Location of the Carolingian Empire around 804, the year in which it reached its maximum extension.
Economy of the Carolingian Empire
The economy of the Carolingian Empire was based on agricultural production, especially in the harvest of cereals such as wheat, barley and oats. Other important economic activities were cattle and pig farming and the artisanal production of weapons and furniture.
The import and export of products were practically non-existent, so the Empire supplied itself, producing what was necessary to feed its inhabitants.
Organizations of the Carolingian Empire
Social Organization of the Carolingian Dynasty
Carolingian society was divided into two large sectors:
- Privileged: Those who enjoyed economic, social and territorial privileges.
- High clergy and high nobility.
- Low nobility and low clergy.
- Non Privileged: Those who did not have privileges and who with their taxes and tithe supported the privileged sectors.
- Shopkeepers and small merchants.
- Craftsmen and peasants.
Political Organization of the Carolingian Empire
The head of the Carolingian Empire was the emperor, who concentrated in his hands the maximum military, judicial and legislative power.
For administrative functions, the emperor relied on a court, led by a Chamberlain, who was in charge of palace affairs, among others.
There were also institutions such as the chancelleries, which directed civil and ecclesiastical matters, and the palatine court, which applied the capitulars, legal provisions that governed the entire population of the Empire.
Territorial Organization of the Carolingian Dynasty
The territorial organization of the Carolingian Empire was based on three divisions:
- Counties: Demarcations like interior provinces that were under the responsibility of a count.
- Duchies: Set of counties that were under the direction of a duke, appointed directly by the emperor.
- Trademarks: Areas that were on militarized borders and exposed to foreign invasions. They were under the responsibility of a marquis.
Dukes, counts, and marquises were supervised annually by the missi dominici, who were said to be “the eyes and ears of the emperor“. They were pairs of inspectors, one lay and the other ecclesiastical, who were in charge of judging the abuses of power and acts of corruption of Carolingian officials.
Religion of the Carolingian Empire
Charlemagne was a devout Christian who set out to protect the Church and spread its influence throughout Europe. Its relationship with the Papacy was strategic, since the bishops of Rome granted legitimacy to the Carolingian dynasty, in exchange for protection against the advances of Islam and the claims of power of the Byzantine Empire.
Charlemagne created several bishoprics, brought together two councils, and forced the population of his empire to attend Mass on Sundays and pay tithe, a tax that was used to contribute to the maintenance of the Church.
He also set out to convert the peoples he was incorporating into his empire to Christianity. To achieve this goal, he appealed to both the cross and the sword. His armies marched accompanied by priests who baptized those who agreed to convert to Christianity.
Charlemagne Emperor of the West, portrait made by Louis-Félix Amiel, in 1839. It is exhibited in the Museum of the History of France, in the Palace of Versailles.
Education and Culture of the Carolingian Empire
In the High Middle Ages, the vast majority of people were illiterate. Charlemagne himself during his childhood had received no formal instruction.
To reverse this situation, the emperor promoted the opening of schools for the training of courtiers, officials and religious. The main one was the Palatine School, which operated in Aachen and was attended by Charlemagne and six of his sons. It was in charge of Alcuinus of York, a sage of Anglo-Saxon origin, who was later replaced by the Gothic Teodulf.
Other schools functioned in abbeys, bishoprics and monasteries and their direction was in charge of Christian priests. In the monasteries important libraries were formed, in which copyist monks preserved much of the cultural tradition of the Greco-Roman world.
The work of schools and monasteries transformed the Carolingian Empire into a center of cultural revival called the “Carolingian Renaissance“.
Art of the Carolingian Empire
Charlemagne promoted the development of the arts. Within his Empire influences of Roman art were combined, and Christian art, in addition to the Byzantine.
The Carolingian architects tried to recover the monumental architecture of the Roman Empire, taking as a model the time of the emperors Constantine and Theodosius (4th Century BC). His main works were palaces, royal residences and religious temples, such as the Palatine Chapel in Aachen, where the emperor prayed. To build it, the architects were inspired by the Church of San Vital de Ravenna, thus symbolizing the Latin roots of the Carolingian Empire.
Carolingian artists also made Byzantine-style marble and mosaic sculptures depicting scenes from the Gospels.
Division of the Carolingian Empire
Charlemagne’s son and successor, Louis the Pious, reigned amidst Viking raids and conflicts with dukes, counts, and marquises. They wanted to manage themselves with greater autonomy and leave the territories they administered as an inheritance to their descendants.
On the death of Luis the Pious, in 840, his sons, Carlos, Luis and Lotario fought for power. In 843, they ended their struggles by signing the Treaty of Verdun, which divided the Carolingian Empire as follows:
- Kingdom of Carlos the Bald or Western France (Celestial Zone).
- Kingdom of Lothair I or Lotharingia (Brown Zone).
- Kingdom of Louis the Germanic, Eastern France or Germania (Red Zone).
Partition of the territory of the Carolingian Empire, according to the terms of the Treaty of Verdun (843).
Thus was disintegrated the State created by Charlemagne, who had dreamed of a united Europe under a single king and the same faith.