Published online by Cambridge University Press: 16 July 2009
Carolingian political consolidation in the later eighth century went hand in hand with an ambitious cultural reform. This renewal, the so-called Carolingian renaissance, was perhaps the Carolingians' most enduring contribution to the Western tradition. The educational and Latin linguistic reforms of the period bequeathed to Europe a common literary tradition, although in their own time the initiatives had as their goals the reform of the clergy and liturgy, the religious education of the laity and the purification of Latin to establish a standard language of rulership. In short, the Carolingian court sought to bring the disparate regions and peoples of the empire under a unifying moral purpose. This bold effort to create an empire greater than the sum of its parts points up both the ambitious ideals of, and the practical limitations to, imperial unity.
This undertaking was dependent upon the Carolingians' successful cultivation of monasteries and the growth in ecclesiastical wealth. Monasteries, with their pious, disciplined and educated staffs, and bristling with landed wealth, which now was augmented by rents as well as gifts from Carolingian conquests, were made responsible for promulgating the programme. Indeed, the burdens of reform probably played no small part in the concurrent determination of monasteries to extract rents. Although these reforms applied throughout the empire, they varied from region to region as monks adapted royal edicts to local circumstances. The greatest challenges centred on lay instruction.