Charlemagne, Emperor of the West - Charlemagne's Birth Date/Place - How to show what we don't know

Started by Sharon Doubell on Friday, March 6, 2015


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3/6/2015 at 3:36 AM

Everard van Dijk has brought to our attention that / gives Charlemagne's birthdate and place as Ingelheim, 2 April 748.

While I find the source suspect precisely because it doesn't admit that we do not know the exact date or place of Charlemagne's birth, it is perhaps worth discussing how we could better acknowledge that ambiguity on Geni; or whether we should use a different
date & place than we are at the moment.

Most obviously we can update the years to a 'between' date. So I'll do that right away.
But what about the place?

I've put Sources to consult on the project:
Quick internet references specific to the question of birthplace are here: & here:

3/6/2015 at 4:01 AM

The Vatican should have and exact birth date and place of birth registry since he was also a Pope. (As I understand).

3/6/2015 at 7:52 AM

on line resources (in French mostly as he was the king of ...

Etudes carolingiennes - article ; n°1 ; vol.102, p. 282-291 [en ligne]. Disponible sur :

Études d’exégèse carolingienne : autour d’Haymon d’Auxerre, 12, 2008 [en ligne]. Disponible sur :

Trésors carolingiens, Expositions BNF [en ligne]. Disponible sur :

Isaïa, Marie-Céline, Le monde Carolingien. Bilan, perspectives, champs de recherches, Cahiers de recherches
médiévales et humanistes [en ligne]. Disponible sur :

Charlemagne après Charlemagne, Fabula, 11e symposium annuel de la Société Internationale des Médiévistes –
Paris – Appel à contribution [en ligne]. Disponible sur :

Charlemagne Empereur de la Suisse, par AnneFournier, Le Temps page culture 18 septembre 2013 [en ligne].
Disponible sur :

Charlemagne et la Suisse, Schweizerisches National museum exposition [en ligne]. Disponible sur :

MONOD, Gabriel
Etudes critiques sur les sources de l'histoire carolingienne . Introduction. Les annales carolingiennes. Premier livre,
des origines à 829. Paris, E. Bouillon, 1898. 175 p. (Bibliothèque de l'École des hautes études. Sciences
historiques et philologiques, 119)
Poste d’accès aux ressources électroniques – [NUMM- 33083 ] :

Carte de l’empire de Charlemagne. Paris, [S.l.] : [s.n.], 1728. 1 Carte
Poste d’accès aux ressources électroniques – [IFN- 5963713 ] :

Mélanges carolingiens / par Bardot, Pouzet et Breyton. Paris, E. Leroux, 1890. 166 p.
Poste d’accès aux ressources électroniques – [Numm-55573] :

Annales d'Eginhard ; Vie de Charlemagne. Des faits et gestes de Charlemagne. Paris, J.-L. Brière, 1824. XXXII-
500 p. (Collection des mémoires relatifs à l'histoire de France, depuis la fondation de la monarchie française
jusqu'au 13e siècle, avec une introduction, des suppléments, des notices et des notes, par M. Guizot)
Poste d’accès aux ressources électroniques – [Numm-91447 < 3 >] :

and off line:

Charlemagne : biographies (some are browsable with google books)

BARBERO, Alessandro
Charlemagne : un père pour l’Europe. Paris, Payot & Rivages, 2004. 475 p. (Biographie Payot)
Salle J – Histoire – [944.014 092 CHAR c]

Charlemagne et l’Europe. Paris, Vuibert, 2004. 297 p. (Instants d’histoire)
Salle J – Histoire – [944.014 BATH c]

« Comment Charlemagne gouverne son empire ». L’Histoire, février 2008, numéro n° 328, p. 60-65
Salle J – Périodiques – [HIST Hist]

DELORT, Robert
Charlemagne. Paris, MA, 1986. 206 p. (Le monde de)
Salle J – Histoire – [944.014 092 CHAR c]

Vie de Charlemagne / éd. de Louis Halphen. Paris, Société d’édition les Belles lettres, 1981. XXIII-128 p. (Les
classiques de l’histoire de France au Moyen Age)
Salle J – Histoire, archéologie – [944.010 2 CLAS 1]

Charlemagne. Paris, Fayard, 1999. 769 p.
Salle J – Histoire – [944.014 092 CHAR c]

