Posted by: ken98 | October 10, 2011

Sputtering Precocious Renaissances, Remains of Dark Age Canals, Glory, Gold, Rust, Dust – the Age of Charlemagne

Day 759 – Ken here (M)(10-10-2011)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.49, pp.120-130)(pages read: 2160)

Map of Viking Expansion - What an incredible map - I love it!  from Wiki - Viking Expansion

Map of Viking Expansion - What an incredible map - I love it! from Wiki - Viking Expansion - being of Norse extraction (altho of a family that apparently STAYED in Norway, as we emigrated in the 1860's to the U.S., rather than in the 800's to England) I have some sympathies towards the berserking blond, blue-eyed, axe-wielding longboat-sailors that went a-viking about this time

No, this is not Norsemen, raids in longboats day. Gibbon (I snuck a peek into the next 800 pages) never really attempts the history of Scandinavia (admittedly a tangent of a tangent to Roman history, except for Norman Sicily, etc, still…) – which is about what I expected. Who wants to remember that most of your island was overrun by random raiding Danes, and that even the vaunted Norman Invasion was just one last Norwegian Viking venture into your own weak and divided island? – no one, really – at least no one in 18th century England.

Charlemagne Reliquary Bust (containing Carolus's cranium, the top/braincase of his skull) at his palace chapel at Aachen, Germany

Today we meet Charles the Great - Charlemagne - a saint, and a force to be reckoned with in the late 700s, early 800s - the 1st German/Frank to be crowned Emperor in the West - something that obviously didnt go over very well in the East - Charlemagne Reliquary Bust (containing Carolus's cranium, the top/braincase of his skull) at his palace chapel at Aachen, Germany

Today is a day of Charlemagne, and the “re-founding” of the Roman Empire in the West – ie what eventually became known as the Holy Roman Empire. And, really you have to say, (except for the lands held by Arabs – N.Africa, S.Italy, Spain), Charles the Great, aka Carolus the Frank aka Carolus, DID regain the West in a kind of political union, and initiated a kind of proto-renaissance in the gloaming and penumbra of classical civilization – which just coincidentally happened to be the barest dawning of Pre-Modern-Medieval (I could go on hyphenating for hours) Europe. He did those things. That is indisputable.

The point is, it looked like an empire – to everyone concerned. It just didn’t last. It wasn’t entirely Carol’s fault it started to fall apart as he lay on his deathbed. It wasn’t his fault his sons used their divided inheritance to rapidly destabilize whatever stability Carol had managed to cobble together (on top of a largely Ungrateful and rather Sulky Northern Europe, over 4 decades, through sheer Carolingian willpower alone). It wasn’t Carol’s fault that the last Great Scandinavian Invasions were starting at the end of his reign (the Vikings began their attacks on the fat. prosperous Carolingian ports in the 790’s, and wouldn’t stop entirely for 2 centuries or so).

What is fascinating is the INCREDIBLE POWER that a Northern-European-Centric (read: NON-Mediterranean-centric) empire headed by Charlemagne could harness, IF ONE UNITED the extraordinarily diverse, SEPARATE villages, manors, towns, cities, regions, peoples, etc of N. Europe into ONE unwieldy UNIT. And what is even more fascinating (at least to me), compare this UNIT to the efforts of its competing UNIT in the East, the still-fully-functioning Eastern Romans.

The Eastern Empire managed to make a little revenue and manpower go a long, long way via complicated and firmly entrenched societal values concerning bureaucracy, taxes, law, central administrations, diplomacy, etc. The Northern Europeans could throw hundreds of thousands of men at a problem (like the Franks dismantling the Lombard kingdom) and succeed because while they were enormously disorganized, they were (although they didn’t realize it yet) enormously wealthy now – wealthy in men, will, and resources – their decentralization was one of their strengths – small units reacting flexibly to great dislocations. Charlemagne (and the rest of N. Europe) saw the possibilities of Eastern Roman organization harnessed to N. European decentralized wealth – and realized great things could happen if the two co-habitated. But no one had the knack of decentralized-centralization yet, and so the Carolingian Renaissance faltered, sputtered and ground somewhat to a lurching, on-again, off-again halt.

