In the last lecture, we looked at the history of the Carolingian family up to Pippin of Herstal. In this lecture, we zoom in and look at the life of his son, Charles the Hammer, Charlemagne’s grandfather. As we will see, Charles rose to prominence because of his military prowess. He is largely regarded as one of the greatest medieval generals for, among other things, his halt of the Umayyad dynasty’s advance into southern France.
In the last lecture, we examined some of the key institutions of the Frankish realm. I briefly touched on some of the earlier figures of the Carolingian family. In this lecture, I want to take a closer look at the history of the Carolingian family up to Charles the Hammer. This will contextualize this Frankish family that would come to rule most of western Europe. Full disclosure for this lecture and the many to come.
In the last lecture, we saw some of the salient features of the Frankish world. Towards the end, I noted the rise of an important family, that is, the dynasty of the Merovingians. Under the Merovingians, Clovis would unify much of Western Europe. In this lecture, I want to zoom in and examine the salient institutions that made up the government and bureaucracy of the Frankish kingdom of the Merovingians. It is important to discuss this because these are the institutions in which Charlemagne’s grandfather, Charles the Hammer, and father, Pippin the Short operated. And these are the institutions that his family inherited when they overthrew the Merovingians.
Charlemagne is an oddity in the early medieval world. He’s odd not because of the things he did or how he acted. He’s odd because it is possible to construct an entire course around him. It is possible to do this because of the immense level of documentation we have about him and his time as king and emperor. In the next thirty or so lectures, we will explore the world of Charlemagne, his life, from boyhood, to his death. We will touch on his legacy and heir, his only surviving son, Louis the Pious. By the time these lectures are complete, you will have a clear understanding of who Charlemagne is and the world in which he operated. In this lecture we begin by contextualizing the man against the backdrop of his environment, that is, the Frankish world.
In this lecture, we meet the Anglo-Saxons who were the combined groups of the Angles, the Saxons, and a few smaller groups, such as the Jutes. All of these groups were Germanic tribes who hailed from the northern parts of Europe, specifically modern-day Belgium, Netherlands, and northern Germany.
In this lecture, we explore early medieval Ireland. As we will see, Ireland was a much more diverse place in the medieval period that is today. Today, the island of Ireland is divided between two countries: the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom). In the early middle ages, however, Ireland was divided between hundreds of different kingdoms with shifting alliances. The goal of this lecture is to give the listener a sense of the culture and peoples of early Ireland up to the arrival of the Vikings in the eighth century.
In the previous lecture, we looked at Charlemagne and the so-called Carolingian renaissance. I only briefly laid out Charlemagne’s life because I am producing a whole series of lectures on him. If you’d like to learn more about him, please listen to that lecture series. I am now turning away from Charlemagne here and looking at the later Carolingians, beginning with his son, Louis the Pious, up through the reign of his grandsons Charles the Fat and Charles the Simple with whom the Carolingian family’s control wanes and dies. While Charlemagne is certainly the most important Carolingian, we will see that it is, in fact, the later Carolingians that begin to roughly define the boundaries between modern-day European countries.
In the previous lecture, we met the Carolingian family. In this lecture, we are going to look closely at the most important member of this family, a man named Charlemagne. We are going to examine briefly his years of warfare, but our chief concern here is not Charlemagne the belligerent, but rather the Charlemagne who was heavily invested in cultivating learning and education. In this lecture, we ask what was the Carolingian renaissance and was it, in fact, a renaissance.
In a previous lecture, we looked at the Frankish World. We now return to that world by looking at a specific dynasty, or family, the Carolingians. We met briefly the Merovingian dynasty. The Carolingian family was the dynasty that overthrew the Merovingians and it was the family that some have called the architects of Europe, that is, they are largely responsible for the rough national boundaries in modern Europe. This lecture is the first of several on this family. Their importance cannot be overstated. We will see their rise in this lecture, their reforms in the next lecture, and their fall in the lecture after that. Throughout these three lectures, I ask simple but important question: why were the Carolingians so important?
In the previous lectures, we the rise of the so-called “barbarian kingdoms” across Europe and how they began to forge new political boundaries across Europe. We also saw how the Papacy grew as an institution in the early middle ages. In this lecture, I want to begin examining outside influences to this new dichotomy that existed across Western Europe after the so-called “fall of the Western Roman Empire.” We have already seen one such outside influence, that is the Gothic War with the Byzantine Empire’s failed invasion of Italy during the sixth century. In this lecture, we look at a new external influence, that of Islam brought to southwestern Europe via the Umayyad Invasions in the Iberian Peninsula, modern-day Spain and Portugal via the Straits of Gibraltar, in the early eighth century. This invasion is perhaps one of the most significant events in the history of Western Europe, despite the fact that it receives so little attention in most courses on Western Europe. It radically altered Europe politically, economically, socially, and religiously.
If you have heard my lectures on Rome or listened to my earlier lecture on the Gothic War, then you should be somewhat familiar with the Goths. The term “Goths” is a collective term to refer to many different people who, by the fifth century, largely coalesced into two distinct groups: the Visigoths who fled the Hunic invasions a century earlier and become heavily Romanized as foederati and the Ostrogoths who entered the Roman Empire a bit later. While the Ostrogoths would form a kingdom in Italy, the Visigoths would form a kingdom in modern-day Spain, or the Iberian Peninsula. In this lecture, we explore the Visigoths more closely during period of a Spanish history known as Visigothic Spain which lasts from roughly 400 up to 711. In this brief lecture, we will see the rise and fall of the Visigoths in the region. As I cannot do their history justice in a single lecture, I will be narrowing my discussion to the main themes of Visigothic history and the significant cultural elements of the Visigoths to explain their downfall in the early eighth century at the hands of the Umayyad invaders, whom we will meet in the next lecture.
In the previous few lectures, we have examined the Church and Christianity and the Lombards of Italy. In this lecture, I will be looking at the Franks. We will have several lectures that address the Franks which are, perhaps, the most important people north of the Alps as they define the boundaries roughly between the two modern-day countries of France and Germany. And they are the original rulers of these respective regions and conquer much of western Europe between 500 and 840. Because of the importance of the Franks and because we will meet them many times in future lectures, it is worthwhile to detail the Frankish world here.
In an earlier lecture, I discussed the Gothic War in which the Byzantine Empire invaded Italy to try and reconquer the Italian Peninsula, which had once been the heartland of the Roman Empire. Ultimately, they were unsuccessful. The result of this invasion was the destruction of Italy and the weakening of the political states and actors, most importantly, the Goths. This weakened political state left Italy exposed. In this lecture, we pick up with one group of people who will take advantage of that exposure, the Lombards who established a kingdom in northern Italy.
In the previous lecture, we saw the rise of the early medieval Church. We saw the solidification and concentration of power under the Papacy of Gregory the Great. In this lecture, we are going to explore another Christian phenomenon, monasticism, which is the processes of experiencing the Christian faith as a monk, be it as a hermit or in a communal living space called a monastery. Throughout this lecture, I answer a fundamental question, what was monasticism and how did it develop? In addition to this, I also address how it functioned inside and outside of the Church.