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Every source I have seen agrees that Charlemagne's ancestral tree begins as follows:

  1. Charlemagne (c. 747 – 814)
  2. Pepin the Short (c. 714 – 768)
  3. Charles Martel (c. 688 – 741)
  4. Pepin of Herstal (c. 635 – 714)
  5. Ansegisel (c. 610 – 662)
  6. Arnulf of Metz (c. 582 – 640)

Before Arnulf, there seems to be considerable disagreement, with some sources (such as Settipani's Les ancêtres de Charlemagne) claiming to have established Charlemagne's descent from the Gallic elites of the late Roman empire (Agricola and Flavius Afranius Syagrius, both from around the mid to late 4th century, being among those individuals commonly proposed as Arnulf's direct ancestors).

What is the current academic consensus on the subject of Charlemagne's genealogy? Are "descent from antiquity" ideas actually taken seriously? Is it still beyond doubt that Charlemagne is descended from Arnulf, or has even that "fact" been called into question by now?

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    The idea that the king of the Franks has most of his descent from Roman landowners is pretty funny. Most genealogies from this era are used to puff up the lineage of great men without great ancestors. – Oldcat Jul 7 '14 at 17:40
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    With each additional generation, the number of direct ancestors doubles. So Arnulf of Metz is just one of 2^5=32 direct ancestors at that point. There is lots of room for a little bit of late Roman or Merovingian blood -- the difficulty is in finding any actual contemporary evidence. – Peter Diehr Oct 13 '16 at 14:44
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The ancestry I have found going back from Arnulf of Metz is as follows:

Arnoldus or Arnual (c. 540/560 – c. 611)- Bishop of Metz son of:

Ansbertus, who was married to Blithilde (also called Bilichilde), who was the daughter of:

Chlothar I (c. 497 – 29 November 561) "le Vieux", King of the Franks son of:

Clovis I (c. 466 – c. 511) king of the Franks son of:

Childeric I (c. 440 – 481/482) son of:

Merovech (d. 453/457) semi-legendary founder of the Merovingian dynasty of the Salian Franks

As you mentioned, there is a lot of debate as to how much of this is valid. We do know that some of these individuals existed and we know enough to corroborate some of the connections, but for some of them we know little more than the name and there is some doubt as to whether Merovech ever even existed.

A purely legendary extension of the line is as follows:

Merovech son of Chlodio (c. 392/395–445/448) who was the son of:

Pharamond or Faramund (c. 370-427) son of:

Marcomer, a descendant of King Priam of Troy

The thing with many of these records of kingly lines is that the farther back one goes the more suspect the information tends to become. Also, depending on when the record was made, the record might only go back a generation or two before the embellishment begins.

As for whether there is a consensus about Charlemagne's ancestry, I would say that there is none, at least in the sense that not all historians are prepared to dismiss all of the records completely. On the other hand, I can't imagine there could be many that don't have serious doubts as the the veracity of much of the genealogy, particularly in the earlier periods where Merovech is alternatively listed as being the son the sea-god Neptune. When you start seeing items like that in the genealogy, it is time to question the veracity of the record.

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    My mom was playing around on ancestory.com, and managed to trace our ancestory back to Thor. So this phenomenon continues today. – T.E.D. Aug 21 '15 at 2:33
  • This is a good answer, but would be even better if the sources were mentionned. – Evargalo Mar 7 at 9:23
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The only thing I found on Google Books that seemed relevant was The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe (1993) by Pierre Riche. Riche traces the ancestry of the family to Arnulf of Metz (c. 582 – 640). He dismisses attempts to trace the genealogy back further. He says the most reliable source is the biography Vita Sancti Arnulfi, written shortly after Arnulf's death. This source describes Arnulf as being of Frankish ancestry and "sufficiently elevated and noble parentage, and very rich in worldly goods."

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The descent from a daughter of Clothair I is not believed in very much. Other (possible) descents from the Merovingians have been proposed.

Some researchers also take Charlemagne's male line ancestry back generations beyond St. Arnulf to a Frankish king of Cologne who was murdered by his son egged on by Clovis about 500. There are also suggested descents from Gallo-Roman nobles in female lines. There are many theories about the relationships between various Gallo-Roman nobles and bishops in Frankish and late Roman Gaul. At the present time it is uncertain just how exalted Charlemagne's unproven Gallo-Roman ancestry might have been.

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    Could do with some references to your sourcces. – Steve Bird Oct 13 '16 at 5:07

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