The Merovingian and Carolingian Dynasty (page 2)

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 3, 2012

The Carolingian Dynasty

By the end of the eighth century, the Carolingian rulers had united all the Franks under one central government. They expanded the Merovingian holdings into a Carolingian empire, conquering the Italian peninsula and expanding as far west as the Elbe River in the north and the Danube River in the south.

On Christmas Day 800, the Pope crowned the French king Charlemagne emperor in an elaborate public ceremony in Rome. He was considered the new hope of a new Roman Empire and a rival to the Byzantine Emperor in the East. Charlemagne is a highly important figure in the early history of Christianity. He spearheaded the Carolingian Renaissance, an artistic and literary flowering that was motivated entirely by the desire to spread Christianity and to better understand its history. He also encouraged the study of Christian texts in Latin and set monasteries full of monks to copy and illuminate manuscripts and devotional works. The Carolingian Renaissance instituted high educational standards for monks and priests throughout France and the standardization of worship services in all parishes. This was not a Classical renaissance but a Christian one.

In 843, the Treaty of Verdun divided Charlemagne’s empire among three grandsons. West Francia became the greater part of the modern nation of France, while in East Francia the Germanic culture would dominate; East Fran- cia was eventually absorbed into the Holy Roman Empire (see “The Foundation of the Holy Roman Empire” later in this chapter), which in 1871 would become the nation of Germany. Lotharingia, the central and smallest division, sometimes allied with West Francia and sometimes with East Francia: later, when it developed into the region of Lorraine, it would continue this pattern, serving as a bone of contention between France and Germany for at least four hundred years. This is historically important because it shows that the French and the Germans have a common ethnic, cultural, and historical origin—a fact that both sides acknowledged in the twentieth century, when they put aside centuries of enmity to found the European Union.

By the seventh century, a money economy had already replaced the barter system; there were an astonishing number of mints in Merovingian France. However, the region had slumped economically under Merovingian rule; this was due not to incompetent administration so much as to a variety of other factors (military invasions, bad weather, and a fall-off in international trade). Under the Carolingians, France underwent economic recovery and was poised to play a central role in the bustling mercantile economy that would include all Europe after the year 1000.

By the end of the ninth century, the system of delegating royal authority to the vassals (now called counts, hence the noble title count and the administrative division county) was breaking down. Those counts who had acquired extensive lands began calling themselves dukes and assuming a greater degree of royal authority than they had ever been granted. With their own armed retinues of vassals, who were much more loyal to the local lord than to the faraway monarch, these dukes were very difficult to control. The kingdom became built up with heavily fortified castles, whose purpose was to protect the duke and his followers not only from foreign invasion but also from regional and local rivals.

Cultural and local divisions deepened; Frankish culture remained strong in the north, while southern France was more culturally Roman. Viking tribes had been sweeping into France at irregular intervals since the 700s. One group had settled Normandy, on the shores of the English Channel, and soon became known as Normans. In 911, after unsuccessfully attacking Chartres and then Paris, the Viking leader Rollo converted his tribe to Christianity and swore loyalty to France, in exchange for permission to settle permanently in the kingdom.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at: 

Europe - From Byzantine Empire to AD 1000 Practice Test

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