Following the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe was split into petty states during the first half of the Middle Ages. This caused inter-tribal wars which made life dangerous and slowed down progress.
However, these petty kingdoms were gradually united and brought under one strong ruler.
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The first king to begin this work was Charles, King of the Franks. He was nicknamed ‘Martel’ or ‘Hammer’, because of the blows which he dealt his enemies, notably the Moslems, whom he finally defeated at the battle of Poitiers (A.D. 732).
By this great victory, Charles Martel halted the advance of the Moslems in France.
See the portrait of Charlemagne or Charles the Great below, source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charlemagne
The Moslems then fell báck into Spain, where they had established themselves between 711and 718, and where they remained powerful for several centuries.
In Spain, there are many beautiful buildings that show the lasting influence of Moslem culture.
Meanwhile, when Charles Martel died in 741, his kingdom was divided between his two sons. One of them gave up his throne soon afterward, leaving his part of the kingdom to the other, whose name was Pepin.
The united kingdom was again split in two on the death of Pepin. But it was again brought together under the control of Pepin’s son, Charles.
Charles achieved so much that he earned the title the Great’. Because of this he was popularly known as Charlemagne. This was a corrupt form of the Latin, Carolus Magnus, which means Charles the Great.
Charlemagne decided to restore the old Roman Empire. At this time, countries such as modernFrance, Spain, and Germany, did not exist. Europe consisted of many little kingdoms; but the educated people in these kingdoms spoke the same language, which is Latin in one form or other. (This is why several European languages today contain many words which come from Latin.) It was through Charles the Great’seffort that these little kingdoms were united under one ruler. Through conquest, he enlarged his kingdom, and he became the first ruler in southern Europe to, extend his kingdom beyond the River Rhine and to include in it a large part of Germany. He built his capital at Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle) in Germany. He waged a long and bitter war against the Saxons. It took him over 30 years to conquer them. He also attacked Spain and fought the Avars of Hungary.
So the idea of the old Roman Empire had never really vanished. To a certain extent, the empire still existed with its center at Constantinople.
However, rule inConståntinople was weak. People dreamed of a restored Roman Empire that was also Catholic. Charlemagne in all his glory seemed a fitting figure to head such an empire. The pope crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire on Christmas Day, A.D. 800.
By the end of the eighth century, Charlemagne was ruling over most of what had been the old RomanEmpire in Europe and also over many lands in the north over which the Romans had never ruled.
In 773-774 Charlemagne came to the assistance of the pope and overcame the Lombards in northern Italy.
The Lombards had invaded the lands of the pope, and he had asked Charlemagne for help.
To make sure that the different parts of his vast empire were governed well, Charles appointed royal agents who toured the entire empire to check the work of officials.
Similarly, Charles also encouraged learning and helped scholars to collect and write valuable books on religion, literature, music, and art.
Charles the Great died in 814.
The success of the kingdom of the Franks was owing to the strength of the rulers; Charles Martel, Pepin, and Charlemagne.
But unfortunately, they were followed by weak rulers who were unable to keep the vast empire together. In due course, the empire was divided into three independent states by three grandsons of Charles the Great. They fought among themselves. This made the empire even weaker and encouraged people from the north to invade it.
In the ninth and tenth centuries, the Vikings, a warlike people from Scandinavia, invaded Europe. Unlike the earlier invaders who came by land, the Vikings came by sea. They fought among themselves. Their ships were long, narrow and shallow, and could, therefore, sail far inland up rivers as well as on the sea.
See a picture of a Viking ship below:
Some of these Vikings, mostly Danes, crossed over to Britain.
These invasions threatened life and property. In these troubled times, ordinary people needed protection. For this, they turned to the big landlords who lived in castles.