HIST 101 Lecture Outline (Spring 2023 – Week 11)

HIST 101

Carolingian Europe; The Splintering of the Caliphate,

750 – c. 1000 CE



Carmina Carolingiana: Angilbert (745-814), Versus de bella que fuit acta Fontaneto (10:20 min.):

Late Carolingian music, from an Aquitainian manuscript (MS lat. 1154) of the late 800s-early 900s (3:48 min.):



An introduction to medieval scripts, with Erik Kwakkel and Beth Harris (4:44 min.):



Cultures, pp. 323-331 (Two palace coups: Abbasid and Carolingian; the Carolingian ascent; Charlemagne; imperial coronation)


Map of the Merovingian kingdoms

The Albi, or Merovingian, world map (8th cent.) showing the Mediterranean world (North is to the left); re-drawing of the same map

7th C. Weak Merovingian “sluggard kings”; division of Francia (Neustria, Austrasia, Burgundy) and rise of mayors of the palace
680-714 Pepin of Heristal, mayor of the palace of Austrasia, conquers Neustria (687) and establishes Carolingian hegemony over Burgundy as well

714-741 Charles Martel (“the Hammer”)

732 Defeat of Muslim army between Tours and Poitiers (map), by army of Franks led by Charles Martel

741-768 Pepin the Short

740s “Donation of Constantine” (forgery by papal chancery, claiming imperial status for pope; click here for the text and for a 13th-cent. painting of this fictitious event)

Lombards capture Ravenna, kill the exarch and expel the Byzantines; query from Pepin to Pope Zacharias I (741-52)

(“Who should have the crown?”) results in coronation of Pepin (by Boniface, at Soissons) and alliance between Franks and papacy

754-6 754 2nd coronation of Pepin, by Pope Stephen II (at St. Denis), leads to Pepin’s campaigns against Lombards (755, 756) and grant of lands to papacy (“Donation of Pepin,” 756)

768-814 Charlemagne (“Carolus magnus” = Charles the Great):

Map of Europe at Charlemagne’s death in 814
Partition of Charlemagne’s empire in 843 by the Treaty of Verdun


Conquest of Saxony and Bavaria

Establishment of new imperial currency denominations that became standard in Europe for the next thousand years and more:
12d. (denarii = pence) = 1s. (solidus = shilling)
20s. (solidi = shillings) = £1 (libra = pound)

Thus: £1 = 20s. = 240d. Until the 1200s-1300s, however, the only coin regularly minted was the silver penny (denarius). The solidus (shilling) and libra (pound) were “moneys of account” (denominations used for accounting calculations, not as coinage)

774 Conquest of Lombards (Charlemagne henceforth styles himself “King of the Franks and the Lombards”)
778 Campaign against Spanish Muslims; Count Roland killed by Basques at Roncevaux (or Roncesvalles); establishment of Spanish March
790s Destruction of Avars



Establishment of permanent capital at Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle – map), with a palace school, and a magnificent palace chapel

800      Crowned emperor by the pope in St. Peter’s basilica, Rome

Some achievements of the “Carolingian Renaissance” (later 700s-800s):

  • Capitulary of 789 mandated schools in every cathedral and monastery to teach students and to correct and copy texts (more than 90% of extant Classical Roman texts owe their survival to Carolingian copyists)
  • Every monastery required to follow Benedictine Rule (reiterated 817-840, with expanded Rule)
  • Accurate new edition of Latin (Vulgate) Bible produced by Alcuin of York (d. 804)
  • New, clear script developed (“Caroline minuscule“) – click here for an example (a Carolingian gospel book, British Library, MS Add. 11848)
  • History of the Lombards and book of model sermons written by Paul the Deacon (d. 799)
  • Encyclopedia and handbook on clerical instruction written by Rabanus Maurus, abbot of Fulda (d. 856)
  • Neo-Platonic texts translated (from Greek) and written by John Scotus Eriugena (d. 877)
  • Lives of saints written by Walafrid Strabo, scholar, poet, and tutor to Charles the Bald, and abbot of Reichenau (d. 849)

Weaknesses of Charlemagne’s empire:

  • Very unwieldy to govern large; multi-ethnic and multi-lingual empire; no standard laws or taxation system
  • Long-distance trade weak; transport and communications very slow and hazardous
  • Heavy reliance on personal loyalty of counts, margraves, and bishops to emperor
  • Constant expansion of empire required to pay army and aristocracy with loot and land (“pyramid scheme”)
  • Charlemagne’s son and heir (Louis the Pious) cash-poor and weak
  • Fratricidal warfare among Charlemagne’s grandsons (LotharLouis the German, and Charles the Bald) divides empire
  • External attacks after Charlemagne’s death (Vikings, Magyars, and Muslims

9th-10th C.    Carolingian empire divided, and besieged by Vikings from N., Magyars (Hungarians) from E., and Muslims (or “Saracens”) from S.

