The Break-up of Mediterranean Unity
Charlemagne Empire

What where the main characteristics of the Charlemagne Empire?

The formation of the Carolingian Empire

The effective power of the Frankish kingdom was in the hands of the officials, who were the palace butlers. The most important was Charles Martel, who defeated the Arabs in the battle of Poitiers, in 732. His son, Pepin the Short, overthrew the last Frankish monarch in 751 and proclaimed himself king.

Charlemagne, the son of Pepin the Short, declared himself the defender of Christianity and reinforced the power of the Carolingian dynasty. He spread his power throughout most of Europe, but did not succeed in his attempt to defeat the emir in Córdoba in the Iberian Peninsula. 

On Christmas day in the year 800, Charlemagne was crowned as the new Western Emperor by the pope in Rome.

Carolingian Empire

The organisation of the empire

Charlemagne established his residency in Aachen, where he had a great palace built.

The empire was divided up into two types of territories: the earldoms and the marches.
The earldoms usually covered the territory of a city. They were administered by the earls, who were directly appointed by the emperor. They administered justice, were in charge of the protection of the earldom and collected the taxes
The marches were areas on the borders set up for defence against external attacks and they were ruled by a marquis. The most important marches were: the march against the Avars and Slavs in the east; the march against the Danish (currently Denmark), and the march against the Islamic armies, the Spanish March, which was later to become the Catalonian earldoms.

Charlemagne also had the missi dominici, who closely watched over the earls and the most powerful bishops.

A rural economy

In Carolingian times, most of the population lived in the country in small self-sufficient hamlets. Each family lived on what they cultivated on their lands and made the clothing and tools they needed.

Agriculture and stockbreeding were the main economic activities. Methods were very rudimentary.

The communication networks were very deteriorated and trade was low.

A society of lords and peasants

The Carolingian society was organised as a pyramid based on fidelity bonds.

At the top of the pyramid was the emperor. The noblemen received domains in exchange for their oaths of fidelity to the emperor. They were appointed as royal vassals. These royal vassals also had their own vassals.

The peasants worked the lands. Some of these were serfs, that is to say, they could not leave the lands and their owners could exercise all rights upon them. Therefore, not all people were free in the Carolingian Empire.

The disintegration of the empire

Charlemagne was only outlived by one son, Louis the Pious. When he died, with the Treaty of Verdun, in 843, the empire was divided up among his three sons: Louis, Charles and Lothar.

Charles the Bald received the western part, present-day France. Louis the German occupied the eastern part, present-day Germany; Lothair, the oldest son, maintained the imperial title but only received a long and narrow strip of land from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. In 870 when there were only two kingdoms: the kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire in German lands.

Treaty of Verdun 843