FOLZ, Robert
Le couronnement impérial de Charlemagne. Paris, Gallimard, 2008. 322 p. (Les journées qui ont fait la France)
Salle J – Histoire – [944.014 FOLZ c]

GIBBON, Edward
Charlemagne. Paris, Payot et Rivages, 2012. 140 p. (Petite bibliothèque Payot, 861)
Rez de jardin – Magasin – [2012-145706]

Charlemagne et l’empire carolingien. Paris, A. Michel, 1949. XXVII-533 p. (L’évolution de l’Humanité, 33)
Salle J – Histoire – [909 EVOL b33]

Charlemagne. Paris, Tallandier, 2005. 565 p. (Figures de proue)
Salle J – Histoire – [944.014 092 CHAR c]

LEBECQ, Stéphane
« Le jour où Charlemagne fut couronné empereur ». L’Histoire, novembre 2000, numéro n° 248, p. 62-67
Salle J – Périodiques – [HIST Hist]

MINOIS, Georges
Charlemagne. Paris, Perrin, 2010. 715 p.
Salle J – Histoire – [944.014 092 CHAR c]

MORRISSEY, Robert John L’empereur à la barbe fleurie. Paris, Gallimard, 1997. 437 p. (Bibliothèque des histoires)
Salle J – Histoire – [907.204 4 MORR e]

Charlemagne. Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1992. 127 p. (Que sais-je ? : 471)
Salle J – Histoire – [944.014 092 CHAR c]

3/6/2015 at 2:26 PM

Einhard's Life of Charlemagne:

"It would be folly, I think, to write a word concerning Charles' birth and infancy, or even his boyhood, for nothing has ever been written on the subject, and there is no one alive now who can give information on it. Accordingly, I determined to pass that by as unknown, and to proceed at once to treat of his character, his deeds, and such other facts of his life as are worth telling and setting forth, and shall first give an account of his deeds at home and abroad, then of his character and pursuits, and lastly of his administration and death, omitting nothing worth knowing or necessary to know".

Now Einhard was a contemporary of Charlemagne's, and at his court, and his biography must have been semi-authorised and contain (like any biographies an agenda of Einhard's and also an agenda of Charlemagne's). So if you stretch things a bit, you could argue that the agenda in this passage MIGHT have been to conceal that Charlemagne was born before his parents married. But would this have mattered much to an eighth-century Frank? I doubt it. And (although perhaps Einhard would not have known it) his claim that Charlemagne was seventy years old at his death would draw attention to this possibilty. Or he might have wanted to assert that Charlemagne was older than his brother Carloman. But I doubt that this would have cut any ice with contemporary Frankish society, either in terms of legitimate inheritance.

I'd take Einhard in this passage at face value. You have plenty of English gentry six or seven centuries later who are simply guessing at their age, and can be shown to be guessing because although they would say "older than 20 years" in the inquisitions post mortem on their father's death, they are given a quite different year of birth in their own inquisition post-mortems (although there were a few who showed off that they knew, or thought they knew, their exact date of birth. Given that an eldest son (even if he survived) was not guaranteed to inherit the kingship, there was no reason for anyone to take much notice of dates of birth; the habit of celebrating birthdays came much later.

I cunt at least eight places which claim to be his place of birth. Again, I can't see how one can possibly know. Frankish Kings, like other Western European ones for several centuries, moved about a lot; they had to both to show their faces all over the place and so that their retinues did not consume all the food etc available around a principal place of residence. (It cost much more to bring food for them from far away than for them to move to the food). For some Anglo-Saxon kings a few centuries later we have a good idea of their circuits, because we have more or less reliable charters which give the places and dates on which the charters were signed. For early Frankish Kings I do not see that we have, or will ever have, such evidence.

It amazes me that any scholar thinks they can solve this riddle, except that I suppose they have to do something to get their PhD.


3/6/2015 at 3:04 PM

I'd qualify any suggestion of a birth location as probable... and probably best, if none are favored over the others, that it be left blank with the list of the at least 8 probable birth locations (and sources asserting them) placed within the About section... the use of a birth range (the "between" option) seems a good solution.

3/6/2015 at 8:45 PM

We could maybe quibble just a bit with idea that nobles of this time did not know their birth dates.

