The Carolingian Empire was a Frankish empire established by Charlemagne, king of the Franks, in 800, lasting until 843. It had a very large territorial extension, which comprised today’s France, the Low Countries, Austria, Swizerland, Northern Italy, and the Western half of Germany. The empire was called “Carolingian” because of the Carolingian dynasty, which had been established by Charles Martel, who was Charlemagne’s grandfather. The word “carolingian” is the variant of “carlovingian”, which means kingdom of Carlo, which is the Latin version of Charles.
The origin of the Carolingian Empire was the kingdom of the Salian Franks, founded by the Frankish chief Merovech in the 5th century, in Gaul (France). The Franks were one of the many Germanic tribes that had invaded the Roman Empire in 4th and 5th centuries. Before becoming king of the Franks, Charlemagne’s father, Pepin the Short, was first mayor of the king Childeric III’s palace. Since the mayor of the palace was the commander of the army, Pepin the Short held a lot of political and military power. In 751, he overthrew king Childeric III, who was irresolute and weak, proclaiming himself new king of the Franks.
Upon the death of Pepin in 768, the crown was inherited by his sons Charles and Carloman, but, since the latter would die three years later, Charles would be the only ruler as he would become known as Charlemagne, which is the Latin word for “Charles the Great”. Once a king, he would launch a series of military campaigns to bring unity to his kingdom and christianize the pagans. The best known of these campaigns was the Saxon Wars, which was a war to christianize the Saxon tribes, who still were a polytheistic people, as he conquered the western half of Germany. In 800, Charlemagne saved Pope Leo III from a conspiracy to depose him. In gratitude for having restored his papal powers and for expanding Christianity, Leo III crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Romans, in an attempt to restore the ancient Roman Empire.
When Charlemagne died in 814, the Imperial crown was inherited by his son Ludwig I, the Pius, (or Louis I, the Pious, in French). Despite the size and military power of the Carolingian Empire, it did not last long. Upon Ludwig I’s death, in 840, the empire would be inherited by his three sons: Lothair I, Charles the Bald, and Ludwig II, who would plunge the empire into a civil war. After three years of vicious fighting, they decided to put an end to the armed struggled and signed the Treaty of Verdun in 843, by which the Carolingian Empire got divided into three separate kingdoms: Charles the Bald received the Western portion, which in time would become France; Lothair was given the central part, which included the territory of today’s Italy, Swizerland, and the Low Countries; while Ludwig II (or Louis) obtained the eastern portion, and the biggest one, called Germania, which over the centuries would become Germany.
Map of the Carolingian Empire Division