1694-1778 Voltaire.

The works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) online

. (page 7 of 18)
Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) → online text (page 7 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


to acquit him of all imputation. At length Charle-
magne, having rendered himself master of Italy, as
well as of Germany and France, judge of the pope,
and arbiter of Europe, arrived in Rome in the latter
part of the year 799. At that time, the year among
the Romans began at Christmas. In the year 800, on
Christmas day, during divine service, Leo III. pro-
claimed him emperor of the West; and the people
joined the ceremony with loud acclamations. Char-
lemagne affected astonishment; but nevertheless
availed himself of the authority of his new empire.
His right, indeed, was not to be disputed; seeing
the suffrages of the people are the foundation of all
right.

Historians have asserted, and it is asserted still,
that Charlemagne, even before he was emperor, con-
firmed the donation of the exarchate of Ravenna,
adding thereto Corsica, Sardinia, Liguria, Parma,
Mantua, the duchies of Spoleto and Beneventum,
together with Sicily and Venice ; and that he depos-
ited the act of this donation upon the tomb which is
supposed to contain the ashes of St. Peter and St.
Paul.

This donation may be justly ranked with that of
Constantine. It does not appear that the popes ever
possessed any of those countries till the time of Inno-
cent III. Had they enjoyed the exarchate, they must
have been sovereigns of Ravenna and Rome ; but in
the last will of Charlemagne, which we find pre-



io6 Ancient and Modern History.

served in Eginhard, that monarch names Rome and
Ravenna at the head of the capital cities under his
dominion, and bequeaths presents to them in token of
his favor. He could not give away Sicily, Corsica ;
nor Sardinia, because they were not in his posses-
sion; nor the duchy of Beneventum, of which he
scarce enjoyed a titular superiority: far less could
he bestow the republic of Venice, which did not even
acknowledge him for emperor. The duke of Venice,
at that period, acknowledged, as a mere matter of
form, the emperor of the East, from whom he
received the title of Hippatos. In the letters of Pope
Adrian, mention is made of the patrimonies of
Spoleto and Beneventum; but these patrimonies
must only be understood as the domains which the
popes possessed in those two duchies. Gregory VII.
himself owns that Charlemagne bestowed a pension
of twelve hundred livres on the holy see. It is not at
all probable that he should have given such trivial
assistance to a see that was in possession of so many
fair provinces. The holy see did not possess Bene-
ventum until long after this period, by the donation
of the emperor Henry the Black, about the year 1047.
This concession was limited to the town, and did
not extend to the whole duchy. But no mention
was made of confirming the benefaction of Charle-
magne.

The most probable conjecture we can form in the
midst of so many doubts is, that, in the reign of
Charlemagne, the popes obtained the property of



Charlemagne. 107

the marquisate of Ancona, over and above the cities,
castles, and towns, which they possessed in other
countries. This is the foundation on which I build
my conjectures: When the emperor of the West
was renewed in the family of the Othos, in the tenth
century, Otho III. particularly assigned the mar-
quisate of Ancona to the holy see, confirming, at
the same time, all the concessions which had been
made to the church. It appears then that Charle-
magne had actually given away this marquisate;
and that the troubles which ensued in Italy had hin-
dered the popes from enjoying his concession. We
shall see that later they lost the convenient dominion
of this small tract under the empire of the house of
Suabia. We shall see them, like many other sover-
eigns, sometimes lords of extensive territories, and
sometimes stripped of almost every district. Let us
be satisfied with knowing that, at this day, they pos-
sess an acknowledged sovereignty through a country
that extends one hundred and eighty great Italian
miles in length, from the gates of Mantua to the
confines of the Abruzzo, along the Adriatic Sea ; and
that it spreads above one hundred miles in width,
from Civita Vecchia to the shore of Ancona ; that is,
from the one sea to the other. In order to secure
such a considerable dominion, it was necessary to be
always in negotiation, and often in arms.

