872
12 August 875
Charles the Bald 29 December 875 6 October 877
Charles the Fat 12 February 881 13 January 888

External links



  1. Sometimes with Romanum (Roman) replacing Romanorum (of the Romans) and atque (and) replacing sive (or).
  2. Garipzanov, Ildar H. (2008). The Symbolic Language of Authority in the Carolingian World (c.751–877). ISBN 9789047433408. 
  3. The Carolingian Empire
  4. The Merovingians: 5th – 8th century AD
  5. Egon Boshof: Ludwig der Fromme. Darmstadt 1996, p. 89