Episode 7 AD 754-840

Charlemagne – pharos Europae

After the calamity of the Islamic Invasions, what were the consequences? We know now, that the Mediterranean world would never be the same again, but at that time, and for centuries afterwards, people sustained the hope that what had befallen them could be reversed.

Here we see in some detail the practical consequences of the loss of the core lands of the eastern Mediterranean. The Roman Empire, now enormously shrunken, managed to adapt and to hold its Nemesis at bay, for many further centuries.

But economic, social and cultural decline were the inevitable results of such drastic surgery. That calamity affected the Roman Empire as much as it did the less developed and less urbanized Occident. If we can speak of a ‘Dark Age’, then this is when it began.

The positive response in the Occident was as remarkable as the resistance and adaptation were in the East. A Frankish-Papal condominium emerged, uniting northern Italy – not with Constantinople – but with the now great kingdom of the Franks.

Under the wing of the Carolingian kings, Christianity thrust its way into central Germania, a pagan and tribal heartland. The Franks initiated the expansion of Christendom eastwards, across the continent of Europe. Charlemagne marked the height of this process, forging a political and military coherence, as well as an economic, social and cultural revivification of the whole Occident, thereby laying the foundations for the European Middle Ages.


  • Reeling from the impact of the Islamic invasions, the Empire at Constantinople became much poorer, more militarised and saw a decline in cultural infrastructures and a withering of its high cultural traditions.
  • The emperors carried out a comprehensive reorganisation of the Roman army and the landholding system to support it.
  • A parallel cultural decline was occurring in the West, also because of the loss of Spain and Carthage, and because the Mediterranean was no longer a trading highway, but had become a war zone.
  • A political coup at Damascus toppled the Caliphs and saw the Abbasid Caliphs replace them, moving the capital to Baghdad.
  • The replacement of the Arab tribes by slave armies under all-powerful governors. Palace conspiracies at Baghdad, entailing ruthless power shifts. What used to be called ‘Oriental Despotism’ took on its outline.
  • Consolidation of regnal power in Francia under the Carolingian dynasty. The papal-Carolingian political symbiosis.
  • A papal-led and Carolingian-supported missionary movement to convert central Europe.
  • Charlemagne. His expedition into Italy to subdue the Lombards. Secures the eastern Mark (Austria) and retakes northern Spain. The bloody campaigns to convert the Saxons. Central Europe annexed to Latin Christendom.
  • Charlemagne and his successor had 70 years to repair the cultural infrastructure of their realm, which they did with great effectiveness.
  • Charlemagne crowned Emperor of a re-conceived western Roman Empire by the pope, sealing the formation of Latin Christendom as a new autonomous entity.

Now with the audio-only version included

Recommend to a friend ...