cover image CHARLEMAGNE: Father of a Continent

CHARLEMAGNE: Father of a Continent

Alessandro Barbero, , trans. from the Italian by Allan Cameron. . Univ. of California, $29.95 (426pp) ISBN 978-0-520-23943-2

Charles the Great, crowned emperor by the pope on Christmas Day A.D. 800, has at least three claims to be the progenitor of Europe. First, as this excellent translation of Barbero's text indicates, he was the grand orchestrator of a supranational, continental Europe that pre-empted the rise of nationalist allegiances and shaped the cultural underpinnings of today's EU. Second, he attempted to weld together a specifically Christian unity, building on the Franks' long tradition of Catholicism and their close strategic alliance with the papacy. And third, as Italian medievalist Barbero makes quite clear, Charlemagne paved the way for brutal forms of Western colonial aggression conducted in the name of religion. In the course of a war of "unparalleled ruthlessness," 4,500 Saxon rebels were decapitated in a single day. The author of this rich, scholarly but accessible study provides an intimate portrait of the man—right down to his shirt and underpants—and a sensitive analysis of his government and times. Particularly intriguing is Charles's instrumental role in the formation of Catholic doctrine. The apparent paradoxes of Charlemagne's character—his deep intellectual curiosity; his drive to reform Christian practice; and a degree of brutality criticized even by some of his closest supporters—are at root explained by a conviction in his divinely ordained mission that was both culturally productive and deeply destructive. 1 map. (Sept.)