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Charlemagne and The Birth of Western Civilization

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The Western European Civilization during Charlemagne’s rule was a unique fusion of Judeo-Christian, Classical and Germanic heritages. There is much evidence as to how such a fusion came about, my belief is that Charlemagne’s conquering of lands, political alliances, and reinvigoration of Rome and its ancient authority is what made his time of rule so unique when it came to the fusion of so many cultures and heritages. Charlemagne was a master at uniting German Kingdoms as well as a great warrior as he conquered and unified much of Europe with his military campaigns.

The very first war Charlemagne had won was the Aquitanian War, one that his father, Pippin had started long before his death. Einhard’s depiction of Charlemagne showed a great willingness inside him to set his goals and to not give up until those goals were achieved. Charles refused to leave the war unfinished. The Aquitanian War was only the first of many wars Charles would win, but it goes to show how his first victory came about and set the stage for the rest of his rule.

Charles continued with many other wars, one I found particularly interesting was the Saxon War. The Saxons were a fierce people, but were very different from the Franks in terms of religion, more specifically, the Saxons detested the Catholic religion and openly violated the religion without shame. The Saxons had been conquered time and time again, and everytime with the promise that they would obey Charlemagne’s rule, but they continued to resist and go back on their word. Charlemagne in return decided to move 10,000 men and their families to the countryside throughout Gaul and Germany. The war ended with the condition that the Saxons converted to Christianity and would unite with the Franks to form one people. This is important, because it is one of the many examples of how Charlemagne integrated the territories he took over, thus creating a fusion of people. “These are the wars which the most powerful King waged war with such prudence and success over various lands for forty-seven years, In those years he so nobly increased the Frankish Kingdom had nearly doubled in size” (Two Lives, p.28). This is fascinating, because of all the territories Charlemagne had conquered he had integrated so much of these territories with his own people and religion.

Charlemagne had also increased his territory and glory through not only war, but through friendship as well. He used friendship with foreign kingdoms to give relief to the poor Christians living in poverty. This was just another show of his devotion to the Christian faith. He had gained allies throughout other kingdoms through his generosity and friendly relations. Irish Kings named him their lord and the King of Galacia and Asturias declared himself as Charlemagne’s ‘subject’. I believe this evidence attests to Charlemagne’s eye for politics, which made him ideal for the expansion and fusion of the Frankish kingdom that was obviously feared. There was a Greek Proverb at the time that read “Have a Frank as a friend, not as a neighbor”. Although it seems like he would terrify foreigners, he was very welcoming, he even took to learning other languages such as Latin and Greek. “He took great care in receiving them (foreigners), so that their great number justifiably seemed a burden not only to the palace, but also the kingdom. But because of his greatness of soul he was scarcely affected by this, for the praise of his generosity and his good reputation repaid him for the great trouble” (Two Lives, p.34). The love he had for foreigners shows me that he was welcoming and inclusive, which would be the essential starting block for the fusion experienced for this time frame.

The Carolingian Europe we know is distinct from the Byzantine and Islamic Civilizations at this time, because of Charlemagne’s unique rule propelled his aspirations. For example, Carolingian Europe was not as restricted as in was in Buzantine and Islamic Civilizations through ideas such as iconoclasm. While the spread and re-birth of faith was a goal of Charlemagnes, the 8th century Islam found that the spread of their faith had a toll on thier treasury. Non-muslims at the time were charged a poll tax and the more people that converted to muslim, the less poll tex was collected. Therefore creating tension and the inability for the empire to keep control as they began to tax their citizens more and more to cover the loss. By the late 8th century Arab civilizations started to emerge, spread out in widely separated regions. This shows me that the Byzantine and Islamic Civilizations were not equipped with the financial stability or allies to handle the level of fusion and unification as Charlemagne gained during his rule. Although we can depict many differences we do know that “European Christians and Middle Eastern Muslis shared a common Judeo-Christian heritage” (McKay, p.261). They first learned of Christianity through conquered lands, but during Charlemagne’s rule the early start of the Reconquista was just beginning.

In conclusion, Charlemagne’s conquering of lands, political alliances, and reinvigoration of Rome and its ancient authority is what made his time of rule so unique when compared to other early civilizations such as the Byzantine and Islam, as well as depict such a large fusion of Judeo-Christian, Classical, and Germanic heritage. Charlemagne brought his own Germanic roots into his rule, as well as bringing back the classical heritage that came from Rome and the restoration of Italy. Germanic and Classical heritage paired with the judeo-christian heritage he revived from his love of his church and neighboring territories similar roots gave him the fusion that defined his rule. His steady cycle of conquering and unifying is what made him so unique in his fusion of European culture.

Works Cited

  • Ganz, David, et al. Two Lives of Charlemagne. Penguin Classics, 2013.
  • McKay, John P., et al. A History of World Societies. Bedford/St. Martins, 2018. 

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