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Charlemagne Restores the Western Roman Empire

The Frankish king Charlemagne accomplished much during his 46-year reign (768-814 AD – which is where he is recorded on the Bible Timeline with World History). He not only subdued the Franks’ neighbors in northern, western, and eastern Europe to enlarge the Frankish empire but also helped restore the remnants of the Western Roman Empire after he was crowned its Emperor (Imperator) and Augustus. One unfortunate event in Rome, which involved Pope Leo III, would lead to Charlemagne’s rise as the most powerful man in Europe and protector of the Christian Church as Holy Roman Emperor.

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The Roman Leo III succeeded the deceased Adrian as pope in 795 AD. Upon his election, he sent the Frankish king Charlemagne the keys of the Confession of St. Peter and the banner of the city of Rome. Charlemagne was undoubtedly the most powerful man in Europe and the gifts meant that Leo had put his trust in the Frankish king as his protector. Charlemagne answered this with a congratulatory letter and treasures from the booty the king seized from the Avars in Pannonia which Leo added to the Holy See’s wealth.

“Statue of Charlemagne by Agostino Cornacchini”

On April 25, 799 AD, relatives of the deceased Pope Adrian plotted to gouge out the eyes and cut off the tongue of Pope Leo III while he was on his way to the Flaminian Gate during the procession of the Greater Litanies. Perhaps they wanted revenge or were driven by ambitions (the real motivation behind this act was never established), but it was clear that they wanted to make the pope unfit for the priesthood by mutilation (Leviticus 21:16-23). The plot to mutilate Leo did not succeed, and he escaped to the monastery of St. Erasmus with cuts on his face but with his eyes and tongue unharmed.

He stayed in the monastery for a few months and then fled with his supporters to the Frankish territory of Paderborn where Charlemagne met him. Leo made Paderborn his temporary home, but he returned to Rome a few months later accompanied by Charlemagne’s envoys and guards. The king’s envoys arrested the people who tried to mutilate Leo, and they were exiled to France after their trial. Charlemagne visited Rome in 800 AD and on the 25th of December in the same year, both Leo and the king attended the Christmas Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. Leo got up and crowned Charlemagne as Imperator (Emperor) Augustus while the king knelt at the Confession of St. Peter—an act which meant Leo relied on and trusted the most powerful man in Europe at that time to be his protector. Charlemagne, as Holy Roman Emperor, also became the protector of the Church and Christianity in Europe. With this act, Pope Leo severed the ties of the Byzantine authority from the Roman Catholic church.

Picture By Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Bradbury, Jim. The Routledge Companion to Medieval Warfare. London: Routledge, 2004.
Einhard. “Einhard: The Life of Charlemagne.” Internet History Sourcebooks. Accessed August 30, 2016.
MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. New York: Viking, 2010.
Thatcher, Oliver J., and Edgar Holmes McNeal. “A Source Book for Mediæval History; Selected Documents Illustrating the History of Europe in the Middle Age.” Internet Archive. Accessed August 30, 2016.
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