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Charlemagne as Germanic King and Roman Emperor

Guest Author - Rebecca Graf

Charlemagne was a ruler that has left his mark on the annals of history. He was a German king that ruled his people who loved him dearly. He was also a ruler that was favored by the papacy and a man who looked to the ancient Roman emperors as models to follow. In reality, Charlemagne was not just a Germanic king or a Roman Emperor. He was the perfect combination of both.

The traditional Germanic king was a mighty warrior. Kings were expected to be full of energy and able leaders who “fight for victory”. No weak leader led the Germanic tribes. They were a fighting bunch who would not follow anyone unless they could fight and defeat their enemies.

In order to be a mighty warrior, the Germanic king would not be a frail or sickly man. Tacitus describes Germans as to possess “fierce blue eyes, red hair, huge frames, fit only for a sudden exertion.” These were men familiar with hard labor and intense fighting. Charlemagne fit this description. Einhard, an associate of Charlemagne, described him as “large and strong, and of lofty stature, though not disproportionately tall.” Everything Einhard wrote about Charlemagne’s description is promoting him as the perfect warrior Germanic king. He was not a leader to be taken lightly.

Charlemagne extended his kingdom. To do this, he “slew thousands of heathen Saxons in a single day without flinching.” Many followed this warrior king throughout Europe. His physical appearance and his ability as a warrior king makes Charlemagne the perfect Germanic king.

This man took leadership to a whole new level than any previous Germanic king. He looked to the ancient Romans and incorporated warrior power with intelligent leadership. He brought culture into the Germanic kingship.

Einhard describes Charlemagne as a very temperate man in all things. He was one to listen to soothing music or to someone reading as he sat at the table to eat. Education was not something he avoided. In fact, he encouraged education for himself and all those around him. He learned new languages including Latin. Though an excellent speaker, he pursued training in rhetoric and other methods of communication. All of his children, including his daughters, were educated and challenged.

Charlemagne could not be described as highly educated as he never mastered the ability to write, but he was a man who appreciated good education and classical training. Many that knew him admired his abilities and his relationship with the Church. He encouraged education in the monasteries and desired to strengthen the Catholic Church. He respected the Church and, according to Einhard, “heaped its treasury with a vast wealth of gold, silver, and precious stones.”

It was through Charlemagne that the Carolingian state was well educated and much more than just Germanic kings. He took the warrior attributes that the Germanic tribes were known for and combined them with the education and leadership of the Roman Empire to create a new kind of leader that had not been seen in Medieval Europe in centuries. He was a man that the people and the Church could turn to. He was a Roman Emperor with a Germanic heart.


Cantor, Norman F. The Civilization of the Middle Ages, New York: Harper Perennial, 1994.

Einhard, Life of Charlemagne, Medieval Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ basis/einhard.html (accessed March 1, 2011).

Tacitus, Germania, Medieval Sourcebook, http://fordham.edu/halsall/source/tacitus1.html (accessed March 1, 2011).
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Content copyright © 2015 by Rebecca Graf. All rights reserved.
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