charles the great) (742-814. King of the Franks and first medieval Roman emperor. Son of Pepin the Short, he became sole ruler of the Frankish kingdom in 771 and spent the next three decades in warfare. His greatest military achievement was the conquest of the Saxons in a protracted war that drained his resources. Victory was gained through massacres, forced conversions, mass deportations, and the organization of Saxony into counties and dioceses under Franks loyal to Charles. In 774 he defeated the Lombards and annexed N Italy. He conducted several campaigns along the southwestern frontier and founded the Spanish March. In the east he crushed Bavaria, organized the Ostmark as a defense against the Slavs, and later destroyed the Avars, an Asiatic people who had penetrated to the middle Danube. These campaigns brought the heathen Slavic tribes under Charles's influence and opened the way for German colonization of eastern Europe. On 25 December 800, in Rome, Leo III crowned him emperor, an event that has been the object of intense historical controversy. The motives of both Leo and Charles are extremely unclear, and the significance of the action itself is disputed. As this challenged the Byzantine emperor's position, Charles worked to improve relations with the East.
The Carolingian administrative structure contained few innovations, but Charles was more effective in securing respect for his authority and instituting better government than his predecessors. He utilized permanent professional judges and royal envoys (missi dominici) to extend his authority in the realm, while promulgating ordinances (capitularies*) to correct abuses. Charles possessed power over both church and state, and practiced a kind of religious paternalism in his church reforms. He intervened in questions of clerical appointments, discipline, and even doctrine. Convinced a better- educated clergy was needed, he fostered a revival of learning by bringing to his palace the intellectual elite of Latin Christendom (e.g.,,* Paul the Deacon, Peter of Pisa, Theodulf, and Einhard) to form the Palace School at Aachen. The * spread throughout the empire, and by uniting pagan and Christian classical knowledge it reestablished the common culture of the West.
Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne (many translations); F.L. Ganshof, The Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne (1949); P. Munz, The Origin of the Carolingian Empire (1960); R. Winston, Charlemagne: From the Hammer to the Cross (1954).