A Frankish family from which emerged a succession of rulers of the kingdom of the franks who played a decisive role in shaping the course of western European history during the period from c. a.d.700 to c. a.d.1000.
Origin and Rise to Power
The rather elusive evidence on the dynasty's origin, most of it slanted to throw favorable light on the family, establishes that it stemmed from the union of two Frankish families, which during the sixth century amassed huge land holdings and extended followings in Austrasia, one of the kingdoms that emerged from the partition of the original kingdom of the Franks created by clovis i (481–511) and his successors. The leaders of these two families, Arnulf and Pepin I the Elder of Landen, came into prominence in the first decade of the seventh century as influential figures serving the merovingian king of Austrasia. Eventually, in 613 they led a revolt which overthrew Brunhilde, the dowager queen who had aroused aristocratic ire by her attempt to increase the
power of the monarchy and her ruthless actions to safeguard the interests of the offspring of her marriage to King Sigibert I (561–575) of Austrasia. As a reward for their role in ridding him of his Austrasian rival, King Chlothar II of Neustria, now sole king of the entire Frankish realm, appointed Arnulf as bishop of Metz and Pepin I as mayor of the palace in Austrasia. These offices provided their holders with opportunities to add to their wealth, their following, and their prestige during the reigns of Chlothar II (584–629) and his son and successor, Dagobert I (623–639). Although the evidence is not totally convincing, the sources propagating the official Carolingian version of family history claimed that with the marriage of Arnulf's son to Pepin's daughter the two families were joined to establish a single dynasty whose history began with the offspring of the marriage, pepin ii of Herstal. Thus the family is often referred to as the Arnulfians or the Pippinids. Eventually, however, it came to be known as the Carolingians in honor of its most illustrious member, Carolus Magnus (charlemagne).
Pepin II. Following the death of Pepin I in 639 or 640, the family suffered a temporary setback resulting from an aborted attempt in 656 of Grimoald, Pepin's son and successor as mayor of the palace, to arrange the election of his son as king in place of a member of the Merovingian dynasty. For his challenge to the right of the Merovingian family to hold the royal office, Grimoald was executed by Neustrian aristocrats eager to check the Pippinids. In the tumultuous two decades that followed, marked chiefly by the efforts of the mayor of the palace in Neustria, Ebroin, to establish his control over the entire Frankish kingdom, Pepin II quietly guarded his family's holdings and following, both substantially increased by his marriage in 670 to Plectrude, a member of another powerful Austrasian family. His opportunity to repair his family's fortunes came when the Neustrian aristocracy sought his aid in ridding themselves of the tyrannical rule of Ebroin and his successors as mayors of the palace. Pepin II and his Austrasian following won a victory over the Neustrian followers of Ebroin in the Battle of Tertry in 687. That victory put Pepin II in a position to dominate the entire Frankish kingdom by controlling the office of the mayor of the palace serving the Merovingian kings of both Neustria-Burgundy and Austrasia. Skillfully playing aristocratic factions against each other, Pepin was able not only to strengthen his position in Austrasia but also to build a following and expand the family land holdings in Neustria-Burgundy. He attained his goal in part by using the authority of his titular masters, the Merovingian kings, to appoint counts, bishops, and abbots loyal to the Pippinids and to reward them with lands pertaining to the royal domain. As a result of internal problems afflicting the Merovingian kingdoms in the late 7th century, leaders of aristocratic families in Aquitaine, Thuringia, and Bavaria, territories previously conquered by Clovis I and his sons, sought to establish themselves as rivals of the Pippinids by leading movements to throw off Frankish rule. Pepin employed force and diplomacy to maintain Frankish dominance in those regions. He also successfully defended the Frankish kingdom against attacks by Gascons, Frisians, and Saxons, external foes always eager to raid Frankish territory.
Consolidation of Power
During the first half of the eighth century the Carolingian family built on the successes of Pepin II to soldify its position in the Frankish kingdom to the point tha allowed it to assume the Frankish crown. That success was due chiefly to the effective leadership of charles martel and pepin iii the Short.
Charles Martel. The death of Pepin II in 714 led to a struggle to find a successor. Eventually, Pepin's illegitimate son, Charles, emerged victorious by overcoming the opposition of his stepmother, Plectrude, and of an anti-Pippinid coalition made up of Neustrian-Burgundian aristocratic families and pagan Frisians. From then until his death in 741 Charles took actions that greatly expanded his family's dominance over the Frankish kingdom. Although he held no office except that of mayor of the palace serving the Merovingian royal dynasty, so successful was he in exercising real power that he felt no need to replace a "do-nothing" Merovingian king who died in 737. His success was due in part to his continuation of his father's policy of filling key offices in the royal administration and the ecclesiastical establishment with loyal followers. To increase the number of followers Charles expanded the use of vassalage and benefice. Vassalage involved an act of commendation whereby a freeman voluntarily accepted a position of dependence with respect to another freeman who became his lord; implicit in the act was the obligation of the vassal to serve his lord. In return the vassal received the protection of his lord and was granted a benefice which consisted of something of material value, such as an office or land. It has long been alleged that Charles engaged in a systematic confiscation of church property to reward his vassals, especially in return for military service. There is scant evidence to support that charge; perhaps he did grant to his followers some church property that he had confiscated from worldly bishops and abbots who themselves were using the wealth and power gained from church property to further their own political ends. In his own day Charles won ecclesiastical favor by lending his support to Christian missionaries, including willibrord, boniface, and pirmin, who were seeking to win converts and establish organized Christian life along the eastern frontier of the Frankish kingdom in Frisia, Thuringia, Hesse, Alemannia, and Bavaria.
Charles also enhanced the reputation of his family by his military feats, successes that owed much to his ability to expand his military resources by rewarding vassals with grants of land which permitted them to provide military service at their own expense. While he was able to repel raids by pagan Frisians and Saxons on his northern and eastern frontiers, his main success came in southern Gaul, where a crisis emerged in the form of Muslim raids from Spain, recently taken from the visigoths by Muslim forces which had been advancing across the Mediterranean world since the death of muḤammad in 632. Although Duke Eudo of Aquitaine valiantly resisted the Muslim raiders, he was finally forced to call on the Franks for aid. Charles responded with a force that inflicted a major defeat on the Muslims at a battle fought near Poitiers in 732, a triumph which earned Charles the epithet Martellus (the Hammer). Although this triumph by no means ended Muslim raids in southern Gaul, it prompted contemporaries to credit Charles Martel with saving Christendom by stopping what seemed to be the irresistible advance of Islam. No less significantly, his intervention in southern Gaul provided the opportunity to strengthen Frankish control over Aquitaine, Provence, and Burgundy, where the Franks had long claimed over-lordship. A measure of Charles' expanding reputation came in 739, when Pope gregory iii sought his assistance in defending the papacy from the lombards. Charles declined that plea, but it would not be long before the papacy received a different response from the new power emerging north of the Alps, the Pippinid dynasty.
