The Carolingian Empire was among the most significant early medieval empires in Europe. It came into being on the turn of the 9th century and came to end by the first quarter of the 10th century. The Empire was very significant for the later history of Europe, being the precursor to the later Holy Roman Empire and to the different monarchies which later ruled different regions of Europe.
The foundation of the Empire were laid by Charles Martel and his decisive victories against Muslim invaders. Later, his grandson Charlemagne formally took the title of the Emperor and became the first Emperor of the Carolingian dynasty.
The Age of Charlemagne refers to an important period in the History of the powerful Carolingian empire who's expansion into other territories had a lasting impact on medieval Europe Read more about the Age of Charlemagne >>
The Carolingian were noble people who were described as being Germanic Franks, They lived in and ruled the North West regions of Europe in the early part of medieval times Read more about the Carolingian People >>
Charlemagne was the most important ruler in the history of the Carolingian Empire, The Carolingian Timeline List all the important events in the Carolingian empires eventful history Read more about the Carolingian Timeline >>
Charlemagne was an influential medieval European ruler who launched and won many important battles, He was the Grandson of Charles Martel and formed the Carolingian Empire Read more about the Charlemagne >>
Charles Martel defeated the Muslim army of the Umayyad at the Battle of Tours in 732, effectively becoming the champion of Christendom in Europe and the most influential victor in the whole of Western Europe. His son, Pepin III, assumed the title of the “King”, effectively being the ruler of most Europe north or Pyrenees.
Charlemagne assumed the throne in 751 and went on to consolidate the whole realm of the kingdom into a single entity through a series of battles. He stretched the Empire across Western Europe and beyond and took the title of the Roman Emperor in 800.
The Empire under Charlemagne
Charlemagne’s reign was very significant in the history of the Carolingian Empire. He was the first Frankish king who united most of the territories of Western Europe into a single entity, something which hadn’t been accomplished since the fall of the Roman Empire. His reign was marked with many battles, constant patronage of the Church and expansion of Christendom by the subduing of many territories and peoples.
He annexed Italy to his Empire and defined the kingdoms of Germany and France. It was also during his reign that European attempts to wrest back Muslim control of Spain began. He died in 814 and was succeeded by his son, Louis the Pious.
Fissures in the Empire
The Reign of Louis was marked by civil warfare, mostly between him and his own sons. Louis had tried to establish dynastic control over the Empire’s territories by assigning his sons to different kingdoms. He made three of his sons the Kings of Italy, Bavaria and Aquitaine. When he tried to nominate another kingship for his fourth son, civil warfare ensued during which Louis first removed his three sons from their thrones but was subsequently removed from Emperorship and imprisoned. Later, the disputes were resolved within family and Louis resumed the throne. Later, another civil war raged upon his death which led the way to the Treaty of Verdun.
Treaty of Verdun in 843
Following Louis’ death, his eldest son Lothair became Emperor. He tried to strip his two brothers of their territories which led a civil war between the three. His brothers Charles the Bald and Louis the German forged an alliance against him and conclusively defeated him in 841. At the threat of losing his imperial right to throne, Lothair came to an agreement with the other two. This was called the Treaty of Verdun. According to this treaty, Louis received the medieval German kingdom and adjoining territories. Charles was made King of the territories which would later become France. Lothair received Kingdom of Italy and adjoining territories and the imperial title, although the title itself carried little importance.
The Empire in Later 9th Century
Following the Treaty of Verdun, civil warfare ended but the attempts by different members of the Carolingian dynasty to expand their powers continued. After Lothair’s death, the territories owned by him were further sub-divided into his three sons, with his son Louis II receiving Italy and also becoming the next Emperor.
Louis II attempted to expand his reign by allying with his father’s brothers. The next few years saw more inter-dynastic fights and manoeuvres. In 869, Louis II died with no heirs and his Kingdom was divided between Charles the Bald and Louis the German. Soon after, Charles the Bald was crowned the Holy Roman Emperor as well as the King of Italy.
Reunification of the Empire
The original Carolingian Empire had been divided since the death of Charlemagne. It was reunited only one again under the reign of Charles the Fat. Charles first succeeded to the throne of Italy and after being crowned the Emperor by the Pope, also came in possession of the other territories of the East Francia.
The King of West Francia, his cousin, died in 884 so that his territories also passed into the possession of Charles. The entire Empire remained united under Charles until 888. His reign then turned into another bout of civil warfare, finally culminating in his forced retirement and division of the Empire into five kingdoms.
Decline of the Empire
The Vikings had already begun launching major attacks on the territories of the Empire before Charles assumed the throne. While he was Emperor, Charles had to purchase the withdrawal of the Vikings from the siege of Paris in 886. This was considered a cowardly act which contributed the rebellion of Charles’ nephew, Arnulf of Carinthia, in 888. His rebellion marked the end of the Empire.
Splintering into Successor States
After the demise of the Carolingian Empire, it splintered into five kingdoms. These included Western Francia which came into possession of Count Odo of Paris, East Francia of which Arnulf became King, Italy, Aquitaine and Burgundy.
Carolingian Empire Summary
The Carolingian dynasty rose to power in Western Europe following Charles Martel’s landmark victory against Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 8th century. His grandson Charlemagne then forged a sizable Carolingian Empire and assumed the title of Emperor. The Carolingian dynasty continued to the rule the Empire which soon disintegrated into different parts.
Although an Emperor remained the supreme ruler of the Empire, the territories of the Empire were geographically divided into distinct regions. And upon the end of the Empire in the 9th century, it divided into 5 successor states including East Francia, West Francia, Burgundy, Italy and Aquintaine.