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Charlemagne was the founder of the Carolingian Empire, best known for uniting Western Europe for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire.
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Charlemagne, also known as Charles I, was born around 742 A.D., likely in what is now Belgium. Crowned King of the Franks in 768, Charlemagne expanded the Frankish kingdom, eventually establishing the Carolingian Empire. He was crowned Emperor in 800. Charlemagne's empire united Western Europe for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, and sparked the Carolingian Renaissance.
Charlemagne was born around 742, the son of Bertrada of Laon (d.783) and Pepin the Short (d.768), who became king of the Franks in 751. Charlemagne’s exact birthplace is unknown, although historians have suggested Liege in present-day Belgium and Aachen in modern-day Germany as possible locations.
Similarly, little is known about the future ruler’s childhood and education, although as an adult, he displayed a talent for languages and could speak Latin and understand Greek, among other languages.
After Pepin’s death in 768, the Frankish kingdom was divided between Charlemagne and his younger brother Carloman (751-771). The brothers had a strained relationship; however, with Carloman’s death in 771, Charlemagne became the sole ruler of the Franconians.
Once in power, Charlemagne sought to unite all the Germanic peoples into one kingdom, and convert his subjects to Christianity. In order to carry out this mission, he spent the majority of his reign engaged in military campaigns. Soon after becoming king, he conquered the Lombards (in present-day northern Italy), the Avars (in modern-day Austria and Hungary) and Bavaria, among others.
Charlemagne waged a bloody, three-decades-long series of battles against the Saxons, a Germanic tribe of pagan worshippers, and earned a reputation for ruthlessness. In 782 at the Massacre of Verden, Charlemagne reportedly ordered the slaughter of some 4,500 Saxons. He eventually forced the Saxons to convert to Christianity, and declared that anyone who didn’t get baptized or follow other Christian traditions be put to death.
In his personal life, Charlemagne had multiple wives and mistresses and perhaps as many as 18 children. He was reportedly a devoted father, who encouraged his children’s education. He allegedly loved his daughters so much that he prohibited them from marrying while he was alive.
Einhard (c. 775-840), a Frankish scholar and contemporary of Charlemagne, wrote a biography of the emperor after his death. In the work, titled “Vita Karoli Magni (Life of Charles the Great),” he described Charlemagne as “broad and strong in the form of his body and exceptionally tall without, however, exceeding an appropriate measure…His appearance was impressive whether he was sitting or standing despite having a neck that was fat and too short, and a large belly.”
In his role as a zealous defender of Christianity, Charlemagne gave money and land to the Christian church and protected the popes. As a way to acknowledge Charlemagne’s power and reinforce his relationship with the church, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans on December 25, 800, at St.
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