Saturday, November 2, 2013

Medieval Europe Part 1: Of Kings and Killers Pt. 1-- Rise of Charlemagne and Fiefdoms

My other blogs are:

Of Kings and Killers Pt. 1
Rise of Charlemagne
Medieval Europe Part 1

RISE TO POWER: Born in A.D. 742 as Charles the Great, and known also as Carolus Magnus, Charlemagne was an infamous king best known for being one of the first emperors of Western Europe, for subduing the Saxons and Bavarians (that is, massacring thousands of them), and even for pushing his empire all the way to Spain which not even the Romans could do. He was an impressive king and an even more impressive emperor, but life was not easy for him and his empire. However, it all seemed to start fairly well for him, as he was set up as King of the Lombard's in A.D. 764 in Italy, sharing the kingdom with his brother Carolus. It was around his early years that Charlemagne was sent out to deal with the Saxons and Bavarians, and he conquered them in what was coined "The Saxon Wars," from A.D. 762 to 764. Charlemagne solidified his future as king and emperor from these wars with brilliant tactics and strategy, and when his father died in A.D. 768, Charlemagne took control over the Frankish Kingdom, thereby dramatically increasing his power and the area over which he reigned. Ironically, his brother would mysteriously die only 3 years later in A.D. 771.
Emperor Charlemagne and his Army Fighting
the Saracens in Spain A.D. 778
from The Story of Ogier

Seeing how the Romans were never capable of truly conquering Western Europe's Germanic groups, they had instead opted for a "can't beat 'em, join 'em" philosophy, allowing the Germans and Celts to simply join Rome with some impressive rewards such as great pay and citizenship with benefits. However, Charlemagne was actually able to conquer just about everyone around him with brutality, and adopting his dearly deceased father's policy of Christianization of Pagan cultures, he also forcibly Christianized everyone he conquered.
Charlemagne was great at killing too. It was pretty much all he did, and he had the most impressive cavalry army outfitted with chainmail, which was invented for him and his rampages. As seen throughout history, humans learn how to kill and destroy in better and more efficient ways but still have learned so little about creating, fixing or saving life. Charlemagne is the pinnacle of this lesson humanity has not learned yet, since he was one of the first conquerors who spread a religion focused around saving life ironically during his murderous campaigns, even inventing new ways to slaughter while on horseback and better armor for his soldiers, called chainmaille.
REIGN OF BLOOD: Charlemagne's reign was one of blood and oppression, since many of these cultural groups often rebelled or put up a stiff "fight to the death" resistance. It's sad because Charlemagne also forced those cultures that he conquered to become Christian or face some stiff penalties, including execution. The problem with this is that forcing Christianity is not possible, since the human heart cannot be forced into anything. A person cannot kill an idea or philosophy, and more often than not, killing people for such philosophies only creates martyrs and victimizes the group, making the survivors bitter and more resistant. With such stiff governmental and religious oppression, Charlemagne was forced to deal with rebellions all over the empire after his brother and father died, but nevertheless, Charlemagne ascended to the throne as undisputed emperor and reigned in blood and war. Charlemagne was a conqueror and little else. If you browse around other blogs and history sites it'll become clear that many people have "most evil men" lists for historical people that are renowned for truly evil reigns of power. Obviously, Charlemagne is near the top of these lists on the majority of them since he was no different than Hitler or other awful power mongers, with the exception that he did not persecute a single culture or religion, he persecuted and slaughtered everyone.
Pope Leo III
CROWNING AS EVIL EMPEROR: In an ironic twist, around A.D. 800 Charlemagne would be crowned as emperor by Pope Leo III, however he desperately attempted to crown himself. The reason for this is that the person who invests someone with power is someone more powerful than the person being crowned. This means that if Charlemagne were crowned by the Pope, that the Pope would be more powerful that himself! By allowing Pope Leo III to crown him, he inexorably gave Pope Leo III more power than Charlemagne had. This is ironic because it was from Charlemagne that the papacy ever gained so much power to begin with due to his "conquer and Christianize" campaigns. As Charlemagne conquered new areas he set up new churches and expanded the power and scope of the papacy. Charlemagne himself gave the popes their rise to power through his bloody rampage across Europe, and he resented them bitterly for his own ignorance. And yet, in another ironic twist, after Charlemagne's death in A.D. 814, his awful legacy of conquering and Christianizing would be taken up by the church itself, and Charlemagne's oppressive tactics would pave the way to the tragic Crusades and wholesale slaughter of innocent peoples.
RISE OF THE NORSEMEN AND BIRTH OF FIEFDOMS: What a sad era in human history, where even the church itself whose job was to spread the gospels and salvation would actually become an oppressive and murderous power mongering regime of intolerance and death. This shift in power from emperor to Pope led to countless power struggles between popes and other popes, between popes and emperors, and led to complete civil unrest, civil wars, rebellions, and tainting the name of Christ.
I don't care what anyone says-- the Vikings did
not wear winged or horned helms in battle!
The only purpose a helm like that would
serve is as a handhold for an enemy
to slit your throat (yes, not good!)
And yet, for all the combined power of the pope and Charlemagne himself, no one could stop the rise of the men of the north! It was because of the quick pillage and flee tactics of the Norsemen that Charlemagne realized he could never mobilize his army fast enough to capture or even prevent the attacks of the Norsemen dotting the coasts as they sailed from harbor to harbor burning, pillaging, and slaughtering. For centuries this went on until the birth of the city came to be and some mild relaxation came to Europe. Until then though, fiefdoms arose all over Europe. A fiefdom was a miniature kingdom usually run by a rich land owner with enough money for a tiny army of either trained mercenaries or were hired out by Charlemagne's own military men. These fiefdoms were like highly clustered villages, and rather than having a castle with a king, there was a mansion with a powerful landowner who rented out his land to other commoners. Everything was like a kingdom, except smaller. And just like a kingdom, the way a fiefdom worked was essentially the same. In exchange for being allowed to live on the land, the common people basically gave taxes to the land owner and maintained his land, and the people got protection from the Norsemen.
FIEFDOMS BECOME KINGDOMS: These fiefdoms stripped Charlemagne and his future empire of tremendous amounts of power as some fiefdoms became so large and powerful that they become actual kingdoms. The advantage of a fiefdom was that if the Norsemen or anyone else attempted to attack an area, the military would be right there in the area already and could repel attacks immediately. The fiefdoms that failed to protect the area simply died to a man or the common folk would just leave to another, more powerful fiefdom. This allowed other nearby fiefdoms to rise in even more power as other fiefdoms rose and fell. These fiefdoms caused a dramatic shift in power from the empire and papacy to common folk, essentially stripping the power of the empire to such a degree that some larger fiefdoms became completely autonomous of the empire.

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