Karl der Große: Gemälde um 1600 (c) Andreas Herrmann

Charlemagne compiled the knowledge of his times

Charlemagne was a ruler with a great thirst for knowledge. Scholars from all over Europe instructed him and his children in the seven disciplines of ancient science: grammar, rhetoric and dialectics, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. Charlemagne only learnt to write late in his life, but he spoke fluent Latin and understood Greek. He studied the grammar of his Franconian mother tongue and had the oral traditions of subjugated peoples chronicled. His palace school in Aachen accumulated the knowledge of his times and disseminated it throughout his whole empire.

However, the sciences had not developed as much in Franconian culture as they had especially in the Islamic world, where mathematics and medicine, astronomy and mechanics were flourishing. Charlemagne maintained relations with Harun al Rashid, the most important Islamic ruler of his times. Envoys from Bagdad brought precious gifts and also knowledge to Charlemagne's court. The caliph not only presented Charlemagne with his white elephant Abul Abbas, but also an astronomical clock. This was a technological masterpiece that no-one in the Franconian realm would have been capable of constructing.

Painting (probably based on a copperplate), unknown artist, circa 1600
Town Hall, Aachen

Charlemagne the Cosmopolitan

"His relations with Harun, King of the Persians, who ruled over almost the whole of the East, India excepted, were so friendly that this prince preferred Charles' favour to that of all the kings and potentates of the earth."

(from Einhard, The Life of Charlemagne, written circa 840)

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