Carolingian Renaissance

Carolingian minuscule, one of the products of the Carolingian Renaissance.

The Carolingian Renaissance was the first of three medieval renaissances, a period of cultural activity in the Carolingian Empire. It occurred from the late 8th century to the 9th century, which took inspiration from the Christian Roman Empire of the fourth century. During this period, there was an increase of literature, writing, the arts, architecture, jurisprudence, liturgical reforms, and scriptural studies.

The Carolingian Renaissance occurred mostly during the reigns of Carolingian rulers Charlemagne and Louis the Pious. It was supported by the scholars of the Carolingian court, notably Alcuin of York.[1] Charlemagne's Admonitio generalis (789) and Epistola de litteris colendis served as manifestos.

The effects of this cultural revival were mostly limited to a small group of court literati. According to John Contreni, "it had a spectacular effect on education and culture in Francia, a debatable effect on artistic endeavors, and an unmeasurable effect on what mattered most to the Carolingians, the moral regeneration of society".[2][3] The secular and ecclesiastical leaders of the Carolingian Renaissance made efforts to write better Latin, to copy and preserve patristic and classical texts, and to develop a more legible, classicizing script. (This was the Carolingian minuscule that Renaissance humanists took to be Roman and employed as humanist minuscule, from which has developed early modern Italic script.) They also applied rational ideas to social issues for the first time in centuries, providing a common language and writing style that enabled communication throughout most of Europe.


Lorsch Abbey gatehouse, c. 800, an example of the Carolingian architectural style - a first, albeit isolated classical movement in architecture

As Pierre Riché points out, the expression "Carolingian Renaissance" does not imply that Western Europe was barbaric or obscurantist before the Carolingian era.[4] The centuries following the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West did not see an abrupt disappearance of the ancient schools, from which emerged Martianus Capella, Cassiodorus and Boethius, essential icons of the Roman cultural heritage in the Middle Ages, thanks to which the disciplines of liberal arts were preserved.[5] The 7th century saw the "Isidorian Renaissance" in the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania[6] in which sciences flourished[7][8][9] and the integration of Christian and pre-Christian thought occurred,[10] while the spread of Irish monastic schools (scriptoria) over Europe laid the groundwork for the Carolingian Renaissance.[11][12]

There were numerous factors in this cultural expansion, the most obvious of which was that Charlemagne's uniting of most of Western Europe brought about peace and stability, which set the stage for prosperity. This period marked an economic revival in Western Europe, following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Local economies in the West had degenerated into largely subsistence agriculture by the early seventh century, with towns functioning merely as places of gift-exchange for the elite.[13] By the late seventh century, developed urban settlements had emerged, populated mostly by craftsmen, merchants and boaters and boasting street grids, artisanal production as well as regional and long-distance trade.[13] A prime example of this type of emporium was Dorestad.[13]

The development of the Carolingian economy was fueled by the efficient organization and exploitation of labor on large estates, producing a surplus of primarily grain, wine and salt.[14][15] In turn, inter-regional trade in these commodities facilitated the expansion of towns.[14][15] Archaeological data shows the continuation of this upward trend in the early eighth century.[13] The zenith of the early Carolingian economy was reached from 775 to 830, coinciding with the largest surpluses of the period, large-scale building of churches as well as overpopulation and three famines that showed the limits of the system.[16] After a period of disruption from 830 to 850, caused by civil wars and Viking raids, economic development resumed in the 850s, with the emporiums disappearing completely and being replaced by fortified commercial towns.[16]

One of the major causes of the sudden economic growth was the slave trade. Following the rise of the Arab empires, the Arab elites created a major demand for slaves with European slaves particularly prized. As a result of Charlemagne's wars of conquest in Eastern Europe, a steady supply of captured Slavs, Avars, Saxons and Danes reached mostly Jewish merchants in Western Europe, who then exported the slaves via Ampurias, Girona and the Pyrenees passes to Muslim Spain and other parts of the Arab world.[17] The market for slaves was so lucrative that it almost immediately transformed the long-distance trade of the European economies.[18][19] The slave trade enabled the West to re-engage with the Muslim and Eastern Roman empires so that other industries, such as textiles, were able to grow in Europe as well.[20]

Other Languages
Bahasa Indonesia: Renaisan Karoling
slovenščina: Karolinška renesansa
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Karolinška renesansa