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Palace School

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The Carolingian Palace School is a very innovative institution. In Merovingian times, literacy learning was led only by monastic and cathedral schools. There was a so-called "schola palatina" at the Merovingian court, but its purpose was to train young Frankish nobles in the art of war and of court ceremonies. And this retinue of young nobles was at the same time the elite troops attached to the court. The will to have this "schola palatina" become a place of cultural learning took form since 780 and since Alcuin was named at the head of it. It may be stated, on the other hand, that a similar school had been maintained by Pippin the Short at Utrecht, or that Boniface, in addition to his missions, wrote a Latin grammar. Carolingian court also kept being the place where the art of fighting was taught. Alcuin certainly not was the sole actor at the Palace School and he surely incorporated in it proeminent scholars already present at court, of them Italians who were the most influential group among them. The common place of the Palace School was in the palace of Aachen, as the scholars however had to accompany Charlemagne wherever he was journeying

thumbnail to a map of the Imperial Palace in Aachenclick to a map of the Imperial Palace in Aachen

The Palace School had three main functions: a centre of knowledge and learning for the whole kingdom, a place of high learning for the Frankish nobility, Charlemagne and his family, and for clerics of the Palace Chapel, and a place of book production. Palace School was the place indeed where liturgical as well as pagan works were copied and preserved. Liturgical works were aimed at better Church texts; pagan at teaching Latin literacy and the liberal arts. Books came from kingdom's abbeys and were copied as completed works were in turn given to them. Such works were used as much for the monks' studies than for the training -both ecclesiastical and lay one- which was given by the schools. Such an increased production of books brought to the apparition of very large libraries, like the one constituted by Angilbert as he was abbott of St Riquier in 790. The fact that the Caroline minuscule, that new kind of script, was devised, allowed, on the other hand, an increase of that copy work, as it was easier to use and that, as it was used by all the 'scriptoria' in the Empire, the book production could be uniformized. The Palatine School as such -associated to Charlemagne that is- did not survive the death of him -that's to be noted. The Palatine School with Charles the Bald did reappear in the 860's only, as it seems to have then move along with the successive moves of the Court (Soissons, Saint-Denis, Ponthion, Compiègne). Another point of view however doesn't share that advice about that the Palace School would have ceased to be extent during some time, as, on the other hand, it states that the head of the School was void during 804 and 814 -so, when Charlemagne was still living (this might match, in fact, when Theodulf was the master of the Palace School). Alcuin officially was the head of the Palace School from 782 to 796 A.D. as, retired to Tours at that latter date, he likely kept directing the School until his death, in 804. The successors to Alcuin into the function of chief of the Palace School were, in that order: Claude, bishop of Turin (from 814 to 818), Aldric, abbot of Ferrières (from 818 to about 821), Amalaire-Symphosius (from 821 to 837), Angelome, monk in Luxeuil (about 837), Thomas (from 837 to 845), John Scotus Eriugena (from 845 to 871), and Mannon (from 871 to 879). No name is to be found after that date, which is about the end of the reign of Charles the Bald for the West, after, too, the sharing of Lotharingia through the Treaty of Mersen, in 870, and, for the East, after the death of Louis the German. This hints well to a relatively swift decline of the institution, with the culture mainly harboured, from then, in the remaining monastic, or cathedral schools. It is unknown whether some remnants of a Palace School are to be found, after 879, in the varied courts which existed since then

->The Palace School in Its Historical Perspective

Some authors state that this endeavour, by the Carolingians, to initiate this revival of the learning and the preservation of the antique, Mediterranean -Roman and Greek that is- culture, matches the fact that, by succeding to the Merovingians, the new dynasty eventually was putting an end to the Mediterranean world, which had managed to last until then, from the decline and fall of Rome, as it was centering the West, now, on the core of the ancient, Germanic, Frankish world, Austrasia, and making it a world of a more landish, and farming, than a one of conquests and trade. Thus, such authors state, the Carolingians, paradoxically, endeavoured to save the culture -Mediterranean- of the Antiquity as the world which had given birth -then harbour to it, until the end of the Merovingians- was falling part and leaving room for a new Europe. That's likely, even if the reasons which motivated the Carolingians are most unclear, especially when one refers to such a same move, which was seen among the Visigoths of Spain by the time, by the last decades of the 6th century, when Spain left arianism to embrace catholicism. At that time too, Leander, Isidore of Sevilla's brother, had established an endeavour to copy and preserve the ancient works, an endeavour he shared with the rest of the Spanish Church. It seems well that in such the case of Spain, the effort to preserve the ancient culture -both ecclesiastical and profane- was the fact of the Church like the mean to ascertain the intellectual foundations of it, and to get trained clerics. This effort, like the one under the Carolingians, about a century later, even extended to the layman and down to the humblest peasants in Spain. Did the Carolingian renaissance was initiated by Charlemagne -or even Pippin the Short- selves, or did the move came from Rome. It most likely seems that the move was initiated by the Carolingian rulers, but in a period of time when their links with the pope in Rome were increasing due to the geopolitic then, and that the reform of the Frankish Church -and the missionarization of Germany- had begun! The Carolingian renaissance, like was likely the case in Spain, eventually, benefited to the kings, with a better cultivated aristocracy, to the Church, with better trained clerics -and apt to deepen the reform of the Frankish Church, and to the people, who, down to the smallest parish and village schools were able to get some basic training. A characteristic of the education and training reform among the Wisigoths in Spain was that it had benefited -or benefited- from the flux of exilees from North Africa, who were succedingly forced out by the Barbaric Vandals, the Byzantine reconquest and the Arab sweep. The Arab conquest, at last, put a definitive end to any intellectual endeavour in Spain, as initiated by Isidore of Seville. It seems certain, in any case, that the Carolingian revival deeply is anchored into this decisive step of the building of the European synthesis, which consists in shifting the center of there from the Mediterranean world to the North. That shift, as it makes the Europe distant from the South and the merchandise, is bringing a fundamental sense to that synthesis

When the University of Paris had been born, about 1200 A.D., a Cistercian chronicler and a Dominican are seen stating that the Palatine School be the heiress of the School of Athens which had then been transfered into Rome like the 'School of Wisdom', and that the Palatine School then follow Alcuin on his route to Tours and settled in Paris

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 12/28/2010. contact us at
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