What Did It Signify?

Richard E. Sullivan


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 59-14499


Table of Contents

What Happened on Christmas Day, 800 1

Eighth Century Concepts about the Roman Empire 4

The Play Emperor 14

The Coronation as the Expression of the Ideals of the Frankish Court 28

Immediate Preliminaries to the Coronation: Affairs in Rome in December, 800 38

The Coronation as a Revival of the Roman Empire in the West 41

The Coronation as Evidence of the Birth of a New Civilization 50

Certain Reservations to be Made in Interpreting the Coronation 56

The Coronation and Local Politics in Rome 59

The Coronation and Papal Concepts of Emperorship 70

The Coronation and Byzantium 80

The Coronation and the Moslems 92

Suggestions for Additional Reading 98


"THE coronation of Charles is not only the central event of the Middle Ages, it is also one of those very few events of which, taking them singly, it may be said that if they had not happened, the history of the world would have been different." Such was the judgment of a noted scholar, James Bryce, concerning the significance of the event that occurred in Rome on Christmas day, 800. Probably few of the many historians who have concerned themselves with the history of Charlemagne and his dynasty would express themselves quite so categorically as did Viscount Bryce in weighing the significance of Charlemagne's coronation. Most of them would, however, admit that the coronation was an event of major importance in the history of Western Europe and would insist that any student who was seeking a full understanding of the broad pattern of Western European development must try to grasp the nature and the significance of the events of 800. Perhaps more important, many scholars would argue that one's interpretation of much of Western European history depends upon his interpretation of Charlemagne's imperial coronation.

As is the case with almost any historical event of major significance, there has never been and there is not now agreement on the nature and the significance of the proceedings that occurred on December 25, 800. Even the earliest descriptions of the action, the chief of which have been included among the selections that follow, gave evidence of sharply divided opinion on the fundamenal issues involved in the coronation. These source materials provide more than just an indication of a difference of opinion concerning what happened in Rome; they supply a clear indication of what has been the source of disagreement dividing the many historians who have tried since 800 to explain the imperial coronation of the Frankish king. The questions that the sources pose are relatively simple, yet fundamental. Who was responsible for the decision that resulted in the elevation of the Frankish king to the exalted dignity of emperor? What motivated those responsible to act as they did? What exactly did they think they were achieving by their extraordinary action? This book hopes to provide a representative, fairly inclusive group of answers that have been given to these questions. It is hoped that the answers and the differences of opinion they reflect will help to clarify the importance of the imperial coronation of Charlemagne and to suggest what the role of that event has been in the total stream of Western European history.

To assess the responsibility, the motives, and the intentions of the parties who arranged the coronation of Charlemagne demands that the reader recall certain powerful developments that were unfolding in the eighth century. For this was truly a century of decision, a century of dynamic changes which determined the shape of several future centuries. These changes affected a large geographical area stretching from the Atlantic Ocean eastward across Europe and North Africa far into Asia. However, their impact was greatest on Western Europe, especially Gaul, Western Germany, and Italy. Western Europe was vitally affected because it had in prior centuries suffered the greatest dislocations in its political, economic, cultural, and spiritual life -- chiefly as a consequence of the nearly complete collapse of Roman civilization in the West and of the Germanic invasions which followed in the wake of that tragic event.

In part the changes were political. Certainly the most spectacular political development of the eighth century was the rise of the Carolingian dynasty and the consequent transformation of the Frankish kingdom which that family ruled into a major world power. Under Charles Martel ( 714-741), Pepin the Short ( 741-768), and Charles the Great ( 768-814) the Frankish state expanded in size and gained in internal stability. Its rulers, because of their success as conquerors, protectors of the weak, upholders of internal order, patrons of the arts and learning, and champions of the Church and of the true faith, gained in stature to the point that all Western European society tended to exalt them above other princes and to look toward them for its well-being. The rise of the Carolingians was accompanied by a shift in the position of the Byzantine Empire. Although still recognized as the successor of the old Roman Empire and thus graced with tremendous prestige, Byzantium found her role as a world power constantly shrinking. In the course of the seventh and eighth centuries the Empire suffered extensive territorial losses to the Moslems, the Bulgars, the Slavs, and the Franks. These losses tended to convert Byzantium into a Greek empire in contrast with its earlier position as a universal empire. And the losses prompted the foes of Byzantium to act with greater impudence toward the power that claimed to be the most exalted in the world. The eighth century political scene was further altered by the mighty upsurge of the Moslems. The assaults of Arab warriors on the walls of Constantinople and their incursions deep into the heart of the Frankish kingdom in the eighth century caused concern everywhere in the Christian world and called forth heroic efforts in defense of Christendom. Beyond any question the appearance of the Moslems heralded the birth of a major power -- aggressive, inspired by an enthusiasm stemming from a new religion, determined to make its might felt far afield, and capable of altering the political policies of other powers of the era.

The religious situation in the Mediterranean world was likewise changing radically in the eighth century. The divisions within the Christian world were becoming sharper, especially between Eastern and Western Christians. One of the major factors contributing to the broadening chasm was the iconoclastic struggle, which began early in the eighth century as a result of the attempt by the Byzantine emperor to forbid the use of images (icons) in religious ceremonies and which raged for more than a century. Although iconoclasm was bitterly opposed within the Byzantine Empire, the focus of opposition came to be the Papacy in Rome. As enemies of iconoclasm, the Popes were able to win considerable prestige among Western Christians as upholders of orthodoxy. The division between East and West on religious grounds was further accentuated by the attempts of the Popes to escape the political tutelage of the Byzantine government in favor of an alliance with a more promising protector, the Frankish monarchy. The challenge raised by this attempt to revolutionize the papal position caused the Papacy to become one of the most active agencies in the eighth century world. Pursuing its program of liberation on the level of practical politics and on ideological grounds the Popes of the eighth century were able to perform remarkable feats in terms of rallying Western Europe around the papal banner against the Eastern world. This role of the Papacy was made easier by another crucial religious development of the eighth century: the turning of all eyes in Western Europe toward Rome for leadership. Although this movement had its origins earlier, by the eighth century it had become a development of major significance. Christians everywhere in the West depended on Rome for guidance in dogma, liturgy, moral discipline, missionary direction, monastic reform, and learning.

Again the effect was to accentuate the division of Christendom into Roman and Byzantine, into Western and Eastern Christian segments. Religious bifurcation was destined to have serious repercussions on other levels of life in both East and West.

The rise of the Moslem power caused religious tension of another kind. It was obvious to men of the eighth century that the Arabs were impelled to victory by powerful religious convictions. With disturbing ease the new religion won converts from the great religions already established in the Mediterranean basin-Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. This seemed to fulfill what Mohammed and his disciples had preached, namely, that the new religion was the final revelation of God's will toward men and that it would eventually exterminate or absorb all other religions. This was an especially frightening prospect for the Christian world, since the Christians likewise made claims that they represented the final truth. By the eighth century the stage was being set for a religious conflict of major proportions. The prospect of such a clash made some, especially in the threatened Christian world, feel the need for great champions to defend the righteous against the enemies of the true faith, for well led armies to rebuff the infidel hordes, and for worthy priests to pray for deliverance. This deep concern over the fate of Christendom colored all events and affected the actions of most men in the eighth century.

Finally, the eighth century witnessed several highly significant cultural developments. The steady contraction of the boundaries of Byzantium and the articulation of a Byzantine "branch" of Christendom tended more and more to accentuate the Greek flavor of Byzantine culture. As a consequence, Byzantine culture became less suitable for other parts of the world and Byzantium tended to become culturally isolated, especially from Western Europe. The West experienced a notable cultural revival, focused especially on an increased interest in the Latin culture of classical Rome and of the early Church fathers. This movement, called the "Carolingian Renaissance," implanted in the minds of scholars in the West certain new concepts about the nature of the ideal political and social order and led to the development of new schemes of bringing current political, social, and religious institutions more nearly into line with the ideal order of the past. The cultural upsurge of the West tended to make the West more conscious of itself, eager to seek its own destiny, and increasingly disdainful of the Byzantine world from which it had borrowed so much culturally since the fall of the Roman Empire. This new intellectual climate in the West was bound to have an effect on the course of development.

By relating these main eighth century trends, all of which will be enlarged upon in the selections that follow, to the crucial questions we previously asked concerning the problem of the coronation of Charlemagne we can perhaps discover the key to a fuller understanding of that event. When one asks what historical forces were responsible for the events of Christmas day, 800, the answer must include one or more of the major wielders of power in the eighth century: the Frankish rulers, the Byzantine emperors, the Popes, or the Moslems. When one seeks the motives that prompted the action, the explanation must emerge from the policies pursued by these powers and from the ends that they sought. But if we find in the course of events during the eighth century a clue concerning the way to approach the imperial coronation of 800, this is not to say that scholars are unanimous in relating the main currents of the era to the coronation of Charlemagne. Several distinct schools of thought have emerged in which different roles are assigned to each of the major wielders of power and in which different motives are ascribed to each to explain his participation in the coronation. The selections that make up the bulk of the book were chosen chiefly to represent these various schools of thought.

Perhaps the majority of historians subscribe to the general view that the event of 800 must be attributed to Charlemagne himself. This school of thought insists that Charlemagne had good reason to arrange his own coronation and that he had the power to enact what he willed. However, there is considerable disagreement on the reasons that prompted him to his action.

Some historians, whose views are represented by the selection from a history of the early medieval period by C. Delisle Burns, argue that Charlemagne arranged for his own coronation simply to enhance his reputation as a conqueror. These historians, seemingly convinced that the actions of all political leaders are inspired chiefly by a Machiavellian urge to gain power, believe that Charlemagne's amazing successes as a conqueror pointed to a degree of greatness that might best be expressed through the adoption of a title which in a bygone age had signified great power: emperor or Augustus. Thus the imperial title was taken by Charlemagne merely to adorn himself and to impress his semi-barbarian followers.

Other historians, most of whom are more than willing to give Charlemagne full credit for determining the course of history at the end of' the eighth century, but rather reluctant to ascribe so crass a motive as personal aggrandizement to the person of Charles the Great, are convinced that he was led to assume the imperial crown by a high-flown idealism which at the same time served practical political needs. The selection that we have included by the French historian, Louis Halphen, illustrates this point of view. Halphen believes that the obvious course of events at the end of the eighth century suggested to Charlemagne and especially to his closest advisers that his present titles were not sufficient to the needs of the day. His military exploits, his religious leadership, his championship of culture, his responsibility toward the Papacy all raised him to a level above any previous ruler in the West. A new title had to be devised to answer this situation; the court scholars decided upon that of "emperor" and "Augustus." Then Charlemagne used his authority in Rome to persuade Pope Leo III to grant him this new title in a solemn ceremony that seemed to make the title both legal and exalted. A short selection by François Ganshof, another exponent of the theory that Charles and his advisers arranged for the affair on Christmas day, has been included in order to clarify the problem of how Charlemagne arranged affairs in Rome during December, 800, so that his own coronation might proceed to a successful conclusion.

