Pater Europae Charlemagne's 1265th birthday in 2013

"Quamvis enim melius sit benefacere quam nosse, prius tamen est nosse quam facere." (Right action is better than knowledge; but in order to do what is right, we must know what is right. Charlemagne)

2 April 748: Today, 1265 years ago, Pater Europae Charlemagne was born in Aachen. Or Düren. Or Quierzy. Or Prüm Abbey in Lorraine. Even his date of birth isn't historically confirmed. Everything about the birth and early years of one of the greatest European rulers of the Middle Ages with uncommonly rich contemporary source material for the 8th and early 9th century is a bit precarious.

Mask reliquary of Charlemagne, located at Cathedral Treasury in Aachen    

What we do know is that we have a dominant father figure with a no-nonsense policy, who, even though being a reasonably pious man himself, used religion and the Papacy as method of unification for his vast Empire (ranging from the Pyrenees to the River Elbe and from Frisia to Southern Italy), making converts with fire and sword when unruly tribes tried to break lose, fighting Arabs, Bretons, Lombards, Slavs and Avars and allegedly lost no battle when he lead the Frankish host himself. He often did.

Friedrich Kaulbach (1822 - 1903): "Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne" (1861)

But besides being a successful warrior prince, Charlemagne used to church to substantiate his rule as legitimate successor of the Western Roman Emperors up to the point of being crowned emperor himself in 800 by the Pope who was no longer a simple Bishop of Rome, subservient to a Lombard king or the rulers of the Eastern Roman Empire, but the head of the Church itself. At least west of Constantinople.

Charlemagne's chapel at Aachen Cathedral

And besides inspiring an own cycle of legends, Charlemagne's rule marks a return to glory in terms of civilisation, aptly named Carolingian Renaissance, that was unheard of since the days of the Romans - and ended after three generations, when the High Medieval Kingdoms of France and the Holy Roman Empire evolved from the turmoil of continuous infighting among the legendary ruler's successors.

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