Charlemagne (also known as Charles the Great and Charles I) became king of the Franks—a Germanic tribe in present-day Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and western Germany —in 768 following the death of his father. He was initially co-ruler with his brother, Carloman I, who died suddenly in 771.
Called the “Father of Europe,” Charlemagne’s mission was to unite all Germanic peoples into one kingdom and to spread Christianity. He accomplished this by spending most of his reign engaged in warfare, and then converting his subjects to Christianity. He also used diplomacy to solidify relationships with many potential enemies, ensuring that his empire stayed strong.
In 773, Charlemagne crossed the Alps to invade the Kingdom of the Lombards, which encompassed all of Italy except the Duchy of Rome and some Byzantine possessions in the south. In 774, the kingdom collapsed and Charlemagne assumed leadership. In 800, Charlemagne was crowned Roman emperor by Pope Leo III. In this role, Charlemagne invited many scholars and poets to assist him in the promotion of a religious and cultural revival that became known as the Carolingian Renaissance. During this time period, art, writing, architecture, literature, liturgical reforms and scriptural studies flourished.
When Charlemagne died in 814, his empire included most of Western Europe, which was one of the largest territories to be governed under one ruler in Europe in the Middle Ages. He also ensured the survival of Christianity in the West. Although the empire he built did not long outlast his death, his consolidation of territory was an important stage in the growth of Europe.