May we be Frank?

Throughout this history I’ve been trying to keep it zippy. Not too many words. No excess verbiage. Avoid the chit-chat. Anyway…to do that I’ve had to shrink down some larger-than-life personalities into one or two paragraphs. Charlemagne—also known as Carolus Magnus, Karl der Grosse, Charles the Great—is one guy who can hardly be covered in a book, let alone a blog post. But I’ll give it a whack.

After the western half of the Roman Empire fell to barbarian invasion in ad 476, civilization and culture had a tough time of it. From the north and west, people who would later become the French, the Germans, the Spanish and the Italians all fought within the empire. People from the MidEast also wanted to take over the empire. This state of constant warfare lasted more than a couple of centuries. Forget about culture—nobody could relax long enough to create art or music. Then in the 600s one tribe, the Franks, started fighting better than everybody else and a dynasty was begun—a ruling family who set up some stability and order using military power. The Carolingian Dynasty started with Charles Martel, then his son Pepin, then Charlemagne. Charlemagne was a ruler who rode at the head of his army and whupped the other armies. He brought more than peace to what had been the Roman Empire—he encouraged the arts, education and literature.

Remember that Christianity was the empire’s official religion since Theodosius. Pope Leo III was Charlemagne’s biggest fan and had Charlemagne crowned the Holy Roman Emperor in ad 800. After that, Charlemagne began a program of standardizing many parts of the Holy Roman Empire’s way of doing things. He relied on his right-hand man Alcuin of York to make much of this happen. Alcuin was a gifted innovator—he came up with cultural inventions that are part of our culture today.

F’rinstance, Charlemagne noticed that churches throughout the empire would sing a particular hymn, but each church used a different tune. He decided they should all sing a hymn using the same tune for that hymn, so Alcuin invented musical notation. With a songbook you can read how a tune should be sung. Charlemagne thought that the Roman way of writing (ALL CAPS) used up too much space and was difficult to read, so Alcuin invented upper-case and lower-case letters, like what you’re reading here.

Here’s why I’m telling you about Charlemagne. He liked Little Dennis’ Anno Domini system, so Charlemagne made AD and BC the Holy Roman Empire’s official way of numbering the years.

Just as it still is today.

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space

One response to “May we be Frank?

  1. Pingback: Hourglasses | John Manders' Blog

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