However, not all historians confine their attention completely to Charlemagne and his motives, and therefore do not give Charlemagne complete credit for engineering the imperial coronation. Many believe that the event of 800 represents the culmination of forces that were sweeping all Western Europeans toward new ideas and new institutions. Charlemagne, the Popes, bishops, monks, scholars, Roman citizens, and Frankish nobles, all have a share in the coronation ceremony in so far as each of these groups felt and acted upon the powerful forces stirring their society. One representative of this school of thought, James Bryce, believes that the motive which inspired the several participants in the coronation to their action was the common conviction that the reinstitution of a Roman Empire in the West to replace the one that had been suppressed in 476 was a step toward establishing order and unity after centuries of chaos. To Bryce the coronation represented a return to the past for a model of civilized political life. Christopher Dawson, on the other hand, believes that the coronation was the political manifestation of the fact that a new civilization, basically Christian in its orientation, had finally come into existence. Charlemagne, his advisers, the Pope -- all were striving to give expression to their belief that a Christian society needed a Christian emperor to continue its pursuit of Christian ends, that is, eternal salvation. For Dawson, the coronation was an attempt to bring to life the City of God that St. Augustine had spoken about in the early fifth century. All those who participated were borne along toward this end by forces that had been developing since the collapse of Roman civilization.

From the time when Einhard injected into his biography of Charlemagne the idea that the Frankish king was displeased with the imperial honor bestowed on him by the Pope, there have always been historians who have argued that Charlemagne was not responsible for the coronation and that he disliked intensely what happened in Rome on December 25, 800. For almost as long there have been historians who refused to believe that idealism alone could effect such a change. Especially over the last few decades all explanations of the imperial coronation which attribute the key role to Charlemagne and which ascribe to him and his advisers the urge to create an empire to serve some idealistic, almost utopian purposes have come under serious question. The general tone of such opposition has been well expressed by two well known medievalists, Ferdinand Lot and Geoffrey Barraclough, brief samples of whose opinions concerning the coronation have been included to illustrate the line of criticism that has developed to challenge some of the ideas noted above. Both Lot and Barraclough suggest that Charlemagne could have gained little from the coronation, that he would have been courting trouble by so bold a step, and that there were others better positioned to conceive and execute the coronation scheme.

Among historians of this school of thought, the Papacy receives considerable attention as the agent responsible for the coronation. The careful scholarship of many authorities on the Papacy of the Carolingian period have found that the elevation of Charlemagne to the imperial throne was a step that could have aided the Papacy in several ways. They have established rather clearly that most of the specific action which accompanied the actual coronation ceremony could only have originated at the papal court. Most of these authorities are ready to place Charlemagne in the background, in spite of his overwhelming superiority of force, and to give the Papacy credit for initiating an event of considerable importance in world history.

The advocates of Papal responsibility for the coronation do not agree on what prompted the Papacy to action. Karl Heldmann, who has probably studied the coronation problem as deeply as any other historian, is firmly convinced that the Papacy engineered the coronation -- probably with Charlemagne's approval -- in order to solve a local problem that arose in Rome in the year 799. The heart of that problem lay in finding a judge with the proper legal authority to conduct a treason trial against certain Romans accused of fomenting trouble against Pope Leo III. Heldmann argues that such a judge was lacking at the moment. According to Roman law the emperor had final jurisdiction over such a matter. Therefore, an emperor was created; once he was crowned he proceeded to resolve the legal problem troubling the local scene. The imperial coronation was thus intended to be nothing more than a chapter in Roman local history; the Frankish king became involved because he controlled Italy and Rome. Heldmann strips the coronation of all ideological considerations, which he believes have been read into the event by historians enjoying the benefit of hindsight.

Heldmann's explanation has failed to satisfy many authorities on eighth century papal history; it seems to suggest an almost illogical manipulation of great titles to achieve extremely insignificant ends. Walter Ullmann offers another viewpoint that still leaves responsibility with the Papacy. He believes that the coronation of Charlemagne as emperor was a part of a longdeveloping papal policy of creating a papal government independent of all outside control. At this particular stage of the evolution of the papal plan the basic task was to secure independence from the Byzantine emperor who held legal authority over Rome and the Papacy. To Ullmann the coronation of the Frankish king as emperor thus represented the embodiment of what has been called a "curial" concept of emperorship -- an idea of emperorship fitted especially to square with the aspirations of men who considered themselves ordained by God to lead Christian society and especially to guide its secular arm.

Werner Ohnsorge keeps our attention focused on Italian and Roman affairs in his explanation of the coronation, but extends considerably the range of forces at work, thereby reducing the role of the Papacy somewhat. Like Ullmann, he believes that the Papacy conceived the coronation scheme in order to fit its own ends, especially the desire to be free from Byzantine rule. However, he believes that the papal scheme, put into effect originally to deal with what the Popes felt to be the Byzantine menace, failed rather miserably because of what Charlemagne thought about the Byzantine Empire. According to Ohnsorge, the Frankish king did not want to replace the eastern emperor; he only wanted equality with a ruler whose claims to political supremacy did not especially impress an extremely successful German warrior-king. Once crowned emperor through the rather unexpected action of the Papacy, Charlemagne began to twist the meaning of his title, to spurn the papal intentions, and to bargain with the Byzantine emperor in order to gain equal political status with the rulers in Constantinople. Thus, the final result of the action initiated by the Pope in 800 was to create two empires. And the driving force behind the actions of all the participants in the coronation was the necessity of establishing a relationship with the Byzantine Empire. In a sense, then, the Greeks in Constantinople were responsible for the elevation of Charlemagne to his new dignity and for the evolving concepts of what that event signified.

Perhaps the most provocative suggestion concerning the nature and import of the affair of Christmas day, 800, has come from the pen of the Belgian medievalist, Henri Pirenne. In several important studies which began to appear in the early 1920's and which continued until Pirenne's death in 1935, Pirenne argued that most developments in the Carolingian period resulted from the impact of the Moslems on the Mediterranean world. He sought to prove that for at least two centuries after the Germanic invasions political, social, economic, cultural, and religious life changed very little around the Mediterranean, all aspects of life retaining their essential Roman characteristics. But then in the seventh and eighth centuries the Moslems shattered the unity of the Mediterranean world and thereby killed Roman civilization. Germanic society had to find a new way of life to replace that which had passed away. Among the many things that were done to fill the void was the creation of an imperial government for the West, independent of the old Roman imperial government. Thus the Moslems were responsible for the emperorship of Charlemagne; in Pirenne's own words, "without Mohammed Charlemagne would have been inconceivable." And the empire that was created in Rome in 800 was one peculiarly suited to the needs of the West at the moment when western ties with the Mediterranean world were shattered and the West was thrown back on its own resources.

Each of the basic interpretations set forth in the course of the pages that are to follow has received infinite refinement; much of the material of this kind would help us understand the coronation better if it could be included in our study. For instance, scholars have studied in minute detail the action of the Papacy in the last years of the eighth century to show how the Popes were shaking off the control of the Byzantine emperors. Others have analyzed the symbolism connected with the coronation act to show how it reflected papal intentions. Still others have combed the sources concerning Charlemagne's reign to discover new ideas about political affairs that might have resulted in the creation of the imperial office which emerged in 800. Active research in Byzantine and Moslem history has helped to clarify the issues involved in the event of 800. What we have included in the following pages represents only a simple beginning into the vast field of Carolingian scholarship.

But even without the benefit of these more precise, detailed, and complicated investigations of the imperial coronation of Charlemagne, the selections we have included reveal clearly why the events of 800 are worth careful attention. However we interpret it, that event spelled a significant change in the direction of historical development. Either it represented the establishment of a Western European ruler who claimed supremacy over society as a successor of the greatest rulers the world had ever seen, the Roman emperors, and as divinely sanctioned agent of the Christian God. Or the act represented the expression of the claims of the Papacy to direct society and to designate its temporal rulers. Or the event indicated the efforts of Western Europeans -- represented by the Papacy and the Frankish monarchy -- to give expression to a new relationship with the Byzantine Empire and the Moslems. It makes no difference which of these alternatives one chooses or whether he reaches some kind of compromise involving all of them. His study of the coronation problem will make him realize that the coronation of Charlemagne marked a turning point in history. And he will further realize that whatever conclusion he reaches about the nature and the significance of the coronation will influence his judgment of most significant phases of European history for centuries after December 25, 800.

[NOTE: The statements in the Conflict of Opinion on page xv are from the following sources: Arnold J. Toynbee , A Study of History, 10 vols. ( London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1934 -1954), IV, p. 322; Christopher Dawson, The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity ( New York, Sheed and Ward, 1945), p. 214; C. Delisle Burns, The First Europe: A Study of the Establishment of Medieval Christendom, A. D. 400-800 ( New York, W. W. Norton and Company, 1948), p. 569; James Bryce , The Holy Roman Empire ( London and New York, Macmillan and Company, 1897), p. 50; Geoffrey Barraclough, History in a Changing World ( Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1955), pp. 109-110; Peter Munz in "Translator's Introduction" to Heinrich Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire ( Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1957), p. xix.]

Conflict of Opinion

"Though the Carolingian evocation of a ghost of the Roman Empire was no more than a flash in the pan, its brief flame was enough to burn up the reserves of energy which the infant Western Society had been accumulating for about a hundred years before Charlemagne's accession to power."

"The unwieldy Empire of Charles the Great did not long survive the death of its founder, and it never really attained the economic and social organisation of a civilized state. But, for all that, it marks the first emergence of the European culture from the twilight of pre-natal existence into the consciousness of active life."

"On Christmas Day, A. D. 800, Charles the Great, the king of the Franks, was crowned as Emperor and Augustus in the basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican by Pope Leo III. Each of the chief actors in this episode was playing a part. And in view of the later history of the Holy Roman Empire, which was supposed by some historians to have then come into existence, the parts make the play almost a comedy."

"The coronation of Charles is not only the central event of the Middle Ages, it is also one of those very few events of' which, taking them singly, it may be said that if they had not happened, the history of the world would have been different."

"Not so long ago the coronation of Charles the Great was called 'the most important and most puzzling riddle in the whole of mediaeval history'; but we may fairly say today that the riddle has been solved. We know now, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Charles's coronation was the outcome of a curious chain of events, of intrigues and dissidence, in Rome itself and in Constantinople, reaching back no further than 798. We know also that the events of Christmas, 800, were played out within the framework of the existing Roman empire -- the empire we often loosely term Byzantine -- of which Rome was still an integral part. All that was intended and all that was done, was to elect a new emperor in the existing empire. There was no idea either of creating a new empire in the west, or of 'restoring' or 'reviving' the Roman dominion in the west, which had been obliterated centuries earlier with the rise of the Germanic kingdoms; nor was there even the idea of 'transferring' the existing Empire from east to west. All that was at issue was the person of the emperor -- the emperor, not the empire."

"In respect of the problem of what was involved in Charles's coronation as emperor, Professor Fichtenau has done well to heed the wise words recently written by Professor Schramm: the coronation must have meant different things to different people and any attempt to say what it meant to all people is, in fact, unhistorical."


As must always be the case with historical investigations, the only suitable starting place for any attempt to understand an event in the past is with the accounts supplied by those observers closest to the event in time and place. This approach is sometimes impossible, especially for those just becoming acquainted with source materials, simply because the great bulk of materials dealing with an event cannot be conveniently collected in one place for study. The accounts describing the imperial coronation of Charlemagne in Rome on December 25, 800, present no such problem; they are so meager that they can easily be included in this brief study. As a matter of fact, their briefness presents one of the great difficulties associated with the coronation of Charlemagne. The first account is from a collection of early medieval papal biographies called the Liber pontificalis (that is, Book of the Popes). These biographies were compiled by clergymen associated with the papal court in Rome and naturally reflect the papal point of view toward the events recorded in them. The biography of Pope Leo III, which contains the description of the events in Rome on December 25, 800, was probably written shortly after Leo III's death in 816; however, its author may well have been an observer of the events of 800. The second description is from the Frankish royal annals, usually cited as the Annales regni Francorum, a work representing a record of the main events connected with the history of the Carolingian dynasty compiled by annalists who were associated with the Frankish court. This description of the coronation was probably recorded soon after the events of 800 and presumably was written in a way which would meet the approval of Charlemagne. The third account was set down in a monastic chronicle called the Annales Laureshamenses and was probably written about 803. This chronicle usually reflects the opinion of the royal court rather accurately. Its description of the coronation clearly suggests that within a short time after the coronation there was considerable shifting of opinion at the royal court as to what the coronation meant. The fourth account is from the official biography of Charlemagne, written by the court scholar, Einhard. His description was probably written within a few years after the death of Charlemagne. In general, Einhard was an honest historian. However, his admiration for Charlemagne sometimes colored his discussion of the events in which the great king was involved. Finally, there has been included a notice from the most important Byzantine historian of the period, Theophanes, in order to suggest how the events in Rome struck those observing from Constantinople. A careful study of these sources will point the way to the major issues involved in the imperial coronation of Charlemagne. And succeeding selections will make constant reference to them.


