Charlemagne: Empire and Society

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Joanna Story
Manchester University Press, Jun 4, 2005 - History - 330 pages
This book focuses directly on the reign of Charlemagne, bringing together a wide range of perspectives and sources with contributions from fifteen of the top scholars of early medieval Europe. The contributors have taken a number of original approaches to the subject, from the fields of archaeology and numismatics to thoroughly-researched essays on key historical texts. The essays are embedded in the scholarship of recent decades but also offer insights into new areas and new approaches for research. A full bibliography of works in English as well as key reading in European languages is provided, making the volume essential reading for experienced scholars as well as students new to the history of the early middle ages.

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“Charlemagne: Empire and society” is a series of essays edited by Joanne Story focusing on the particulars aspects of Charlemagne’s reign including areas such as the economy, hierarchy, connections with the Roman Empire and of course the man himself. It covers the entire period of his reign with reference to the Merovingian dynasty which preceded that of the Carolingian, the one to which Charlemagne belonged. It seeks to re-present Charlemagne using the latest evidence and bring the perceptions of the near legendary King in line with new research.
The book consists of 15 chapters each focusing on a different element of Charlemagne’s rule rather than a chronological description of his life. The first chapter entitled “The long shadow of the Merovingian’s” describes how the Carolignians led by Pippin, Charlemagnes father, deposed the Merovignian King Childeric III. He details how Pippin sought to find justification for something which was essentially a coup d’etat and how the Merovignians, as the longest ruling in dynasty in Europe, would continue to influence the way the Carolignians ruled long after there being deposed.
The next chapter tackles the problem of knowing “Charlemagne the man” presenting three stories which are true but contain which elements which were probably deliberately constructed for propaganda purposes. Thus demonstrating that it is difficult to draw too much about Charlemagne from contemporary sources because they were so often recorded events which had been planned in detail beforehand. However it draws broad conclusions on his character by looking at three moments and looking at the objectives they share.
Einhards Charlemagne this chapter discusses the representation of Charlemagne by contemporary biographer Einhard. Instead of examining the veracity of the account, which would be obviously biased as Charlemagne was Einhard’s patron, it examines Einhards reasons for writing such a biography and how his inclusion of personal details such as what Charlemagne ate or his physical appearance have led to Einhard remaining a popular source on Charlemagne despite his obvious bias. The book frequently mentions the difficulty of avoiding “romanticism” in dealing with such figures and attempts to discourage the sense of knowing a historical personage.
The Imperial Coronation is one of the most controversial events of Charlemagnes life, discussions over whether he knew about the coronation before hand and the consequences of his Imperial Coronation. Yet again citing Einhard, this is forgivable only because it is the most complete biography of Charlemagne’s life, it examines how the coronation fit with traditions surrounding accepting office, the “reluctance” to accept was considered proper in antiquity this was a continuance of this tradition.
The inner workings of Charlemagne’s kingdom are covered in “Charlemagne and the aristocracy...”, “Charlemagne's church”, “Ideology and economy”, “Rural settlement hierarchy..” and “Urban developments in the age of Charlemagne”. Examining in detail the way Carolingian society functioned so as to give a proper backdrop to Charlemagne's own rule. The cultural aspects of Charlemagne’s rule are not ignored in the section on the “Carolingian renaissance” .
More traditional focuses on Charlemagne's reign namely his military achievements are spread out throughout the book in context of other topics but are mainly focused on in “World beyond the Rhine”. However the book generally focuses on Charlemagne as an individual and how society functioned under his reign.
“Charlemagne and the Anglo Saxons” is a particularly interesting chapter because it reveals a surprising amount of interaction between the Anglo Saxons and Charlemagne, especially given the relatively small amount of influence England had on the continent at this point. As Charlemagne's interactions with the Anglo-Saxons were not military they have little prominence in typical historiography regarding Charlemagne. However this


Charlemagnes reputation Joanna Story
Charlemagne the man Janet L Nelson
the characterisation of greatness David Ganz
Charlemagnes imperial coronation and the Annals
Charlemagnes government Matthew Innes
captains and kings Stuart Airlie
Charlemagnes church Maykedejong
Alcuin Hildebald
Charlemagne and the renewal of Rome Neil Christie
Charlemagne and the world beyond the Rhine Timothy Reuter
Charlemagne and the AngloSaxons Joanna Story
ideology and economy Simon Coupland
Rural settlement hierarchy in the age of Charlemagne
Urban developments in the age of Charlemagne Frans Verhaeghe

The Carolingian renaissance of culture and learning

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Page 311 - EK Rand, A Survey of the Manuscripts of Tours, Studies in the Script of Tours, I (Cambridge, Mass., 1929) ; II, plates iii, vii, xxviii, xl-vliv, xlvii, xcvi, xcviii, cxxv, cxxviii-ix, cxxxvii, cl, cli, cliv, clviii, clxx, clxxviii.

About the author (2005)

Joanna Story is Lecturer in Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester.

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