If you’ve ever taken a Western Civilization class or studied European History, the date “Christmas Day, 800 A.D.” has probably been drilled into you head. Do you remember the significant event?
Welcome to Week #2 in our series on historical happenings on Christmas Day. Last week we played a guessing game to discover a famous American whose birthday was December 25. Now, we journey farther back in time and the history books to the Dark Ages.
On Christmas Day (December 25) 800 A.D. Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor.
Painting of Charlemagne by Artist Durer (1513)
Charlemagne, also known as Charles I of the Franks, ruled the area we now know as France; he became the ruler of the Carolingian kingdom in 768 A.D. He promoted “Christianity” and education through his kingdom. He fought many campaigns, expanding the borders of the Frankish Kingdom.
As the most powerful ruler in Dark Ages Europe, Charlemagne settled a dispute and kept Pope Leo III in power in Rome. In gratitude the pope crowned the Frankish king “Holy Roman Emperor.” It was a political/religious gesture intending to show that Charlemagne continued the legacy of the Ancient Roman Empire.
To be honest, the new empire was not Roman, not holy, and didn’t last very long.
However, the crowning of Charlemagne on Christmas Day 800 A.D. is significant in European History because for the first time since the fall of Rome there was an emperor in Europe and it introduced an important question. Could popes make kings? Did popes have to obey kings or kings obey popes? These questions would become significant debates during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods.
The title “Holy Roman Emperor” passed to future Carolingian kings and was then fought over by Italian rulers, before disappearing quietly. In 962 A.D. Otto I revived the title and the “Holy Roman Empire” would be a major player in European history until 1806 when conquered by Napoleon I.
Thus in 800 A.D. the foundations of modern Europe began to rise from the Dark Ages when a Frankish king was crowned by an Italian pope.
P.S. The Holy Roman Empire is a fascinating political identity in European history. It played major roles in the Renaissance, Reformation, Religious Wars, Political Wars, and the opposition to Napoleon. It grew, changed, and adapted as Europe progressed, but if something significant was happening on continental Europe, the Holy Roman Empire was part of it.
Any thoughts? I hope you’re enjoying this series. It should provide interesting holiday conversation.