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Charlemagne (742-814)

Charlemagne, who gave his name to the Carolingian dynasty, was crowned emperor by the Pope in 800 in acknowledgment of his military conquests and support. During his reign Christian missionaries crossed the borders of the Empire into the lands of the Slavs and Vikings.

By annual campaigns Charlemagne extended his realm from the North Sea to Rome and from Barcelona to the Elbe and middle Danube rivers, notably annexing Saxony and even making the papacy subordinate. For Charlemagne warfare was essential, not only to amass great wealth and defend against enemies such as the Saracens, Magyars, Vikings and Avars, but also to reward his vassals with lands.

Charlemagne's council was composed of both clerical and lay aristocratic ministers, who also served as his household officers. He summoned men of learning, such as Alcuin of York and Paul the Deacon from Italy, to his court to act as his advisers and also as teachers to the clergy and nobility. There followed a great renaissance of art, architecture and scholarship, drawing on the Antique culture of the Mediterranean world for inspiration, and patronised by the Church and nobility. Both the Church and government administration were reformed, and improved estate management stimulated agricultural production, while centres of trade and industry yielded increased revenues, goods and luxury imports. In imitation of Rome and Byzantium, fine palace complexes such as Aachen and Paderborn were built. Charlemagne died at Aachen in January, 814.

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British Museum collections, £12.99

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