Often called the “Father of Europe,” Charlemagne was a Frankish warrior king who united much of the continent under the banner of the Carolingian Empire. Beginning in the late 700s, Charlemagne forged a vast kingdom through extensive military campaigns against the Saxons, the Lombards and the Avars. A devout Catholic, he also aggressively converted his subjects to Christianity and instituted strict religious reforms.
On Christmas Day 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne “emperor of the Romans” during a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica. This controversial coronation restored the Western Roman Empire in name and established Charlemagne as the divinely appointed leader of most of Europe. More importantly, it placed him on equal footing with the Byzantine Empress Irene, who ruled over the Eastern Empire in Constantinople. Charlemagne would serve as emperor for 13 years, and his legal and educational reforms sparked a cultural revival and unified much of Europe for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire.