At its height, the Carolingian empire spanned a million square kilometres of western Europe – from the English Channel to central Italy and northern Spain, and from the Atlantic to the fringes of modern Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. As the largest political unit for centuries, the empire dominated the region and left an enduring legacy for European culture. This comprehensive survey traces this great empire's history, from its origins around 700, with the rise to dominance of the Carolingian dynasty, through its expansion by ruthless military conquest and political manoeuvring in the eighth century, to the struggle to hold the empire together in the ninth. It places the complex political narrative in context, giving equal consideration to vital themes such as beliefs, peasant society, aristocratic culture and the economy. Accessibly written and authoritative, this book offers distinctive perspectives on a formative period in European history.