Charlemagne, also known as Charles the Great, (2 April 742 - 28 January 814), united the majority of western and central Europe in what became known as the Carolingian Empire, the first major empire in western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
Charlemagne was the eldest son of Pepin the Short and Betrada of Laon. He became king in 768 following his farther's death, initially as co-ruler with his brother Carloman I. Carloman's sudden death in December 771 left Charlemagne as the sole ruler of the Frankish Kingdom. He followed in this father's footsteps, protecting the Roman Catholic Church, conquering the Lombards, and campaigning against Muslim Spain and the Saxons. He was crowned "Emperor of the Romans" by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day of the year 800.
The stability of Charlemagne's empire gave birth to an age of prosperity and development known as the Carolingian Renaissance. During this time, Charlemagne gathered many of Europe's greatest scholars and artists to his court and instituting an education system for the ruling class based on those of the former Roman Empire. This period of time is perhaps best remembered for a surge in the restoration and creation of monumental architecture, great cathedrals and churches, and for the large amounts of ancient art that were preserved by Charlemagne's empire.
While Charlemagne was lauded throughout Europe and by the Pope as the true Romand Emperor, this created a schism with the Byzantine Empire (aka the Eastern Roman Empire), and was among the reasons for the split of Rome and Constantinople, creating what is now called the Catholic and East Orthodox churches.