Pepin III. Before his death in 741 Charles Martel divided the realm between his two sons, carloman and Pepin III the Short. During the years of their joint reign the brothers cooperated in quelling rebellions in Bavaria, Aquitaine, and Alemannia, where there continued to be an unwillingness among local aristocratic leaders to accept a position inferior to the Pippinid family. In 743 Carloman and Pepin III sought to quiet that opposition by filling the vacant throne of the Frankish kingdom with a member of the Merovingian dynasty, a clear demonstration that despite its weakness that ancient family still commanded respect among the Franks. While protecting the integrity of the kingdom of the Franks and defending its borders, Carloman and Pepin III won favor by lending their support to a reform movement led by Boniface and approved by the papacy. The reform program, aimed at correcting a wide range of abuses that beset the religious establishment under the late Merovingians, was spelled out in a series of church councils held in the 740s whose enactments were given the force of law to be enforced by the mayors of the palace.
In 747 Carloman abdicated his office as mayor of the palace to become a monk. Pepin moved immediately to assume control of the entire Frankish realm, but some were not ready for that eventuality, including those loyal to Carloman's heirs and Pepin's half-brother, Grifo, who sought to foment rebellion in Bavaria and Aquitaine as a means of making good his claim to his share of the inheritance of his father, Charles Martel. Even before these threats were completely resolved, Pepin took a step that was decisive in the history of his dynasty: He decided to assume the title of king of the Franks. Perhaps that decision was prompted by his need to find a way of enhancing his status in the face of opposition within his own family and from other rival families. In order to justify replacing the Merovingian dynasty, which had held the kingship of the Franks for more than 250 years, in large part because their subjects believed that their blood carried with it a divine entitlement to the royal office, Pepin took a momentous step. In 750 he sent an embassy to Rome to inquire whether it was good or bad that the kings in Francia were powerless. Pope zacharias responded that it was better to call king one who held power than one who lacked power and commanded that Pepin be made king. Taking this response as a mandate to assume the royal office, Pepin turned to the notables of the kingdom who in 751 elected him king of the Franks. That action was followed by an innovation in Frankish history: The new king was anointed by the bishops; perhaps Boniface was among them. So fortified, Pepin III, "king by the grace of God," relegated the last Merovingian king to a monastery.
The position of the new king, viewed as a usurper by some, soon received additional sanction from the papacy. In the face of a mounting threat from the Lombards to Rome and to papal authority over the city and its surrounding territory and no longer able to count on aid from the emperor in Constantinople, the traditional protector of the papacy, Pope stephen ii (III) journeyed to Francia in 754 to meet with Pepin. The result was a series of negotiations which led to a pact of friendship between the king and the pope entailing mutual responsibilities deeply rooted in religious convictions. Pepin promised to serve as protector of the pope and the people of St. Peter and to restore to papal control specific territories which the papacy claimed. That claim was likely based on a document recently forged at the papal court, the famous donation of constantine, which stated that the first Christian emperor granted Pope sylvester i possession of the western part of the Roman Empire. In return for Pepin's promise Stephen II anointed the king, his queen, and his sons, Carloman and Charles. He also bestowed on the father and the sons the title of patricius Roman-orum, which implied some kind of authority in Rome, and proclaimed that none but members of Pepin's family should ever wear the Frankish crown.
Pepin upheld his part of the agreement by conducting military campaigns into Italy in 755 and 756, which ended in victories over the Lombard king and the granting to the papacy of considerable territories in central Italy, most of which previously had been claimed by the emperor in Constantinople. This so-called donation of pepin constituted a landmark event in papal history by establishing the Papal States (see states of the church) as an independent entity, a state whose security was now linked with the destiny of God's special people, the Franks, and the dynasty that led them.
In the years between 756 and his death in 768 Pepin spent much of his energies on a series of campaigns that resulted in the incorporation of Aquitaine into the Frankish realm. He also actively promoted religious reform. In his reign the leadership of the reform movement slowly shifted from Rome, where Boniface had originally sought to place it, to the north, where the new king became the key figure in shaping the religious life of his subjects. That role was still another factor enhancing the power and the prestige of the Carolingian dynasty.
As had been the custom with his Merovingian predecessors, the first Carolingian king divided his kingdom between his sons, Charles and Carloman. Their corulership was marked by mounting rivalry which threatened the internal unity that Pepin had established and the agreement he had made to protect the papacy and the Papal States, especially after Charlemagne sought advantage over Carloman by accepting a Lombard bride in return for an alliance with Desiderius, the Lombard king. Then in 771 Carloman died. Charlemagne immediately seized his brother's inheritance, assumed sole control over the entire kingdom, and repudiated his Lombard alliance and his recent bride. Thus began a remarkable reign that brought the Carolingian dynasty to the apogee of its power and influence and led contemporaries to call the king Charles the Great, Charlemagne.
Conqueror, Diplomat, Governor. Charlemagne was first of all a successful war leader, a key factor in holding the allegiance of his followers. During the first 30 years of his reign very few seasons passed without a campaign somewhere. Although Frankish armies sometimes suffered defeat, usually they were victorious, in part because of Charlemagne's skill in recruiting, supplying, and maneuvering his troops. One result of his campaigns was the solidification of Frankish control over territories that the Franks had long claimed, especially Aquitaine and Bavaria. Other triumphs resulted in the submission of extensive new areas to Frankish rule, including Frisia, Saxony, Lombard Italy, the Avar empire, and a portion of Muslim Spain lying between the Pyrenees and the Ebro river. An administrative structure manned by trusted Frankish aristocrats was imposed on these conquered territories as a means of assuring their assimilation into the Frankish realm. And those same triumphs produced booty and tribute which allowed Charlemagne to strengthen his claim on the allegiance of his followers, both lay and ecclesiastical, by bestowing rich rewards on them. The victories over the pagan Saxons and Avars was accompanied by their conversion to Christianity, often achieved by the use of force, especially in Saxony. Christianization proved to be an effective tool in incorporating conquered peoples into the Frankish realm.