After these things, the day of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ having come, all were again gathered in the aforesaid basilica of the blessed Peter the Apostle. And then the gracious and venerable pontiff with his own hands crowned him [ Charles] with a very precious crown. Then all the faithful people of Rome, seeing the defense that he gave and the love that he bore for the holy Roman Church and her Vicar, by the will of God and of the blessed Peter, the keeper of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, cried with one accord in a loud voice: "To Charles, the most pious Augustus, crowned by God, the great and peace-giving Emperor, life and victory." While he was invoking diverse saints before the holy confession of the blessed Peter the Apostle, it was proclaimed three times and he was constituted by all to be Emperor of the Romans. Then the most holy pontiff anointed Charles with holy oil, and likewise anointed his most excellent son to be king, upon the very day of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ; and when the Mass was finished, then the most serene lord Emperor offered gifts.

FROM THE FRANKISH ROYAL ANNALS (Annales regni Francorum) 2

On the most holy day of the Lord's birth, when the king, at Mass before the confession of St. Peter, rose up from prayer, Pope Leo placed on his head a crown; and he was acclaimed by the whole populace of Rome: "To Charles, Augustus, crowned by God the great and peaceful emperor of the Romans, life and victory!" And after these praises he was adored by the Pope in the manner of ancient princes; and, the title of patricius being dropped, he was called emperor and augustus.

FROM THE Annales Laureshamenses 3

And because the name of emperor had now ceased to exist in the land of the Greeks and because they had a woman as emperor, it was seen both by the apostolic Leo himself and all the holy fathers who were present in that council [i.e., the council held to decide the fate of Leo III and before which he took his purification oath] and the rest of the people, that they ought to name as emperor Charles himself, king of the Franks, who now held Rome itself, where the Caesars were always accustomed to have their residence, and the rest of the places which they held in Italy, Gaul, and Germany. For Almighty God conceded all these places into his hands, and therefore it seemed to them to be just, that he -- with the aid of God and with all the Christian people asking -- should not be lacking that title. King Charles did not wish to deny their request, and with all humility, subjecting himself to God and to the petition of the priests and all the Christian people, he received the title of emperor through the coronation of the lord Pope Leo on the day of the birth of the Lord. And the first thing he did was to recall the holy Roman Church from that discord which existed there to peace and order.

1 Translated by the editor from Liber pontificalis (ed. L. Duchesne, Paris, 1886-1892), Vol. II, p. 7.
2 Translated by the editor from Annales regni Francorum, a. 801, in Quellen zur karolingischen Reichsgeschichte (ed. Reinhold Rau, Berlin, Rütten & Loening, n.d.), 1. Teil, p. 74.
3 Translated by the editor from Annales Laureshamenses, a. 801 (ed. G. Pertz, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores [ Hanover, 1826] Vol. I, p. 38 ).

FROM EINHARD'S Life of Charlemagne 4

His last voyage [to Rome] was a result of another cause. The Romans having caused Pope Leo many injuries -- torn out his eyes and blinded him -- were moved to ask the aid of the king. Therefore, coming to Rome in order to put to order that which was causing too much disturbance in the order of the Church, he passed the whole winter there. It was at this time that he accepted the title of emperor and augustus. But at first he was so much opposed that he affirmed that, even though it was an important feast day, he would not have entered the church that day if he had known in advance the plan of the Pope. He bore with great patience the envy of the Roman emperors, who were indignant at the title he had taken; and by his magnanimity by which he was so much superior to them he conquered their anger by sending to them many legates and by calling them "brothers" in his letters.


In this year in the month of December Charles, the king of the Franks, was crowned by Pope Leo.

4 Translated by the editor from Éginhard, Vie de Charlemagne, chapter 28, ed. and tr. Louis Halphen, 3 ed., revised and corrected ( Les classiques de France au Moyen Âge) ( Paris, Société d Éditions "Les Belles Lettres," 1947), p. 80. 5 Translated by the editor from Theophanes, Chronographia, A. M. 6293 ( J. P. Migne, ed., Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, CVIII, col. 956).


The accounts describing the exciting events that occurred in Rome on Christmas Day, 800, make it clear that in part at least the happenings of that day were a consequence of ideas which the participants had concerning the nature of the old Roman Empire. What did the various authors mean when they used expressions such as the following: "people of Rome"; "Augustus"; "imperator"; "adored . . . in the manner of ancient princes"; and "Rome the mother of the Empire where the Caesars and the emperors were always used to sit."? The answer to their meaning must lie in what men of the eighth century thought about the Roman Empire. A French historian, Robert Folz, who is professor at the University of Dijon in France, has attempted to supply a concise statement of beliefs about the Roman Empire current in the eighth century and its relationship to the events of that day.

THE DEPOSITION of Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer in 476 put an end to the Roman Empire in the West. It had been shrinking ever since the beginning of the fifth century as, one by one, its provinces had fallen into the hands of the barbarians; the deposition in Rome was only the most spectacular act in the unfolding drama. However, if it had ceased to exist in reality, the Empire continued to live in the minds of men, in an imaginary way, as the historian of the Goths, Jordanes, put it with great precision. The sixth century saw its partial restoration as a result of the efforts of Justinian, but that was only ephemeral. In the end the Empire continued in the West only in certain regions of Italy, up until those events which, beginning in the middle of the eighth century, brought the papal state into existence and caused the northern and central parts of the peninsula to fall into the hands of the Franks. In order to study the diverse components of the idea of empire one must project oneself imaginatively back to the period between these two dates ( 476-774).


The idea of Empire existed on several levels. To oversimplify greatly, one might reduce them to two principal ones: that of religious and philosophic speculation and that of political realities.

A. The Level of Speculation: Universalism

The idea of the universality of the Empire was in its genesis and its main outline essentially Hellenic. It was the Greek philosophers and especially the Stoics who emphasized the notion of a human community sharing in the possession of a universal principle of reason. It was they also who, under the influence of the conquest of Alexander, deduced the idea of the uni-

Reprinted by permission from Robert Folz, L'idée d'Empire en Occident du Ve au XIVe siécle (Aubier, Editions Montaigne, 1953), pp. 11-28. Translated by the editor.

versal mission of Greek civilization which was considered to be the human civilization par excellence, the domain of which was the oikouménè [civilized world] on the borders of which reigned barbarism. And finally it was the Greeks who, as early as the second century before the Christian era, assimilated the Roman Empire into the oikouménè. For Panaetius, the friend of Scipio Aemilianus, 1 the Roman conquest tended to achieve the union of civilized peoples, since its object, as well as its justification, was to provide peace, order, and 31 justice to humanity. Such ideas strongly impregnated the political and intellectual elite of Rome; under whose influence notions of orbis terrarum [the circle of all lands or the universe] and of Imperium [Empire] became synonymous in the first century, never again to be disassociated.

That idea of an Empire as the seat and the framework of civilization was reinforced and sublimated by Christianity, the mission of which was essentially ecumenical. Its universalism and that of Rome were opposed at first. But, from the end of the second century, the Empire ceased to be for Christians an object of systematic hostility; one prayed for it; it appeared as an element of the plan of Providence. Was it not the fourth and the last of the monarchies predicted by Daniel, the end of which would inaugurate the kingdom of God? These concepts became more precise from the time of Constantine onwards, in proportion as the Empire became officially Christian and as the Roman aristocracy, nourished on the imperial idea, penetrated religious circles. From then on, the notions of orbis christianus [Christian world] and of orbis romanus [Roman world] coincided; from one universalism one passed to the other without difficulty. . . . The instrument of the conservation and of the propagation of the universalist theme -- Roman and Christian -- was the liturgy. The oldest sacramentaries have conserved for us what are in effect prayers for the Empire and the emperor which mix indiscriminately Roman and Christian ideas: God is seen as the protector of the Empire; He is invoked so that Roman peace, security, freedom, and devotion might be guaranteed by Him, that is to say, so that there will be preserved the essential qualities of Roman humanity, now identical with the Christianity for which the Empire supplies a framework.

As an ideal of culture and as a quasireligious concept: these are the two characteristic forms in which the Empire survived in the minds of men. The second soon showed itself to be stronger than the first and led to the idea of an Imperium christianum [Christian Empire], which was conceived at first as synonymous with the Roman Empire but which soon exceeded that, since it served to define the ensemble of lands where Christianity reigned supreme. But from that time on, there was no need of a unique emperor to guide the Christian Empire, and, even more important, there was no need for a specifically Roman emperor.

B. The Political Level

Along with these ideas one ought not to ignore a certain number of concepts suggested by the nature of the imperial regime in the fifth century; faithfully recorded by witnesses, they would be taken by historians subsequently and applied by them to the political forms which they saw in their own times. In contrast to those ideas which we have just analyzed, these concepts reflect actual political realities.

First of all, there was the notion of the Imperium itself, which embodied the idea of a power of a superior nature, such as that which clothed the magistrates outside of Rome, before it became, in its most complete form, the essential attribute of the emperor. Then there was a particular aspect of that power, namely, its military character,

1 Panaetius was a Greek Stoic philosopher who during the second century B.C. along with other learned Greeks gathered around the Roman statesman, Scipio Aemilianus, in order to pursue learning. Through the influence of men like Panaetius, Roman aristocratic society became deeply impressed with the excellence of Greek culture. [Editor's note]

and hence the essential role of the army in conferring it, so that later on it became very difficult to differentiate between the idea of the victorious general being proclaimed imperator by his troops and the acclamation of an emperor, which was the act properly speaking which created an emperor. But the importance of the military aspect of the imperial concept, from a constitutional point of view, increased, and, from the third century on, the spectacle of emperors created solely by the army had become so customary that St. Jerome could formulate the adage Exercitus facit imperatorem [The army makes the emperor]. But what is equally instructive is the fact that numerous emperors, thus acclaimed by their legions, did not become authentic Augusti, true sovereigns of the universal Empire, but had to content themselves with exercising power over a limited part of that Empire, and sometimes even -- in Britain, for example -in a region outside the orbis romanus [Roman world] properly speaking. That such segments of the Empire were not the authentic Empire is indicated by Isidore of Seville 2 in a pertinent fashion when he noted that "from the moment when generals were seen to be seizing the imperial title [imperator], the Senate decided to reserve that title for the Caesar Augustus so as to allow him to be distinguished from the kings of other nations." That description illustrates well the most apparent content of the notion of Empire: the Empire is to be distinguished from kingdoms. Can one determine the relationship which existed between these two terms in the fifth century?

