Online Medieval Sources Bibliography

An Annotated Bibliography of Printed and Online Primary Sources for the Middle Ages

Source Details

Thorpe, Lewis (translator), 'Deeds of Charlemagne' in Two Lives of Charlemagne (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 93-172)

Text name(s): Gesta Karoli Magni; The Deeds of Charlemagne the Great

Number of pages of primary source text: 80

Author(s): 

Dates: 771 - 814

Archival Reference: 

Original Language(s): 

  • Latin

Translation: 

  • Translated into English.

Translation Comments: 

Geopolitical Region(s): 

  • Holy Roman Empire
  • Italy
  • Switzerland

County/Region: Thurgau; Aachen; Rome

Record Types: 

  • Biography
  • Chronicle Annals

Subject Headings: 

  • Early Germanic Peoples: Goths Franks, etc.
  • Conversion
  • Clergy - Priests Bishops, Canons
  • Carolingians
  • Papacy
  • Royalty / Monarchs

Apparatus: 

  • Index
  • Bibliography
  • Introduction

Comments: 

This text is a biography of Charlemagne, written by Notker of St. Gall. There is a lot of debate regarding whether Notker of St. Gall is the same person as Notker the Stammerer, so this description will refer to him as Notker of St. Gall for the purposes of this writeup. The text was also never completed, and ‘ends’ in the middle of an account of a robbery.
In contrast to Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne, which presents the life of Charlemagne in a Suetonian mold with a focus on the ‘great events’ of his life, like military campaigns and grand politics, this text focusses heavily on Charlemagne’s relation to the church through a variety of anecdotes dealing with the subject. These anecdotes, unlike Einhard’s text, reveal a lot more about the personal character of Charlemagne: we see him raging, calming, declaring, and expressing minute-to-minute emotional reactions to the events that happen to him.
The primary focus of the text is Charlemagne’s relationship to the church. Notker goes into detail on how Charlemagne took part in the government of the church through appointments, councils, and Italian campaigns on behalf of the papacy. Although detail is given on the Saxon wars, Notker provides more information on the efforts to convert the Saxons to Christianity, and the early establishment of church administration there. Naturally, as a text which tries to show Charlemagne’s interactions with the church, it also goes into detail on the ongoing and ever-more-dependent relationship between the papacy and the Carolingian dynasty.

Introduction Summary: 

The 53-page introduction to this text is written by Thorpe. This space is shared with the other text included in ‘Two Lives of Charlemagne,’ Einhard’s Vita Karoli Magni. It has detailed descriptions regarding what we know about the life of Notker, including biographical information, background on the Saint Gall Monastery, the relation of his monastery to the Carolingian dynasty, the sources which Notker would have had access to, and a short section on the transmission of the text.
The introduction also provides information which helps to explain the organization and methodology of the text, which might otherwise seem random. In this introduction, Thorpe argues that although the text was written 7 decades after Charlemagne’s death, and although the quality of the Latin is inferior to that of many of its contemporaries, the text provides useful insights into the imperial role in church operations during the Carolingian period.

Cataloger: JK

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