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Charlemagne (for Charles the Great) was the king of the Franks from 786-814 A.D. He is renown for founding a great empire in western Europe, a domain that extended from the Atlantic Ocean to the Adriatic Sea, from the North Sea to the Pyrenees Mountains. Crowned as emperor of the Western Roman Empire by Pope Leo III, an act which demonstrated Rome's independence from the Greek empire of Constantinople, Charlemagne regarded himself as the successor to the emperors of Rome; however, later ages saw him as the founder of a new European empire. In fact, the Napoleonic empires, and even Adolf Hitler's plans for empire were patterned on those of Charlemagne.
As a skilled military strategist, Charlemagne prevented Christianity from losing its stronghold in Western Europe. In 778, Charlemagne sought to extend his empire by warring with the Moors, but he was forced to withdraw. But, throughout his empire, Charlemagne imposed Christianity upon all his subjects. Some of his methods were extreme: At the Massacre of Verden in 782 against the Saxons, a nomadic and pagan tribe, Charlemagne supposedly ordered the slaughter of some 4,500 Saxons. Later, he forced Saxons to convert to Christianity and be baptized and follow Christian practices or suffer the penalty of death.
As Emperor, Charlemagne fostered an intellectual and cultural revival known as the Carolingian Renaissance. He improved law and encouraged scholarship; he urged a standard form of writing that later became the basis of European alphabets. The French Chansons de Geste are epic poems written about Charlemagne and his twelve noble peers, or paladins. These poems emphasize the heroic deeds of the paladins as defenders of Christianity and their legendary battles. The most famous of these is Chanson de Roland which recounts the fight of Roland, the most famous of the paladins, against the Saracens in 778.
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