2. Identify Charlemagne and explain why the pope crowned him Emperor of the Roman People on December 25, 800 AD.
3. Write 5 changes that Charlemagne brought to Frankish society.
4. Identify the Vikings and explain how they secured a foothold in France, Greenland and the New World:
The Early Middle Ages
BUILDING AN EMPIRE in EUROPE
When the last Roman emperor was yanked off the throne by the barbarian King Odoacer in 475 AD, the empire dissolved into chaos. In the blink of an idea, the institutions of the Roman Empire disappeared. The government shut down (no mail service, no road repair, no fresh drinking water, no food for the poor), the army vanished (no police to keep people safe), and the courtrooms went dark (no laws, lawyers or judges). It was every man for himself and people survived the best they could. Wealthy landowners trained mini-armies to defend their property from rival landowners and invaders, such as Vikings from the north, Asian horsemen called Magyars from the west, and Muslim Moors surging up through Spain to the south. Poor people flocked to the estates of the wealthy where they worked the fields in exchange for protection, food and shelter.
The first true European king to rise to power after the fall of the
Roman Empire was a man in the land of the Franks - modern-day Germany and France. The story begins with his grandfather, Charles “the Hammer” Martel, who worked as a political adviser and war leader for a Frankish king. Charles led the army in many campaigns, including the Battle of Tours, in which he soundly defeated the Moors from Spain.
Charles’s son, Pippin the Short, became the first king of the so-called Carolingian dynasty by forcing the old king of the Franks to step
down and taking the throne for himself. When Pippin died in 768, he passed the kingdom to his son, who was also named Charles. We remember this King Charles as Charlemagne, which means “Charles the Great.” Many historians believe he was one of the strongest leaders in the history of Europe.
Charlemagne loved warfare and led armies into battle each year Charlemagne,
King of the Franks
to conquer new lands and incorporate them into his kingdom. He was so successful that in 774, Pope Leo in Rome asked for Charlemagne’s help. A barbarian tribe called the Lombards had attacked the Papal States, a region in central Italy ruled by the pope. Charlemagne’s army went to Italy and scattered the Lombards, which pleased the pope. In the year 799 he needed Charlemagne’s help again. Angry supporters
of the previous pope had attacked Leo and run him out of Rome. Charlemagne invaded Italy and returned the pope to power.
Pope Leo rewarded Charlemagne by naming him Emperor of the Roman People on December 25, 800.
Pope Leo crowns Charlemagne “Holy Roman Emperor” on Christmas Day, 800 AD
Charlemagne became the first person to hold that title in over 300 years. By giving him the title, the pope showed that he believed that Charlemagne had restored the glory of the Roman Empire in Europe. This honor also let other European leaders know that the Catholic Church completely supported Charlemagne’s actions as king.
Charlemagne wanted to make his government more effective. Though no Frankish king before him had established a permanent capital, Charlemagne wanted a place that would reflect his power. He established a capital city in Aachen, in
what is now Germany. A very religious man, he built a large cathedral there in addition to his palace.
To assist him in ruling his huge empire, Charlemagne appointed loyal administrators called counts. These officials ruled different regions of the empire in Charlemagne’s name. Charlemagne also sent secret inspectors called missi dominici to make sure the counts were ruling well and staying loyal to him. The inspectors wore everyday clothes to blend in. They rewarded or punished the counts based on what they observed.
A NEW SOCIETY IN EUROPE
A monk copies a book
Charlemagne introduced many changes to Frankish society, some of which influenced life for centuries. For example, in Charlemagne’s time most people could not read or write. Charlemagne cared about education and built many schools, which were run by educated priests and monks. Students learned about religion, music, grammar, and other subjects. Charlemagne also invited European scholars to Aachen to teach; Charlemagne himself was one of their students. The scholars also studied and copied ancient texts, which were then sent to monasteries throughout Europe where monks made more
copies. This helped to preserve many important writings from the ancient world that might otherwise have been lost forever during the warfare of the Middle Ages.
Charlemagne wanted to preserve Christianity and bring it to new lands. During some military efforts, he ordered the pagan people he conquered to become Christians. He then sent monks and missionaries to these lands to help make Christianity a permanent part of the people’s lives.
Another important change Charlemagne made was to the legal system. Before his rule, each tribe within the empire had its own set of laws. Charlemagne organized the many different law codes into one set of rules for everyone in the empire to follow. Many of his laws enforced the teachings of Christianity.
Western Europe’s greatness under Charlemagne’s rule did not last long after his death in 814. His grandsons, Lothair, Charles the Bald and Louis the German split the empire among themselves after
fighting each other for years, and outside invaders quickly eroded these kingdoms.
Charlemagne brought peace to Western Europe, but that peace
was soon destroyed by invaders who attacked Europe from several
different directions. Warriors called the Vikings were perhaps the most feared of these new invaders.
The Vikings came from northern Europe, from the large peninsula of Scandinavia. This region now includes the countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Vikings are also known as Norsemen or Northmen. In their homeland, the Vikings were farmers and fishermen, but their land was not very fertile. As the population grew, food shortages happened more often. As a result, the Vikings raided other lands for supplies and riches in the summertime.
Strong Viking ships and expert navigation skills allowed the Norsemen to raid towns all across Europe. They started in England and northern France, but eventually traveled as far as Kiev in Russia and Constantinople. They attacked settlements both along coasts and inland—including Paris and Aachen—by traveling up rivers. The Vikings were greatly feared because they seemed to appear out of nowhere; local people did not have time to prepare to fight them. Those who tried to defend themselves were killed or captured and sold into slavery in faraway lands. The Vikings targeted monasteries filled with treasures of gold and jewels. Not being Christians, the Vikings only saw the monetary value in these items.
Some Vikings were looking for faraway lands so they could settle permanently there. Vikings traveled across the open ocean to Iceland in the late 700s and lived there for many centuries. According to ancient sagas (long Icelandic stories about great heroes and events), Vikings also settled in Greenland in the late 900s. About 100 years later, a Viking leader named Leif Eriksson led some settlers to the eastern shores of what is now Canada. Remnants of their outpost can still be seen there today.
Viking warriors and their leader Rollo attacked French coastal villages so frequently that the French king offered to give them land in exchange for the Vikings’ promise to leave them alone. Rollo agreed, and the northern settlement became known as Normandy, or land of the Northmen. Little did England know that this Viking outpost would produce the dreaded William the Conqueror, who invaded with his army in 1066 AD