No wonder that they were the bravest missionaries and that from them the church often chose its popes and bishops. Even kings and rulers sometimes named them as their chief advisers. Without them1 life in the Middle Ages could hardly have gone on.
62. Charles the Great Revives Civilization. Under the power of Christianity and its teachers civilization in Europe began to revive somewhat. After three hundred years of barbarism and confusion, some signs of a desire for better things began to appear. This is shown especially in the work of Charles the Great, or, as he is often called, Charlemagne.
Among the Teutonic tribes which invaded the Roman Empire none were fiercer than the Franks. These people, whose early home was along the Rhine, had crossed that river and overrun Gaul, as France was then called. As they advanced all was ruin and destruction. But the Franks settled down to rule the country they had subdued and Clovis, their leader, had, as we have seen, accepted Christianity. Thus he became the friend and ally of the Pope of Rome.
Nevertheless the Frankish. kings so loved fighting that they engaged in constant wars with the rulers of other tribes. There were bloody civil wars, too, among the Franks themselves. It is tiresome, indeed, to read of all the bloodshed of theit early history.
But the Franks were good fighters and gradually got the better of the tribes about them. No doubt this was partly due to the fact that they were friends of the pope, and so the Romans, who often disliked other German peoples, preferred to be ruled by them. So strong did they become that when the terrible Arabs from Africa conquered Spain and invaded Gaul, the Franks, under their brave leader, Charles of the Hammer (Charles Martel), marched against them and defeated them at the Battle of Tours. (732 A.D.)
The grandson of this Charles Martel was Charles the Great. He was a tall, strongly made man who, like a true Frank, loved riding, swimming, and all manly exercises. Though he was rather stout, none could excel him in such sports. He seemed tireless, and during all his long reign was always making distant expeditions at the head of his armies.
Each spring he gathered his forces and toiled off through the rough forests on some great campaign. Again and again he marched into Germany, and subdued the still unconquered tribes of that region. On other occasions he journeyed into Italy, and protected his friend the pope against his enemies. The Arabs of Spain, too, felt his power. Before his death he had brought all the region now included in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, a part of Austria, northern Italy, and a little of Spain under his control. Since the days of Rome no such great power had been seen.
It is not strange that a king of that warlike time should be a great conqueror. But it is strange that in his warlike and restless life Charles should find time for many other things besides war.
Though he had little education, he was so fond of learning that during his meals he always had some one read to him. He could speak Latin and understand a little Greek. At great expense he invited scholars from afl parts of Europe, like the Englishman Alcuin, to come to his court.
He even had a school established in his own home, the famous School of the Palace, that his children and those of his great nobles might be properly taught. So fond of this school was Charles that whenever he was able he went to it himself and asked all kinds of questions of the teachers. Charles even tried to learn to write, and used tO keep his writing materials under his pillow when he slept that he might practice writing if he were wakeful. But the huge hand of the great warrior had hard work to guide the pen, and he could never do much more than sign his name.
Charles encouraged the clergy to study that they might teach correctly the word of God, and helped them to establish schools in many of the principal cities. So anxious was he that everybody should learn that he commanded every priest to call together the boys of his neighborhood and to teach them to read. It may seem odd to us that no ruler had thought of this before, but the warlike kings of that day had in mind only conquest and slaughter.
The Christian religion, too, Charles loved, though his way of advancing it was a rough one. At the point of the sword he forced thousands of the barbarous warriors whom he conquered to wade into rivers and be baptized.
What a ridiculous picture those old heathen must have made as they splashed unwillingly into the water before the weapons of Charles' soldiers! No wonder that the converts had a strange idea of the Religion of Peace! Yet Charles did more than this. He ordered conquered tribes to build churches, and sent priests and monks to live among them. Thusasyearspassed they were gradually taught the meaning of Christianity.
As Charles' power grew it seemed more and more as if the good old days of the Roman Empire were coming back again. So when Charles chanced, on one Christmas Day, to be in the city of Rome, an inspiring thing happened. As Charles was kneeling before the altar of the great church, the pope, clad in the stately garments of his office, approached, bearing a crown. This he placed upon the head of the Frankish king and in solemn tones declared him Emperor of Rome. (8oo A.D.) Then all the people shouted, "Long life and victory to the mighty Charles, the great and pacific emperor of the Romans, crowned of God!" And outside the church the rugged soldiers of the king took up the cry.
63. The Coming of the Northmen. But the good order and peace of the Roman Empire had not come back to stay. While Charles the Great lived all went well, but only a mighty ruler could govern all the differentiraces and peoples he had conquered. His son and grandsons were not equal to the task. The latter even divided the empire among themselves, and then fought fiercely with one another. They could not understand what Charles had tried to do.
A few of Charles' schools remained; the monks still studied and labored; but Europe went back into confusion and bloodshed. To make things still worse, a new and terrible danger appeared. This was the Northmen.