While Charlemagne became emperor of the West,
the empire of the East was vested in Irene, that
empress so famous for her courage and her crimes,



io8 Ancient and Modern History.

who caused her only son to be put to death, after
having deprived him of his eyes. She would have
gladly effected the ruin of Charlemagne ; but know-
ing herself too weak to contend with him in battle,
she resolved to marry him, to unite the two empires.
While this negotiation was in progress, a revolution
drove her from the throne which had cost her so
dear. Charlemagne, therefore, was only master of
the Western Empire. He possessed scarcely any-
thing in Spain; for we must not construe into
dominion the vain homage of a few Saracens; he
had no sway on the coast of Africa ; but almost all
the rest of the continent of Europe was governed by
this monarch. Had he made Rome his capital, and
had his successors there fixed their residence; and
especially if the custom of dividing dominions
among children had not prevailed in those barbarous
times, in all probability the world would have seen
the Roman Empire revive. Everything at last con-
curred to dismember that vast body which had been
formed by the courage and fortune of Charlemagne ;
but nothing contributed so much as the absurd con-
duct of the descendants.

He had no capital, though Aix-la-Chapelle was the
place where he delighted chiefly to reside. There he
gave audience with the most dazzling pomp and
magnificence, to the ambassadors of the caliphs, and
to those of Constantinople. Besides, he was always
either in the field or on a journey, in the same man-
ner as Charles V. lived so many ages after this



Charlemagne. 109

period. He divided his dominions, even in his own
lifetime, according to the custom that prevailed
among all the monarchs of those times; but, at
length, when of all the sons whom he designed for
crowns, none remained but that Louis so well known
by the epithet of Debonnaire, on whom he had
already bestowed the kingdom of Aquitaine, he asso-
ciated this prince in the empire, at Aix-la-Chapelle,
and commanded him to take, with his own hands, the
imperial crown from the altar, to let the world see
that the crown was due alone to the valor of the
father, and the merit of the son ; and as if he had
foreseen that one day the ministers of the altar would
arrogate to themselves the right of disposing of that
diadem.

He was in the right to declare his son emperor
in his own lifetime, for this dignity, acquired by his
own good fortune, was not secured to his son by
the right of inheritance ; but in leaving the empire
to Louis, and giving Italy to Bernard, the son of his
son Pepin, did not he himself tear in pieces that em-
pire which he wanted to preserve for his posterity?
Was not this, in effect, arming his successors against
each other? Had he any reason to presume that
the nephew, who was king of Italy, would obey
his uncle, who was emperor? or that the emperor
would not endeavor to make himself master of Italy ?
Be that as it may, Charlemagne died in the year 814,
with the reputation of having been an emperor as
fortunate as Augustus, and as warlike as Adrian;



no Ancient and Modern History.

but not so good as Trajan or Antoninus, to whom
no sovereign was ever comparable.

At that time there was a prince in the East who
equalled Charlemagne in glory as well as in power.
This was the celebrated caliph, Haroun-al-Raschid,
who greatly surpassed him in justice, science, and
humanity. I could almost venture to add Pope
Adrian to these two illustrious men ; a pontiff who,
though in a less elevated rank, and nearly in a
private station, with virtues perhaps not so heroic,
yet displayed consummate prudence, to which his
successors have owed all their power and grandeur.

The curiosity of mankind, which penetrates even
into the privacy of princes, would gladly see a cir-
cumstantial detail of Charlemagne's private transac-
tions, and even pry into his amours. He is said to
have indulged his love of women to such excess
that he deflowered his own daughters. The same
calumny has been recorded of Augustus; but of
what consequence to mankind is the detail of these
weaknesses, which never had the least influence on
public affairs?

I consider his reign in a point of view more
worthy of a patriot's attention. The countries that
now compose France and Germany, as far as the
Rhine, enjoyed uninterrupted peace for nearly fifty
years, and Italy for the space of thirteen years, after
his elevation to the empire. There was now no revo-
lution in France ; no calamity, during this half cen-
tury, which in that light stands distinguished from



Charlemagne. in

all others : yet even this long period of happiness
and repose was not sufficient to restore politeness
and the liberal arts. The rust of barbarism was too
strong, and continued to increase in the succeeding
ages.

CHAPTER X.

MANNERS AND CUSTOMS THAT PREVAILED ABOUT THE
TIME OF CHARLEMAGNE.

