Monday 20 January 2020

Charlemagne’s Little Brother

John Bailey
BA History and Archaeology
The 4th of December is the anniversary of the death of Carloman (751 – 771), the not so famous younger brother of Charlemagne. Carloman only lived until he was 20 and, before the new King of the Franks could do anything with the position he inherited, he died under ‘suspicious circumstances’ at a time when a war with his brother was growing more likely by the day. The cause of his death was unknown, but it was concluded he had died from a ‘severe nosebleed’. This is something that doesn’t seem lethal and probably was a symptom of something else. It is possible that the king had underlying health issues; this is something we would know little about due to the lack of recovered information from the period. Charlemagne could have had something to do with his death, or it could just have been another chance event in history: the medieval period was very prone to this, as popes and kings had a habit of dying at the worst possible times, thus thwarting their effort to accomplish developments and changes. However, it was extremely convenient for his older brother Charlemagne who could now take the lands inherited by his brother from their father Pepin the Short.
The two brothers kept contending for power and what little actions we know Carloman took during his short reign were mostly to undermine his brother. He attempted to provoke rebellions with King Desiderius of Italy at his side, who was the king of the Lombard kingdom of Italy in Northern Italy at the time. Carloman’s death was sudden and unexpected after the new-found support he gained from Desiderius to use against his brother. With an all-out war being so likely, it didn’t take long for Charlemagne to take advantage of his brother’s death. He seized his lands after being invited to by Carloman’s ‘faithful nobles’, therefore betraying Carloman’s wife and two sons by giving away the kingdom.
Fig. 1: Territories of Charlemagne (red)
and Carloman (blue)
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Their father certainly knew of their rivalry from a young age, splitting his kingdom in two after he had fallen ill and thus forcing them to cooperate in order to make both kingdoms prosper and be successful. This is demonstrated on the  adjacent map, where Carloman’s territories are denoted in blue and Charlemagne’s (Charles) in red. The latter gained kingship over the Austrasians (and possibly Neustria), while the younger Carloman was given the kingdoms of Burgundy, Provence, Septimania, Alsace and Alemannia. Aquitaine was divided between them. The theoretical power the two brothers had was enormous and relatively equal,  making  them  both unhappy with  their inheritance,  both  desiring  more than the  other brother. However, despite Carloman’s best efforts he didn’t live long enough to contend with his brother and, due to this, would always be Charlemagne’s number two. Allegedly, Charlemagne was also more physically imposing than his brother and had a stronger personality thus often overshadowing his brother. However, whilst this impression could stem from clergymen wanting to elevate Charlemagne, this enshrined the image of his superiority over his brother from childhood onwards. Carloman possibly even feared his brother and probably did plot against him due to the fact that he was so insecure in his own position, believing that Charlemagne would take military action against him soon. Carloman died too swiftly and prematurely to rival his brother’s legend of creating an empire, and thus is why little is said about the brother of Charlemagne.

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