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Revisiting one of the great puzzles of European political history, Jennifer R. Davis examines how the Frankish king Charlemagne and his men held together the vast new empire he created during the first decades of his reign. Davis explores how Charlemagne overcame the two main problems of ruling an empire, namely how to delegate authority and how to manage diversity. Through a meticulous reconstruction based on primary sources, she demonstrates that rather than imposing a pre-existing model of empire onto conquered regions, Charlemagne and his men learned from them, developing a practice of empire that allowed the emperor to rule on a European scale. As a result, Charlemagne's realm was more flexible and diverse than has long been believed. Telling the story of Charlemagne's rule using sources produced during the reign itself, Davis offers a new interpretation of Charlemagne's political practice, free from the distortions of later legend.Read more
- Offers a new interpretation of a pivotal reign in European history, contributing to major debates about the development of medieval history and the formation of Europe
- Examines Charlemagne's realm as a diverse, multiethnic empire
- Reaches beyond the typical geographical frame of Carolingian history to examine how empire was learned in conquered regions
Reviews & endorsements
"Historians have rightly emphasized the importance of religion to Charlemagne and his contemporaries. In this refreshingly original, lucid and strongly argued book, Jennifer Davis shows that ideology is only part of the story. Finding what worked empirically was what drove Charlemagne's practice of empire, and produced some enduring effects."
Janet Nelson, King's College LondonSee more reviews
"Jennifer Davis' study fundamentally revises older romantic images of Charlemagne's empire as a short period of a Renaissance of central authority and imperial unity. Exploring its formation as the result of an experimental process that was much more shaped by practical reason than by ideology, by pragmatic flexibility, and by fuzzy conceptions than by the implementation of an imperial master plan, Davis provides us with a fresh look at the formation of a new imperial culture, which shaped European politics for many centuries to come."
Helmut Reimitz, Princeton University
"Davis has written not yet another Charlemagne biography, but rather an audacious reassessment of his reign as a crucial episode in the history of European rulership and governance. Deeply learned, meticulously researched, and subtly argued, it is a model for how to write pre-modern political and institutional history in the twenty-first century."
Adam J. Kosto, Columbia University
"With this prodigious study, Jennifer Davis has announced herself as an important scholar of Carolingian politics."
Hans Hummer, German History
'This book has already established itself as essential reading for specialists of the period and for all historians concerned with the question of empire and pre-modern states. It manages to combine the study of institutions of government with that of networks of power, too often seen as contradictory. It suggests approaching the great sovereigns in terms of their concrete actions, leaving aside for the moment how they were represented. The results are convincing and even astonishing, because even if the author did not set out to write a biography, by the end of the book, the reader is left with an original impression of the personality of Charlemagne.' Martin Gravel, Revue historique
‘In some ways this is a radical book … But while the arguments are bold, the underlying scholarship is sound and thorough … [Jennifer R. Davis] has written an important book brimming with new ideas and suggestions for further research.’ C. M. A. West, The English Historical Review
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- Date Published: August 2015
- format: Hardback
- isbn: 9781107076990
- length: 552 pages
- dimensions: 236 x 160 x 51 mm
- weight: 0.79kg
- contains: 3 b/w illus. 2 maps 5 tables
- availability: Available
Table of Contents
Part I. Strategic Rulership: Introduction: tools of control and coercion
1. Managing royal agents
2. Disciplining royal agents
3. Fractured control: Charlemagne's response to dissent
Conclusion: control and its limits
Part II. Center and Region in Charlemagne's Empire: Introduction: unity and diversity in Charlemagne's empire
4. An empire of regions?
5. The conquered regions as arenas for experimentation
6. The nature of the empire: centralization and communication
Conclusion: the imperial character of Charlemagne's realm
Part III. An Empire of Practice: Introduction: continuity, change, and the building of an empire
7. The chronology of the reign
8. Recta via: the dynamics of political change
Conclusion: an empire of practice
Conclusion: Charlemagne's invention of medieval rulership
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