Charlemagne: Father of a Continent

by A. Barbero

Hardcover, 2004



Call number




University of California Press (2004), Hardcover


The most important study of Charlemagne in a generation, this biography by distinguished medievalist Alessandro Barbero illuminates both the man and the world in which he lived. Charles the Great--Charlemagne--reigned from a.d. 768 to a.d. 814. At the time if his death, his empire stretched across Europe to include Bavaria, Saxony, parts of Spain, and Italy. With a remarkable grasp of detail and a sweeping knowledge of Carolingian institutions and economy, Barbero not only brings Charlemagne to life with accounts of his physical appearance, tastes and habits, family life, and ideas and actions but also conveys what it meant to be king of the Franks and, later, emperor. He recounts how Charlemagne ruled his empire, kept justice, and waged wars. He vividly describes the nature of everyday life at that time, how the economy functioned, and how Christians perceived their religion. Barbero's absorbing analysis of how concepts of slavery and freedom were subtly altered as feudal relations began to grow underscores the dramatic changes that the emperor's wars brought to the political landscape. Engaging and informed by deep scholarship, this latest account provides a new and richer context for considering one of history's most fascinating personalities.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member LukeS
Europe's (and especially France's) progress from heterogenous collection of Roman colonies and antagonists to Charlemagne's empire at the beginning of the Middle Ages fascinates me. And so I was rather pleased that "Charlemagne - Father of a Continent" deals so exhaustively with the subject.

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original protector and spreader of the Faith, Charles the Great represented a return to security for a Church bereft for several hundred years of its all-powerful state partner. His scheme for forwarding the Church's interests depended on a relatively powerful and autonomous nobility which could afford to bring fighting men to Charlemagne's numerous campaigns.

Although he was crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800, he despised the Pope who anointed him, and controlled his every move. It's unclear to this day whether he knew he would be crowned in that fashion, but I find it really hard to believe that such a thing could be planned without his knowledge and consent. However, he used church assets and lands for his own purposes, giving abbeys and revenues for loyal service, whether or not the servant was clergy.

A worthwhile read about an important individual - particularly given my interest in the epoch.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Thematic survey of the Carolingian world during the reign of Charlemagne. Up to date historiographical approach regarding the "dark ages" not being so dark after all. Well written, lots of interesting anecdotes, gives a decent picture of the times, within the limitations of the sources.
LibraryThing member Shrike58
The particular virtue of this book is that it takes Charlemagne's claims to imperium seriously and demonstrates in some depth why his polity was something beyond the barbarian kingdoms that arose in the wake of the Western Roman Empire's fall, while in addition giving something of the flavor of the
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man himself. I have no major complaints about the work, though a chronology of events cross-linked with those of the Carolingian dynasty's neighbors would have been a useful thing; particularly since the author adopts more of a thematic than a narrative structure. Barbero might also have allowed himself a bit more freedom to speculate on how the limitations of the regime might have contributed to its collapse; perhaps that is another book.
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LibraryThing member Hae-Yu
Rather than a linear narrative, this book is more of a thematic analysis of Charlemagne and his times. Chapters correspond to different subjects, such as military (administration, recruitment, army size...), church (church-state relations, the deep integration between the 2 spheres), economy, and
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so on. The first few chapters function as a brief narrative history, although within the thematic arrangement, the author skips about considerably. Each topic is intended to buttress Barbero's convincing argument that Charlemagne's rule was fundamental to all of European history that followed. Unlike Ozymandias disappearing into the depths of history, Charlemagne's works endure to this day.

The book is well-written and well-researched. Within the second or third chapters, either the translation or the original wording was awkward, but it did not affect the overall conveyance of the subject matter.
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Original publication date


Physical description

426 p.; 9 inches


0520239431 / 9780520239432
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