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The Carolingian Renaissance was a period of intellectual and cultural revival occurring in the late eighth and ninth centuries, with the peak of the activities occurring during the reigns of the Carolingian rulers Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. During this period there was an increase of literature, writing, the arts, architecture, jurisprudence, liturgical and scriptural studies. The period also saw the development of Medieval Latin and Carolingian minuscule, providing a common language and writing style that allowed for communication across most of Europe.

The use of the term renaissance to describe this period is contested due to the majority of changes brought about by this period being confined almost entirely to the clergy, and due to the period lacking the wide ranging social movements of the later Italian Renaissance. Instead of being a rebirth of new cultural movements, the period was typified more as an attempt to recreate the previous culture of the Roman Empire.

Scholarly efforts

The lack of literate persons in eighth century western Europe caused problems for the Carolingian rulers by severely limiting the number of people capable of serving as court scribes. Of even greater concern to the very pious rulers was the fact that not all parish priests possessed the skill to read the Vulgate Bible. An additional problem was that the vulgar Latin of the later Western Roman Empire had begun to diverge into the regional dialects, the precursors to today's Romance languages, that were becoming mutually unintelligible and preventing scholars from one part of Europe being able to communicate with persons from another part of Europe.

To address these problems, Charlemagne ordered the creation of schools. A major part of his program of reform was to attract many of the leading scholars of his day to his court. Among the first called to court were Italians, Peter of Pisa who from 776 to about 790 instructed Charlemagne in Latin and Paulinus of Aquileia from 776 to 787 and whom Charlemagne nominated as patriarch of Aquileia in 787. In 782, the Lombard Paul the Deacon was brought to court and remained until 787 when Charles nominated him abbot of Montecassinomarker. Theodulf of Orléans was a Spanishmarker Goth who served at court from 782 to 797 when nominated as bishop of Orléans. Theodulf had been in friendly competition over the standardization of the Vulgate with the chief among the Charlemagne's scholars, Alcuin of York. Alcuin was a Northumbrianmarker monk and deacon who served as head of the Palace School from 782 to 796, except for the years 790 to 793 when he returned to Englandmarker. After 796, continued his scholarly work as abbot of St. Martin's Monastery in Toursmarker. Among those to follow Alcuin across the Channel to the Frankish court was an Irishman, one Joseph Scottus, who left some original biblical commentary and acrostic experiments. After this first generation of non-Frankish scholars, their Frankish pupils, such as Angilbert, would make their own mark.

The later courts of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald had similar groups of scholars. Among the most important was John Scotus Eriugena.

One of the primary efforts was the creation of a standardized curriculum for use at the recently created schools. Alcuin led this effort and was responsible for the writing of textbooks, creation of word lists, and establishing the trivium and quadrivium as the basis for education.

Other contributions from this period was the development of Carolingian minuscule, a "book-hand" first used at the monasteries of Corbiemarker and Tours that introduced the use of lower case letters. A standardized version of Latin was also developed that allowed for the coining of new words while retaining the grammatical rules of Classical Latin. This Medieval Latin became the common language of scholarship and allowed administrators and travelers to make themselves understood across Europe.

Carolingian art

Carolingian art spans the roughly 100-year period from about 800–900. Although brief, it was an influential period — northern Europe embraced classical Mediterranean Roman art forms for the first time, setting the stage for the rise of Romanesque art and eventually Gothic art in the West. Illuminated manuscripts, metalwork, small-scale sculpture, mosaics and frescos survive from the period.

Carolingian architecture

Carolingian architecture is the style of North European architecture promoted by Charlemagne. The period of architecture spans the late eighth and ninth centuries until the reign of Otto I in 936, and was a conscious attempt to create a Roman Renaissance, emulating Roman, Early Christian and Byzantine architecture, with its own innovation, resulting in having a unique character.

Carolingian music

In Western culture, there had been an unbroken tradition in musical practice and theory from the earliest written records of the Sumerians (c. 2500 BC) through the Babylonians and Persiansmarker down to ancient Greece and Rome. However, the Germanic migrations of the 400s AD brought about a break with this tradition. Most in western Europe for the next few centuries did not understand the Greek language, and thus the works of Boethius, who saw what was happening and translated ancient Greek treatises into Latin, became the foundation of learning during this period. With the advent of scholarly reforms by Charlemagne, who was particularly interested in music, began a period of intense activity in the monasteries of the writing and copying of treatises in music theory — the Musica enchiriadis is one of the earliest and most interesting of these. Charlemagne sought to unify the practice of church music by eliminating regional stylistic differences. There is evidence that the earliest Western musical notation, in the form of neumes in camp aperto (without staff-lines), was created at Metzmarker around 800, as a result of Charlemagne's desire for Frank church musicians to retain the performance nuances used by the Roman singers. Western musical practice and theory of today can be traced in an unbroken line from this time to the present, thus it had its beginnings with Charlemagne.

Economic and legal reforms

Charlemagne was faced with a variety of currencies at the start of his reign. To correct problems these various currencies caused, he standardized a system based on a pound of silver (Livre tournois). Denier were minted with a value of 240 deniers to a pound of silver. A second value, the solidus, was also created as an accounting device with a value of twelve deniers or one twentieth of a pound of silver. The solidus was not minted but was instead used to record values such as a "solidus of grain" which was equal to the amount of grain that twelve deniers could purchase.



  1. Scott pg 30
  2. Cantor pg 190
  3. Cantor pg 189
  4. Chambers pg 204-205
  5. James Grier Ademar de Chabannes, Carolingian Musical Practices, and "Nota Romana", Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 56, No. 1 (Spring, 2003), pp. 43-98, retrieved July 2007
  6. Scott pg 40

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