Profile of An Emperor: Reading Vita Karoli Magni in Light of Its Sources and the Socio-political Context of Its Composition

Minjie Su


It has been long pointed out that, in composing of his Vita Karoli Magni, Einhard heavily borrowed from two sources: Suetonius’s De Vita Caesarum, and Annales regni Francorum, especially the second revision. A close reading of Vita Karoli, however, will show that despite Einhard’s dependence on both texts, their distribution within Vita Karoli is quite uneven: Einhard heavily explored Annales regni Francorum for historical details for passages describing Charlemagne’s deeds, whereas he mainly used De Vita Caesarum for his manners and personal life.

To find out the reason behind, this paper will treat two key questions: how is Vita Karoli composed? Second and more importantly, why is Vita Karoli composed in this way? To answer the first one, I will first compare the three texts to see what Einhard has adopted and adapted the sources into his own work. Then, in the second part of the paper, I will focus on what he has decided not to include—namely,  In this part, I shall focus on two aspects that may have influenced Einhard’s decision: firstly, the changing ideology of kingship under the reign of Charlemagne; and second, the unsettling events under his successor Louis the Pious.


Charlemage; Vita Karoli Magni; Suetonius; Carolingian

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