Monday, January 30, 2017
The first anti-Brexit European
HOURLY HISTORY – CHARLEMAGNE, A LIFE
FROM BEGINNIN G TO END – 2016
The book is well written and interesting. Charles the Great
was the first Christian Emperor after the Roman Empire. He unified western
Europe under his own rule by the genius of his military campaigns. He was also
able to protect western Europe against the Islamic rulers that had taken over
Spain and Portugal. His Grandfather Charles Martel had stopped them in Tours or
Poitiers in 732. Charles the Great consolidated the Pyrenean border by
establishing the march of Spain along the South side of the Pyrenees.
But he also unified Western Europe by imposing Latin as the
only administrative and judicial language. He also built an educational system
that trained the cadres and engineers of the empire. To do that he used the
Church on which he leant heavily. He summoned Alcuin of York to come to Aachen
and establish the first school system in Western Europe after the Roman Empire.
He also had a whole body of missi dominici at his disposal to go all other the
empire to inspect, manage and promote the numerous reforms brought about by
Charles the Great, hence by himself.
At the same time, he collected in Aachen, in the local
languages various popular songs and stories. Latin was the administrative
language but Charles the Great respected the vernacular languages. He also
encouraged traditional arts and the famous Song of Roland was the archetype and
the model of medieval epic “chansons de geste,” meaning song that told the
exploits of military heroes? Note the English have Anglo-Saxon songs of the
same type, like Boewulf, though less martial, more supernatural.
Of course Charles the Great unified the empire with trade
and commerce but to do that he had to unify it first at the religious level.
His originality is that he started the most important religious reform that was
to bring feudalism in Europe. The reform was in building the new churches that
started being built in stone with vaults and that new style was to become the
Romanesque style. The christening fonts were also modified to abandon
christening by full immersion and replace it by the modern practice: a few
drops on the babies scalp. The old christening pools that were man-deep were
filled to be replaced by a simple font. There is still one standing, though
filled in Le Puy en Velay, behind the cathedral. It is also in this period the
evolution of the church started with a clarification of the various rites and
the beginning of a long reflection on celibate priests. He encouraged monasteries
and monasteries controlled important areas of land.
But the most important reform is the strict rules about
Sunday: no work on Sunday. If you add to this the three religious week long
festivities or celebrations of Nativity, Passion and Assumption, you come to something
like 75 days when working was absolutely banned every year. To impose that
reform the ownership of the land was to be changed to have the control of it,
the peasants and other agricultural workers changed statuses and serfdom was
introduced unifying statuses that ran from pure slavery to independent small
farmers who owned their land and all types of sharecroppers in-between. This
enabled, starting in the 9th and 10th centuries the
installation of feudalism founded on the first green revolution with one
invention, the horse’s collar, and many other techniques recuperated by the
Benedictines from the Roman libraries they were conserving.
And still more had to come, starting in the 11th century,
to replace human work they recuperated and multiplied a Roman invention that had
hardly been used in slavery times: the water mill. This brought the
proto-industrial revolution of the 11th century.
The religious reform introduced under Charles the Great was
far-reaching and extremely important. The book only gives the premises of this
evolution. It is true the scattering of the empire after Charles the Great’s
death will bring a lot of wars and at the end of the 10th century a vast
movement, the Peace of God, was introduced and preached and animated by the
church to impose peace in Christian land, which boosted trade and commerce all
over Europe. That too is a consequence not of Charles the Great management of
the empire but of the ridiculous rule to share any kingdom or territory equally
or nearly among the various sons of a king or a man. It will take some time
before western European kingdoms learned how to transmit a kingdom to one