Geographically, the term Imperium had designated the ensemble of territories which submitted to the sovereignty of the Roman people, and eventually to the emperor: the unity and even the uniqueness of the Empire was opposed to the multiplicity of regna [kingdoms]. Progressively, however, that antithesis was effaced, and the two terms came to be more nearly reconciled. Several facts worked to bring these concepts together; the most important was the invasion of the Germanic tribes who installed themselves on the soil of the Empire, transforming some provinces into regna while recognizing, at first at least, the superior authority of the emperor. That process oriented the concept of the Empire toward the idea of the emperor as one having preponderance over the kingdoms. Although there prevailed some uncertainty with regard to the essence of that pre-eminence, it seemed, however, that it had been assimilated to one of the fundamental ideas of the classic principate, that of auctoritas. The concept of auctoritas implied a moral superiority, attached either to a person or to an institution, which was binding on all and was quite different from potestas or public power exercised in a purely legal sense.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, that image was crystallized in the Empire of the East, in the chancellory of which was elaborated the scheme of a complete hierarchy of sovereignties headed by the emperor. It was also familiar in the West, where Isidore of Seville wrote of a Roman Empire of which the other kingdoms were appendices and where the sacramentaries of the sixth and seventh centuries contained prayers asking that the Empire be allowed to surpass all kingdoms. The most significant evidence for the existence of this concept is contained in a tract describing public functions which seems to have been composed in Merovingian Gaul prior to the middle of the eighth century. "The Emperor," one reads there, "is he who excels all others in the world; under him are found the kings of other kingdoms." The novelty of this definition, inspired by the realities of the situation in Rome, comes, however, from the fact that the imperial notion is not necessarily tied up with Rome, and that it thus could open the prospect of the accession to the imperial title of a non-

2 Isidore of Seville (about 560-636) was a Spanish archbishop and scholar who compiled an encyclopedic collection of knowledge about many things, known as Etymologies, which served as a source of information for learned men throughout the Middle Ages. [Editor's note]

Roman sovereign who possessed hegemony [over other kings].


A. The Anteriority of the Empire [to the Church]: The Holy Monarchy

A weighty tradition, similarly inherited from antiquity, enveloped the imperial personage. We should recall here how the Roman Empire little by little was burdened with Hellenistic and Oriental concepts concerning the power of the person of the sovereign, and similarly recall the evolution by which the emperor who at first tended merely to imitate divinity finally came to be identified with it in the imperial cult which was addressed to the emperor, a god on earth. Between that conception and Christianity there were considerable exchanges. On the one hand, Christianity without any doubt was immersed in imperial surroundings: the image of Christ which was elaborated in antiquity was that of Christ-Caesar, brilliant sun, conqueror of darkness and of death, Kosmokrater, leader of the militia of the faithful, enthroned in the splendor and pomp of the Above in the midst of the senate of the blessed. But if the Divinity was adorned with the majesty of the here "below," an inverse movement was felt equally from the fourth century on. The emperor was henceforth thought to be, the image of the God of glory, the vicar on earth of the triumphant Christ. By this device the Empire conserved its sacred character. There was no need to justify it by a doctrine; it was sufficient for the Empire to exteriorize its sacred character in a sumptuous liturgy, the multiple. forms of which were survivals of the ancient imperial cult now Christianized: the etiquette of the Sacred Palace of Constantinople, including among other things, the practice of prostration before the emperor which the Church did not succeed in abolishing; the annual fetes whose rites were closely related to religious solemnities; vestments and symbolical insignia; processions in which Caesar represented Christ; ritual acclamations which were raised to the basileus, 3 crowned by God and for whom was invoked Christ the conquerer; by all these means the emperor was placed on a superhuman level, intermediary between God and man. The numerous interventions of the emperor in religious questions from the fourth century onward to the eighth century derived, in the last analysis, from that most solemn character of the imperial institution, which characteristically participated in sacred things.

B. The Empire in the Face of the Church

The history of the relationship between the Empire and the Church is that of two institutions unrelated at first but which were not long in inter-penetrating one another. If the Empire was prior in time to the Church, if the Church was originally in the Empire whose framework and traditions were reflected in its own organization, if the emperors meant to control the new religion just as the Caesars had been the heads of the ancient religion, it was no less true that the Church tended from the fourth century to impregnate the Empire with its spirit and to assert the independence of the spiritual realm. The realization of harmony between the two realms depended on the reciprocal recognition of the prerogatives of each: the natural right and the proper domain of the Empire [was the direction of] the temporal; the direction of spiritual things [was to be carried on] by the Church. In practice, however, many factors prevented an absolute separation of the powers: first of all, the prestige of the sacred monarchy, but also, in the West at least, the weakening of the old Roman idea of the sovereignty of the state and the penetration of the spiritual into the sphere of the state, progressively reducing the latter

3 This term, which was officially adopted early in the seventh century as a title for the rulers in Constantinople, was a popular Greek term which might be translated as "king." Its adoption at that time indicated that it seemed more fitting in Constantinople to designate the ruler by a Greek title than to use the various Latin titles that he had held for so long before. [Editor's note]

to a role of service at the disposition of the Church and of its head, the Pope.

We are not able here to discuss the amazing rise of the Papacy; a slow movement, arrested at times, but always borne along by one fundamental idea: the primacy in the Church of the successor of the Apostle Peter who, according to Leo the Great, had confirmed and renewed the universal mission of Rome. What were, henceforth, the relations between the bishop of Old Rome and the emperor of the New Rome? Two Popes a century apart gave different answers to that question.

One was Pope Gelasius I ( 492-496), whose celebrated text stated that "there are two principle powers by which the world is ruled, the sacred authority of the Popes and the royal power. But the authority of the Popes is all the weightier, since they must answer for the kings at the tribunal of the Last Judgment." There is no doubt that this notion of auctoritas [authority] is the same type as that of which the principate had previously availed itself, but here the preponderance is due especially to the prestige of the function of the bishops, and especially of the Pope, of being the guides for sovereigns from the spiritual point of view. If one takes into further account the fact that, in the tradition of the Church, the Apostle Peter was looked upon, from the end of the fourth century, not only as the first but also as the princeps [i.e. the chief] of the apostles, one is confronted with the idea of a veritable spiritual empire being carried on by Peter's successor. But this "empire" respected fully the proper domain of the other.

When a century later we find ourselves in the Pontificate of Gregory I, the general atmosphere has been modified. Under St. Gelasius the Empire in the West was only an idea; by the time of Gregory, it was a reality. 4 And a stern reality, for the caesaropapism of Justinian bore heavily on the Western Church. As against the intermingling between the two levels of power outlined by Gelasius, it fell to Gregory to set forth anew the attributes of the two powers in terms much more full of nuances. For him, the Roman Empire remained the political expression of Christian universalism; the Empire was primarily the christianum Imperium [Christian Empire], the sancta respublica [sacred republic], whose existence would continue as long as would the world. He venerated it; he showed that it derived directly from God; he gave assurances of his devoted zeal for it without any reservations. But, if in the mind of the Pope Empire and Church are sometimes found to be intermingled, it remained nonetheless true that he assigned to them two different spheres. One is larger, since it embraces peoples who were not part of the Empire; it is entirely spiritual and ought to be directed by the Pope, successor of the Good Shepherd at the head of His flock, in conformity with the principles which Gregory enunciated in his Regula pastoralis. 5 The Empire, on the other hand, must have Christianity in the forefront of its preoccupations; its essential mission is to make peace prevail in the Church and to propagate the faith among the pagans who are the equivalent of the barbarians of former times. Thus, Pope and emperor are two complementary organs of the same body. As intermingled as their attributes might be, we must note, however, that the final end assigned by Gregory to the Empire is that terrestre regnum caelesti regno famuletur [the earthly kingdom serves the heavenly kingdom]. One could not express with more conciseness the view which . . . [one scholar] has called "the ministerial conception of the Christian Empire." Beyond the Empire there were the barbarian states of the West. With more firmness, because he

4 That is, the imperial government in the West which had ceased to exist in 476 had been restored by Justinian after his successful conquest of Italy in the 530's and 540's, and thus controlled Italy during Gregory's Pontificate. [Editor's note]
5 Pastoral Rule, an important book composed by Gregory the Great to guide bishops in the care of their flocks; it served during the Middle Ages as one of the most important guides for the spiritual activities of clergymen. [Editor's note]

was free in their case of the scruples which a Roman might still feel with respect to the imperial magistracy, the Pope dictated a line for these states to follow which tended to subject the state completely to the direction of religious authority. Through Gregory the Great political Augustinianism 6 gained the West little by little and in the end exercised a considerable influence there.

C. The Pope Elevated to the Imperial Level: The Donation of Constantine

A final consequence of the movement of ideas at the heart of the representation of the Roman Empire as Christian and universal must be pointed out: since the emperor participated in sacred things, was not the Pope, the holder of spiritual auctoritas, equally going to adorn his authority with the prestige of Empire?

The document which permits us to answer that question is that extraordinary document, known under the name of the Donation of Constantine (Constitutum Constantini), the redaction of which was made about the same time as and in connection with the "promise of a donation" of Pepin. It is generally admitted that the falsification took place between 750 and 760; the Donation was composed either in anticipation of the journey of Stephen II to Gaul to crown Pepin king of the Franks, or, more likely it was written after the return of the Pope to Italy, at that moment when, with great difficulty, the papal state was being formed or immediately after these events 7 . . . . It is only necessary here to ask what was the intent of the falsifier.

The general impression which can be drawn from his work is that he wished to project into the past as far as possible and to have the first Christian emperor authenticate those rights which the Papacy possessed already or which it was endeavoring to gain. It seems however that political interests properly speaking played a minor part in the thinking of the compiler. The gift of the West to the Pope is set forth in a very vague clause which reflects the long evolution in the course of which the West had assumed, in principle at least, the character of a zone reserved to the spiritual influence of the Roman pontiff. The case of Rome and of Italy is a little more clear; in causing them to be given over by Constantine to Sylvester, 8 the falsifier underlined the negative purport of his text: its object was to exclude the Byzantines from the Italian peninsula and to establish the rights of the Pope to the succession to their power.

The essential idea of the document, however, is to be found on an entirely different level. Everything suggests that in effect the author proposed to associate the imperial idea with the Pope and thus to clothe him with the splendor which surrounded the earthly imperator. Such a movement was already in progress: the honors accorded to Popes John I ( 526) and Constantine VI ( 710-711) when they visited Byzantium were modeled on the ceremonies which greeted the basileus on his entry into a city. The Liber pontificalis also assures us that the emperor had prescribed that all the governors of Italy should receive Pope Constantine on his return "as if they saw him [i.e. the emperor] himself." Such honors included the unfurling of banners, acclamations, and also the service of the bridle and the stirrup -- officium stratoris -which the members of the highest lay aristocracy rendered to the Pope. Such were the actual forms of recognition which our falsifier had in mind but he even went beyond them, however, by causing to be attributed to Sylvester the entirety of the decor of an imperial procession, and by showing that Constantine had taken upon himself, out of respect for St. Peter, the officium stratoris [i.e. having the emperor

6 That is, the idea that the state should conduct itself so as to serve the ends of religion and especially the end of bringing into reality the City of God on earth, as that concept was developed by St. Augustine. [Editor's note]
7 The events referred to here will be explained in detail later; see p. 19. [Editor's note]
8 Pope ( 314-335), who according to legend baptized Constantine as the latter was near death. [Editor's note]

hold the bridle of the papal horse and hold the stirrup for the Pope while he mounted his horse]. Before the time of Pepin no sovereign had ever performed such a service for a Pope; when receiving Stephen II at Ponthion, the Frankish king had for a moment held the papal horse by the bridle after the manner of a squire. It is possible therefore that this precedent served as the inspiration for our author.