Not all the Teutonic tribes had yet been Christianized. Far to the north in Scandinavia, in the countries we now call Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, still lived thousands of tall, blond warriors who worshiped Odin and Thor and followed the fierce customs of their ancestors. Cut off by the sea from the rest of Europe, these Northmen had scarcely been heard of.
But since they lived by the sea, those hardy people naturally became sailors, and launching forth in their swift black vessels they began to venture upon long voyages. The leaders of these expeditions were called "Vikings" because they were lords of the "Viks," or long, narrow bays of the rugged northern coast.
Though the ships of the Vikings were only open boats driven by oar as well as by sail, they were such bold sailors and were so strong and hardy that they often dared to make voyages thousands of miles from home. The Vikings did not fear the fiercest tempests, and loved danger and adventure as befitting brave men.
But the poor coast people of France and England were indeed terrified as they saw the Viking ships approach. Trembling, they looked upon the black raven painted upon their sails, the prows rudely hewn into the'forms of dragons, the rows of glittering shields hung along the bulwarks, and the crowd of strong fighting men eager for booty. For the Northmen were pirates.
Sailing up some stream or bay, they would land and, leaving a guard at the boats, scurry off across the country. Woe betide the region to which they came, for they left behind only smoking ruins. Everything of value they carried off to their ships, and those who opposed them they slew. Particularly cruel were they to the monks for they hated Christianity.
Vainly did kings and rulers try to withstand them. But before they could gather their armies the Northmen were gone, and if by any chance these pirates were cornered they were so strong and fought so fiercely that they often cut down many times their own numbers. Villages, churches, monasteries, and even cities disappeared in flame and smoke. Whole districts were ruined.
France suffered dreadfully. More and more Vikings came each year. Finally a great band led by a gigantic chief named Rollo forced a weak descendant of Charles the Great to give over to them a whole district of the finest part of northern France.
This surrender seemed a terrible misfortune; but in the long run it did not prove so. These Northmen now settled down in the region they had conquered. Gradually they gave up their fierce customs. They married the women of the country and learned to speak French instead df their rude northern tongue. In the end they became practically Frenchmen. Yet even among the French they were always noted for their courage in war, their energy, and their love of adventure. So Normandy, as their province was called, instead of being ruined forever became one of the most prosperous parts of all France. We shall see the Normans again, doing great things in England and elsewhere.
But not all the Vikings sailed southward. Others went on plundering expeditions to Scotland and Ireland, and finally a hardy band, buffeting the great billows of the Atlantic in their small open boats, reached distant Iceland. Here many Northmen settled. In time these skillful sailors reached ice-bound Greenland also, and some of them dwelt there.
SUGGESTIONS INTENDED TO HELP THE PUPIL
The Leading Facts. 1. Though the Middle Ages was a time of darkness and bloodshed, the Teutons gradually became civilized. 2. This result was due mainly to the Christian church. 3. Among those who helped to win the barbarians to Christianity, especial credit belongs to Gregory the Great and to St. Boniface. 4. The world owes much to the monks of this period. 5. The monasteries were practically the only schools, libraries, hospitals, and inns. 6. Charles the Great, ruler of the Franks, revived learning and spread Christianity. 7. As a reward he was crowned Emperor of Rome by the pope. 8. When Charles died his empire was broken up and Europe fell back into confusion. p. Conditions were made much worse by the attacks of the Northmen.
Study Questions. 1. Why did the overthrow of the Roman government increase the power of the church? 2. How did the Teutons feel when they saw Christian priests and missionaries? 3. Tell the story of the conversion of Clovis. 4. Tell the story of the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons. 5. Who was St. Boniface? 6. Why is he called one of the bravest of Christian missionaries? 7. Who were the monks? 8. Why did people. wish to be monks? p. What did monks do? 10. Describe a flourishing monastery of the Middle Ages. 11. What have the monks left us that is valuable? 12. Tell something of the early history of the Franks. 13. What kind of a man was Charles the Great? 14. What countries did he conquer? 15. How did Charles show his love for learning? 16. How did he help to spread Christianity? 17. Tell the story of Charles' coronation as emperor. 18. What were the results of Charles' death? 19. What kind of people were the Northmen? 20. Give an account of one of their raids as if you had seen it. 21. Why was it so hard to drive the Northmen away? 22. Tell the story of their settlement in Normandy. 23. Tell the story of their voyages to the Atlantic.
Suggested Readings. Tappan, European Hero Stories, 3853, 8i-86, 94-98, and England's Story, 17-24; Harding, The Story of the Middle Ages; Yonge, Young Folks' History of England, and Young Folks' History of France, 61-106; Einhard, Life of Charlemagne; Haaren and Poland, Famous Men of the Middle Ages; Hall, Viking Tales; Mabie, Norse Stories.