But… all that is in the future for us – on to – Charlemagne and Rome…

The Story
Alienation of Rome From Constantinople (774-800)
  • After 70 years of independence, the Papacy and Rome didn’t want to go back and toe the party line again as a somewhat useless, but ornamnental appendage to a preoccupied Eastern Empire
  • The Iconoclasm controversy divided image-hating East from image-loving West, but what was worse was the takeover of imperial land from the Eastern Empire by the Papacy – the Popes didn’t want to return those estates to Constantinople, they wanted to keep it for themselves (see Donation of Frankish King Pepin to the Pope)

    Coronation of the Frankish King Charles the Great – Charlemagne – by the Pope in the Vatican (Dec 25 800)
  • Bishop of Rome (Pope) elections turbulent – often violent – Adrian IV consolidated papal power, attempted to have his own nephew made the next pope – Leo III tried to get elected – he was beaten, stabbed and left for dead
  • Leo III went to Charlemagne, travelling over the Alps, returned with him
  • Charlemagne returns a 4th time around 800 and is “surprised” by Leo on Christmas Mass 800 by crowning/anointing him Western Emperor
  • Much ink spilt concerning Charlemagne’s “surprised” state – most not relevant anymore in this post-French Revolution world

    Charlemagne’s Reign and Character (768-814)
  • 1) His character – NOT CHASTE – Gibbon leads off with this – very revealing – what I don’t understand is how Gibbon lived in the same Europe with the hyper-active-sexually Benjamin Franklin
  • 2) Charlemagne’s daughters are (apparently per Gibbon) also “loose” – Gibbon even hints at father-daughter incest – very interesting
  • 3) Charlemagne ruthless to the German Saxons – he had to conquer them again and again, burning and enslaving, campaigning every year
  • 4) Charlemagne – constantly on the move, constantly working
  • 5) Blocking the Arabs in Spain
  • 6) Making laws
  • 6) his empire based upon himself, personally – Gibbon sees this as the reason why it fell apart after he died and his sons took over the Carolingian machinery
  • 7) mandatory tithing
  • 8) Founded schools, much published in his name – the fabled Carolingian Renaissance

    Charlemagne’s Empire
  • 1) France – from base in central France, took Brittany, Aquitaine, Gascony
  • 2) Spain – the Spanish Marches – as far south as the Ebro – Charlemagne even fought to put Arab Emirs back in power over their rebelling Christian under-lords
  • 3) Italy – Lombard Kingdom, alps to the border of Calabria
  • 4) Germany – Central Germany, conquered Saxons N. Germany
  • 5) Slavs – beyond the Elbe
  • 6) Hungary – Avars, Huns of Pannonia

    Charlemagne – Engineering Works
  • Gibbon briefly mentions the famous Saone-Meuse canal, and the Rhine-Danube Canal (Fossa Carolina 793)


    The Famous Fossa Carolina -Carolingian canal linking the Rhine and the Danube (793)

    The Famous Fossa Carolina - the 3 km canal that was built to link the Rhine and the Danube in 793 - an example of the Carolingian Renaissance and the *premature* rebirth of Europe - this is the 500m (1/3 mile) of it that is left - pretty impressive for the Dark Ages - even to think of it, let alone DO IT


    The Famous Canal of Charlemagne, Linking the Rhine and Danube (Fossa Carolina -793)


    Gibbon mentions briefly the canals that Carolus had built during his brief Renaissance, lamenting (as usual) the money spent on cathedrals and wondering aloud if it might have been more efficiently employed society-wise on internal improvements such as canals (of course, Gibbon was living in the beginning of the brief Renaissance of canal-building, which was to be prematurely cut off by its insidious, unstoppable competitor, the fledgling railroads – so a quick elegant expression of regret vis-a-vis the absence of devotion to canal building would have been leading-edge stuff for the late 1700’s).

    But this from Gibbon on Carolingian canals:

    After the reduction of Pannonia, the empire of Charlemagne was bounded only by the conflux of the Danube with the Teyss and the Save: the provinces of Istria, Liburnia, and Dalmatia, were an easy, though unprofitable, accession; and it was an effect of his moderation, that he left the maritime cities under the real or nominal sovereignty of the Greeks. But these distant possessions added more to the reputation than to the power of the Latin emperor; nor did he risk any ecclesiastical foundations to reclaim the Barbarians from their vagrant life and idolatrous worship.

    Some canals of communication between the rivers, the Saone and the Meuse, the Rhine and the Danube, were faintly attempted. Their execution would have vivified the empire; and more cost and labor were often wasted in the structure of a cathedral.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.49, p.130)

    and this from WIKI on the Fossa Carolina – the (short) (and apparently executed) canal project by Charlemagne connecting two tributaries of the Rhine and of the Danube:

    The Fossa Carolina (or Karlsgraben in German) was a navigable channel connecting the Swabian Rezat river to the Altmühl river (the Rhine basin to the Danube basin). It was created during the Middle Ages long before the Ludwig Canal and the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal. This Channel was the first to link the Rhine basin to the Danube basin.

