To understand Charlemagne as a ruler you have to understand Charlemagne “The Man.” From what we can tell from Charlemagne’s personal qualities, he was a man of great stature known for being a great warrior, scholar, and politician. He was well spoken and charismatic. He valued his family, he related well to foreigners, had a positive personality, and was strong willed and athletic. Because of these qualities he was often very well respected and admired. In playing those roles he would not only be able to conquer but build trust and unity amongst the people. He was an incredible warrior whom displayed an iron will. Although he was one of greatness on the battlefield he possessed the ability of establishing friendships and was known for his generosity. Charlemagne was also respected as a scholar based on his willingness to learn, and his desire to promote education throughout his kingdom. Charlemagne studied Greek, spoke fluent Latin, and was well versed in the liberal arts. He used his love for learning to study the world around him in order to keep informed of this issues and cultures surrounding and throughout his empire. Charlemagne respected, defended, and supported the Catholic Church during his life, which reinforced his Christian morality and beliefs. It was his Christian orientation and moral
compass that helped give him direction in promoting not only unity, but most importantly, civilization within his kingdom. Because of the ferocity with which he defended his beliefs and convictions, and the open-minded way that he viewed the world and mankind, Charlemagne became a wise, multi-faceted, and charismatic leader that the masses first feared, yet came to revered and trust. Charlemagne was not only adept at organizing, making informed decisions, but quite willing to act on those decisions, while persuading and motivating others to willingly follow him. As a “MAN” then, he had the personality traits that not only made him a conqueror, but most importantly, an “empire builder” of civilized society.
Charlemagne was an aggressive and courageous warrior, and military leader. During the first thirty years of his rule as king, he had many successful military campaigns, which enabled him to expand and consolidate the Frankish nation, expand his landholdings, and strengthen his military forces. His conflicts included those against the Lombards, Bavarians, Spanish, Byzantines, Avars, and the Saxons (Snell, 2006).
His military strategy often included the use of heavy cavalry and a strategy of separating his army into two forces upon entering enemy territory so that he could envelope the enemy in a “pincer” type movement, attacking them from different directions. Charlemagne believed that by effectively using warfare he would be able defend his kingdom from potential enemies, increase the borders of his realm, and promote the spread of Christianity. Because of his exceptional military accomplishments on the battlefield including his willingness to lead from the front, Charlemagne deservingly earned the title of a “warrior king”, making himself a force to be reckoned with throughout western Europe as well as gaining the respect from the noble class which helped provide him with political leverage that he would later need to help him to unify the diverse population that he conquered.
RULER & ADMINISTRATOR – POLITICAL & CHRISTIAN ORIENTATION
Charlemagne’s reign marked the emergence of Christian society in Western Europe with its religious center in Rome and military center north of the Alps. (Boise State University, n.d.) At the time of his rule, powerful changes were taking place throughout the kingdom. Frankish tradition dictated that kings were expected to lead the army through wars that
would expand the kingdom’s boundaries and produce royalties for the people. The Kings before Charlemagne’s time were well renowned for their success as conquerors, but unfortunately did not have the foresight and sophistication to be able to lead and unify an ethnically diversified people, which soon became increasingly difficult to control and govern. It is this ability to “unify and rule” that made Charlemagne uniquely different from those who conquered, yet failed in promoting respect and loyalty among their subjects.
The characteristics that seemed to define Charlemagne’s reign were his ability to maintain and honor Frankish traditions, while devising creative ways of dealing with current issues affecting his kingdom. Charlemagne was fully aware of the importance of his obligation as ruler to maintain unity amongst his people and realized that he would need to devise unique ways to govern such a diverse population. Not known for being a political innovator, Charlemagne had the gift of being able to mobilize others with the necessary attributes and skill sets that he required to meet objectives throughout his kingdom.
Thus, because he controlled more territory than any other Frankish king, he began to delegate and create new offices as well as adapting old ones to meet the challenge of setting and enforcing laws that were sensitive to the diversity of ethnic and cultural beliefs and values. Charlemagne thus allowed each group to retain its own laws in local areas, organizing his empire into 350 counties, which were headed by appointed counts who were responsible, yet well-respected leaders familiar with the ethnic nuances within their respective jurisdictions. The counts would represent the authority of the kingdom by keeping the peace, collecting taxes, and administering justice (Boise State University, n.d.). Charlemagne also built a “failsafe” into his system by anticipating the possibility of his dukes and counts acting out of their own free will instead of the will of the king. In order to reduce the chances that his leaders would deviate from their assigned roles, he formulated a “checks and balances” system by appointing a separate set of court officers called the “missi dominici” to ensure that those charged to lead, did so without wavering, and in accordance with Charlemagne’s expectations (“Charlemagne,” 2010). The system worked very well and the informants were able to keep Charlemagne informed of the activities among the counties in the
kingdom. Through the new use of written documents as a form of communication between counties there was a greater precision in relaying orders given by the king. More importantly it reminded unorderly counts where their place was in the hierarchy of Charlemagne’s kingdom (Boise State University, n.d.).
Because Charlemagne was sensitive to the Frankish kingdom’s social and economic conditions, he was personally concerned with and focused on improving the organization and techniques of agricultural production; the establishment of a monetary system which better fit the actual exchange operations; the standardization of weights and measures; expansion through trading ventures into areas around the North Sea and Baltic Sea; and the protection of merchants from excessive tolls and robbery (“Charlemagne,” 2010). These proactive initiatives reflected Charlemagne’s organizational skills and ability to solve complex problems, which was the catalyst in sparking a once lethargic and declining economy that had haunted Western Europe since the 4th century.
FOUNDER OF THE CAROLINGIAN RENAISSANCE
A legacy of Charlemagne was his role in the birth of the Carolingian Renaissance, which was a cultural revival of learning and religious virtue (Boise State University, n.d.).
During this time, Charlemagne implemented a circle of scholars who were responsible for the expansion and promotion of Latin literacy throughout his administration while establishing a tradition of learning. To support the idea of the tradition of learning, Charlemagne ensured that a wealth of ancient manuscripts were copied and preserved for future generations. Charlemagne’s expansion of Latin literacy also brought about improvements in the educational system, including the publishing of books that pertained to the Christian-Latin lifestyle.
In studying the history of Charlemagne, I have developed an appreciation for his sophistication, wisdom, and versatility. Unlike many other military leaders throughout the middle ages, Charlemagne was a fearless conqueror, yet unlike so many others, he had the uncommon gift of being able to mobilize the masses to unprecedented levels of loyalty and respect, overcoming complex ethnic and cultural differences. Obviously, he was an exceptionally charismatic and deep-thinking man who was centuries ahead of his time in many ways. The numerous roles that he effectively played, including that of military strategist, scholar, savvy politician, administrator, and Christian revivalist, exemplified the fact that Charlemagne was
truly a multi-faceted thinker who had his finger on the pulse of his people, yet possessed the foresight and humility to sometimes mobilize others better equipped to carry out his vision. Charlemagne was not only a pioneer of early Europe, but more importantly his legacy was the birth of European “civilization”.
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