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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

And the kingdom of the Longobards


[Sidenote: 771. CHARLEMAGNE.]

His dynasty is called in history, after him, the _Carolingian_, although Pippin of Landen was its founder. The name of Charlemagne is extended backwards over the Royal Stewards, his ancestors, and after him over a century of successors who gradually faded out like the Merovingian line. He stands alone, midway between the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, as the one supreme historical landmark. The task of his life was to extend, secure, regulate and develop the power of a great empire, much of which was still in a state of semi-barbarism. He was no imitator of the Roman Emperors: his genius, as a statesman, lay in his ability to understand that new forms of government, and a new development of civilization, had become necessary. Like all strong and far-seeing rulers, he was despotic, and often fiercely cruel. Those who interfered with his plans--even the members of his own family--were relentlessly sacrificed. On the other hand, although he strengthened the power of the nobility, he never neglected the protection of the people; half his days were devoted to war, yet he encouraged learning, literature and the arts; and while he crushed the independence of the races he gave them a higher civilization in its stead.

Charlemagne first marched against the turbulent Saxons, but before they were reduced to order he was called to Italy by the appeal of Pope Adrian for help against the Longobards. The king of the latter, Desiderius, was the father of Hermingarde, Charlemagne's second wife, whom he had repudiated and sent home soon after his accession to the throne. Karloman's widow had also claimed the protection of Desiderius, and she, with her sons, was living at the latter's court. But these ties had no weight with Charlemagne; he collected a large army at Geneva, crossed the Alps by the pass of St. Bernard, conquered all Northern Italy, and besieged Desiderius in Pavia. He then marched to Rome, where Pope Adrian received him as a liberator. A procession of the clergy and people went forth to welcome him, chanting, "Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord!" He took part in the ceremonies of Easter, 774, which were celebrated with great pomp in the Cathedral of St. Peter.

[Sidenote: 775.]

In May Pavia fell into Charlemagne's hands. Desiderius was sent into a monastery, the widow and children of Karloman disappeared, and the kingdom of the Longobards, embracing all Northern and Central Italy, was annexed to the empire of the Franks. The people were allowed to retain both their laws and their dukes, or local rulers, but, in spite of these privileges, they soon rose in revolt against their conqueror. Charlemagne had returned to finish his work with the Saxons, when in 776 this revolt called him back to Italy. The movement was temporarily suppressed, and he hastened to Germany to resume his interrupted task.

The Saxons were the only remaining German people who resisted both the Frank rule and the introduction of Christianity. They held all of what is now Westphalia, Hannover and Brunswick, to the river Elbe, and were still strong, in spite of their constant and wasting wars. During his first campaign, in 772, Charlemagne had overrun Westphalia, taken possession of the fortified camp of the Saxons, and destroyed the "Irmin-pillar," which seems to have been a monument erected to commemorate the defeat of Varus by Hermann. The people submitted, and promised allegiance; but the following year, aroused by the appeals of their duke or chieftain, Wittekind, they rebelled in a body. The Frisians joined them, the priests and missionaries were slaughtered or expelled, and all the former Saxon territory, nearly to the Rhine, was retaken by Wittekind.


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