As the frontiers of his kingdom were extended, Charlemagne sought to assure their defense by establishing heavily militarized territories, called marches, at strategic points around the periphery of his realm. He also mounted a successful effort combining military action and diplomacy aimed at winning allies and neutralizing potential threats to his kingdom posed by such neighbors as the Danes, various Slavic tribes, the Byzantine emperors, the Lombard dukes of Benevento in southern Italy, the Papal States, the Muslim caliphs ruling in Baghdad and Cordoba, the Christian rulers of the kingdom of the Asturias in northwestern Spain, the Gascons and Bretons in Gaul, and the Anglo-Saxon kings of Mercia and North-umbria. By the end of his reign his military and diplomatic successes won the Frankish kingdom recognition as a major world power.
In the midst of his military and diplomatic activities Charlemagne found time to concern himself with the governance of his expanding realm. In general, he was not a political innovator; rather, he ruled within the institutional framework inherited from the Merovingians. His chief concern was with utilizing traditional political institutions and techniques more effectively to establish order and maintain concord among his subjects. The king's authority continued to be represented at the local level by counts and bishops, charged with acting in the name of the king to administer justice, collect taxes, raise armed forces, and keep the peace in each of the more than 400 counties and 200 dioceses into which the kingdom was divided. As had long been the case, the central government was made up of the king and his personal entourage, called the palatium (palace). In addition to the royal family, the palace was composed of trusted lay and ecclesiastical companions of the king who discharged a variety of functions, including managing the royal resources, leading armies, conducting diplomatic missions, producing written documents related to royal administration, counseling the king on policy issues, directing religious life, and taking part in activities that entertained the king and his family. Charlemagne's powerful personality was a prime factor in making this rather primitive administrative structure effective. Equally important was his success in filling offices at all levels with competent individuals drawn from a limited number of powerful aristocratic families, especially from Austrasia, eager to serve the king in return for the prestige, the power, and the material rewards derived from holding office.
Charlemagne was most innovative as a political leader in strengthening linkages between his person and his palatium and the local centers of power spread across his huge realm. He utilized several means to achieve this end: asserting influence through a network of office holders drawn from a limited number of families with shared interests; summoning power wielders of the kingdom to annual assemblies for consultation and approval of royal policies; regularizing and extending the use of missi dominici, royal agents sent out in pairs to tour specifically defined territorial entities to announce and enact the royal will locally; improving communication between the central government and local organs of government by expanding the use of written documents, especially capitularies, royal orders dispatched across the kingdom to inform all concerned what the king willed and how his commands were to be achieved; expanding the use of vassalage to create personal bonds linking important subjects to him and of benefices to provide material benefits on a basis that encouraged the vassal to remain loyal to his royal lord; and requiring all free men in his realm to swear an oath obliging them to be faithful in obeying and serving the ruler.
Charlemagne's efforts to make more effective traditional political institutions were accompanied by a subtle change in the concepts defining the purpose of government and the role of the king. To the traditional view of king as warlord there was added a religious dimension defined by ideas drawn from Old Testament models of kingship and from the vision of the city of God articulated by St. augustine. The evolving concept of governance imposed on the king who ruled "by the grace of God" an obligation to shape the spiritual and material lives of his subjects according to the commands of God. Kingship took on a ministerial dimension which mandated that a ruler be both priest and king, thereby blurring the distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the Church and the state, and greatly expanding the responsibilities and the political priorities of the ruler not only in religious matters but also in a wide range of social affairs related to eradicating sin, keeping order, protecting the weak, and providing justice for all.
Religious Reformer and Cultural Patron. Changing concepts of the function of kingship and the ends of governance gave impetus to two interrelated developments associated with the Carolingian dynasty: a religious reformation and a cultural renewal. The effort to reform religious life, already begun under Pepin III and Carloman, was expanded and given fresh impetus by Charlemagne, whose efforts were prompted at least in part by his personal belief that he as ruler had a responsibility for the spiritual well being of his subjects. His reforming program was complex, worked out by the king and his close advisers, enacted in a succession of church councils, publicized through capitularies which carried the force of law, and enforced by royal agents, especially bishops, who supported the correction of religious life. Reform focused on certain key problems: imposing a hierarchical structure on the ecclesiastical system, especially by strengthening episcopal authority; extending that organization into the rural areas of the kingdom in the form of a parish structure; mandating better training for the clergy as a means of improving the intellectual and moral capabilities required to discharge their offices; improving pastoral care so as to deepen understanding of the true faith and its behavioral norms; protecting and expanding the material resources of the Church, including the imposition of tithes; regularizing and standardizing liturgical practices; rooting out all traces of paganism; and suppressing deviations from the orthodox faith. The quest for norms that defined the right way to be Christian led to a vigorous exploration of Christian tradition defining canon law, theology, cult practices, and morality. The reformers were quick to turn to the papacy for guidance, especially in the realms of liturgy and canon law. Consequently, Charlemagne's religious reformatio took on a strong Roman complexion and marked an important step in establishing Roman Catholicism as a unifying force in western Europe. As Charlemagne's reform unfolded, it thrust the king into an ever more powerful role in controlling religious life, especially in terms of filling key ecclesiastical offices, managing church resources, and deciding what constituted the proper way to be Christian and to run the Christian community.
Charlemagne's efforts to improve the royal government and the religious establishment created a need for better educated individuals to serve the monarchy and the Church. The response to that need produced a cultural renewal, known as the Carolingian Renaissance, that reached its full force after Charlemagne's reign but which in its beginning owed much to his initiative and which constituted one of the most enduring contributions of the Carolingians dynasty. Charlemagne's cultural revival was given its original impetus and shape by a circle of scholars he gathered at his court from Italy, Spain, Ireland, and England; the most important of these foreigners was alcuin of York. Their intellectual interactions at the royal court in which the king was personally involved eventually led to measures taken with royal support to achieve the basic objectives of the king's cultural program: the establishment of an educational system equipped to improve Latin literacy as a means of enhancing the performance of those charged with imposing order on the Frankish society and with guiding the souls of the faithful to salvation.