It was also equally an innovation, to assert that Sylvester was offered by Constantine all the insignia of the Empire: the diadem; the phrygium, the high pointed white hat deriving from the Byzantine camelaucum; the lorum, a consular sash worn around the neck; the scepters; the purple chlamys; the scarlet tunic; the signa (eagle and globe); the banda (standards) -in a word, all the imperial decor. 9 But to wear the insignia of the emperor was . . . almost to identify oneself with him. What further confirms that impression is that at Rome Sylvester had supposedly assumed the succession to the political power of Constantine, who, out of respect for the holy apostles, had installed himself in another capital. The Pope had also allegedly received from the emperor the Lateran palace and on his clergy the emperor was supposed to have conferred the privileges and ornaments of the Roman senate.

It must be noted, however, that the falsifier did not deduce all the consequences of his reasoning. In fact, he shows us Sylvester renouncing the crown, the symbol of the Empire in the political sense of the term, to content himself with the phrygium, the emblem of spiritual authority. In spite of that restriction, however, the implication is that the rank occupied by the Pope is that of the emperor.

With the Donation of Constantine, the imperial attributes had thus just been settled on the Roman pontiff at that moment when the actual emperor seemed to be farther and farther separated from the West. Master of Rome, the imperial city, emperor by virtue of insignia and symbols, the successor of Peter and of Sylvester was now a symbol of sovereignty in a sector of the old Empire. For centuries the imperial idea in the West would bear the consequences of the Constitutum Constantini.


The ideas which have been examined up to now were the ideas of the Romans. It is necessary now to ask what was the attitude of the Germans concerning the Empire.

Although before the invasions certain peoples [among the Germans] had been able to establish extended dominions, exceeding their primitive habitat, it seems well established that they did not originally possess a notion of Empire. Even when a superior power was elevated above the kings of the tribes, that power was lacking the essential attribute of the imperial function, its superior dignity or its excellence. Even the terms which in the Germanic language were used to designate the emperor were borrowed from the Greek (keisar, kesur, casere), which indicates more conclusively than any other proof that the notion of empire came to the Germans from the outside, from the Roman Empire.

Their attitude toward it was exceedingly variable. [A few German rulers] . . . seemed to have forseen the possibility of renewing the Empire and of engaging themselves in the ways of universalism. But the tendency which prevailed eventually was that of the Vandals, the Franks, and the Lombards, all pure conquerors, who created states completely foreign to the idea of Empire, and whose leaders soon considered themselves as the equals of the emperor. . . .

It is certain, on the other hand, that scholars living in the entourages of certain

9 The diadem referred to here was, of course, the royal crown, made of gold and precious stones; according to the Donation the Pope refused to wear the crown. The scepter was a straight staff; the emperor carried an eagle on the top of it but the Pope replaced that with a cross. The chlamys was a purple mantle, open on the right side and held together with a clasp at the right shoulder. The scarlet tunic was an outer garment which hung to the knees. Later papal attire was modeled on these imperial garments. [Editor's note]

barbarian kings did not hesitate to borrow from the imperial vocabulary certain terms thought proper to qualify the sovereignty of the barbarian kings. The chancellory of Theodoric, 10 who had however recognized the supremacy of the Byzantines, used the terms imperialis and imperium to designate the power of the king of the Goths, if not the territory over which that power was exercised. Toward the middle of the sixth century, the historian Jordanes spoke of the imperium when, concerning the pre-Italian past of the Gothic people, he recalls the gathering of different ethnic groups under Gothic direction. North of the Alps, the evocation of Rome and its Empire entered in as a means of especially glorifying the kings and showing them as the successors of emperors. One thinks of Clovis being described by Gregory of Tours 11 as the new Constantine, consul and Augustus. In Britain the memory of the promotion of certain individuals to the imperial rank in that island was projected at a later date to explain the hegemony which some of the Anglo-Saxon sovereigns exercised over their colleagues. [Certain Anglo-Saxon scholars] employed the term Imperium (Saxonum or Anglorum) to designate the power of a sovereign who had surpassed his original territory and imposed himself on other princes; thus, there was in a way a transfer into Anglo-Saxon Britain of the image of the Roman emperor having preponderance over the regna. Among the Franks, finally, the legends of the Trojan origins of the nation bear witness indeed to the intention to proclaim the equality of the two peoples and to assign to the Franks a place in the unfolding of universal history. In summary, it was through comparison, and indeed specifically comparison with Rome, that the ethnic pride of the Germans was best expressed.

Little sensitive to Roman universalism, these latter seemed to have been more touched by the idea of the Christian empire in the wider sense of the term as it has been defined above. Two circumstances especially permitted them to aspire to that level. On the one hand, each of these people, after its conversion to Roman Catholicism, was convinced that it constituted the elected nation, particularly dear to God; that tendency was especially clear among the Franks in the famous second prologue to the Salic law. 12 On the other hand, one should not forget the considerable influence exerted by the practice of royal anointment among the Visigoths in Spain from the seventh century on and among the Franks and Anglo-Saxons from the eighth century on. Intended in the case of the Franks in 751 to legitimatize the usurpation of Pepin and to replace the magic, pre-Christian virtue of the deposed dynasty by a new charism, the anointing expressed chiefly the choice which the Lord had made of a sovereign to reign over His people: the king is a Deo dilectus, a Deo electus [beloved by God, elected by God], before being called "king by the grace of God." Just as the Biblical kings, whose prestige shone on him, the Frankish sovereign had become by anointment the chosen of the Lord; into him had passed the Spirit of God; unction had made him a new man, the adopted son of the Almighty. Invested with a sacred function, he had become capable of exercising in his kingdom the prerogative which the emperor claimed in the Roman Empire: protection of the faith and defense of the Church. As leaders of Christian peoples and able to oppose their

10 King of the Ostrogoths ( 474-526); he led his people into Italy and conquered the peninsula in 493, after which date he was master of the political situation in the peninsula and one of the major powers in the West. [Editor's note]
11 A Frankish bishop and scholar (about 538593), who wrote a History of the Franks which supplies most of our information about this people and also a great deal of information about the nature of society in the sixth century. [Editor's note]
12 The prologue to this collection of Frankish law read in part as follows: "The illustrious tribe of the Franks, established by God the Creator, brave in war, faithful in peace, wise in counsel, of noble body, of immaculate purity, of choice physique, courageous, quick and impetuous, converted to the Catholic faith, free of heresy. . . . Such is the nation which, because they were courageous and strong, shook off the heavy yoke of the Romans in battle." [Editor's note]

own charism to the sacred tradition of the Roman emperor, the anointed kings thus found themselves qualified to participate in the government of the Christian Empire.

In conclusion, it is as though, between 476 and the time just preceding the coronation of Charlemagne, the imperial idea had gone through a very clear evolution of disassociation from the ancient heritage. The Roman Empire had, in a certain respect, both dissolved and extended into a Christian Empire, and that concept now primarily defines the political body of Christianity, just as the concept of the Church embodies the religious essence; that empire is the territory ruled by Christian kings. In Rome, where the liaison between the two universalisms -- Roman and Christian -- lived on, a rivalry had been opened between the head of the traditional Empire and that of the ecumenical Church. To what extent was a synthesis still possible between all these elements?


In the last years of the eighth century the term "Empire" began to appear in a few sources to designate the Frankish state. There is no doubt that at first that expression was meant only to mirror the power of that state. When Alcuin 13 speaks of the decus imperialis regni of his master, he finds that expression adequate to characterize the monarchy of Charlemagne which, by its size and brilliance, appeared to him worthy to bear a still more prestigious title. That Anglo-Saxon scholar who was accustomed to the imperial idea as it then existed in Britain happens from time to time to designate the Frankish state as an "Empire" when he is referring to its expansion and the domination which it exercised over many peoples. It is not to be thought, however, that Alcuin considered the king of the Franks as a kind of sovereign ruling over several lesser states, after the fashion of the Britains, 14 because the sovereignty of Charlemagne was, in reality, of an entirely different order.

It was different not only in its extent, but also by the profound substance which Christianity gave to it. Charlemagne was enveloped by the prestige, force, and symbolism of Biblical royalty. A new David, he is both rex et sacerdos, king and priest, as the bishops acclaimed him at the Council of Frankfort ( 794), using a formula created after the model of the Byzantinebasileus kai hierus. . . . Rex christianissimus [most Christian king], Charlemagne was the representative of Christ on earth, the triumphant emperor placed under His protection by the admirable Laudes [chants of praise] which were chanted to the king during the great liturgical festivals. They expressed recognition of the excellence of the royal power and of the protection which he received from the celestial powers. Patricius of the Romans, the king of the Franks was likewise the guardian of the Papacy. Because of all of these diverse titles, he was obliged to take charge of the interests of Christianity which he defended, as he said himself, outside, by arms, and within, by assuring the diffusion of the faith.

These circumstances explain a certain division in the concept of the Christian realm. Populus christianus [the Christian people] designated sometimes the totality of the Christian people over whom Charlemagne was celebrated as the rector and guide: and the term thus seems to approach to the level of universalism. On the other hand, and without ceasing sometimes to designate Christianity in all places, the idea of Imperium christianum tended more and more to concentrate on the Frankish monarchy as the domain of the Christian people par excellence. . . .

13 An Anglo-Saxon scholar ( 735-804), who for many years was one of Charlemagne's advisers and confidants. He was especially important in shaping Charlemagne's religious policy. Alcuin was instrumental in the cultural revival which began at Charlemagne's court; he was a prolific writer of instructional manuals and of theological tracts. His letters serve as an important source of information of the ideas of the late eighth century. [Editor's note]
14 See p. 11 above for a clarification of this point.

Might one, from this last representation of the Christian Empire, to the extent that it evidently signified more than simply a mission common to all sovereigns, pass to the idea of an Empire of Charlemagne? Certain indications would suggest that one could think thus, especially the insistence with which the expression reappears time after time in the writings of Alcuin in 799800, accompanied in some instances by an outline of the bond uniting the "Empire" of Charlemagne to that of the Romans, in others by a selection of titles which recall those of the Caesars. Nothing indicates, however, that such appeals acted directly on the spirit of Charlemagne. . . . In summary, the use of imperial terms which one observes before 800 in literary testimonials possesses hardly more than an evocative force. . . .


Many historians are convinced that Charlemagne provided the impetus for reviving the empire and that he did so primarily to fulfill his own ambitions and to slake his lust for glory. That viewpoint is expressed in the following selection by C. Delisle Burns ( 1879-1942), a British writer, whose career involved him in government service, in party work for the British Labor Party, and in lecturing in Ethics and Social Philosophy at the University of London. His discussion of the events leading up to the coronation of 800 will also supply a brief account of the major historical developments of the last half of the eighth century; these developments must be understood in order to realize the significance of the coronation of Charlemagne.

ON CHRISTMAS Day, A. D. 800, Charles the Great, the king of the Franks, was crowned as Emperor and Augustus in the basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican by Pope Leo III. 1 Each of the chief actors in this episode was playing a part. And in view of the later history of the Holy Roman Empire, which was supposed by some historians to have then come into existence, the parts make the play almost a comedy. But that is from the point of view of a much later age. At the time and throughout the Middle Ages, the majority of men who thought at all on such subjects, no doubt, seriously believed that Charles was a successor of the Emperor Augustus, and that the successor of St. Peter had the power to make him so.

