On Christmas morning in the year 800, Pope Leo III placed the crown of imperial Rome on the brow of a Germanic king named Karl. With that gesture, the man history remembers as Charlemagne claimed his throne, unknowingly founding an empire that shaped Europe for more than a thousand years. BECOMING CHARLEMAGNE: Europe, Baghdad and the Empires of A.D. 800 tells the story of this world-changing coronation and the remarkable figures who made it happen.
Jeff Sypeck brings fresh vitality to this account of an era commonly dismissed as the “Dark Ages,” offering an accessible narrative that humanizes its distant medieval subject. “Sypeck magnificently chronicles four significant years in the emperor’s life,” hails Publishers Weekly, which calls BECOMING CHARLEMAGNE “a splendid portrait” that provides “dazzling glimpses of Charlemagne’s life and times,” while Booklist praises Sypeck for “shortening the distance to medieval history and imaginatively lifting its obscuring mists.”
A rare look behind the usual storybooks and statues, BECOMING CHARLEMAGNE reveals a complex king who used warfare and diplomacy to build his medieval empire. A departure from standard depictions of this iconic king, Sypeck’s Charlemagne—in reality, a warlord known to his contemporaries as Karl—is shown not only in the context of his counselors and family, but also as a pragmatic leader who fostered self-interested cooperation between Christians, Muslims and Jews. At the height of his powers, Karl partnered with a scandal-ridden pope, fended off a ruthless Byzantine empress, nurtured Jewish communities within his kingdom, and fostered ties with a famous Islamic caliph—thus prompting interactions and conflicts that laid the foundation for the modern Western world.
As Sypeck demonstrates, the story of Charlemagne holds particular relevance today. “We need to know who Charlemagne was if we hope to comprehend much of the European history that followed,” he explains. “This is a king who inspired, among others, the crusaders, Napoleon, Hitler, and the founders of the European Union. It’s important to understand why.”
Jeff Sypeck teaches medieval literature at the University of Maryland University College, where he has been nominated several times for his college’s highest teaching award. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post and Salon, among other publications, and he has contributed to several reference works. He lives in Washington, D.C., where he works as a writer, editor, and researcher.View all authors