The Carolingian Empire

By Heinrich Fichtenau; Peter Munz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
CHARLES THE GREAT

No man's stature is increased by the accumulation of myths, and nothing is detracted from genuine historical greatness by the consideration of a man's purely human side. In order to analyse an epoch it is necessary to analyse the man who was its centre, who determined its character and who was, at the same time, shaped and determined by it. It is therefore not mere curiosity but an endeavour to fulfil the historian's task if we strive to pierce and get behind the myth that has surrounded the figure of Charles. That myth has been built up over a period of centuries and has tended to conjure up in place of a tangible personality, full of vitality, the figure of a timeless hero.

In the case of Charles -- and that alone would justify our beginning with him -- we can even form a picture of his bodily physique. The bodily appearance of his contemporaries, although we know their names and their works, remains shadow-like for us to-day. But as far as Charles the Great is concerned, we are not only in possession of his bodily remains but also have an exact description of his appearance. It is true that Charles's biographer Einhard borrowed the terms of his description from Suetonius.1 Nevertheless it was possible for him to choose from among the numerous biographies of the ancient emperors which he found in Suetonius those expressions which were most applicable to his master. Einhard and his contemporaries were especially struck by Charles's bodily size. Ever since the opening of Charles's tomb in 1861 we have know that his actual height was a full 6 feet 31/2 inches.2 It was therefore not poetic licence

____________________
1
E. Bernheim, Die Vita Karoli Magni, in: Hist. Aufsätze f. G. Waitz, Hannover 1886; M. Buchner, Einhard's Künstler- und Gelehrtenleben, Bonn, 1922.
2
E. Mühlbacher, Deutsche Geschichte unter den Karolingern, Stuttgart, 1896, i, p. 235. J. Calmette doubts the correctness of Einhard's statement 'septem suorum pedum proceritatem eius...habuisse mensuram', for the seven feet which Einhard attributed to his hero would amount to more than two meters. ( Karl der Grosse, Wien-Innsbruck, 1948, pp. 175, 326). But Calmette must have overlooked the expression suorum. It is not permissible to use the equestrian statue, which used to be in the Musée Carnavalet and which is now in the Louvre, as evidence; for the horse, like the sword that has recently been removed, is a modern addition.

-25-

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The Carolingian Empire
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Abbreviations vi
  • Preface vii
  • Translator's Introduction ix
  • Chapter I - Introduction 1
  • Chapter II - Charles the Great 25
  • Chapter III - The Imperial Title 47
  • Chapter IV - The Court Scholars 79
  • Chapter V - Nobles and Officials 104
  • Chapter VI - The Poor 144
  • Chapter VII - The Last Years of Charles the Great 177
  • Index 189
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