It may be difficult in modern times to recognize the power of make-believe in the ninth century and the Middle Ages. The historical imagination was entirely lacking. The habits and customs of the ninth century could easily be confused with what was then supposed to have occurred in the first century, just as the Hebrew records of kings and prophets could be confused with the actions and policies of Germanic warriors and their bishops. Eight hundred years divided the first Augustus from Charles the Great, and Peter the Apostle from Pope Leo III; but perhaps both the Frankish king and the Pope were thinking chiefly of the last claimant to the title of Augustus at Constantinople, Constantine VI, who had been blinded by order of his devout Christian mother and deposed three years before, on August 18, 797. Charles the Great may have thought that he was a successor of that Augustus; but it is by no means certain that he himself' took his new titles as seriously as did some of his followers. He may have known that the pageant in which the part of Emperor had been assigned to him, had very little connection with real life. . . .

Charles the Great was a play-Emperor. The "Holy Roman Empire" in the West,

Reprinted by permission from C. Delisle Burns, The First Europe. A Study of the Establishment of Medieval Christendom, A.D. 400-800 ( London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1947), pp. 569-578, 580, 587-590, 593-599, 601-602, 605-614.

1 Charles the Great and not Charlemagne will be the name used here, because "Charlemagne" means the mythical figure of the romances.

throughout the Middle Ages, was an historical pageant, without any relation to the realities of the time. No doubt it was believed by some to be a continuation of that Empire which had disappeared in western Europe four centuries before Charles the Great. But that same Empire continued to exist in the East with its capital at Constantinople, as in the days of the first Christian Emperor; and both Charles and the Pope knew that the Roman Empire was actually in existence, with its central government and its military forces, at the time when the episode in the basilica of St. Peter's in Rome was being performed. It is impossible to believe that either the barbarian king or the Pope who had been lately rehabilitated by him, thought that the coronation in St. Peter's, either in right or in fact, transferred the central government of the Roman Empire from Constantinople to Rome. And neither their words nor acts, as recorded, give any ground for believing that they thought that they were establishing a new system of government.

The phrase "Holy Roman Empire" has misled some scholars and most popular historians. The Roman Empire, from its earliest days, continued to use the word "holy" (sanctus) in the sense familiar long before Christianity began. That Empire and its Emperors, as well as its chief officials, had always been called "holy," but not in the modern sense of that word. The word "sanctus" . . . meant "revered," or possessed of "uncanny power"; and the ghostly "Roman Empire" of the Middle Ages merely continued the phraseology of the real Empire. In the same sense, the See of the bishop of Rome was called the "Holy See" (sancta sedes) without exclusive reference to any moral quality. But the later development of the meaning of the word "sanctus" or "saint" led to the quite illegitimate distinction between an earlier "Roman Empire" and a later "Holy Roman Empire." No such distinction would have been intelligible to Charles the Great or Pope Leo III. Both of them were thinking of the only Emperor or Augustus who had ever existed, in an Empire which had always been called "holy."

It may be assumed as obvious that there never had been two Roman Empires -- one of the East and one of the West. In practice, as well as in theory, the whole Empire had, at certain times, been administered by two Emperors of equal authority, just as under the Roman Republic two consuls of equal authority had administered different parts of the Roman Dominions. Thus when the rule of the Roman Emperor ceased to exist in western Europe in A. D. 479, the Roman Empire continued unchanged, except for its lost territory. It is therefore quite misleading to speak of a western Roman Empire; and thus, when Justinian restored Italy and Africa to the Empire again, no "western" Empire came into existence. Charles the Great and Pope Leo III knew quite well that there was only one Roman Empire; but they may have imagined that two Emperors of equal authority could exist in the ninth century as in the fifth. Even if, however, that was their belief, they cannot have supposed that the people of Rome or the bishops of that city had any right or power to give to Charles, as Emperor and Augustus, control of the imperial system centred in Constantinople.

At the time of the coronation of Charles as Emperor, indeed, an Empress and not an Emperor reigned in Constantinople. The Empress Irene had dethroned her son, the Emperor, in A. D. 797; and then ruled alone. It is possible that there was a general feeling, especially in the West, that the imperial authority could not be rightly claimed by a woman in her own name. The negotiations of Charles the Great, with the view to his marriage with Irene, may also indicate that he intended to succeed Constantine as Emperor; but these negotiations came to nothing and, in any case, Charles the Great cannot have supposed that the bishop of Rome had the power to make him Emperor at Constantinople.

That no new institution was founded and no old one revived in A. D. 800 is proved by the action of those who bore the title of Emperor. Rome was never made the seat of imperial authority by Charles the Great or his successors. No "palace" (palatium) or central office was established in Rome. But the newly crowned "Emperor" returned immediately to his old seat of government at Aachen; and almost all the Frankish and other barbarian successors of the new Emperor resided and exerted what authority they had, north of the Alps. The conception of a Roman Empire, therefore, in western Europe during the Middle Ages, was entirely fantastic; and the ceremony which was supposed to found that Empire in A. D. 800 was as fantastic as any of the documents to which the ninth century gave birth -- the false Decretals and the rest.

What then made it possible to impose upon western Europe a play-Emperor? The steps made in conscious policy by the kings of the Franks and the Popes of the eighth century were, no doubt, the chief causes of the coronation of Charles the Great as "Emperor." Conscious policy on the part of the Popes, as described in the last chapter, had led to their centralization of control over the Latin Churches. And conscious policy, especially on the part of the usurper, Pippin the Frank, led to an extension of the Dominions of his descendants. But before discussing the character and purpose of any such conscious policy, it is useful to notice, as in the case of the Papacy, the more indefinite forces which tended to support the idea of a new kind of Emperor.


In the first place, the prestige of imperial Rome had never entirely faded from the minds of the kings of the Franks. It is said by Gregory of Tours that in A. D. 508 Clovis, when he returned from his victory over the Visigoths, assumed the title of "Augustus"; and although such an act may seem to have been ridiculous, there is no reason to doubt that either Clovis actually adopted the title or was generally believed, in Gregory's day, to have done so. When Hincmar, archbishop of Reims in the ninth century, wrote the life of his predecessor, St. Remy, he compared Clovis to Constantine the Great and St. Remy to Pope Silvester, baptizing the Emperor. Thus the prestige of imperial Rome was used for many generations by the Frankish kings as an instrument of their policy.

The interest in imperial Rome, however, as contrasted with ecclesiastical Rome, revived in northern Europe most vigorously under Charles the Great. Charles collected at his Court scholars from different countries, whose one common interest was the revival of Latin literature and learning. The king and his closest friends among these scholars shared a very simple form of humorous intercourse, in which each person was given a nickname. Thus Charles himself was referred to as "David" or "Solomon," and sometimes, in verses, as "Augustus" -meaning "revered majesty" or as "Caesar." This family name thus began its career as the title of a monarch, to be transformed later into "Kaiser" and "Tsar." Adalhard, Abbot of Corbie, was called "Antonius"; Alcuin was called "Flaccus"; and Angilbert 2 was called "Homer." Again, in Angilbert poem, "Charles the Great and Pope Leo", written just before the coronation of A. D. 800, Charles is said to have established a "second Rome," with a "forum and sacred senate" and marble halls and aqueducts all of which is taken word for word from the first book of Virgil Aeneid. The verses of Alcuin and Angilbert and Theodulf of Orleans 3 are full of phrases taken from Virgil and Ovid. And the Life of Charles the Great by Einhard, also a member of his Court, is a patchwork of quotations from Suetonius Lives of the Caesars. Evidently the Court of Charles the Great enjoyed "make-believe," as children do. They knew they were pretending; and yet, like children, they were not very certain where pretence ended and reality began. But in

2 An abbot (about 740-814) who was one of Charles's chief advisers and a leading poet in the circle of intellectuals and artists that gathered at Charles's court. [Editor's note]
3 Another close adviser of Charlemagne and an important figure in the court circle of intellectuals. [Editor's note]

the minds of them all the life and literature of early imperial Rome had a profound significance.


Christian Rome -- the Rome of the martyrs and successors of St. Peter -- had also an influence upon the kings of the Franks. When Charles Martel was in conflict with the older Churches of Gaul or western France (Francia occidentalis) his support of the missionary bishops in Germany or eastern France (francia orientalis) brought him into direct contact with the Roman See, because these bishops looked to Rome to direct their policy of reform and missionary work. Again when Pippin, the son of Charles Martel, decided to usurp the throne, he is said to have appealed to the bishop of Rome for a judgment upon his rights. But Christian Rome exerted an even greater influence in north-western Europe, as a source from which the relics of martyrs could be brought. Thus both Gregory of Tours and Bede 4 report travels of envoys from the North seeking relics in Rome. As early as the fifth century Prudentius 5 wrote: "It is hardly known how full Rome is of buried saints -- how richly the city's soil blossoms with sacred tombs. . . ."


The unconscious tendencies which drove the Roman Church towards the establishment of a new Emperor were probably these. First, an increasing need for an alternative to the Emperor at Constantinople as protector and defender. This need, as it will be shown later, was hardly conscious in the Roman See before the middle of the eighth century; and it cannot be said that, at any stage, the Popes deliberately substituted any other civil authority for that of the Roman Emperor. Nevertheless the conquests of the Mohammedans and the weakness of the Government at Constantinople in defence of its Italian dependencies undermined the respect which the Popes continued to show for the Roman Emperor. Pope Stephen had appealed to the Emperor at Constantinople before he sent his first appeal to Pippin, king of the Franks. But the Emperor failed him. Secondly, the desire to promote unity among the Latin Churches, which led to the establishment of the medieval Papacy, also created a tendency in the Roman Church to support any movement which might lead to a unity of the civil and military authorities in western Europe. Obviously it would obstruct the unity of the Churches if the bishops in the different kingdoms or dukedoms found their kings or dukes at war one with another. It is a difficulty which the Christian Churches have not yet solved. Although war between Christian nations may not theoretically affect the Christianity of either side, clearly the bishops of one area could not practically oppose the military policy of the king on whom they depended. And because bishops and abbots as landowners had to supply military forces, even when they did not lead them to battle -- as some did in defiance of the canons -- the Churches were so closely associated with the military lordships of the day that continuous war naturally tended to divide the Churches of one area from those of another. It was natural, therefore, for the Church in Rome, representing the unity of the Christian Churches, to desire to unite all Christian kings. But unity in the eighth century and throughout the Middle Ages was assumed to involve subordination to the authority of one person. This assumption was partly due to the tradition of imperial Rome and partly due to the primitive conception that the ideal unity of men was like that of a war-band under its leader. This primitive conception in the ninth century was naturally stronger among peoples east

4 English monk and Scholar (673-735) who wrote extensively on a wide range of subjects and whose works were widely used as textbooks by later generations. His chief work was the Ecclesiastical History of the English People. [Editor's note]
5 Christian poet of the late fourth and early fifth century; his works included hymns, saints' lives, and theological treatises. [Editor's note]

of the Rhine than it was in the older civilization further west. The conception that an Empire, including many kingdoms or superior to them, is desirable, is not explicitly stated before the coronation of Charles the Great. But there was clearly an unconscious tendency in this direction, which affected the Popes in the second half of the eighth century, because of their desire to use any means for preserving and increasing the unity of the Churches. This same tendency to seek unity for the Christian Churches by means of political unity under one ruler certainly affected Alcuin and his friends at the Court of Charles the Great. The letters of Alcuin show that, as a good churchman and as abbot and teacher in the monastery of St. Martin at Tours, his chief interest was the unity and reform of the Church. There is no proof that he ever imagined that a revived Roman Empire would assist the Church; but undoubtedly, as will be shown later, he believed that the extension of the power and prestige of his friend, the king of the Franks, would promote peace in the Church. All the bishops and abbots of the ninth century, in Rome and northwestern Europe, who desired the reform of the Church, were affected by the same tendencies, which eventually produced the medieval Empire.


