On Christmas morning in the year 800, Pope Leo III placed the crown of imperial Rome on the brow of a Germanic king named Karl. With one gesture, the man later hailed as Charlemagne claimed his empire and forever shaped the destiny of Europe. Becoming Charlemagne tells the story of the international power struggle that led to this world-changing event.
Illuminating an era that has long been overshadowed by legend, this far-ranging book shows how the Frankish king and his wise counselors built an empire not only through warfare but also by careful diplomacy. With consummate political skill, Charlemagne partnered with a scandal-ridden pope, fended off a ruthless Byzantine empress, nurtured Jewish communities in his empire, and fostered ties with a famous Islamic caliph. For 1,200 years, the deeds of Charlemagne captured the imagination of his descendants, inspiring kings and crusaders, the conquests of Napoléon and Hitler, and the optimistic architects of the European Union.
In this engaging narrative, Jeff Sypeck crafts a vivid portrait of Karl, the ruler who became a legend, while transporting readers far beyond Europe to the glittering palaces of Constantinople and the streets of medieval Baghdad. Evoking a long-ago world of kings, caliphs, merchants, and monks, Becoming Charlemagne brings alive an age of empire building that continues to resonate today.
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Jeff Sypeck teaches medieval literature at the University of Maryland. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, among other publications. He lives in Washington, D.C.From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. Sypeck affectionately peers behind the legends surrounding Charlemagne and magnificently chronicles four significant years in the emperor's life. From 796 to 800, Charlemagne, the king of the Franks, consolidated his kingdom through military exploits, religious diplomacy and political treaties. His love for order, his respect for education and books, his reverence for his religion and his dealings with Muslims established his reputation as a king to be feared and respected. In 800, Charlemagne's life and the destiny of Europe changed forever when Pope Leo III anointed the Frankish king as the emperor of Rome. Although the new emperor attempted to bridge the gap between Eastern and Western Christianity by marrying Irene, the empress of Constantinople, her subjects so feared the alliance that they kidnapped and exiled Irene, preventing Charlemagne from achieving this aim. Sypeck, who teaches medieval literature at the University of Maryland, paints a splendid portrait of the emperor's various supporters, including Isaac, his Jewish envoy to Baghdad; Harun al-Rashid, the legendary caliph of Baghdad who, though the two never met, believed that he and Charlemagne would be great military and political companions; and the elephant, Abul Abaz, a gift from Harun. Sypeck's history offers dazzling glimpses of Charlemagne's life and times and of his journey to become the legendary emperor. 11 b&w illus., 1 map. (Dec.)
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