HOURLY HISTORY — CHARLEMAGNE, A LIFE FROM BEGINNIN G TO END — 2016
The book is well written and interesting. Charles the Great was the first Christian Emperor after the Roman Empire. He unified western Europe under his own rule by the genius of his military campaigns. He was also able to protect western Europe against the Islamic rulers that had taken over Spain and Portugal. His Grandfather Charles Martel had stopped them in Tours or Poitiers in 732. Charles the Great consolidated the Pyrenean border by establishing the march of Spain along the South side of the Pyrenees.
But he also unified Western Europe by imposing Latin as the only administrative and judicial language. He also built an educational system that trained the cadres and engineers of the empire. To do that he used the Church on which he leant heavily. He summoned Alcuin of York to come to Aachen and establish the first school system in Western Europe after the Roman Empire. He also had a whole body of missi dominici at his disposal to go all other the empire to inspect, manage and promote the numerous reforms brought about by Charles the Great, hence by himself.
At the same time, he collected in Aachen, in the local languages various popular songs and stories. Latin was the administrative language but Charles the Great respected the vernacular languages. He also encouraged traditional arts and the famous Song of Roland was the archetype and the model of medieval epic “chansons de geste,” meaning song that told the exploits of military heroes? Note the English have Anglo-Saxon songs of the same type, like Boewulf, though less martial, more supernatural.
Of course Charles the Great unified the empire with trade and commerce but to do that he had to unify it first at the religious level. His originality is that he started the most important religious reform that was to bring feudalism in Europe. The reform was in building the new churches that started being built in stone with vaults and that new style was to become the Romanesque style. The christening fonts were also modified to abandon christening by full immersion and replace it by the modern practice: a few drops on the babies scalp. The old christening pools that were man-deep were filled to be replaced by a simple font. There is still one standing, though filled in Le Puy en Velay, behind the cathedral. It is also in this period the evolution of the church started with a clarification of the various rites and the beginning of a long reflection on celibate priests. He encouraged monasteries and monasteries controlled important areas of land.
But the most important reform is the strict rules about Sunday: no work on Sunday. If you add to this the three religious week long festivities or celebrations of Nativity, Passion and Assumption, you come to something like 75 days when working was absolutely banned every year. To impose that reform the ownership of the land was to be changed to have the control of it, the peasants and other agricultural workers changed statuses and serfdom was introduced unifying statuses that ran from pure slavery to independent small farmers who owned their land and all types of sharecroppers in-between. This enabled, starting in the 9th and 10th centuries the installation of feudalism founded on the first green revolution with one invention, the horse’s collar, and many other techniques recuperated by the Benedictines from the Roman libraries they were conserving.
And still more had to come, starting in the 11th century, to replace human work they recuperated and multiplied a Roman invention that had hardly been used in slavery times: the water mill. This brought the proto-industrial revolution of the 11th century.
The religious reform introduced under Charles the Great was far-reaching and extremely important. The book only gives the premises of this evolution. It is true the scattering of the empire after Charles the Great’s death will bring a lot of wars and at the end of the 10th century a vast movement, the Peace of God, was introduced and preached and animated by the church to impose peace in Christian land, which boosted trade and commerce all over Europe. That too is a consequence not of Charles the Great management of the empire but of the ridiculous rule to share any kingdom or territory equally or nearly among the various sons of a king or a man. It will take some time before western European kingdoms learned how to transmit a kingdom to one person only.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU