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Charlemagne's Elephant

John Benson on the lessons of charity from Britain's worst ever mining disaster

Relations between the Mediterranean and northern Europe in the age of Charlemagne have puzzled archaeologists and historians. At face value the two parts of Europe appear to have been completely separated, despite Charlemagne’s famous coronation in Rome in December 800. Furthermore, relations between Latin Christendom, Byzantium and the Abbasid caliphate (based in Baghdad) appear to have been virtually non-existent. Only intrepid pilgrims bridged the ideological divides that separated these three great regions with their different religions in order to visit the Holy Land. What puzzles archaeologists, in particular, is that while the Christian regions of England, France and Germany apparently had little contact with the South and East, archaeological evidence has long revealed that the Viking-Age communities of the Baltic Sea enjoyed successful commercial partnerships reaching to Byzantium and the Orient. Moreover, ninth-century Frankish glass and decorated pottery have been found in excavations of Viking-period settlements as far north as the Lofoten Islands.

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