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N dying Pepin divided his kingdom between his two
sons, who would probably have quarreled very sorely had
not their mother kept peace between them three years,
until 771, when only one of them wwas left. Although
the dead prince had left children, the nobles thought
it would be best to have one ruler only, so they
elected Charles to be sole king.
He is only of the few really great men of the world,
and as he ruled over a large part of western Europe, he
is claimed by both the French and the Germans as their
greatest king. Although a German by birth and language,
Charles—who was later surnamed the Great (in Latin
Magnus—is best known by his French name of
Charlemagne (shär'le-mān), by which we may call him
now, to avoid confusing him with his famous
grandfather, Charles the Hammer.
During his reign,—which lasted forty-three years,—Charlemagne
waged war on all sides, taking part in
fifty-three campaigns, more than thirty of which were
directed against the Saxons and other German tribes.
bar-  barians, although severely punished by Pepin for harming the
missionaries, had kept on torturing and killing those
who were trying to convert them, and had burned down
their schools and churches. To punish them for these
and other misdeeds Charlemagne often crossed the Rhine
with an army, and even built a wooden bridge across
this river so as to get over it more easily. So much
blood was shed in these wars that it is often said that
Saxon blood dyed the soil, which really had a peculiar
reddish hue because of the minerals in it.
In the course of these wars, Charlemagne tore down the
favorite Saxon idol (Irminsul), forced many warriors
 to receive baptism, carried off many families to live
in different parts of France, and worked so hard that
he finally became master of all Germany, which rapidly
In 773 the Pope asked Charlemagne to come into Italy to
punish the Lombards, who were again making trouble.
Charlemagne, therefore, collected a large army and,
dividing it into two columns, sent one over the St.
Bernard Mountain, while he himself led the other over
Mont Cenis (mon sē-nee').
In this way he attacked the Lombards from two sides at
once, and soon became master of all except tow of their
cities, which made an obstinate resistance, but had to
yield at last. Having conquered the Lombards,—who had
ruled northern Italy for about two hundred years,—Charlemagne
put on the iron crown their king had worn,
and declared that he would henceforth rule Lombardy as well as France.
As Charlemagne was such a mighty warrior, and knew how
to march great armies from one end of the country to
the other with unusual speed, he was called to Spain,
in 778, to fight the Saracens, his grandfather's old
enemies. Several later campaigns were directed there
also, and when they ended, Charlemagne was master of
northern Spain, from the Pyrenees to the Ebro.
During one of these campaigns, Charlemagne lost his
nephew Roland, and as this young man is the hero of
many songs and tales, you will like, in the rest of
this chapter, to hear what is said about him, although
very little of it is really true. The stories say that
Roland was leading the rear guard of the army on the
 and that he had solemnly promised his uncle to call for
help by blowing his horn, should the enemy dare to
attack him. As the soldiers were winding their way
along one of the narrow passes of the mountains, where
the rocks rose straight up for hundreds of feet, some
Saracens, hidden on the heights, rolled down great
masses of earth and rocks and huge tree trunks to crush
the men below.
In vain Roland bared his sword and tried to scale the
heights; he could not reach the foe! The dead lay thick
around him when he suddenly remembered his promise and
loudly blew his horn. Then, resuming his efforts, he
fought the hosts which now poured down on all sides,
until all his companions were slain. Feeling that his
end, too, was near, Roland blew a second blast on his
horn ("Oliphant")—a blast so loud and so long that he
actually burst the veins in his temples! Then, wishing
to save his good horse from falling into the hands of
the enemy, who might illtreat him, Roland bade the
faithful beast good-by and killed him with his own
To prevent the foe from seizing his sword ("Durendal"),
which he knew would soon drop from his lifeless hand,
Roland tried to break it by striking with all his might
at the rocks near by. But the strong blade cut right
through the stone, and Roland had to break it, at last,
by bending it sharply over his knee. Then, falling back
exhausted, the hero had barely time to whisper a prayer
before he passed away, calling to the Archangel St.
Michael to receive his parting spirit and bear it
safely to heaven.
Meantime, his uncle, twenty miles away, fancied he
heard the sound of Roland's horn; but a traitor, who
knew what was happening, declared that it was merely
 call of a hunter. Still, when Roland blew that last
loud blast, Charlemagne came hurrying back, only to
find his nephew and all his men dead, and many of them
buried beneath masses of fallen stones! Charlemagne
wept bitterly over the death of his beloved Roland, and
duly avenged him by punishing the Saracens.
Roland was long considered the best and bravest knight
of his time, and for more than two hundred years French
soldiers loved to hear and sing "The Song of Roland."
In the mountains, people still show a great cleft in
the rocks, which they say was made by Roland's sword,
and there is a queer echo which is supposed to be the
lingering sound of the last blast of this hero's