A third unconscious tendency leading towards the medieval conception of an Empire was due to the influence of what may be called "the new North." As late as the middle of the sixth century, writers in most of western Europe still seemed to have thought of Roman civilization as dependent upon the connection between the East and the West or the Greeks and the Latins, embodied most clearly in the connection between old Rome and new Rome. Even when in the seventh century the bishop of Rome had come to be known, among bishops in the West, as above all others, "Apostolicus" and "Pope," the connection between Pope and Emperor, between supreme power in the spiritual and supreme power in the temporal sphere, meant the relationship between the Latin Churches and the Roman Emperor then reigning at Constantinople. But while the conscious policy of the Churches in Italy and Spain was still affected by the traditional respect for the Emperor in the East, unconsciously the influence of writers, missionaries, bishops and abbots in northern Gaul (or Francia), in England and in Ireland had made a deep impression on all the Latin Churches and particularly the Church of Rome. Before the eighth century the chief influences affecting the thought and policy of the Roman Church had come either from Africa or from Syria and Alexandria. By the middle of the eighth century, however, the chief influences were coming from northern France and England. . . . But the result was that these countries, newly conquered for the Roman See and now producing their own literature, brought their influence to bear upon all the Latin Churches, including that of Rome. Therefore, by the middle of the eighth century, an unconscious tendency had begun to operate which made men look from Rome, not eastwards, but northwards, in their conceptions of Catholic Christianity. At the end of the eighth century, Paris, Tours, Reims, Canterbury, York, and afterwards Mainz and Cologne, had become centres of Christian life, replacing, at any rate for the Latin Churches, the African and Asiatic cities which had been reduced to subjection by Mohammedan invaders. In that atmosphere -- the new currents of doctrine and practice flowing from the North -- conscious policy was devised and carried out. . . .


The steps taken by those in control of social power, which led eventually to the crowning of Charles the Great, may be shortly described as follows. They are all connected with the three names -- Charles Martel, Pippin his son, and Charles the Great his grandson. It is the story of the conquest of supreme power by a Frankish family, of its entanglement in Italian rival- ries and of the final acceptance of a theocratic authority, as a method of preserving and extending military conquests. Conscious policy was that of barbarian warriors who could extend their power by armed force but found, as all barbarians are surprised to find, that they could not hold their conquests except by acquiring some moral authority. . . .

[EDITOR'S NOTE : As a first step in the rise of the Carolingian dynasty, Burns discusses the career of Charles Martel, emphasizing his struggles to curb forces of disorder within his realm, his defense of the Frankish kingdom against the infidel Moslems and the pagan Saxons, and his championship of the papal missionary work among the Germans.]


The next step in the formation of the imperial idea was taken by Pippin, the son of Charles Martel. The expedition against the Lombards in Italy, which Gregory III had asked Charles to undertake, was eventually led into Italy by Pippin in A. D. 754; but not before the Pope, Stephen II, had travelled North to make intercession himself with Pippin. By this time Pippin had been already crowned and anointed by St. Boniface as king of the Franks . . . and the Pope himself again anointed Pippin and his two sons at the monastery of St. Denis on January 6, 754. In the early summer after an assembly of the Franks, at which the policy was opposed by Frankish nobles, Pippin advanced into Italy and laid siege to Pavia, the Lombard capital. The Pope returned to Rome in October of that year; and from this time the king of the Franks was addressed in papal letters as Patricius Romanorum. The Lombard king had agreed to yield some territories over which the Pope claimed authority; but two years later, in A. D. 756, he laid siege to Rome itself.

The title Patricius or "patrician" was apparently conferred on the Frankish king by the Pope, on his own authority. In theory it was a title of an imperial official of high standing, like the exarch at Ravenna, directly subordinate to the Emperor at Constantinople. There was, for example, a Patrician of Sicily; but, in theory, the highest civil and military authority in the Roman duchy was the Duke of Rome (Dux Romae). Once more, as in the chronicler's tradition about Charles Martel, a Pope offered an imperial title to a Frankish leader, as a reward for armed assistance. But Pippin himself seems never to have accepted or used the title Patricius officially. Evidently there was some difference between the policy of the king and that of the Pope with regard to the Roman Emperor. Pippin was moving carefully. In A. D. 756 he had taken Ravenna, the seat of imperial authority in Italy, from the Lombards; and he had left in control of it, not the Emperor but the Pope. In A. D. 762, however, he sent a friendly embassy to Constantinople and received in return, a few years later, an embassy from the Emperor, raising the question of the marriage of Pippin's daughter to the Emperor's son. Finally in A. D. 767 a council or synod was held at Gentilly, at which discussions arose, according to the earliest Chronicle, "between the Romans and the Greeks about the Holy Trinity and about images." The king of the Franks, besides negotiating an imperial connection for his family, was evidently becoming involved in the controversies about images, in which the Emperor at Constantinople led the opposition to the use of images.

The position of the Frankish king was therefore ambiguous, when Pippin died in A. D. 768 and was succeeded by his two sons Carloman and Charles, later called the Great. Meantime the violent struggles of rival Popes in Rome had ended with the election of Pope Stephen III, in whose name a letter and embassy had been sent to the Frankish king, explaining the situation. The two young kings who then divided the Frankish kingdom were in some way concerned with the mission of bishops from their kingdom who met the Italian bishops at the Council of the Lateran in A. D. 769. But Frankish policy was not advanced to a new stage until a new and more vigorous Pope, Hadrian I ( A. D. 772- 795), appealed to Charles the Great for help against the Lombards.


Carloman had died; and the intricate policies of the Lombard king, as protector of his sons, cannot be discussed here. Charles, in fact, was the recognized king of all the Frankish territories. At the request of Pope Hadrian he led his armies into northern Italy -- this time not as a punitive expedition, but for the conquest of the Lombard kingdom. Charles, already holding the title of Patrician of the Romans, left his armies besieging the Lombard king in his capital, Pavia, and unlike his father, Pippin, he entered Rome himself at Easter A. D. 774. At some distance from the city he was received by Pope Hadrian and citizens of Rome with the ceremony traditionally used for the welcome of an Exarch -not an Emperor. Before he left Rome the Pope presented him with a copy of the collection of canons, based upon the translation made by Dionysius the Little. This collection had great influence in confirming the authority of the Roman Church as a source of reform among the Frankish Churches. Finally Charles confirmed the donation of his father, Pippin; but, after victory against the Lombards, himself adopted the title of king of the Lombards.

An entirely new situation had arisen. The Frankish defender of the Papacy was now in control of large areas in northern Italy; and his armed forces were within easy reach of Rome. Hitherto all Papal letters, even those addressed to the king of the Franks, were dated by the years of the reign of the Roman Emperor; but the last Papal letter still existing, which was so dated, is Habrian's letter of A. D. 772. The Papacy no longer looked to "the Greeks." During the next twenty years Charles the Great moved with his armies from one frontier of his kingdoms to another, in recurrent warfare with the Saracens in the South and the pagans of the North-East; but he always held military control of northern and central Italy.

For explaining the policy which led to the medieval Empire, it is not necessary to describe in detail the campaigns of Charles the Great. It is enough to say that he extended the areas over which Charles Martel had ruled to the south of the Pyrenees -- against the Saracens, and northeast, to the Elbe, against the Saxons, besides securing some control over the Slav tribes who lived beyond the Germanic peoples in the East of what we now call Germany. He was believed later and may have believed himself to have been "the defender of the Faith" against the Mohammedans who could not be converted, and the pagans of the North who could at least be baptized. The famous defeat of the Franks at Roncesvalles, in an early retirement from Spain, was followed many years after by an extension of the frontiers controlled by Louis, the son of Charles, as far as the Ebro. Even that, however, was due to disputes between Mohammedan chieftains rather than to the prowess of the Franks; and Charles was willing enough to receive embassies of peace both from the Mohammedan rulers of southern Spain and from Haroun-al-Raschid, the Caliph of Baghdad ( A. D. 763-809).

The "defender of the Faith" had more trouble with the pagans in the North. Whenever he was away from his northern territories bands of Saxons would raid Frankish settlements; and for many years Charles led punitive expeditions into the forests and marshes inhabited by the Saxon tribes. . . .

The efforts of Charles the Great to subdue the Saxons and other non-Christian tribes in Germany continued until the very end of his life and left the Frankish kingdom, east of the Rhine, with an unsolved problem. The frontier was not secure; and those living within it had racial and linguistic connections with non-Christian tribes living outside it. In the South-West, on the other hand, that is to say in Spain, the frontier was more securely guarded; and the Frankish rulers and their subjects were clearly divided from the population ruled by adherents of a new and militant religion. On the whole, therefore, the king of the Franks could be reasonably regarded as the leader and defender of Christendom in that First Europe of the North-West in which the foundations of medieval custom and belief were established.


With such prestige as a leader Charles the Great supported his policy in Italy, which led directly to his adoption of the title of Emperor. It has been shown above that his first visit to Rome in A. D. 774 established a close connection between himself and the Pope. It is now necessary to discuss the three later visits which Charles the Great made to Rome in A. D. 781, A. D. 786 and A. D. 800. While the difficulties with the Saxons still embarrassed the Frankish king, an embassy of Mohammedan chiefs from Spain had come to Charles at Paderborn and induced him to undertake an expedition into Spain, which ended in a retreat and the disastrous defeat of a rearguard at Roncesvalles ( August 15, 778). But in addition to raiding expeditions in the South-West and North-East, Charles as king of the Lombards found it necessary to lead his forces into Italy in A. D. 780; and in that year he issued the Capitulary in which an attempt was made to organize the Churches of northern Italy. The Easter of A. D. 781 was kept by Charles at Rome; and the presence of an ambitious and powerful Frankish king in Italy, no doubt, attracted the attention of the imperial Court at Constantinople, which still controlled Venice, Sicily and some parts of southern Italy. Irene, the mother of the Emperor, was then in control of imperial policy; and in A. D. 781 negotiations were begun for the marriage of Charles's daughter, Rotruda, to the young Emperor Constantine VI. According to Theophanes, the Greek historian, a secretary, who was a eunuch from the imperial Court, was sent "to teach the young lady Greek literature and speech and to educate her in the manners and customs of the Roman Empire." It will be noticed that the language of the Court was Greek and the title of the. Court was Roman. But similar contrasts have occurred in later history. There is an Empire which is called "British," whose language and customs are those of Saxons. The ancestors of the English destroyed the Britons or reduced them to slavery; but modern Saxons called themselves Britons. Similarly in the ninth century, when there were no more Romans, the Greeks in Constantinople called their Empire "Roman" and their ruler a Roman Emperor.

The plan of marrying his daughter to the Emperor shows that Charles was at this date inclined to forestall any suspicions of his policy in Italy, which the imperial Authorities might entertain. On the other hand, Irene, the mother of the Emperor, seems to have been inclined to maintain peace with the most powerful king in the West. The marriage of their daughters by ambitious kings was an element of policy.

In A. D. 781, in Rome Pope Hadrian at St. Peter's in the Vatican crowned two of Charles's seven legitimate sons -- Pippin, then three years old, as king of the Lombards, and Louis, who was two years old, as king of the Franks. In this same year the letters of the papal Chancellery began to be dated, not in reference to the Emperor's reign, but by the year succeeding the Pope's accession. The Papacy had become antiimperial, since the controversy about the worship of images; but Charles the Great was evidently not pursuing the same policy. So far as the situation in A. D. 781 was concerned, the Papacy might have become an entirely independent power with a policy of its own.

