AN03d2_Early Middle Ages: The Frankish Kingdom (Ch.13)
Timeline: 5th – 9th C. (The Dark Age)
FQ: Where in Western Europe did ‘light’ shine during the ‘Dark Age’?
Many Germanic kingdoms that succeeded the Roman Empire were united under Charlemagne’s empire. Medieval Europe was a transition between Classical and Modern Europe. This period was marked by changes brought about initially by the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West (Western Europe). In this lesson, the focus is the kingdom of the Franks. The relatively brief period of political and social stability established by the Merovingian and Carolingian monarchs witnessed significant efforts toward permanent change and long-standing achievement.
I. Laying the Foundation for the Frankish Kingdom: From “Goth” to “Frank” (1)
A. The Franks, as the dominant Gothic group, unite many of the Gothic tribes under one central political authority. Thus, the tribal bonds diminish in importance.
B. Christianity spreads among the Germanic tribes before the collapse of Rome through contact with Roman civilization. The ‘brand’ of Christianity practiced by many Goths was a hybrid of Roman Catholicism and the native religious beliefs. This ‘heretical’ hybrid faith is called Arian Christianity.
C. When Clovis converts he also “encourages” the Franks to do so. In return for Papal ‘crowning’ of Clovis as the ‘true’ leader of the Franks, Clovis promises to aid the Church in quelling roving bands of Goths (eg. Lombards) ravaging the Italian peninsula. Clovis is the origin of the line of rulers that comprise the Merovingian Dynasty.
D. Mayor Domo: (Mayor of the Palace) Exercised ‘true’ political power in the Frankish Kingdom.
Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer): Expanded the kingdom and concentrated power in the position of Mayor Domo. He is the origin of the line of rulers that comprise the Carolingian Dynasty.
E. The Frank monarch and the Papacy join in an alliance. Pepin the Short (son of Charles Martel) is anointed King by the Pope. This papal coronation subverts the authority and legitimacy of the actual Frank king (last of the Merovingian kings). Pepin vows that the Franks will subdue and convert non-Roman Catholic tribes that could threaten the Church (eg. The Lombards). This begins the Carolingian Dynasty (“Line of Charles”).
II. Charlemagne ascends the Carolingian throne and establishes his court at Aachen.
A. Despite his illiteracy, he paves the way for a brief rebirth in learning after succeeding his father (Pepin the Short) as King of the Franks.
1. Merovingian Texts and Handwriting
A great accomplishment of Carolingian era monasteries was the preservation of manuscripts. Monks copied the Bible, works of the Church Fathers, sacred writings and commentaries, and works of classical authors as well. Many of the works of ancient Rome that we possess exist in their earliest form in a Carolingian manuscript. This copying contributed to a reform of handwriting. Merovingian script was all but unreadable, and each copying led to new corruptions in the text. With the Carolingian Renaissance there was a new emphasis on accuracy, and this drew attention to the need for better handwriting.
2. Carolingian Miniscule (2)
The invention of miniscule was significant. This script has clear, neat letters, with each word separated from one another, rather than all run together as Merovingian script often was. Alcuin (3) formed a scriptorium (writing office) that produced many books in the new script and influenced writers far and wide. One of Charlemagne’s capitularies is entitled “On Scribes – That They Should Not Write Corruptly”. Carolingian miniscule was revived during the Renaissance and has survived as our lower case letters (the capital letters come from ancient Rome). (4)
B. Political, Economic and Social Initiatives
1. In his government, Charlemagne systematized the administrative machinery of his predecessors. He permitted conquered peoples to retain their own laws, which he codified when possible, and he issued many capitularies. A noteworthy achievement was the creation of a system by which he could supervise his administrators in even the most distant lands; his missi dominici were personal representatives with wide powers who regularly inspected their assigned districts. He strove to educate the clergy and exercised more direct control over the appointment of bishops and he acted as arbiter in theological disputes. (5) He stimulated foreign trade and entertained friendly relations with Christian allies (e.g. England) as well as Muslims (e.g. Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid). (6)
2. Charlemagne’s court at Aachen was the center of an intellectual renaissance. The palace school, under the leadership of Alcuin, became famous; numerous schools for children of all classes were also established throughout the empire during Charlemagne’s reign. The preservation of classical literature was aided by his initiatives. (6)
III. Collapse Of The Frankish Kingdom
A. Rivalry among the sons and grandchildren of Charlemagne fractures the kingdom. Among the Franks, there had been a long tradition of land division among male heirs.
B. Treaty of Verdun (c. 843) (7, 8)
1. Charlemagne had several sons, but only one survived him. This son, Louis the Pious, followed his father as the ruler of a united Empire. The dispute between the sons of Louis the Pious (Charlemagne’s grandsons) results in the permanent division of the kingdom, stipulated by the Treaty of Verdun. Over the next two centuries, these divisions become divided further, combine with others, and change their borders. ‘Feudal’ lords become increasingly powerful as the central authority weakens.
2. The origins of familiar states appear as a result of the fragmentation of the Frankish Kingdom. The Holy Roman Empire emerges from the property of Louis the German, which further down the timeline gives rise to the nation-state of Germany. The property awarded to Charles the Bald, over time, becomes the center of the nation-state of France.
C. Viking Invasions: “Save us, O GOD, from the fury of the Northmen”
D. Expansion of Islamic Civilization