The Treaty of Verdun

Louis I the Pious, conducts a division of the kingdom among his children
Louis the Pious dividing up his empire between his children. adoc-photos / Contributor / Getty Images

The Treaty of Verdun divided the empire that Charlemagne had built into three portions, which would be governed by his three surviving grandsons. It is significant because it not only marked the beginning of the empire's dissolution, it laid out the general boundaries of what would become individual nation-states of Europe.

Background of the Treaty of Verdun

Upon the death of Charlemagne, his sole surviving son, Louis the Pious, inherited the entire Carolingian Empire.

(See Map of Europe at the Death of Charles the Great, 814.) But Louis had several sons, and though he wanted the empire to remain a cohesive whole, he divided -- and re-divided -- the territory so that each might govern his own kingdom. The eldest, Lothair, was given the title of emperor, but amidst the re-apportioning and the revolts that resulted, his actual imperial power was severely curtailed.

After the death of Louis in 840, Lothair tried to reclaim the power he'd originally wielded as emperor, but his two surviving brothers, Louis the German and ​Charles the Bald, joined forces against him, and a bloody civil war ensued. Lothair was eventually forced to admit defeat. After extensive negotiations, the Treaty of Verdun was signed in August, 843.

Terms of the Treaty of Verdun

Under the terms of the treaty, Lothair was allowed to keep the title of emperor, but he no longer had any real authority over his brothers.

He received the central portion of the empire, which included parts of present-day Belgium and much of the Netherlands, some of eastern France and western Germany, most of Switzerland, and a substantial portion of Italy. Charles was given the western part of the empire, which included most of present-day France,and Louis took the eastern part, which included most of present-day Germany.

(See Map of the Western Empire as divided at Verdun, 843.)