John S. Ott
Portland State University
HST 354U - Early Medieval Europe, 300-1000 

Reading Guide :

Carolingian Europe

The Carolingian Empire: renovation and innovation

This week we will begin a two-week look at Carolingian and post-Carolingian Europe.  The epoch takes its name from one of Charlemagne's ancestors, Charles Martel (714-741), but is more commonly associated with Charles the Great (Karolus Magnus, or Charlemagne).  Between ca. 750-850 C.E., political power and territorial unity in Europe achieved their highest point of consolidation following the Roman Empire, before ultimately splintering once again into a decentralized political landscape.  Some historical background: since the late seventh century, while the Merovingian dynasty was still in place, political power in Francia had been steadily accumulating in the hands of officeholders known as the mayors of the palace, the right-hand men of the Merovingian kings.  In 751, Pepin (or Pippin) the Short seized royal power from the last of the Merovingians, replacing one royal dynasty with an established, but non-royal, newcomer.  Pepin, who ruled Francia as king for 17 years, had two sons: Charlemagne and Carloman.  Their relationship was not close.  Under pressure, Carloman eventually ceded his half of the kingdom to his brother and retired to an Italian monastery, and Charlemagne achieved sole power of his father's territories.  Our documents for this week begin with Pepin's anointing as king in 751, by Archbishop Boniface, and again in 754, this time with his sons Charles and Caroloman, by Pope Stephen.


As you read, keep careful track of the arguments between the popes and Carolingian kings.  What is the nature of the relationship between the Carolingian rulers and the pope, and what sort of the relationship does the Donation of Constantine attempt to establish between them? What kind of document the Donation pretend to be?  What was the extent and nature of Charlemagne's power, that is, to what spheres of life did it extend?  What issues or aspects of daily life does he regulate in his capitularies (legal pronouncements)?

(1) What qualities make Charles an ideal king in Einhard's portrayal?  To what subjects does Einhard devote his narrative?  How does it begin?  How does it end?
(2) How do you account for Einhard's rather lengthy digression in c. 33?  What other concerns preoccupy Einhard as he writes? 
(3) What does Einhard think of the Carolingians' predecessors, the Merovingians?  Why do you think he presents such a negative portrayal of the last Merovingian ruler?  How is the last Merovingian removed, exactly?  How does Einhard describe Pepin's relationship with his brother, Carloman?  Is it believable?  Why or why not?

(1)  What powers and rights does the Donation reserve for the pope? 
(2)  How should we understand this document and the intentions of its author(s)?
(3)  What does the document claim were the circumstances of its composition by Constantine (chaps. 6-11)?  What is significant about these details?
(1)  What kind of advice does Dhuoda give William in the verses comprising sections 1 and 2? 
(2)  Given the tenor of the Handbook's contents, what can we deduce about aristocratic women's social and religious roleswith respect to their children and families?
(3)  Does this work possess a political purpose or agenda?  If so, what might it be?