Dhuoda's Liber Manualis (841) shows she knew her children's birth dates. There is no indication that she saw the information as unusual. Some scholars have suggested that kind of information was probably regarded as personal, say like someone's shoe size, rather than important enough to be public, worth putting in a chronicle.

Dhuoda is probably a fair example because she was a noblewoman, married to Bernard of Septimania, so not royal. On the other hand, she might not be good evidence for the practice at the time of Charlemagne's birth because she belonged to the generation after him and he had imported many scholars.

In Charlemagne's time astrology (astronomia) was one of the Seven Liberal Arts that were the foundation of a good education. Being able to cast a natal chart for a ruler was very important, because it could be used (it was thought) to predict the outcomes of battles and political events.

Charlemagne was acutely aware of his own lack of education. Einhard tells us that Charlemagne studied astrology. "Under him [Alcuin] the Emperor spent much time and effort in studying rhetoric, dialectic and especially astrology. He applied himself to mathematics and traced the course of the stars with great precision and care."

When Charlemagne exchanged envoys with al-Rashid the gifts he received included an astrolabe and books on astrology (which Charlemagne ordered translated into Latin).

A few medieval astrology charts have survived. As far as I know, none have survived for Charlemagne. There are, of course, later charts for him. They're interesting, but not primary evidence.

3/7/2015 at 1:03 AM

Thanks - these are good points and advice.
Justin - so interesting. Wasn't Charlemagne the guy who starts to make record keeping fashionable - so Dhuoda's record is perhaps an example of the results of his efforts?

I think I agree with Ben that we put his birthplace as unknown, and include in the about - a reference to the Einhard quotatoin that Mark highlights above; to this discussion, and a list of historian's Place conjectures. What should they include?

Herstal, Liege (present Belgium)
Aachen, near Aix-La-Chapelle (present Germany).
Ingelheim (present Germany)

Private User
3/7/2015 at 1:16 AM

This would due.
Born around "2 april 742 ~ 744" Liège, dead 28 Jan. 814 in Aachen.

3/7/2015 at 5:27 AM

While it is true that certain nobles had their births recorded, look at the Saxon Annales or Chronicles, Charles the Mighty or Charles Le Magne, may have chosen to keep his secret. He considered himself the first ruler of a new Roman Empire. Perhaps his birth date can be found under his name Charles The Mighty.
And as a PS: I don't speak Norsk or any Scandanavian language. So those discussions are foreign to me. But welcome everyone to my family tree. As you can see, its quite extensive.

3/7/2015 at 5:32 AM

This one of the answers to riddle.

And the observation that Justin offered is very significant... Astrology requires dates.

3/7/2015 at 8:13 AM

Sharon, I think one thing to keep in mind is that civil registration of births (and deaths and marriages) didn't begin until the Reformation and Counter-Reformation in the 1500s. Requiring priests to record certain types of activities was a major innovation.

As genealogists, we sometimes forget how those new rules changed the way people see those events. As an example, think about the different ways we think about a baptism as opposed to, say, a house blessing. Even today the baptism will become part of the official church record but the house blessing won't because it is a purely private affair that doesn't matter to anyone except the family.

3/7/2015 at 8:26 AM

Larry, I don't think it would have been a matter of Charlemagne keeping his birth date secret. More likely it just didn't occur to anyone that something as trivial as that would matter to anyone.

Our ancestors lived in a world where magic and talismans mattered. Charlemagne's wife had a talisman that kept him devoted to her. According to the story, he refused to let her be buried until a priest removed the talisman from around her neck and broke the spell. This is one example of how much these things mattered.

One of the reasons I'm skeptical about later astrological charts for Charlemagne is that they show he was destined to be a great ruler. Charlemagne himself, I think, knew the day he was born even though it would not have been part of any public record. However, I don't think we can dismiss the possibility that there might have been an official horoscope used for propaganda purposes that changed the details a bit in order to prove he was always going to be a great ruler.

3/7/2015 at 10:39 AM

I'm fascinated by the idea of his horoscope - do you think it's available somewhere? As to the talisman - well, given the number of his wives and mistresses - 'devoted' must have been taken rather loosely :-) Love the story.

Private User
3/7/2015 at 10:54 AM

"well, given the number of his wives and mistresses"
One can not apply the current western world view of bigamism to that early epoch.