Like his religious reform, Charlemagne's cultural program was essentially corrective, designed to renew cultural norms that had fallen into neglect in the Frankish kingdom. Court scholars soon began to produce textbooks to serve as tools in teaching Latin and to search out texts required to assure competency in interpreting Scripture, explaining doctrinal fundamentals, applying canon law, performing the liturgy, and teaching Christian morality. Attention was given to increasing book production and collection so as to make copies of those texts widely available. The answer was the establishment at the royal court of a copy center, called a scriptorium, and a library. Emphasis on book production prompted the adoption of a system of handwriting known as Carolingian Minuscule that was easier to write and to read and the search for techniques and motifs useful in decorating books.
Prompted by royal command and guided by literary and artistic activity at court, cultural life quickened across Charlemagne's realm. Existing cathedral and monastic schools, scriptoria (see scriptorium), and libraries were reenergized and new ones came into existence. In some of these schools skilled masters expanded the curriculum to the point where a full-scale education in the liberal arts comparable to that of the late classical world became available. Library collections began to include not only writings of church fathers but also the works of classical Latin authors; many classical texts have survived only in manuscripts produced in Carolingian scriptoria. The impact of cultural revival became evident in many areas: the increasing number of schools, scriptoria, and libraries; the increased honor paid to masters in these schools; the increased number and improved quality of written documents pertaining to civil and ecclesiastical administration; the increasing sophistication of writings devoted to explaining scripture and resolving complex theological issues; innovations in art and architecture spurred by the effort to improve religious facilities and deepen piety; stylistic creativity manifested in letter writing, history, hagiography, and poetry; the articulation of fresh ideas about the nature of society and its governance, the structure and practice of Christian life, and the responsibilities of those who wielded power.
Emperor. This impressive list of achievements during the first 30 years of Charlemagne's reign provided the background for the culminating event of his career, his elevation to the office of emperor on Christmas Day, 800. A decisive factor leading up to this event was a growing consciousness among Charlemagne's advisers, and perhaps in the king's own mind, that a new community was evolving under the aegis of the Carolingian dynasty. Increasingly referred to as the imperium christianum, that community was envisioned to consist of all who professed the orthodox faith proclaimed by the Roman church and its Carolingian protectors. Its formation and its welfare owed much to Charlemagne, whose traditional titles seemed to many to convey inadequately the true role of the "new David," and the "new Constantine" as leader of the society of true believers. And it was increasingly perceived that the future of the Christian community depended on leadership by one who could be trusted to give priority to the guardianship of orthodox Christendom. The concern for the welfare of the imperium christianum was acerbated in the eyes of many by the demonstrated unfitness of the heretical emperors in Constantinople to lead the Christian community; that unfitness was made especially manifest to many when a woman, irene, became emperor in 797.
The concern about the direction of the Christian community reached crisis proportions when papal leadership of the imperium christianum came under assault. In 799 a faction of Roman aristocrats rebelled against Pope leo iii, seeking to depose him on the grounds of tyranny and personal misconduct. Leo III escaped with his life by fleeing to Charlemagne's court. Long accustomed to protecting the papacy and the Papal States from external foes, Charlemagne was now called upon to deal with internal foes of the papacy in a situation where the king's rights to take action in judging the successor of St. Peter were far from clear. Creative action was in order. Acting through delegates Charlemagne restored Leo III to office in late 799 and then made an extended tour of his realm to consult with various advisers, finally ending in Rome in late 800 to settle matters. After carrying out extensive discussions during December of 800, arrangements were made that avoided judging Pope Leo III by allowing him to clear himself before an assembly of dignitaries by swearing under oath that he was innocent of the accusations against him. Two days later, on Christmas Day, as Charlemagne prepared to celebrate Mass in the basilica of St. Peter, Pope Leo III placed a crown on his head while the assembled crowd acclaimed him emperor. Then the pope performed the ritual act of obeisance due an emperor.
Although the evidence surrounding the coronation is confusing, there can be little doubt that Charlemagne and Leo III collaborated in reaching the momentous decision to revive the Roman Empire in the West. Some evidence suggests that plans for the event began to take shape as early as the meeting of Charlemagne and Leo immediately after the attack on the pope, with the king taking the leading role. Each stood to gain from the restoration of the empire. Aside of ridding himself of his enemies, Leo III put himself in Charlemagne's debt by lending authenticity to a still another new title that further exalted the Carolingians but was not enthusiastically accepted by all the new emperor's subjects. Papal participation in the imperial coronation marked another step in establishing papal involvement as a constitutive factor in authenticating the election of secular rulers. Charlemagne's status was elevated among his subjects by a title that took into account the diverse peoples he had conquered, his efforts to establish peace and concord, and his services on behalf of Christianity. And he could now claim equality with the emperors in Constantinople. His position as emperor gave greater clarity to his legal status in Rome and the Papal States, especially in terms of taking legal actions against those who had conspired to depose Leo III.
Less clear is what the new title meant to Charlemagne in governing his own realm during the last years of his reign. Some evidence suggests that being emperor had little or no impact on his political program. For example, he kept his old titles as king of the Franks and of the Lombards to which were added an enigmatic phrase to the effect that he was "emperor governing the Roman Empire," and in 806 he made provisions for his own succession that divided his kingdom into three portions without any reference to his imperial title or the idea of political unity implicit in that title. Other testimony indicates that the imperial title added new dimensions to his concept of his role as leader of the imperium christianum. For example, he intensified his efforts to reform the Church in terms that emphasized unity, peace, and concord, took steps to bring greater uniformity into a legal system marked by excessive diversity, engaged in a successful military and diplomatic campaign to gain acceptance of his imperial title from the emperor in Constantinople, and in 813 bestowed with his own hands the imperial crown on his only surviving son, Louis I the Pious. Perhaps it would not be amiss to suggest that Charlemagne was not quite sure what his new office meant. In the final analysis, he seems to have viewed the imperial office as an honor extended to him in recognition of his personal accomplishments, an award to be used as he pleased but not to be set aside lightly in view of its potential for enhancing his authority as a Christian ruler and his status among other rulers in his world. In any case, what happened on Christmas Day of 800 bestowed on the Carolingian dynasty the honor of renewing the Roman Empire in the West, thereby creating an institution that would play an important part in western European history for centuries to come.
