Hello again. Today we move on from Rome and Pompeii and learn about Charlemagne and the empire he built. This is a German-produced documentary in English about the history of the Germans. Anyway, it is a fascinating documentary to show in a classroom setting. In the 700’s, there were just Franks and Saxons, German was not even an idea. The Germans kick off with the story of Charlemagne.
The Saxons were a pagan people and they went into the sacred woods for the gods to answer their questions. They did this for centuries, until 772 when their world changed. A young Frankish king invaded Saxony with a cohort of troops. The Saxons are taken by surprise. Their villages were destroyed by the Franks.
The Frankish king wants to expand his realm and wants to make the Saxons Christians. After the attacks, the Saxon nobles vow to avenge the attacks. Charles, the Frankish king wants to subjugate the Saxons and unite his empire under one religion. The Franks tear down the idols of Saxons. However, the Saxon resistance was not broken. The Saxon nobility rallied the people to rebel against the Franks.
Charles, the Frankish King ruled the Frankish Empire. He was from an old noble family and their center of power was Saint-Denis. There was no real center of power in the Frankish Empire. The Pope visited Saint-Denis when Charles was six. The pope wanted security for Rome and the Franks wanted recognition for their empire. At the end of the pope’s visit, the Franks and the Pope were in an alliance.
After Charlemagne conquered the Saxons, they were forced to bow to him in a ceremony. They were to be subjects in Charlemagne’s realm. It seems for the time being that Saxons were on his side. Charlemagne moved on to Lombardy even though the Lombards were Christians. He wanted to resurrect the Roman empire. It was to be on empire, one faith, one ruler. He became the King of the Franks and the Lombards. Charlemagne was crowned with the crown of the Lombards, the Iron Crown. However, even though was a conqueror, he developed a love of learning. He gathered experts in his court to help reform education. This led to the rebirth of the classical world. He also unified the empire under one language and written script.
In the meantime, the Saxons were casting off their idols into the fire. Charlemagne had passed a law that they had to be baptized or die. There was one noble who rebelled against this law. His name was Widukind and he led the rebellion of the Saxons. He attacked Frankish villages. It explodes in a dirty war between unequal. Widukind escapes capture. Charles took his revenge on the Saxons for their rebellion, slaughtering over 4,000 Saxon men. He deported 1,000’s more to the Frankish empire. It was brutal and even shocked Charlemagne's contemporaries.
The Saxon resistance was not broken by Charlemagne’s harsh revenge. They fought for thirteen years. Charlemagne’s advisors tried to reason with him. They wanted to negotiate with the Saxons. Charlemagne was reluctant to do so. There was a suggestion of an honorable capitulation with Widukind but in exchange for backing down Widukind would have to be baptized. Widukind rode into the Frankish homeland and was baptized. This was the early history of an empire that would eventually become France and Germany.
To find out more continue to watch the documentary. In the meantime, keep this documentary in your files to share with a class. You can always use clips from this documentary in a lecture too.
You can access the documentary on YouTube here.
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