I SHALL stop at this celebrated era to consider the
customs, laws, religion, and manners, which then
prevailed. The Franks had been always barbarians,
and so continued to be after the death of Charle-
magne: his reign alone had a gleam of politeness,
which was probably the fruit of his journey to Rome,
or rather the effect of his own genius. His prede-
cessors were illustrious for nothing but their depre-
dations: they destroyed cities, but they founded
none. The Gauls had found their account in being
conquered by the Romans. Marseilles, Aries,
Autun, Lyons, and Trier, were flourishing cities, that
peaceably enjoyed their municipal laws, subordinate
to the sage regulations of the Romans; and they
were animated by a very extensive commerce. We
find, in a letter from a proconsul to Theodosius, that
the city of Autun contained five and twenty thou-
sand families ; but, soon as the Burgundians, the
Goths, and the Franks, arrived in Gaul, the large
cities were depopulated; the circuses and amphi-



in Ancient and Modern History.

theatres built by the Romans, even to the banks of
the Rhine, were either demolished, or allowed to
fall in ruins. If the criminal and unfortunate queen
Brunehaut preserved some leagues of those cause-
ways which we have never been able to imitate, this
is a circumstance which we still remember with
surprise.

What hindered those new-comers from building
regular edifices on the Roman model? They had
stone, marble, and better wood than we now can
find. The flocks of England and Spain were cov-
ered with fine wool, as they are at this day; yet
broadcloth was manufactured nowhere except in
Italy. Why did not the balance of Europe import
the merchandise of Asia? Why were all the con-
veniences that sweeten the bitterness of life, at that
time unknown? For no other reason, but because
the Barbarians who passed the Rhine infected other
nations with their savage manners. We may judge
by those Salic, Ripuarian, and Burgundian laws,
which Charlemagne himself could not abrogate, and
therefore confirmed. Poverty and rapaciousness had
set a pecuniary value upon a man's life, mutilation,
rape, incest, and poisoning. He who could afford to
pay four hundred sols, that is, four hundred crowns,
might slay a bishop with impunity. The murder
of a priest was rated at two hundred sols ; the same
price was set upon rape, and poisoning with herbs.
A sorceress who had fed on human flesh was acquit-
ted for two hundred sols; a circumstance which



Charlemagne. 113

proves that the witches of those days were not only
found among the dregs of the people, as in the
latter ages, but that those horrible extravagances
were likewise practised among persons of wealth.
Single combat and the ordeals decided, as we shall
see, all disputes about inheritance, and the validity of
wills : their whole jurisprudence was dictated by
ferocity and superstition. Let us judge of the man-
ners of the people by those of the princes. We find
them distinguished by no act of magnanimity. The
Christian religion, which ought to have humanized
mankind, did not hinder Clovis from causing the
petty sovereigns, his neighbors, to be assassinated.
The two children of Clodomir were massacred at
Paris, in the year 533, by their uncles Childebert and
Clotharius, who are distinguished by the title of
kings of France : Clodoaldo, the brother of these
murdered innocents, is invoked under the name of
St. Cloud, because he was compelled to become a
monk.

In the reign of Chilperic, king of Soissons, in the
year 562, the subjects who were slaves abandoned
this pretended kingdom, wearied by the tyranny of
their master, who took all their bread and wine, as he
could not take money, of which they were quite des-
titute. One Sigebert, and another Chilperic, were
assassinated. Brunehaut, who from an Arian
became a Catholic, was accused of a thousand mur-
ders: Clotharius II., no less barbarous than she,
ordered her to be dragged through his camp at a
Vol. 248



114 Ancient and Modern History.

horse's tail; and she perished by this new kind of
punishment in the year 616. All the monuments that
remain of those hideous times are foundations of
monasteries, and a confused remembrance of misery
and rapine.

We are not to suppose that the emperors ac-
knowledged for kings those barbarous chiefs who
ruled in Burgundy, at Soissons, Paris, Metz, and
Orleans: they never bestowed upon them the title
of Basilius. They did not even confer it upon Dago-
bert II., who united under his dominion the whole
western and eastern France, as far as the Weser.
Historians expatiate upon the magnificence of Dago-
bert, and, as a proof of it, mention the goldsmith of
St. Eloi, who, they say, came to court with a girdle
adorned with precious stones; that is, he sold dia-
monds, and carried them in his girdle. They speak
of the magnificent edifices built by this monarch.
Where are they to be found ? The old church of St.
Paul is no other than an inconsiderable Gothic monu-
ment. This we know of Dagobert: that he had
three wives at the same time; that he assembled
councils, and tyrannized over his subjects.