When Charlemagne died in 814, the destiny of the Carolingian dynasty whose cause he had served so well fell to his son, Louis I the Pious. Although Louis I has often been dismissed as a political weakling whose policies set the Carolingian family on the course of ruin, recent scholarship has provided a more positive evaluation of his reign and demonstrated that his apparent failures were a consequence of problems inherent in the system he inherited rather than of his faulty leadership. Well educated, deeply religious, and politically experienced as a result of serving as subking of Aquitaine since 781, Louis came to the throne with definite ideas about the nature of Christian society and the responsibilities of its leadership. One of his first acts was to adopt the title of "Emperor and Augustus", dropping all reference to his kingship of Franks and Lombards, an act that heralded his dedication to establishing and maintaining the unity of the realm he had inherited. He gave notice that it was his aim to raise the moral tone of his regime by launching an attack on corruption and immorality which led to the purging the royal court of many of his relatives as well as several of his father's chief advisers. In their place he installed advisers committed to his program of unity, including especially the monk benedict of aniane.
Collectively, these new advisers were products of the religious reform and the cultural renaissance that had taken shape during Charlemagne's reign; their education instilled in them a conviction that the imperial office and the emperor must serve as instruments for shaping the earthly city of God in which all stood united under a Christian emperor who directed them in a common effort to conduct themselves according to the norms defined by the Christian religion. That conviction, to which Louis enthusiastically subscribed during the early years of his reign, spawned a vigorous effort to intensify the reform movement begun by his predecessors. In the legislation that emerged from that effort emphasis was on establishing uniform rules governing clerical life, imposing on the monastic establishment a uniform regime defined by the Rule of St. Benedict (see benedictine rule), and bringing all the faithful together in observing common moral standards and liturgical practices. As Louis' reform progressed, its clerical leaders increasingly pressed upon the emperor his accountability before God for giving priority to spiritual issues in his actions and his obligation to accept the guidance of spiritual leaders.
Louis did not neglect his worldly duties entirely. For example, he defended the imperial frontiers vigorously, continued his father's diplomatic efforts, promoted missionary activity in Scandinavia, and patronized cultural activities. But even in these matters he acted in ways that reflected his determination to serve the political, social, and cultural ends implicit in the concepts undergirding the Christian empire. He took steps to make governmental institutions more effective in identifying and correcting injustice and corruption and in formulating laws that would unify God's people.
Louis sought to unite his regime more closely with the papacy by welcoming Pope stephen iv to Francia in 817, receiving from the pope an imperial crown and a papal anointment that his father had denied him when he with his own hands bestowed the imperial office on his son in 813. Louis worked out with Stephen IV and his successor, Pope pascal i, the Pactum Ludovicianum, which reaffirmed the friendship pact between the pope and the Frankish ruler first established in 754 by Pope Stephen II and Pepin III and confirmed the role of the emperor as guarantor of territorial integrity of the Papal States. In 824 Louis' government reached an agreement with Pope eugenius ii called the Constitutio Romana which sought to integrate the Papal States more closely into the structure of the empire by defining more precisely the relationship between the emperor and the pope in terms that allowed the emperor greater authority over what happened in Rome. The ultimate statement of Louis' effort to ensure unity came in the Ordinatio imperii, issued in 817 to define succession to Louis. Contrary to Frankish custom, it designated his oldest son, Lothair, as co-emperor with the right to succession to the imperial office. Louis' other sons, Pepin and Louis, were assigned subkingdoms but were subordinated to Lothair, who would have ultimate authority over the entire empire.
Despite the concerted efforts of Louis and his advisers to create and perpetuate a unified Christian empire, their program encountered growing difficulties. The ehtnic, linguistic, and legal diversity existing within the Empire constituted a formidable obstacle to effective unity. Louis' effort to set aside the tradition of partition of the realm among all the royal heirs aroused opposition, as evidenced by the revolt of the grandson of Charlemagne, Bernard, king of Italy, whose rights to succession were totally bypassed in the Ordinatio imperii. Although Louis succeeded in ending this rebellion in a way that led to Bernard's death, he was by no means able to win support for his idea of succession from many of his subjects whose material welfare was associated with one or another possible heirs to the throne.
In his effort to celebrate unity and concord Louis took a step that discredited him in the eyes of many. In 822 he summoned the lay and ecclesiastical magnates of his realm to join him in reconciling their differences by admitting their sins and joining in an act of public penitence. The emperor himself confessed and did penance for a series of acts carried out in the performance of his office, including his part in exiling key advisers who had served his father and in bringing about the death of King Bernard of Italy. This bizarre episode, highly charged with religious overtones reflecting the ideals of imperial unity, convinced many powerful aristocrats that Louis not only had belittled his imperial office but also had fallen completely under the influence of his clerical advisers. Many aristocrats were concerned about Louis' regime for other reasons. Although he acted decisively to defend his empire, he undertook no wars of conquest, thus ending the flow of booty with which Charlemagne had rewarded his powerful supporters. The prospect of a central government dominated by clerics determined to hold those in positions of authority to moral standards defined by the Christian religion posed a threat to the power that many self-serving noble families had long been accustomed to wielding at the local and regional level, including the license to reduce powerless subjects to a position of dependence.
The resistance to the creation and perpetuation of a unified imperial regime eventually found a focus around a particular event: the birth in 823 of a son, Charles, to Louis by his second wife, Judith. This well-educated and gifted queen immediately set about assuring an inheritance for her son, a cause that she sought to aid by advancing the role of her family at court. Before long Louis I began to accede to her wishes, taking actions that raised questions about his commitment to the imperial ideal and the Ordinatio imperii of 817 and that threatened to diminish the territories assigned to Louis' older sons in that ordinance. The redirection of royal policy led the champions of imperial unity to shift their allegiance to Lothair, whose own ambitions added a disturbing element to the gathering storm. The ensuing jockeying for position ended in revolts in 830 and 833 in which Louis' three older sons joined hands against their father and his wife, each seeking to better his own position while preventing an inheritance for their half-brother, Charles. As a result of the second revolt, Louis was forced to surrender his office on the grounds that faults he had committed as ruler, including his failure to uphold the Ordinatio imperii of 817, proved his unfitness to rule as a Christian emperor. Although that harsh measure, shaped primarily by a group of church leaders committed to the cause of imperial unity and the interests of Lothair, was over-turned in 834 and Louis was restored to power, the circumstances that brought about the emperor's deposition placed important constraints on the concept of authority which had prevailed under earlier Frankish rulers. The last years of Louis' reign witnessed continued maneuvering, chiefly at the instigation of Queen Judith, to provide a substantial inheritance for Charles, an end that was achieved just before Louis died. In the process much of the passion for imperial unity was dissipated; of greater interest among conflicting factions were concerns with what form the ultimate division of Louis' empire would take and who would benefit most.
