How Did Charlemagne's Rise to Power Affect Europe?

Charlemagne, a Frankish king who ruled between 768 and 814 A.D., united most of western Europe under his throne, and created a mini-renaissance that ended Europe's Dark Ages. For this reason, Charlemagne is sometimes referred to as the "Father of Europe."

After the Roman Empire fell, Europe was plunged into an anarchy of small holdings and tiny kingdoms all warring against one another. Education and culture were almost non-existent. When Charlemagne ascended the Frankish throne, he immediately set into motion a campaign to expand his kingdom, fighting over 50 battles to conquer Europe from east Germany to south Spain. In each country, he set forth specific reforms, starting with unifying European currency to make trade easier. Nobles lost some of their near-absolute power, while peasants were encouraged to participate in the marketplace and given some measure of freedom. Charlemagne encouraged literacy and an education in Latin for his citizens, helping Christianize still-pagan parts of Europe.

On Dec. 25, 800 A.D., Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor, the first since the fall of Rome. Leo III had been deposed by the Romans and retired to a monastery, a fact Charlemagne refused to recognize. He marched to Rome and rescued the Pope, reinforcing the power of the Catholic Church. Though Europe splintered upon Charlemagne's death, he had given Europeans a sense of belonging to a common world and reforms that pulled it out of the Dark Ages.