In his reign a merchant of Sens, called Samon,
went to trade in Germany, from whence he pro-
ceeded to the country of the Slavs. These savages
were so astonished to see a man who had travelled
so far to supply them with those things which they
wanted, that they invested him with the sovereignty.
This very Samon is said to have made war upon



Charlemagne. 115

Dagobert ; and if the king of the Franks had three
wives, the new Slavonian monarch had fifteen. It
was under this Dagobert that the authority of the
mayors of the palace commenced. After him came
a race of slothful princes ; then confusion and des-
potism of the mayors ensued. It was in the time of
those mayors, at the beginning of the eighth cen-
tury, that the Arabians, who had subdued Spain,
penetrated to Toulouse, made themselves masters
of Guienne, ravaged the country as far as the Loire,
and had well nigh conquered all Gaul from the
Franks, who had wrested it from the Romans. One
may judge in what condition the people, the church,
and the laws must have been at this juncture.



CHAPTER XL

LAWS AND CUSTOMS THAT PREVAILED IN THE REIGN
OF CHARLEMAGNE.

CHARLES MARTEL, the usurper and support of the
sovereign power in a great monarchy, who van-
quished the conquering Arabs, and repulsed them to
Gascony, received, however, no other title from Pope
Gregory II. than that of Sous-roitilet, or Subregulus,
when he implored his protection against the king of
Lombardy. He made dispositions for marching to
the relief of the Roman church ; but, in the mean-
time, he pillaged the churches of the Franks,
bestowed the riches of the convents upon his cap-



1 16 Ancient and Modern History.

tains, and detained his own sovereign in captivity.
We have seen the transactions of his son Pepin, and
of his grandson Charlemagne.

The great conquests of this last monarch were
owing to his constant care of having veteran troops
in his service. These were levied by the dukes that
governed the provinces, in the same manner as the
soldiers in Turkey are now raised by the begler-
begs: those dukes had been instituted in Italy by
Diocletian. The counts, who seem to have derived
their origin from the time of Theodosius, were next
in command to the dukes, and assembled troops, each
in his own district. The farms, boroughs, and vil-
lages furnished a certain number of soldiers, pro-
portioned to their ability. Twelve farms found one
horseman, armed with helmet and cuirass : the other
soldiers had neither, but only a long, square buckler,
a battle-axe, a javelin, and a sword. Every archer
was obliged to have at least twelve arrows in his
quiver. The province that furnished the soldiery
supplied them likewise with corn and necessary pro-
vision for six months ; the king maintained them for
the rest of the campaign. The general rendezvous
was on the first day of March, or in the beginning
of May; and at these times the parliaments were
usually held. The battering ram, the balista, the
tortoise, and most of the Roman machines, were
employed in sieges. The noblemen distinguished by
the appellations of Barons, Leudes, and Richeomes,
with their followers, composed the small number of



Charlemagne. 117

cavalry, which, at that time, appeared in their armies.
The Mussulmans of Africa and Spain were much
better provided with horse. Charles had a naval
force, that is, large boats at the mouths of all the
great rivers of his empire. Before his time, such
vessels were not known among the Barbarians, and
even a long time after his death they were ignorant
of their utility. By this precaution, and his military
police, he put a stop to the inundation of people
from the North, and confined them within their own
frozen climates ; but, under his weak descendants,
they deluged all Europe.

Public affairs were regulated in assemblies that
represented the whole nation. In his reign, how-
ever, the parliaments had no will but that of a mas-
ter, who could command as well as persuade. Com-
merce flourished because he was master of the sea.
The merchants settled on the coast of Tuscany, as
well as those of Marseilles, traded to Constantinople
among the Christians, and to the port of Alexandria
with the Mussulmans, by whom they were well
received, and supplied with the riches of Asia.

Venice and Genoa, which were afterwards so
powerful by their traffic, had not yet engrossed the
wealth of nations ; though Venice began to be rich
and important, divers manufactures of stuffs and
woollen cloth were carried on at Rome, Ravenna,
Milan, Lyons, Aries, and Tours. Steel was tem-
pered there, in imitation of that made at Damascus.
They likewise knew the art of making glass; but



1 1 8 Ancient and Modern History.

silk stuffs were not woven in any town of the West-
ern Empire.

The Venetians began to import them from Con-
stantinople, but it was not until four hundred years
after Charlemagne that the Norman princes estab-
lished a silk manufactory at Palermo. Linen was
then very uncommon. St. Boniface, in a letter to a
German bishop, desires he will send him some frieze
for his feet-washing. In all probability this want
of linen was the cause of those cutaneous distem-
pers, known by the name of leprosy, so rife at this
period; for the hospitals, called lazar-houses, were
already very numerous.

