The Carolingians and the Invention of Order - HIST7001

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2023 to 2024.


Charlemagne (r. 768–814) is often called 'the father of Europe', and it was under the rule of his dynasty, the Carolingians, that European political institutions and culture were consolidated – so much so that one can speak of a ‘Carolingian order’. This special subject looks at how the Carolingians tried to bring order to every aspect of society, including government, religious observance, the economy, the law, education and learning, and even individual behaviour. One feature of this drive for ‘correction’ (as it was known) was an unprecedented volume of written documentation, which allows the historian both to perceive a coherent plan of reform and to test the claims of the reformers. Seen from another angle, however, Charlemagne and his family were merely brutal warlords, whose collection of a mountain of plunder gave them the means to produce propaganda that portrayed their regime as ordered, reforming and divinely sanctioned. Can the two views be reconciled? What exactly did the Carolingians accomplish? Was the reform ever anything more than empty rhetoric? Could the Carolingians survive without constant military triumphs? These are the key questions the sources allow us to address.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 80
Private study hours: 520
Total study hours: 600

Method of assessment

Essay 1 (3,000-words) 10%
Essay 2 (3,000 words) 10%
Public Engagements Exercise 1 (1,000-words) 5%
Public Engagement Exercise 2 (1,000 words) 5%
Presentation 1 (15-minutes) 5%
Presentation 2 (15-minutes) 5%
Examination 1 (2-hours) 30%
Examination 2 (2-hours) 30%

Indicative reading

Costambeys, M., Innes, M., and MacLean, S. (2011). The Carolingian World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dutton, P. E., ed. and trans. (2004), Carolingian Civilization: A Reader, 2nd edn. Peterborough, ON: University of Toronto Press.
De Jong, M. (2009). The Penitential State: Authority and Atonement in the Age of Louis the Pious, 814–40. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
King, P. D., ed. and trans. (1987). Charlemagne: Translated Sources. Kendal: self-published.
McKitterick, R., ed. (1994). Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
McKitterick, R., ed. (1995). The New Cambridge Medieval History, Vol 2: c.700–c.900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Story, J., ed. (2005). Charlemagne: Empire and Society. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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