Discuss the political organization of the empire created by Charlemagne. How did he rule?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Charlemagne had an empire consisting of numerous ethnic and linguistic peoples spread over a large geographical area. Maintaining his rule over this empire required some creative touches; however, Charlemagne did not institute major innovations in the way he ruled. Rather, he adapted the pre-existing institutions of feudalism to suit his...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Charlemagne had an empire consisting of numerous ethnic and linguistic peoples spread over a large geographical area. Maintaining his rule over this empire required some creative touches; however, Charlemagne did not institute major innovations in the way he ruled. Rather, he adapted the pre-existing institutions of feudalism to suit his needs and make them more efficient for his empire. Many of these changes became standard in the way later European rulers governed throughout the middle ages.

Charlemagne remained the central source of power and authority in his realm. He had absolute power to make laws, reward allies, and punish opponents and dissenters. To manage all this, Charlemagne had a palatium, or traveling court of family members and supporters that followed him wherever he was in his kingdom. This court served as advisors and officials to carry out the affairs of state. He used these coveted positions in his court to reward allies and maintain their loyalty.

Charlemagne appointed various barons and counts to rule specific areas within his empire. These lords were vassals to Charlemagne and were given a large degree of authority over their fiefdoms. They served as local judges, tax collectors, and military leaders. They were expected to remain loyal to the emperor in exchange for a degree of ownership of their fiefdom. This is the basic model of feudalism, an institution that would continue throughout the middle ages.

In order to have eyes and ears throughout his large territory, Charlemagne established the missi dominici. These were royally-appointed bureaucrats who traveled throughout the empire to announce the emperor's will and keep tabs on the various vassals and lords.

In order to strengthen the ties between all the various powerful people in his empire, Charlemagne held an assembly every year. Military, political, and religious leaders would all gather together at these annual meetings to strengthen bonds, let their grievances be heard and mediated, and hear Charlemagne's vision and agenda for the year. All this allowed Charlemagne to rule his vast and powerful empire.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Charlemagne, also called Charles the Great, was King of the Franks and unified much of modern Europe under one Carolingian Empire. Though Charlemagne ruled from 768 after his father's death, he was not coronated as Holy Roman Emperor until Christmas Day in the year 800. The crowning of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III, and the establishment of a Holy Roman Empire, formed a union between the "two swords" of European power. This metaphor represents the Holy Roman Catholic Church, who wielded religious power, and the King or Emperor, who wields secular power. Both served to legitimate and support each other.

Charlemagne is known for instigating a number of social, religious, and governmental reforms. The Carolingian Empire was organized around him and his supreme (secular) rule and included these reforms. Though Charlemagne was the utmost authority on all matters in his territories, he employed a number of administrators who were dispatched the various territories and reported on the status there once a year. The various counties were watched over by a Count (or Comes), who was responsible for local law and order and the maintenance of toll roads. The Missi Dominici made rounds in their appointed territories to keep the various localities up to date with changes in secular law and any new religious capitularies- sort of statements of intent to reform.

Further down the line were Vassi Dominici, vassals to the King who held benefices of land, which was worked by peasants. The Vassi Dominici oversaw the general maintenance of their lands and also offered military service to the king.

In general, Charlemagne was the supreme ruler of the Carolingian Empire, and he had the utmost authority on all matters. But because so much land and so many people made up the Empire, he employed a variety of administrative economic, governmental, judicial, and religious assistants to perform more day-to-day tasks on his behalf. His progeny went on to rule the Empire for many generations, and his administrative system laid the foundation for several modern European nations.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team