3/7/2015 at 12:57 PM

The Franks were polygamists, although modern historical writing tends to obscure that. The Christian church wasn't able to impose monogamy on them until much later. I'm betting that his wife was more concerned about the status of remaining his primary wife than about his fidelity ;)

Sharon, there are a zillion sites online with Charlemagne's horoscopes done by modern astrologers. If you like, I'll dig out a few and even see if I can find more info on some of the older versions. I'm a competent astrologer myself. If I get some time this week I might do charts for both 742 and 744 to see if I'm right that the 742 chart is most likely to have been propaganda.

3/8/2015 at 10:43 AM

Using Ulf's proposed date, I got this yoga for Charles.... & very few Astrological configurations can give this result.
Mahadirghayu Yoga
Jupiter and Venus are in Pisces, or Moon in Taurus and the Navamsha of Taurus, or Mars has gained Simhasanamsha (Jataka Parijata).
The classical text states that a person with this combination:
'' will attain to years untold by the recitation of sacred hymns.''

3/8/2015 at 3:03 PM

The Romans recorded and remembered birthdays (not just patrician Romans, either; one of the Vindolanda wooden tablets recovered from the bogs in Northumberland includes an invitation from the wife of one of the officers to her sister to attend her birthday party).

But I doubt if the Franks bothered If you have lots of "wives" and children you have to have a literate society to remember all the dates of birth. My mother, aged 95, is supposed to have an elephantine memory for birthdays; instead, she has a much-prized notebook. And, remember, there was still no agreed system throughout the whole of Europe on how to record the years. Isidore of Seville's/the Venerable Bede's system which is now known is ACE was not uniformly adopted.

Charlemagne modelled himself on Roman Emperors (in his last years at least). However badly educated himself, he was clever enough to take the pick of European scholars into his court (like Alcuin of York). The beautiful handwriting (Carolingian uncial) which lasted throughout the middle ages (and is a damned sight easier to read than 16th- or 17-th century "secretary-hand" ) cannot just have evolved; someone, perhaps Alcuin, decided to systematise it. I think that if he knew his birthdate it would have been published, or perhaps faked to meet astrological conditions.


Private User
3/8/2015 at 3:26 PM

Claudius Ptolemaeus

3/8/2015 at 4:03 PM

Reply to the sequence, Mark, the time line from Isodore to Charles is of about two centuries. (& considering that they were both in the same continent and professing the same Faith; It is my guess that in such time lapse the dating systems used by all personalities involved in leadership and ruling were commonplace. (Julian Calendar). I am sure astrology was used at the time for many purposes, even if some were not aware of its full spectrum. Very interesting to analyse the real time context of the events in this case. Note: It is very difficult to reach a fake astrological configuration that actually matches a case. The date and site that Ulf suggested gives an extraordinary profile.

Private User
3/9/2015 at 7:34 AM

Charlemagne was not a pope, but the vatican has researched him and has his info. The info around his beatification can be found at

3/9/2015 at 10:16 AM


William the Conqueror took along a tame astrologer on his invasion of England. Unfortunately he was on one of the two ships which sunk on the way. William commented that he could not have been much good if he could not predict his own death.


3/9/2015 at 5:12 PM

Yes - Mark, they did not have the programs nor the astrological tools we have today !!! & William (As I understand) did quite well without the Astrologer !

Private User
3/9/2015 at 9:15 PM

Also, at the time astrology doubled as astronomy (they were not fully separated as disciplines until the 17th century). And astronomy was even more important to navigation (on land as well as on the sea) than astrology was to, well, politics. :-)

3/9/2015 at 10:00 PM

Maven, it doesn't detract from your point (I don't think) but in the time of Charlemagne anyone with an astrolabe and a set of tables that were available fairly widely among scholars could cast a horoscope. Same with navigation. You'd get an argument from me, though, if you think that politicians weren't as concerned about the outcomes of wars as merchants were about the outcomes of journeys ;)

Most people who know something about astrology today (and even many professional astrologers) aren't aware that what passes for astrology since the early 20th century revival is a dumbed-down version of a very complex medieval system that was very different in many ways. Further, modern astrology has been heavily influenced by Jungian ideas.