The Dissolution of the Empire and the End of the Carolingian Dynasty
Upon Louis' death in 840 lothair i moved immediately to assert his authority as emperor over the entire realm of his father. His brothers, Louis the German and Charles the Bald, joined forces in opposition and inflicted a major setback on his ambitions at the Battle of Fontenoy in 841. In the extended negotiations that ensued the three brothers agreed on the Treaty of Verdun in 843. It provided for a division of the empire into three autonomous political entities. To Louis went everything east of the Rhine and north of the Alps to create an entity henceforth called the kingdom of the East Franks. Charles was assigned everything west of a line following the Scheldt, Meuse, Saône, and Rhône rivers, a territory soon known as the kingdom of the West Franks. Lothair I received the territory between the other two kingdoms, stretching from the North Sea south into Italy. While retaining the imperial title, Lothair I gave up all claim to effective authority over his brothers.
After the Treaty of Verdun went into effect the three Carolingian rulers sought to sustain some semblance of unity by periodic efforts at brotherly cooperation in resolving common problems. Due in part to their efforts, some aspects of the Carolingian program continued to evolve, including religious reform and cultural renewal. But gradually the idea of political unity eroded, leaving it to the Church to nurture the concept of unity based on membership in a single ecclesiastical structure, adherence to a common faith, and observance of a common cult practices. Universalist concepts within the Church were represented with particular vigor by popes nicholas i (858–867) and john viii (872–882).
Each of the independent kingdoms created by the Treaty of Verdun went its own way, but each proceeded toward the same end insofar as the Carolingian dynasty was concerned: the weakening of royal authority and the eventual replacement of Carolingian rulers with new ruling families. Along the path toward the extinction of the family, the last Carolingians had to cope with the same fundamental challenge that had faced their Merovingian predecessors: the claim of powerful aristocrats to political autonomy in their local setting. Their response to that challenge led to the emergence of a new monarchical system based on the lord-vassal relationship that defined governance in terms of personal political services promised by vassal to the lord-king in return for benefices (fiefs) in the form of offices or grants of land which provided the resources used by royal vassals to establish dominance over their own vassals and dependent serfs. The collapse of effective monarchy was hastened by the damage heaped upon the Carolingian world by outside invaders, including Vikings, Muslims, and Magyars, against whom the Carolingian kings were incapable of organizing effective defense.
The Middle Kingdom. The most vulnerable of the kingdoms created by the Treaty of Verdun was the Middle Kingdom of Emperor Lothair I, who continued with little success his claim to superior authority over his brothers. Upon his death in 855 his realm was divided into three separate kingdoms. Lothair II inherited the northernmost part, Lotharingia or Lorraine, where he ruled until his death in 869. Thereupon his kingdom came to an end, replaced by a vaguely defined principality which for many generations remained a bone of contention between the rulers of the West and the East Frankish kingdoms, then of France and Germany. Another of Lothair's sons, Charles, received Burgundy and Provence as a kingdom; eventually two separate kingdoms, Burgundy and Provence, were carved out of this territory, each ruled over by kings with remote or no ties with the Carolingian family. Lothair I's oldest son, Louis II, crowned king of Italy in 844 and emperor in 850 by his father, proved to be an effective ruler, but only in Italy. He was especially noted for his efforts to defend Italy against Muslim attacks and for continuing the Carolingian policy of protecting the papacy, albeit in a fashion that put severe limits on papal autonomy. But after his death without an heir in 875, Italy slipped toward political chaos. The papal search for a successor to Louis II as emperor resulted in the coronation of successive Carolingians, first Charles the Bald (875) and then Charles III the Fat (881), neither of whom was effective in ruling Italy. Thereafter, a series of petty princes, some distantly related to the Carolingians and others non-Carolingians, competed for the kingship of Italy and the imperial title. As their rivalry proceeded, the imperial title grew increasingly meaningless and the kingdom of Italy fragmented into local lordships whose impotence set the stage for a long succession of intruders into Italy. By 900 any effective Carolingian presence in Italy had ended. A major victim of that development was the papacy which increasingly fell under the dominance of local aristocratic families interested in ensconcing family members on the papal throne as a means of pillaging the wealth of the Roman Church and the Papal States.
The Kingdom of the East Franks. In the kingdom of the East Franks Louis the German ruled until 876. His realm was composed of several semi-autonomous duchies that had been shaped by leaders of the powerful Frankish families whom Charlemagne had entrusted with establishing Frankish rule over fractious ethnic groups that had long resisted Frankish overlordship. As the ninth century proceeded the leaders of these families played on ehtnic memories and their ability to exploit royal resources and functions to carve out virtually independent principalities. Included among those duchies were Bavaria, Saxony, Thuringia, Franconia, and Alemannia; added later to that list was Lotharingia and Swabia. Despite troubles within his own family and raids on his kingdom by Slavs and Vikings, Louis the German ruled with some effectiveness. His authority was based primarily on his success in arranging marriage alliances that strengthened his position in several of the duchies and his success in gaining the support of key ecclesiastsical figures. Prior to his death he divided his kingdom among his three sons, the most notable of whom was Charles III the Fat, who through the efforts of Pope John VIII was crowned emperor in 881, became the sole ruler of the kingdom of the East Franks in 882 after the untimely deaths of his brothers, and then was elected king of the West Frankish kingdom in 884. However, Charles the Fat was not successful in any of these roles; under pressure from all sides, he finally abdicated in 887, the last Carolingian to rule over the entire realm created by Charlemagne. The magnates of the East Frankish kingdom then elected as king Arnulf, an illegitimate son of a brother of Charles III. Arnulf (887–899) proved to be a modestly effective ruler, winning some support from the powerful ducal families and defending the realm against Slavic, Viking, and Magyar raiders. In 898 Pope formosus persuaded him to accept the imperial office and the kingship of Italy, but he was able to achieve little in terms of controlling Italy. On his death in 899 he was succeeded as king of the East Franks by his son, Louis IV the Child, who ruled until 911. Thereupon the lay and ecclesiastical magnates of the East Frankish kingdom chose as king a non-Carolingian, Duke Conrad of Franconia. His election signaled that a new, non-Carolingian political entity, Germany, was coming into existence.