    In 793 Charlemagne gave orders to dig a 3 kilometers long channel from Treuchtlingen to Weißenburg in Bayern. It seems that the goal of this work was to improve the transportation of goods between Rhineland and Bavaria. Another theory (less credible) tells that the main purpose was to bring back Charlemagne’s war vessels from the Danube to the Rhine. According to some contemporary chroniclers, the channel was unfinished due to heavy rains and geological problems. But other sources let think that it was completed and fully operational. This channel worked with several ponds, dikes and dams.

    Today only a 500 meters long part of the Channel still exists.

    (from Fossa Carolina WIKI)

    WOW! 500 meters of a 1300 year old canal still existing! Anyways… I think it’s interesting.


    Last Word…
    Plot Intensity Bias, screenshot IOS Software

    BIAS - yes, bias assumes that there is some perfect normal distribution out there, and yes, it is not possible to write history without some kind of viewpoint - read: bias - BUT, its still nice sometimes for a historical author to try and LIST THEIR BIASES for the reader to give the reader a FIGHTING CHANCE of usefully employing the historical narrative the author is weaving for his/her benefit. Plot Intensity Bias, screenshot IOS Software


    Quotable Gibbon – Why We Love Him


    In the midst of all this criticism of Gibbon, in which I freely admit I indulge myself considerably from time to time, often to excess, it’s important (for me) (and for you) to pause and remember WHY Gibbon is IMPORTANT.

    Gibbon is one of the first comprehensive historians to try and systematically reference his opinions with footnotes specifically pinpointing the original source from which he draws his broader conclusions. This is important. It wasn’t always like this, in history – and after having read his last chapter (the Great Footnote-Less Chapter 48 – 60 emperors, 600 years, 50 pages) I really, really am grateful to be firmly into chapter 49, where 1/3 to 1/2 the page is often footnotes, and most of his very opinionated historical narrative rests securely on a multitude of ancient and 18th cent histories.

    He also is very aware of bias.

    Sometimes, not so aware of his own bias, but usually he is unafraid of flouting public opinion and stating an unpopular view of history, realizing the bias of his own times is against him, and he is probably doing himself a disservice. But he goes ahead and does it anyway – and for that we love him.

    Charlemagne is a very political topic for historical discussion and here, Gibbon looks at Charlemagne’s coronation. Was it premeditated (Charlemagne says no)? Was it accidental (or a highly political act?) All these considerations were much more dangerous to discuss before in the Europe before 1789 (before the French Revolution) when most of the crowned heads of Europe held their offices directly or indirectly from the Act of Coronation. Gibbon, typically, takes it head-on:

    On the festival of Christmas, the last year of the eighth century, Charlemagne appeared in the church of St. Peter; and, to gratify the vanity of Rome, he had exchanged the simple dress of his country for the habit of a patrician. After the celebration of the holy mysteries, Leo suddenly placed a precious crown on his head, and the dome resounded with the acclamations of the people, “Long life and victory to Charles, the most pious Augustus, crowned by God the great and pacific emperor of the Romans!” The head and body of Charlemagne were consecrated by the royal unction: after the example of the Caesars, he was saluted or adored by the pontiff: his coronation oath represents a promise to maintain the faith and privileges of the church; and the first-fruits were paid in his rich offerings to the shrine of his apostle.

    In his familiar conversation, the emperor protested the ignorance of the intentions of Leo, which he would have disappointed by his absence on that memorable day. But the preparations of the ceremony must have disclosed the secret; and the journey of Charlemagne reveals his knowledge and expectation: he had acknowledged that the Imperial title was the object of his ambition, and a Roman synod had pronounced, that it was the only adequate reward of his merit and services [94]

    Note 094
    This great event of the translation or restoration of the empire is related and discussed by Natalis Alexander, (secul. ix. dissert. i. p. 390 – 397,) Pagi, (tom. iii. p. 418,) Muratori, (Annali d’Italia, tom. vi. p. 339 – 352,) Sigonius, (de Regno Italiae, l. iv. Opp. tom. ii. p. 247 – 251,) Spanheim, (de ficta Translatione Imperii,) Giannone, (tom. i. p. 395 – 405,) St. Marc, (Abrege Chronologique, tom. i. p. 438 – 450,) Gaillard, (Hist. de Charlemagne, tom. ii. p. 386 – 446.) Almost all these moderns have some religious or national bias.]

    I know, I know – a lot of “Last Words” for just a little bit of text “Almost all these moderns have some religious or national bias” – but you don’t know (or maybe you do) how WELCOME and HEARTRENDING it is to read a significant historian, writing a major work, (not to mention after slaving, yourself, in the historical salt mines for years) and come across the tiniest hint of humility and admission of prejudice in historical writing. It brings tears to the eyes.

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