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I love to find out where things come from the question mark is Carolingian it comes from about 800 it is odd to find out the origin of something we take for granted like the question mark now we use the term Carolingian to refer to the time of Charlemagne and his successors Charlemagne also Charles the Great or careless Magnus hence the name Carolingian he was a king he was famously crowned emperor in 800 by the Pope in Rome and he ruled over a collection of kingdoms that he had conquered that his father had conquered that his grandfather had conquered he was a friend the ancient Romans would have considered them barbarians these were people who migrated into Western Europe from the east and who settled into what is now Germany northern France but eventually over generations this is before Charlemagne they were able to consolidate their power and by the time we get to about 800 Charlemagne is ruling a vast expanse of Europe so how do we put together this idea of this warlord conquering whole kingdoms and somebody who invents the question mark who invents punctuation as we use it well strangely those things go together Charlemagne had to govern a vast Kingdom where there were many different languages and dialects spoken he really needed to organize and educate to create a Christian Kingdom a Christian Empire this was a really brutal period and these were warlords these were when castles are being built because people are marauding armies are attacking fields are being burned this was a tough period and so the stability that was there because of the Roman Empire the relative stability is gone there are really only vestiges of the civilizing functions of the Roman Empire the Romans had law they had roads they had trade systems they had educational systems they had a vast bureaucracy and trained civil servants to help the government run all of that was gone so they had to figure out how they could create systems again based in part on the old Roman systems that were capable of holding this Empire together but Charlemagne was deeply religious he took his Catholic faith very seriously and that became the binding agent for all of these diverse peoples and lands well Charlemagne wanted to rule over a Christian Kingdom and saw himself as a divinely ordained Emperor the problem was that most of his religious bureaucracy his priests were illiterate he needed to find a way that he could begin to educate these people so that he could expose the population to a correct version of Catholicism that is they could get it right and it was important to get it right because what had happened over the centuries is that because of the lack of a central government and central structures different tribes were doing things differently different tribes had their own set of laws they had different ways of practicing Christianity you had too many diverse practices he was interested in education educating the abbot's the bishops the priests so that when they read the liturgy they were reading the correct thing they were teaching the correct ideas right so we're not talking about the peasantry the priests are teaching to those very people but it's the priestly class that needed to be literate and educated Charlemagne is creating schools in order to accomplish this he's bringing together scholars for his own Palace School in fact from all across Europe he brings in people from Spain from Italy from England from Ireland he wants to learn how to write Latin himself well to get a sense of how important learning was to Charlemagne we have this quote from an early biographer he avidly pursued the liberal arts and greatly honored those teachers who be deeply respected to learn grammar he followed the teaching of Peter of Pisa for the other disciplines he took as his teacher Alcuin of Britain the most learned man in the entire world Charlemagne invested a great deal of time and effort studying rhetoric dialectic and particularly astronomy with him he learned the art of calculating I was deep purpose and great curiosity investigated the movement of the Stars he also attempted to learn how to write and for this reason he used to place wax tablets and notebooks under his pillow on his bed so that if he had any free time he might accustom his hand to forming letters but this effort came too late in life and he achieved little success I love that image of Charlemagne the Emperor sleeping with a tablet under his pillow so he can squeeze in some time to practice writing so Charlemagne created the political stability and the wealth that allowed him to begin to institute a kind of rigorous educational system not for the vast majority but for the bureaucracy the clergy those people needed to be able to read the Bible they needed to be able to read Latin and this is a particularly important moment in European history remember Latin had been spoken by the ancient Romans but that was hundreds of years before and Latin was importantly the language of government and it was the language of the church the two central authorities in Charlemagne's kingdom but language is a living thing and it changes over time and this is the moment in history Latin begins to evolve into what we will eventually recognize as Spanish as French as Italian the divergence of what had been Latin Charlemagne was interested in revising Latin removing the change that had accumulated in Latin over the centuries and reforming Latin bringing it back to what he thought was its classical form which means that we really have two different kinds of language the high language latin of the church of government and we have the common spoken languages of the people so what does he do he sets up schools throughout his kingdom especially in monasteries Charlemagne setup script Oriya a places where the monks could copy books now what this allows is the ramping up of the production of religious texts and other ancient texts and so a number of manuscripts that come out of scriptorium increases dramatically in the several hundred years before Charlemagne we have five hundred manuscripts that survived but between 750 and 900 about the time that we consider the Carolingian period of Charlemagne and his successors we have 7,000 and so there's clearly a deliberate attempt to retrieve to preserve and to copy texts and also to correct texts think about what went into creating a book these were handmade objects on materials that were quite expensive this is long before paper was used in the West what they used was parchment sheepskin all of this is being done by hand this is a really hard thing for us to imagine there's a monk in a scriptorium by some accounts one skilled scribe could copy as many as seven pages with 25 lines on each page in one day so this is slow going it's expensive and the scribes themselves had to be literate as a great quote by a scribe complaining about his work the art of scribes is the hardest of art it is difficult tile it is hard to bend the neck and plow through the pages for three hours three fingers right but the whole body toils just as it is sweet for the sailor to reach Harbor so sweet is it for the writer to put the final letter on the page and of course there was this newfound emphasis on doing it exactly right and because they were so concerned about doing it exactly right the Carolingians helped to develop a new kind of script called minuscule so just like Charlemagne was interested in standardizing correcting the Bible and other texts he was interested in standardizing writing so that more and more people could read it and more and more monks would be able to copy it right he was lowering the bar in terms of the difficulty of writing so that he could create more efficiency and create more production so that more books could go out from the monasteries to the local churches and more people could get it right before this writing had become very unclear words were alighted with one another scribes often showed off with little calligraphic flourishes that made it difficult to read Charlemagne was all about legibility making everything clear and correct so Charlemagne is all about correcting reforming standardizing and wielded enormous power to make those things happen it's important to remember at the same time that he's doing all of these fabulous educational and cultural reforms he's also reading armies and conquering people so all this education was necessary because Charlemagne was trying to create this Christian Kingdom he had moved beyond the borders that his father his grandfather his great-grandfather had accumulated he moved south into Italy conquering the dramatic tribe the Lombards and taking on the title king of the Lombards he pushed successfully into Spain just a bit in the area that is now Catalonia and the Basque region he pushed into Brittany and probably with the most difficulty he subdued the Saxons this was a non-christian tribe in the Northeast he Christianized them and it took several decades so for all his educational reforms we have to also remember that he could be a ruthless warrior there's one particular episode that really brings that home Charlemagne apparently had thought he had subdued the Saxons he had granted titles to their leaders as aristocrats in his kingdom but some of his men were attacked by a group of rebel Saxons and Charlemagne took his vengeance on Saxon captives executing 4,500 in one day cutting off their heads we still have an enormous Lee important legacy from Charlemagne and his successors many historians call this parallel ng a period of renaissance or at the very least a revival a revival of classical learning Charlemagne intentionally looked back to ancient Rome especially the period of ancient Rome that was Christian under for example under Constantine so above and beyond the question mark 90% of classical texts survived due to Charlemagne scribes we're talking about the great writings of ancient Rome we have these because Charlemagne and Charlemagne's court thought that they were important they copied them multiple times and some of those manuscripts have survived in fact some scholars believe that Charlemagne actually issued a call across his empire for rare and important books so that they would be copied and preserved we have a lot to thank Charlemagne for we have the question mark we have our understanding of classical authors and early religious texts and people have seen Charlemagne as responsible for to a large extent inventing what we will come to know as modern Europe