Medieval astrology was more interested in predictions than in describing character. Today, an astrologer might take note that I have Mars in Scorpio and warn me that I have a quick temper and am likely to hold grudges. If heavily influenced by Jungian ideas, the astrologer might tell me that I put my energy (Mars) into digging out secrets (Scorpio).

In medieval times, an astrologer would have been more focused, say on Mars as malefic influence transiting my natal Part of Victory (a calculated point), warning me to engage or not engage in battles at particular times. The reverse was also true. It's my pet opinion that a ruler's chart was (or should have been) a secret during the ruler's lifetime because it could have been used by opposing rulers to find strategic times for attack.

There are a handful of modern astrologers who specialize in the medieval variety. And, as a medievalist, I am particularly interested in medieval systems, more than modern.

I don't think there is any doubt that the earliest Franks didn't know anything about astrology. It was something for civilized countries. After the Fall of Rome, all the technical stuff ended up in the hands of Arabs, then filtered back to the West only slowly. We might think of Charlemagne as a glittering ancestor but to the envoy of al-Rashid Charlemagne was little more than a barbarian chief living in a three-room "palace" on the fringes of the known world. Astrology was already flourishing in Spain and Italy, and we can guess the Franks knew something about it from contacts before Charlemagne, but we don't really know when the Franks began to adopt the outer signs of civilization.

Private User
3/9/2015 at 10:02 PM

Yeah, well, either way that "astrologer" of William's was a loser. :-)

3/9/2015 at 10:27 PM

Jacques, you made a very important point earlier. You said, "It is very difficult to reach a fake astrological configuration that actually matches a case."

I can tell from this comment that you know your stuff ;)

For the benefit of others, it might be worth adding that in the days before computers it was almost prohibitively time-consuming to even try. I know. I learned to do it back in those days. All those logarithms. I don't think I ever figured what a logarithm is, just how to use them ;)

Nowadays, there are astrologers who specialize in "rectifying" birth charts for people who aren't quite sure what time they were born. The process is based on mapping life events to a theoretical birth chart, but even with computers it's very time-consuming (and often expensive).

One quibble, though -- it's sometimes the case that just by accident, moving the chart forward or backward a year, or a month, or day, results in a chart that would be spectacular propaganda -- if if were only true. Something like that could have happened with Charlemagne.

I'm going to test that theory this Friday, by running a few charts for Charlemagne based on different dates. I'm particularly interested in the differences between 742 and 744. I might also try a few different places, although the places won't make much difference unless something is very close and suddenly comes into sharp focus by moving a few miles one way or another.

I have a good friend who teaches medieval astrology. I will ask him to have a look, but he's in the middle of writing a book and probably doesn't want to be distracted for a few more months.

For what it's worth, this is the chart for Charlemagne most widely accepted among modern astrologers:

3/9/2015 at 10:32 PM

A loser? Who cares? ;)

The only important part of astrology for a medievalist is what medieval people believed about it, and how we can use their beliefs to further our research.

And, even though I know there's always that "one guy" who has to be a pedant in the midst of a joke, and I truly hate being that guy, doesn't it seem rather obvious that as astrologer asked to make predictions for William probably wasn't looking at his own chart -- assuming he was high enough on the status ladder to even know it?

3/10/2015 at 5:13 AM

Justin et all, Interesting how astrology is becoming important is this discussion about the date of birth and place of birth of Charles Magne, I see that Justin also knows about astrology, which in turn is a very extensive subject, I would like to clarify the fact to Justin, that in Greece, Arabia, Middle East, India and Asia astrology also was already developed the Roman times.....As far as the Astrologer in William's case he boarded the wrong ship, the crossing was very dangerous and actually ships sank with some regularity. Please use Ulf proposed date Liege, April 2, 742 - I got this result from the Rishis :
Mahadirghayu Yoga
Jupiter and Venus are in Pisces, or Moon in Taurus and the Navamsha of Taurus, or Mars has gained Simhasanamsha (Jataka Parijata).
The classical text states that a person with this combination:
'' will attain to years untold by the recitation of sacred hymns.'' Charles Magne attained such status. Charles has been revered since then.

3/10/2015 at 5:42 AM

I will be expectant of the results from Justin's models, as far as the date and site that Ulf and I propose it must be calculated with Lahiri's Ayanamsa -

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