Charlemagne was a king of the
Franks, and he became the first Holy Roman Emperor. He is
known for expanding the territory and power of his
Kingdom of the Franks, and for subjugating the Germanic
Saxons. His long reign, which began in 768 as co-ruler
with his brother, and then from 771 to 814 AD as the sole
ruler, makes Charlemagne one of the most historically
important rulers of the Middle Ages. Reflecting the
various languages within his empire, he was known
alternately as: Carolus Magnus (Latin), Karl der Grosse
(German), and Charlemagne (French). The designation means
Charles the Great in all three
Today Charlemagne is regarded not only
as the founding father of both historical French and
German monarchies, but is also referred to as the father
of Europe: his vast empire united most of Western Europe
for the first time since the Romans, and the Carolingian
renaissance encouraged the formation of a common European
identity. Some trace the idea of the current European
Union (EU) to the concept of a united Europe as
symbolized (somewhat romantically, it could be said) by
the Empire of Charles the Great; Charlemagne.
Conquest of Lombardy
(773-774)--The Franks under an ealier king, Pepin the
Short, had battled the Lombards in defense of the Pope in
the years 754 and 756, forcing the Lombards to give up
land to both the Frankish kingdom and to the Pope's rule.
The lands claimed by the Pope became the basis for the
States. The Lombard King,
Desiderius, wanted those lands back, angering the current
Frankish ruler, Charlemagne, who was married to the
daughter of King Desiderius. Charlamagne sent his wife
back home to her father, and then invaded Lombardy,
conquering the Lombard lands, and declaring himself the
new King of Lombardy.
Saxon Wars (771-804)--A series
of campaigns waged over nearly 30 years and 18 major
battles. These wars concluded with Saxony incorporated
into the Frankish Empire, and the pagan Saxons forced to
accept Christianity. A significant percentage of the
Saxon population perished in the Frankish conquest of
(776)--Charlemagne put down a rebellion in Lombardy
by Duke Hrodgaud of Friuli and Duke Hildeprand of Spolet.
Charlemagne rushed back from Saxony and defeated and
killed the Duke Hrodgaud of Friuli in battle. The Duke of
Spoleto signed a peace treaty with Charlemagne. Their
co-conspirator, Arechis, was not subdued Northern Italy
was now under Frankish control.
Charlemagne's First Spanish
Campaign (also known as the Roncesvalles
Campaign) (777-778)---Charlemagne agreed to aid the
Muslim governor of Barcelona in his conflict against the
Emir of Cordoba, worried that Cordoba posed a threat to
the Frankish province of Aquitaine, led his army over the
Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. The Franks won a few minor
battles and conquered the Basque (Christian) city of
Pamplona, but could not take the city of Saragossa. Hard
pressed by Muslim forces, the Franks withdrew in 778.
This Charlemagne war is best known for the song (poem)
written about Charlemagne's nephew, Roland, who fought
and died in a rear-guard battle with Muslim forces as the
Franks withdrew from northern Spain. The Song
of Roland, with its martial
pride in the Frankish forces and Charlemagne's cause,
and, of course, Roland's bravery, is considered one of
the first true national poems of the modern
(779-812)--The Franks and Moors (Arabic Muslims who
ruled North Africa and Spain), fought throughout the
Mediterrannean Sea (The Franks seized the islands of
Corsica and Sardinia and in 799, the Balearic Islands)
and in northern Spain. In 795, the Spanish regions of
Gerona, Cardona, Ausona, and Urgel were united into the
new Spanish March, which remained under Frankish
authority until 1258.
Lombard War (780)--Charlemagne
installed his son as the ruler in Lombardy and also
strengthened the Papacy's power.
Breton Rebellion (786)-- In 786
Charlemagne subdued the Bretons, in a region in the
extreme western part of Gaul along the western coast in
an area known as Brittany. The Bretons refused to obey
him, so he sent an army against them, which compelled the
rebels to surrender hostages to Charlemagne, and to
promise to obey him from then on.
(787)--Charlemagne incorporated southern Italy into his
empire, besieging the city of Salerno and forcing its
ruler, Arechis, to swear loyalty.
Bavarian War (787-788)- The
ruler of Bavaria, Duke Tassilo, was married to a daughter
of Charlemagne's old enemy, King Desiderius of Lombardy.
This woman, named Liutberga, convinced her husband to
make an alliance with the Avars (better known to history
as The Huns) to exact revenge against Charlemagne. When
Frankish forces under Charlemagne entered Bavaria, Duke
Tassilo quickly surrendered and pledged loyalty to
(791-796)--The Avars, or Huns, as they were often
called by the Franks, controlled the central Danube and
accumulated wealth by raiding and plundering their
neighbors. Charlemagne and his son, Pepin, fought the
Avars in a long and bloody war which resulted in the
subjugation of the Avars.
Second Beneventian War
(792-?)--Upon the death of Arechis of Beneventa, his son,
Grimold III, declared independence of Frankish rule and
warfare continued on and off for years. Grimold never was
forced to surrender his independence.
Slavic War (798)--In 798,
Charlemagne led a campaign against a Slavic group
inhabiting what is now north-eastern Germany. This Slavic
group were known at the time as the Wilzi, or Welatabians
(also known in history as the Wends, or the Veleti).
Regardless of what we call them, they had harassed the
Abodriti, old allies of the Franks, through continual
raids. When they refused Charlemagne's orders to halt
these raids, he marched into their territory in 798 and
crushed them (this according to Einhard, Charlemagne's
biographer, who noted this in "Vita Karoli Magni"
of Charles the
Pannonian Croation War
(799-803)--A Frankish commander, Eric, the Duke of
Friuli, attempted to conquer Pannonian Croatia for the
Franks. He failed miserably, being killed in the Siege of
Trsat in 799. The Croatian War continued on and off for
(801-810)--Charlemagne and the Byzantine Emperor
Nicephorus I waged war on both land and sea for control
of Venetia and the Dalmatian coast (modern-day northern
Italy, Slovenia and Croatia). The war progressed well for
the Franks, plus, beginning in 809, Nicephorus was
distracted by a new war with the Bulgars. Therefore, the
Byzantines began negotiations with the Franks, and peace
was agreed upon in which Charlemagne gave up most of the
Dalmatian coast (which he had conquered), in exchange for
the Byzantine Emperor recognizing him as Emperor of the
West. The Istrian Peninsula remained a part of the
(808-810)--Charlamagne settled accounts with the Danes,
who had given aid and asylum to the Saxon leader Widukind
in the Saxon Wars.
(805-806)--Frankish forces subdued the Slavic region of
Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic)
Links and Resources for Charlemagne and his
Sourcebook: Einhard: The Wars of Charlemagne, c. 770 -
the King: A biography from Will Durant's STORY OF
Wars And Military Exploits of Charlemagne (884
AD)-Literary Excerpt, By Notker The Stammerer, Monk of
Kohn, George C.
New York: Facts On File Publications.