Carolingian Warfare

The Carolingians were a powerful family from the tribe of Franks who rose to power in Western Europe in the mid-8th century.

Carolingian Warfare

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.

Merovingian Dynasty

Merovingian Dynasty

Notable among these was the 732 victory by Carolingian Charles Martel in the Battle of Tours, a battle that was effectively heralded as an event blocking Islam’s path into Western Europe.

Battle of Tours and Poitiers

The Battle of Tours  was one of the most important battles of medieval times

By the end of the 8th century, Carolingians had mastered the art of warfare and stretched their rule into the East until Saxonia and Bavaria, into the South until Italy, and into the West all the way to the Iberian peninsula, this was made possible by the excellent warfare tactics and military organization of the Carolingians.

Carolingian Shields Warrior

Carolingian Warrior

Carolingian Army

It was the organization, 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.


Charlemagne King of the Franks

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.

Carolingian Army

Carolingian Army

Army Formation

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.

Carolingian Costumes. 9th century clothing. Charlemagne Knight in armor.

Carolingian leaders and noblemen were usually military leaders.

These included the Bavarians, Burgundians, Lombards, and Provencals among others. Visigoths from Spain were frequently used as the light, high-speed cavalry.

By the 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.


Carolingian Empire

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.

Anglo Saxon Warfare

The Anglo Saxons used a shield formation as a tactic on the battlefield

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 that enabled him to wage quick battles far and wide throughout Western Europe.

Moorish Warriors

Moorish Warriors

It was under him that Carolingian warfare reached its golden summit from which it would begin to decline with the death of Charlemagne.