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A denarius

Charlemagne (2 April 742/747/74828 January 814), a member of the Carolingian dynasty, was King of the Franks from 768, King of the Lombards from 774, and the first Holy Roman Emperor from 800. Charlemagne succeeded in uniting the majority of western and central Europe and was the first recognized emperor to rule from western Europe after the fall of the Western Roman Empire around three centuries earlier. The expanded Frankish state that Charlemagne founded was the Carolingian Empire. He was canonized by Antipope Paschal III— an act later treated as invalid—and he is now regarded by some as beatified (which is a step on the path to sainthood) in the Catholic Church. His reign spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a period of energetic cultural and intellectual activity within the Western Church.


  • Right action is better than knowledge; but in order to do what is right, we must know what is right.
    • "De Litteris Colendis", in Jean-Barthélemy Hauréau De la philosophie scolastique (1850) p. 10; translation from T. H. Huxley Science and Education ([1893] 2007) p. 132; in Latin, Quamvis enim melius sit benefacere quam nosse, prius tamen est nosse quam facere.
  • You nobles, you sons of my leading men, soft and dandified, trusting in your birth and your wealth, paying no attention to my command and your advancement, you neglected the pursuit of learning and indulged yourselves in the sport of pleasure and idleness and foolish pastimes. By the King of the heavens I think nothing of your nobility and your beauty. Others can admire you. Know this without any doubt; unless you rapidly make up for your idleness by eager effort, you will never receive any benefit from Charlemagne.
    • Quoted in Notker's The Deeds of Charlemagne (translated 2008 by David Ganz)
  • If only I could have a dozen churchmen as wise and as well taught in all human knowledge as were Jerome and Augustine!
    • Notker the Stammerer De Carolo Magno, Bk. 1, sect. 9; translation from Einhard and Notker the Stammerer (trans. Lewis Thorpe) Two Lives of Charlemagne (1969) p. 102.; O utinam haberem duodecim clericos ita doctos, omnique sapientia sic perfecte instructos, ut fuerunt Hieronimus et Augustinus. In conversation with his minister Alcuin, who replied, "Creator coeli et terrae similes illis plures non habuit, et tu vis habere duodecim (The Maker of heaven and earth Himself has very few scholars worth comparing with these men, and yet you expect to find a dozen!)".
  • It is not lack of self-restraint but care for others which makes me dine in Lent before the hour of evening.
    • Quoted in Notker's The Deeds of Charlemagne (translated 2008 by David Ganz)
  • Fathers and guardians, bishops of our Church, you ought to minister to the poor, or rather to Christ in them, and not to seek after vanities. But now you act quite contrary to this; and are vainglorious and avaricious beyond all other men.
    • Quoted in Notker's The Deeds of Charlemagne (translated 2008 by David Ganz)
  • Bishops should despise this world and inspire others by their example to seek after heavenly things. But now you are corrupted by ambition beyond all the rest of mankind; and one of them not content with holding the first episcopal see in Germany has dared without my approval to claim my golden scepter, which I carry to signify my royal will, in order that he might use it as his pastoral staff.
    • Quoted in Notker's The Deeds of Charlemagne (translated 2008 by David Ganz)
  • Take care that none of them escapes.
    • Quoted in Notker's The Deeds of Charlemagne (translated 2008 by David Ganz). Referring to conspirators against Pope Leo III.
  • Nothing of that which was gained by fraud can go to the liberation of his soul. Let his wealth be divided among the workmen of this our building, and the poorer servants of our palace.
    • Quoted in Notker's The Deeds of Charlemagne (translated 2008 by David Ganz)

Quotes about Charlemagne

  • Under this tomb lies the body of Charles, the great and orthodox emperor, who gloriously increased the Kingdom of the Franks and reigned with great success for forty-seven years. He died in his seventies in the year of our Lord 814, in the seventh Indiction, on the twenty-eighth day of January.
    • Epitaph, quoted in Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne (translated 2008 by David Ganz)
  • The most famous and greatest of men.
    • Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne (translated 2008 by David Ganz)
  • I touch with reverence the laws of Charlemagne, so highly applauded by a respectable judge. They compose not a system, but a series, of occasional and minute edicts, for the correction of abuses, the reformation of manners, the œconomy of his farms, the care of his poultry, and even the sale of his eggs. He wished to improve the laws and the character of the Franks; and his attempts, however feeble and imperfect, are deserving of praise: the inveterate evils of the times were suspended or mollified by his government; but in his institutions I can seldom discover the general views and the immortal spirit of a legislator, who survives himself for the benefit of posterity. The union and stability of his empire depended on the life of a single man: he imitated the dangerous practice of dividing his kingdoms among his sons; and, after his numerous diets, the whole constitution was left to fluctuate between the disorders of anarchy and despotism.
  • [T]he encouragement of learning reflects the purest and most pleasing lustre on the character of Charlemagne. The dignity of his person, the length of his reign, the prosperity of his arms, the vigour of his government, and the reverence of distant nations, distinguish him from the royal crowd; and Europe dates a new æra from his restoration of the Western empire.
  • This great empire Charlemagne formed into a systematically organized State, and gave the Frank dominion settled institutions adapted to impart to it strength and consistency. This must however not be understood, as if he first introduced the Constitution of his empire in its whole extent, but as implying that institutions partly already in existence, were developed under his guidance, and attained a more decided and unobstructed efficiency. The King stood at the head of the officers of the empire, and the principle of hereditary monarchy was already recognized.
    • Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of History, "Part IV: The German World", in Great Books of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Incorporated, 1952.
  • Charles was the keenest of all kings to seek out and support wise men so that they might philosophize with all delight. Almost all of the kingdom entrusted to him by God was so foggy and almost blind, but he made it luminous with the new ray of knowledge, almost unknown to this barbarous land, with God lighting the way so it could see. But now studies are growing weak, and the light of wisdom because it is less loved grows rarer among most people.
    • Walahfrid, Walahfrid's Preface (translated 2008 by David Ganz)


  • Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the birds in the sky.
  • Make us eternal truths receive,
    And practice all that we believe;
    Give us Thyself that we may see
    The Father and the Son by Thee.
    • Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert, Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers (1895), p. 320, but not found before publication in Wentworth Dillon, 4th Earl of Roscommon, A collection of divine hymns and poems upon several occasions (1719), p. 192, attributed as a translation by John Dryden of Veni, Creator Spiritus, Stanza VI.
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