The Kingdom of the West Franks. The reign of Charles the Bald (843–877) in the kingdom of the West Franks was marked by major challenges and mixed results. A fundamental problem facing the new king involved safeguarding of royal authority against the ambitions of powerful aristocratic families who were successfully exploiting their land holdings, military followings, and fortified castles to establish local enclaves of dominance. In dealing with this challenge Charles sought to establish with these local potentates a lord-vassal relationship in which each vassal pledged to respect his lord's royal prerogatives in return for concessions in the form of offices, lands, and immunities from royal authority, concessions increasingly viewed as permanent possessions of their recipients, to be handed down to their descendants. This policy provided the means for dukes and counts to hasten the creation of principalities in which they assumed an ever larger share of public authority and built followings of subordinates who became their vassals. In dealing with aristocratic claims Charles had some success in playing one faction against another, a tactic that allowed him to gain the support of various noble families interested in limiting the success of other families. Charles was also successful in enlisting the support of the ecclesiastical establishment, especially that of Archbishop hincmar of reims, in defending royal authority. His ecclesiastical policy entailed generous grants to bishops and abbots of land and immunity from royal authority, efforts to protect the Church's resources from greedy laymen, support of religious reform, and patronage of cultural activity associated with enriching religious life. For all his skill in rallying support for the royal cause, royal rights and royal resources diminished, basically as a consequence of the royal decision to concede both in return for support and of the growing perception that royal authority rested on a contract defined by what lay and ecclesiastical potentates promised to do in exchange for concessions made by the king. Charles' efforts to prevent the erosion of royal authority were complicated by his inability to muster an effective defense against the ever more destructive Viking incursions into his kingdom, a challenge that local potentates, utilizing their private armies and their fortified castles, met more successfully than did the king.
Amidst his trials in defense of his kingdom and his royal authority, Charles still found time and energy to play a role in the larger world which earned him recognition as the most efffective of the late Carolingians. He was able to fend off an invasion of his kingdom by his brother, Louis the German, to play a role in thwarting the efforts of his nephew, King Lothair II of Lotharingia, to gain a divorce that would have provided Lothair with a legitimate heir to his kingdom, and to claim a share of Lotharingia after Lothair II's died without an heir. As a consequence of his patronage his court became the cultural center of western Europe, producing literary and artistic works that represented the most mature products of the Carolingian Renaissance. The culminating event of Charles' career came in 875, when through the efforts of Pope John VIII he was elected emperor, an honor that brought him little political gain anywhere in the Carolingian world, least of all in his own kingdom.
Charles was succeeded by his son, Louis II the Stammerer (877–879), and his grandsons, Louis III (879–882) and Carloman (879–884), under whose rule royal power continued to erode. The magnates of the West Frankish kingdom then selected Charles the Fat as king. Already king of the East Frankish kingdom and emperor, Charles was an inept ruler who was forced to abdicate in 887. Thereupon, a non-Carolingian, Odo, count of Paris and a member of one of the most powerful West Frankish families, the Robertines, was elected king, in part on the basis of his role in defending Paris against Viking attacks. Despite his efforts, Odo enjoyed little success against a variety of powerful figures whose loyalty, real or pretended, to the Carolingian dynasty provided an excuse for resisting him. To offset their opposition Odo finally agreed to the restoration of the Carolingian line in the person of Charles III the Simple, grandson of Charles the Bald.
During his reign Charles III (898–923) struggled valiantly to defend and even expand royal authority in the face of pressure exerted by the nobility to limit the king's authority. In this struggle he continued to rely on and receive the support of the Church. Charles III took a major step toward ending the long-standing Viking menace by reaching an agreement with the Viking leader Rollo in 911 in which Charles III granted to Rollo and his Norman followers a territory in the lower Seine valley, eventually known as the duchy of Normandy, to serve as their permanent home. In return Rollo became the vassal of Charles III and agreed to become a Christian, actions which marked important steps in integrating the Vikings into the mainstream of western Christendom. Charles III also conducted a skillful diplomatic campaign that led to the restoration of Lotharingia to the West Frankish kingdom.
Despite these successes, Charles was unable to retain the loyalty of key power wielders in his West Frankish realm. Their rebellion led to Charles' imprisonment and his replacement by a new king, Robert I (922–923), who after a brief reign was succeeded by Ralph (Raoul), duke of Upper Burgundy (923–936), both non-Carolingians connected with the Robertine dynasty that earlier had produced King Odo. Ralph continued the traditional Carolingian effort to defend royal authority against ambitious dukes and counts. Most of them eventually accepted him as their lord but who as vassals conducted affairs in their domains in a fashion that allowed little room for royal authority. Ralph suffered a setback as king when he was forced to surrender control over Lotharingia to Henry I, king of the East Franks. When Ralph died without heirs in 936, the leader of the Robertine family arranged for the election of a Carolingian, Louis IV, the son of Charles III the Simple, who had been living in exile in England since the overthrow of his father in 923.
With the reigns of Louis IV d'Outremer (from overseas) (936–954), his son, Lothair IV (954–986), and his grandson, Louis V (986–987), the Carolingian dynasty approached its end. Their reigns unfolded in a setting where the leaders of the various principalities that had been taking shape in the kingdom of the West Franks at least since the Treaty of Verdun had gained ascendancy in political life. These princes recognized the kings as their overlords and accepted their place as vassals, a position that gave the kings a theoretical right to command their allegiance and to claim certain services from them. These powerful royal vassals in turn surrounded themselves with their own vassals who owed their prime allegiance and services to their local lords rather than to the king; an extensive network of intermediaries had been created between the king and his subjects, limiting his ability to assert power over them directly. This feudal order had evolved because it proved effective in establishing local order in an era of political instability and persistent outside invasions. Because of the willingness of their predecessors to buy support by granting their powerful vassals lands, offices, and the rights to exercise public functions, the last Carolingians were left with dwindling resources with which to support their political actions. They had become little more than first among equals, still guarding what little remained of the prestige that their Carolingian predecessors had gained for the royal title, but limited in their ability to direct affairs within their realm.
