The Carolingians were a powerful family from the tribe of Franks who rose to power in Western Europe in mid-8th century. They replaced the Merovingian dynasty as the rulers of the Franks and effectively became Frankish kings. This was greatly supported by the military role and prowess of the Carolingians who had risen to high ranks in the Frankish society on the back of their military victories.
Notable among these was the 732 victory by Carolingian Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours, a battle which was effectively heralded as an event blocking Islam’s path into Western Europe. By the end of the 8th century, Carolingians had mastered the art of warfare and stretched their rule into East until Saxonia and Bavaria, into South until Italy and into the West all the way to Iberian peninsula, this was made possible by the excellent warfare tactics and military organisation of the Carolingians.
It was the organisation, equipment and training of a sizable army that enabled the Carolingians to forge a vast empire. Complexed and detailed methods were used by Carolingian rulers such as Charlemagne to bring together a huge army. The king would summon his direct vassals who would then take charge of bringing together the troops from the lands under their control.
It is estimated that Charlemagne was attended by 1800 vassals who, in turn, would each bring 20 fighting men or more. Freemen were required to join the battlefield depending upon their holdings. Every freeman with three manses was to join the army during a battle and of those owning two manses, one of every two freemen was required to be armed and join the army.
Given the Frankish origins of the Carolingians, the Franks were the most dominant part of the Carolingian army and also the main fighting force on the battlefield. However, as the Carolingian rule expanded during the reign of Charlemagne, troops from different other regions were also recruited directly into the army.
These included the Bavarians, Burgundians, Lombards and Provencals among others. Visigoths from Spain were frequently used as the light, high-speed cavalry. By 9th century, Lombards replaced them as the best troops of the cavalry.
Carolingian Warfare under Charlemagne
The reign of Charlemagne most decisively helped the Carolingians expand their rule and forge a vast empire, chiefly through continuous warfare. Charlemagne waged war on the Lombards who had established a kingdom in Italy and displaced them by having himself crowned the King of Italy.
He also waged a long war campaign into Saxon regions of the East, subduing the Saxons in Saxonia and Bavaria over a period of 30 years and during some 18 battles. He also waged war against the Avars and Slavs in the East, subduing them both and securing Carolingian borders against them.
To the West, Charlemagne led his military campaign as far as Iberia where he was engaged with the Moors. Although Charlemagne inherited the excellent military machine from his predecessors, it was his use of novel use of battlefield techniques and a rapid logistical system which enabled him to wage quick battles far and wide throughout Western Europe.
It was under him that Carolingian warfare reached its golden summit from which it would begin to decline with the death of Charlemagne.