814-840    Louis the Pious

843    Treaty of Verdun divides empire among the 3 sons of Louis the Pious (Charlemagne’s grandsons):

  • Lothar (d. 855) becomes emperor and takes Middle Kingdom (Lotharingia, or Lorraine)
  • Louis the German (d. 876) takes East Frankish kingdom (Germany)
  • Charles the Bald (d. 877) takes West Frankish kingdom (France)



Incipit planctus Karoli (Lament on the death of Charlemagne, 10:01 min.):



The Artistic Legacy of Abbasid Baghdad (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 3:44 min.):

How to use an astrolabe (British Museum, 6:38 min.):

Seb Falk: Astrolabes: The Medieval Smartphone? (9:33 min.):

Video on Viking ships (6:28 min.; start at 0:44):

Smithsonian Channel video on Viking longship design (3:49 min.)

The Galloway hoard (Viking hoard discovered in Scotland in 2014; 3:21 min.):

The Magyars (8:21 min.):



Cultures, pp. 331-338 (Carolingian collapse; the splintering of the Caliphate; the reinvention of Western Europe and manorialism)

Sources, pp. 163-165 (Einhard, Life of Charlemagne)


Map of Viking conquests

Swedish vikings: go east to Baltics, S. Russia, Ukraine, and Byzantine Empire
Danish vikings: go south and west to Francia, S. Europe, and British Isles
Norse vikings: go west to British Isles, Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland

Excavation and analysis of about 50 decapitated Viking skeletons from Weymouth, Dorset, 2009:

(2:20 min.): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iBGV3IJbLk
(4:40 min.): http://videosift.com/video/Weymouth-ridgeway-skeletons-Scandinavian-Vikings


The splintering of the Abbasid caliphate:

756-868 CE:   Religious, political, and tribal conflicts within the Ummayad caliphate result in break-away of Iberia, N. Africa, Egypt, and S. Asia (map):

  • 756     Surviving Ummayads establish the emirate (or caliphate) of Al-Andaluz in Iberia, with its capital at Cordoba
  • 779-800     3 regions of N. Africa (modern Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia) establish separate kingdoms
  •  819    Break-away of Khurasan (in NE India and part of Afghanistan)
  • 867     Break-away of Sind (approx. modern Pakistan)
  • 868     Break-away of Egypt; a new dynasty – the Fatimids – is est. in 905

800s-900s:     Rising hostility of Muslims against  Jews and Christians, both within the Islamic world and in Europe

c. 750-1000     Cultural “Golden Ages” of Carolingian Renaissance and Abbasid caliphate (especially in Baghdad) overlap with political splintering of both empires

The reinvention of Western Europe:

c. 800-1000     Western Europe under siege by Vikings, Muslims, and Magyars, resulting in:

  • Political fragmentation of kingdoms
  • Rise of local lords (counts, bishops, etc.) as defenders of their territories; these lords are rich in lands but have little cash income
  • Rise of vassalage (or feudalism): landless knights receive a fief (Latin: feudum), usually consisting of one or more manors (rural estates), instead of a salary from their lords, and become their vassals (sworn followers), swearing to provide their lords with military service and loyalty (not cash rents) in return for the fief.
  • Rise of serfdom:  poor peasants become serfs (semi-slaves) on manors  in return for tenancy of farmland and defense by the lord of the manor
  • Rise of manorialism (manor-based society and economy) and agricultural productivity: in each manor, the peasant farmers (mostly serfs, some slaves, some free) share expensive plow-animals, harness, and metal tools (including plowshares), and each household holds (not owns) strips of land scattered among the various fields of the manor, and shares pasture land (for livestock) and meadow land (for growing grass to dry as hay for winter fodder). Serfs pay rent to their lord partly in produce and partly in labor (often 3 days per week, and more at harvest-time).

By c. 950-1000, when the external attacks on Western Europe by Magyars, Muslims, and Vikings cease, most of Europe is politically fragmented but has developed defenses using feudal military forces, and is beginning to produce harvest surpluses.

Primary source:

Einhard, Life of Charlemagne (c. 817-833): This extract summarizes Charlemagne’s military conquests