On Feb. 2, 962 an event unfolded that signaled that during the course of the 10th century the role long played by Carolingians had passed into other hands. The non-Carolingian king of the East Franks and of Italy, otto i the Great, received from Pope john xii the imperial crown bestowed earlier on Charlemagne by Pope Leo III and held by several of his descendants but vacant since 924. Like Charlemagne, Otto I earned that honor through his deeds in defending Christendom, supporting the Church, and rescuing the papacy from its oppressors. Perhaps the sequence of events that led to Otto I's election as emperor made it easier for the magnates of the West Frankish kingdom to reach their decision when in 987 King Louis V was killed in an accident; they elected as his successor a member of the Robertine family, Hugh Capet, whose elevation marked the beginning of a new dynasty, the Capetians, to lead a political entity that would soon be called France. For the first time since Pepin II's victory at Tertry three centuries earlier in 687 no member of the Carolingian dynasty was in a position of power.
The fact that the last Carolingians suffered a fate much like that of their Merovingian predecessors at the hands of powerful aristocrats bent on establishing local centers of power might tempt one to conclude that the history of the Carolingian dynasty represented little more than an inconsequential interlude in western European history. That similarity should not veil the large mark the family made on western European society. Perhaps that mark was best described by a contemporary of Charlemagne who hailed his hero as Europae pater ("father of Europe"). In a real sense the dynasty of Charlemagne had generated a widely shared consciousness of membership in a new entity called Europe. That entity embraced a distinctive territory and a unique human community with its own political, religious, economic, social, and cultural features that set it aside from other contemporary communities. The Carolingian dynasty could rightfully lay claim to an important role in establishing the foundations for that community. Although there were limitations on the achievements of the Carolingians as political leaders, religious reformers, and cultural patrons, their programs in these realms were crucial in defining ideological parameters and institutional structures which succeeding generations employed to bring to maturity western European civilization as a potent force in world history.
See Also: carolingian reform; carolingian renaissance; liberal arts; monastic schools.
Bibliography: Sources. The reconstruction of the history of the Carolingian dynasty depends on a wide range of literary sources, including chronicles and annals, biographies, letters, capitularies, charters, Germanic law codes, acts of church councils, canon law collections, theological and philosophical tracts, poetry, saints' lives, scriptural commentaries, moral admonitions, educational manuals, and even forged texts. Recent scholarship has demonstrated clearly that there is also much to be learned about the Carolingian world from its archaeological and artistic record. The Latin versions of most of the literary texts have been published in such great collections as the Monumenta Germanicae Historia ; j. p. migne, ed., Patrologia Cursus Completus, Series Latina : and the Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina and Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Medievalis. A full list of Carolingian literary sources with citations to published editions can be found in The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 2: c. 700–c. 900, ed. r. mckitterick (Cambridge, New York, and Melbourne, 1995) 867–885. A useful brief description of the main sources for Carolingian history is provided by r. collins, Charlemagne (Toronto and Buffalo, 1998) 1–15. For fuller treatment, see w. wattenbach, w. levison, and h. lÖwe, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter: Frühzeit und Karolinger, Parts 1–6 and Beiheft: Die Rechtsquellen, by r. buchner (Weimar, 1952–1973); a revised version of this work, somewhat simplified in organization, has been edited by f. huf and published in 2 vols. under the same title in 1991. Helpful introductions to the Carolingian artistic record are j. hubert, j. porcher, and w. volbach, Carolingian Art, trans. j. emmons, s. gilbert, and r. allen, The Art of Mankind (London 1970); f. mÜtherich and j. e. gaehde, Carolingian Painting (New York 1976); and c. heitz, Le France pré-romaine: Archéolgie et architecture religieuse du haut Moyen Âge du IVe siècle à l'an mil (Paris 1987). Some sense of the material world in which Carolingian life unfolded is provided by the illustrations in d. bullough, The Age of Charlemagne (London and Toronto, 1963), and h. roth, Kunst und Handwerk im frühen Mittelalter: archäologische Zeugnisse von Childerich I. bis zu Karl dem Grossen (Stuttgart 1986). Literature. j. f. bÖhmer and e. mÜhlbacher, Regesta Imperii : v. 1: Die Regesten des Kaiserreichs unter den Karolingern, (2d ed. Innsbruck 1908; reprinted, Hildesheim 1966). h. pirenne, Mahomet et Charlemagne (Paris 1937); Eng. tr. Mohammed and Charlemagne by b. miall (New York 1939). e. amann, Histoire de l'Église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours 6, ed. a. fliche and v. martin (Paris 1947). l. halphen, Charlemagne et l'Empire carolingien (Paris 1947); Eng. tr. as Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire, by g. de nie (New York 1977). e. patzelt, Die karolingische Renaissance (Graz 1965). r. doehaerd, Les haut moyen âge occidental: Écomies et sociétés (2d ed. Paris 1971); Eng. tr. as The Early Middle Ages in the West: Economy and Society by w. g. deakin (Amsterdam 1978). p. richÉ, La vie quotidienne dans l'Empire carolingien (Paris 1973); Eng. tr. as Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne ) by j. mcnamara (Philadelphia 1983). s. fonay wemple, Women in Frankish Society. Marriage and the Cloister, 500 to 900 (Philadelphia 1981). r. mckitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751–987 (London 1983). p. richÉ, Les Carolingiens: une famille qui fit l'Europe (Paris 1983); Eng. tr. as The Carolingians: A Family who Forged Europe by m. i. allen (Philadelphia 1993). w. hartmann, Die Synoden der Karolingerzeit im Frankenreich und in Italien (Paderborn 1989). a. angenendt, Das Frühmittelalter. Die abenddländische Chris-tenheit von 400 bis 900 (Stuttgart 1990) 233–460. r. schieffer, Die Karolinger (2d ed. Stuttgart 1997). r. hodges, Towns and Trade in the Age of Charlemagne (London 2000).
[r. e. sullivan]
D. Watkin (1986)
Carolingian is also used specifically to designate a style of minuscule script developed in France during the time of Charlemagne, on which modern lower-case letters are largely based.
The name is an alteration of earlier Carlovingian, by association with medieval Latin Carolus ‘Charles’.
Carolingian Renaissance a period during the reign of Charlemagne and his successors that was marked by achievements in art, architecture, learning, and music. Credit for stimulating this renaissance is traditionally given to Charlemagne's adviser, the English scholar Alcuin.
Car·o·lin·gi·an / ˌkarəˈlinj(ē)ən/ (also Car·lo·vin·gi·an) • adj. of or relating to the Frankish dynasty, founded by Charlemagne's father (Pepin III), that ruled in western Europe from 750 to 987. ∎ denoting or relating to a style of minuscule script developed in France during the time of Charlemagne, on which modern lower-case letters are largely based.• n. a member of the Carolingian dynasty.