The Franks were a powerhouse of the Middle Ages, and few of those Frankish kings were as impressive as Charles the Great (r. 768-814), better known as Charlemagne. Under Charlemagne, the Carolingian Empire of the Franks absorbed the Lombards of northern Italy (in 774), and invaded the lands of the Saxons (in 772). Brittany and Aquitaine fell to armies of the Carolingian Empire, and the latter was set aside by Charlemagne as a kingdom for his son, Louis. He also moved into Bavaria, Pannonia and Austria (in the 790s). Charlemagne would later invade Spain and establish a buffer zone (called the Spanish March) along the Spanish side of the Pyrenees to protect his empire in 801.
Despite all of his conquests, another event that happened to Charlemagne may have been seen by his contemporaries to be even more impressive and important than the rest—Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Romans (Holy Roman Emperor) by Pope Leo III, on Christmas day, in the year 800. The title of Holy Roman Emperor would continue to live on in Europe until 1806, when Emperor Francis II dissolved the empire after he suffered military defeats at the hands of the military genius, Napoleon.
- Two Lives of Charlemagne, by Einhard and Notker the Stammer, translated by David Ganz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.
- Introduction to Medieval Europe, 300-1500 (Second Edition) by Wim Blockmans and Peter Hoppenbrouwers. New York: Routledge, 2014.