The coin bore nearly the same value with that of
the Roman Empire since the reign of Constantine.
The golden sol was the Solidus Romanus, equivalent
to forty deniers of silver ; and these deniers, though
they were sometimes heavier, sometimes lighter,
weighed, on an average, thirty grains.

The golden sol would now, in 1740, be worth
about fifteen francs, and the silver denier be equiva-
lent to thirty sols, according to the present way of
reckoning.

In reading these histories we must always remem-
ber that, besides these real pieces of gold and silver
coin, people in their calculations made use of another
denomination. They often reckoned by fictitious
specie, which was no more than a method of count-
ing, such as is practised at this day. The Asiatics
and the Greeks reckoned by minae and talents, and



Charlemagne. 1 1 g

the Romans by great sesterces, though there was
no such coin as a great sestertium, or a talent.

The numerary pound, in the time of Charlemagne,
was computed equivalent in weight to twelve ounces
of silver. This pound was numerically divided, as
at this day, into twenty parts : there were indeed sil-
ver sols, like our crowns, weighing, each, the twen-
tieth, the twenty-second, or the twenty-fourth, part
of a pound of twelve ounces ; and this sol was, like
ours, divided into twelve deniers. But Charlemagne
having ordained that the silver sol should be pre-
cisely the twentieth part of twelve ounces, people, in
their accounts, began to consider twenty sols as a
pound. For two centuries the coin remained in the
same condition to which it was reduced by Charle-
magne; but by little and little, different kings, in
times of necessity, sometimes mixed the sols with an
alloy, and sometimes diminished their weight; so
that, by an alteration which reflects disgrace upon
almost all the governments in Europe, that sol, which
was heretofore nearly the same as our present crown,
is now no more than a light piece of copper, with the
mixture of one-eleventh, at most, of silver; and
the livre, which was formerly the sign representative
of twelve ounces of silver, is now no more in France
than the sign representative of twenty copper sols.
The denier, which was the hundred and twenty-
fourth part of a pound of silver, is no more than
one-third of that base coin which we call a Hard.
Suppose then, that one town in France owed to an-



120 Ancient and Modern History.

other one hundred and twenty livres of rent, that is,
fourteen hundred and forty ounces of silver, as esti-
mated in the time of Charlemagne, it would now dis-
charge the debt by the payment of what we call a
crown of six francs. The numerical pound of the
English and the Dutch has undergone less alteration ;
a pound sterling of England is worth about twenty-
two francs of France ; and a Dutch pound is nearly
equal to twelve : thus the Hollanders have deviated
less than the French from the original institution,
and the English least of all.

As often, therefore, as history mentions money
under the denomination of pounds, we have nothing
to do but examine the value of that pound at the
time, and in the country so specified, and compare
it with our present money distinguished by the same
appellation. We should have the same attention in
reading the Greek and Roman history : for example,
it is a very troublesome task for a reader to be
obliged every moment to reform the calculations
made in the ancient history of a celebrated professor
in the university of Paris, in the ecclesiastical history
of Fleury, and in almost all useful authors. When
they would express the value of talents, minae, and
sesterces, in French money, they always compute
by the estimate which was made by some learned
men before the death of the great Colbert. But the
mark of eight ounces, which under that minister
was valued at twenty-six francs and ten sols, has
been for a long time worth forty-nine livres and ten



Charlemagne. 121

sols ; a difference which amounts to nearly one-half.
This difference, which at some particular times has
been much greater, may be either increased or dimin-
ished. We should remember this variation, without
which we must have very erroneous ideas of the
strength of ancient states, their commerce, the pay of
their soldiers, and, in a word, of their whole econ-
omy. It appears that the quantity of specie which
then circulated in Italy and about the banks of the
Rhine, was eight times less than it is in the present
age. We cannot judge of this circumstance better
than by the price of necessaries, and I find these were
eight times cheaper in the reign of Charlemagne than
in our days. Twenty-four pounds of white bread
were, by the capitularies, valued at one denier of sil-
ver ; this denier was the fortieth part of a golden sol,
which was worth from between fifteen to sixteen


1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online Library1694-1778 VoltaireThe works of Voltaire : a contemporary version with notes (Volume 24) → online text (page 7 of 18)