For the third time in A. D. 786 Charles the Great led an expedition into Italy, this time against the duke of Benevento -- thus extending his rule into southern Italy, in spite of military and naval support of the duke, sent by the imperial Authorities from Constantinople. During this expedition also, Charles entered Rome, but departed again northwards without making any important change in his relations with the Papacy. In A. D. 787, however, the controversy about the worship of images reached a new stage in the East. The second Council of Nicaea met in that year and restored in the Greek Churches the worship of images, thus reversing the policy of the Emperors, which had been initiated in A. D. 726. For more than thirty years most of the Greek Churches had been without images or pictures of devotion. But the policy of Iconoclasm was evidently due, at least in part, to the direct influence of Emperors who came from Asia Minor and were soldiers rather than theologians. Its purpose seems to have been, first to establish some sort of compromise with Mohammedan and Jewish influences which was affecting the Emperors' subjects in Asia Minor and, secondly, to express the submerged tradition of nonHellenic Christian Churches in the East. . . . The Christianity of the Greek-speaking Churches was regarded as oriental by the Roman and other Latin Churches of the West; but from the point of view of Syrian, Armenian and other non-Hellenic Churches, the Greek-speaking Churches were "Western." The hostility to the use of images in churches may, therefore, have been not only a concession to the followers of Mohammed but also the expression of hostility to the Greek tradition, established long before the Christian era, which accepted the representation of the divine in human form. But at last in A. D. 787, largely under the influence of the Empress Irene, herself a Greek, images and pictures were restored in the churches of the eastern Mediterranean by the canons of the second Council of Nicaea. The decrees of this Council were approved by Pope Hadrian; and forwarded by him to Charles the Great.

The king of the Franks, however, at first adopted a policy of opposition to that expressed in the decrees of the second Council of Nicaea. The so-called "Caroline Books" (Libri Carolini), issued under Charles's authority, contained not merely an attack on the worship of images but also a criticism of the claims of imperial Authority in Constantinople with respect to Christian doctrine and practice. The argument against images in the "Caroline Books" rests largely upon interpretations of certain passages from the Old Testament, and is evidently intended to support the compromise with Mohammedan and Jewish prejudices which the Emperors had followed before Irene took control into her own hands. It is also possible that the northern scholars and clergy at Charles's Court were conscious of the dangers of idolatry among the recently converted Germanic tribes, and therefore did not feel at ease with the growing attention to sacred images in the Latin Churches. Charles himself sent the "Caroline Books" to Pope Hadrian, which implies a rebuke to the Roman Church for its maintenance of the ecclesiastical use of images. The king of the Franks was evidently beginning to hold a more extensive view of the rights and duties of a defender of the Faith. But the Pope replied in a long and conclusive letter, rejecting the arguments of the "Caroline Books." The Roman Church had decided to maintain a compromise between the extreme interpretations of the Nicene canons and the fear of image-worship in the northern Churches.

The situation in Constantinople changed again in A. D. 790, when Irene discovered a plot against her authority and had her son, the Emperor Constantine VI, then twenty years of age, beaten like a naughty child, for his suspected connection with it. Two years later, under Irene's direction, the Emperor's uncle was blinded and his four brothers had their tongues cut out. The news evidently strengthened, in the West, the distaste for Irene's policy, in spite of the fact that she was regarded by the Authorities in the Latin Churches as orthodox on the question of images.

The next step in the development of the policy of Charles the Great was the calling of the Council of Frankfurt in A. D. 794. This Council included bishops or representatives from all the Latin Churches, two legates from the Pope and some scholars from the English Church, but none from the Churches in the East. As Paulinus, patriarch of Aquileia, writes in his report to the Council on the question at issue -the Spanish heresy of Adoptianism -- "a multitude of bishops obeying the sacred precepts met with the least possible delay in one Convention under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and from zeal of the Catholic Faith, which moved the glorious King Charles, lord of the earth, by decree of his authority in the many provinces of the kingdom which are subject to him. On a certain day when all were seated in the Council chamber of the palace priests, deacons and all the clergy being present in the circle, in the presence also of the abovementioned prince, a letter was read from Elipandus 6. . . and the venerable prince rising at once from the throne, stood on the dais and delivered a long address on the Faith."

The report by Paulinus ends with a prayer for Charles the Great -- "May he be lord and father, king and priest, the reconciling ruler of all Christians." The king of the Franks had therefore become, six years before his coronation in Rome, the holder of a sacred office and the ruler of "all Christians"; but obviously his subjects did not include the Christians of England, Ireland, or of the eastern Churches. After receiving other reports on the heresy under discussion, the Council of Frankfurt condemned Adoptianism, accepted the decision on images of the second Council of Nicaea and enacted various disciplinary canons. . . . The many different subjects dealt with in the canons indicate the various problems with which this council of bishops was concerned, under the supervision of Charles the Great.


In the year following the Council of Frankfurt, Pope Hadrian died and was succeeded by Leo III ( A. D. 795-816). The new Pope at once sent an embassy to Charles the Great to announce his election and to present to him the keys of the "Confession" of St. Peter and the banner of the city of Rome. Leo evidently intended to carry on the policy of Hadrian. But events in Constantinople drastically altered the situation, at any rate in the minds of Charles and his advisers. In A. D. 797 the Emperor, Constantine VI, was blinded by order of his mother, who thrust him from the imperial throne and assumed supreme authority herself. Irene favoured the worship of images and was supported by the monks and most of the clergy in the East. She might, therefore, have expected support for her policy in the West. But evidently the violent deposition of an Emperor by his own mother and the assumption by a woman, for the first time in history, of supreme authority in the Roman Empire, caused consternation among those who followed public policy.

Two years later a still greater shock to sentiment in the North affected the situation. Pope Leo III, going in procession at the Greater Litanies, April 25, 799, was set upon by officials of the Roman Church, relatives of the late Pope, who beat him to the ground and attempted to tear out his eyes and tongue. They left him for dead. But his own friends rescued him; and he fled as a suppliant to Charles the Great at Paderborn. Charles received him with honour. . . .

A Pope suppliant at the Court of a Frankish king, asking to be restored to his authority over his rebellious subjects, created a new situation, of which Charles was evidently not unwilling to take advantage. He sent the Pope back to Rome under the protection of Frankish armed forces and himself followed with his Court and retainers, reaching Rome on November 24, 800. For some weeks consultations or discussions of policy were carried on in Rome. The opponents of the Pope had charged him with perjury, adultery and other crimes; and had excused their violence as a legitimate rebellion against tyranny. The king of the Franks, who had restored the Pope and was now in control of the city of Rome, evi-

6 A Spanish clergyman (about 717-808), archbishop of Toledo, who was the leading advocate of the Adoptionist heresy. [Editor's note]

dently could not altogether disregard the charges brought against Leo. But there was no attempt to set up any public court or council for a decision of the case; and on December 23, 800, in St. Peter's in the presence of Charles and his warriors, the Pope swore a solemn oath rebutting all the charges against him. . . .


The play at this point reaches the scene in St. Peter's when Charles was crowned by the Pope; but so many different interpretations have been placed upon what occurred, that it may be well to state explicitly what explanation will be given below. In the view here maintained the coronation was arranged beforehand between the Pope and Charles, and was probably the outcome of the policy, not of the Pope but of Charles himself. Secondly, the ceremony was intended by Charles to indicate the assumption of a title, and not the establishment of an institution -- still less the claim to control an ancient institution already in existence, the Roman Empire. Thirdly, the title was intended to add prestige to the king of the Franks in all his territories indeed but primarily to express his new position in relation to the Pope. It implied the recognition of a higher status than that of Patrician; and from the Pope's point of view, it expressed the assumption that the king of the Franks was the official protector of the Papal territories. . . .


But what actual title had Charles been given in the West? The earliest accounts say that "the Roman faithful" or "the whole Roman people" cried out -- "Long live the Emperor." That is to say, the title referred only to his relation with the clergy and people of the city of Rome, and expressed only a change from the title of "patricius." It did not refer to the whole western world. Charles remained king of the Franks and Lombards; and in addition he was Emperor in the city of Rome. But in the later accounts "the whole Christian people" asked him to be their Emperor -- a wholly fantastic idea.

The title of Emperor and Augustus, adopted by Charles, although it had little or no reference to the Roman Empire, undoubtedly added and was intended to add dignity or prestige to the barbarian king of the Franks. Like his predecessors, Alaric and Theodoric, 7 Charles was willing enough to dress himself in the Roman fashion, at any rate on the Roman stage. But besides prestige, the new title, no doubt, expressed the king's new position in relation to the Pope. As Patricius he could not claim so definite a status as an Augustus. But the title of Emperor gave Charles at least the conventional right of being informed at each election of a Pope; and it gave the Pope a right to regard him as protector of the , Church of the city of Rome. Again, the new title expressed no additional power, but a new relationship between the king of the Franks and all Christians in the West. From this time the ruler of the Franks, whether in western France or eastern France (Francia orientalis) -- Germany, was regarded as protector of Christians in the Holy Land and other Mohammedan territories. The "whole Christian people," to which the documents of the early ninth century refer as the "faithful" (fideles) of Charles the Great, are now confined to the Latin Churches which from this date called themselves -- using a Greek word -- "Catholic." And this word, in the Middle Ages, continued to be used to distinguish the Churches of the West from the Christian Churches of the East -- Latin from the Greek Christianity. Nobody after the ninth century would have dreamt of including among the "faithful" of Charles in the "Catholic" Church the subjects of the Roman Emperor who were members of the Greek Churches. The attitude and policy of Charles the

7 Alaric was the king of the Visigoths when this barbarian nation sacked Rome in A.D. 410. Theodoric, the king of the Ostrogoths, led his nation against Italy in A.D. 489 and from A.D. 493 until his death in A.D. 526 he was the actual ruler of Italy. [Editor's note]

Great, after his assumption of the new title, are indicated by his actions during the thirteen years of his life, remaining after the year A. D. 800. He never returned to Rome; nor did he treat it as a capital in any sense, although he left his agents (missi) there. He governed his dominions chiefly from his residence at Aachen, holding his councils there, and issuing from the palatium there his general Capitulary and his orders to his officials. The Frankish kingdom, indeed, and its subordinate kingdoms of Lombardy and Aquitaine had no capitals in the civilized sense of the word. The king of the Franks remained the leader of warbands and their attendant clergy, whose central office (palatium) moved with him on his expeditions or in his changes from one royal residence to another. . . .

In A. D. 814 Charles the Great died; and Louis the Pious succeeded to his throne as king of the Franks. But in A. D. 816 Louis was again crowned, this time by Pope Stephen IV -- and at Reims, not at Rome. Louis, however, continued the practice of his father; and in A. D. 817 after a general Congress, held at Aachen, he crowned his own eldest son, making him a "partner of his own title and Empire." He also named his two other sons "kings" -- one of Aquitaine and the other of Bavaria. Coronation, therefore, had not yet become an act of papal authority and was still considered as the transference of a title. As late as A. D. 823, when Pope Paschal crowned Lothair 8 in Rome, the Chronicler says that "he received the crown of the kingdom and the title of Emperor and Augustus." Clearly neither Charles nor his immediate successors thought of an Empire in the modern sense of the word, nor even in the old Roman sense. Political authority implied the existence of a kingdom whose ruler might or might not be given the title of Emperor or Augustus, just as he might be called "Caesar," without any clear reference either to the original holders of that name or to its later meaning under Diocletian.

If anything more were needed to show that Charles the Great did not establish an Empire, and was not in anything but name an Emperor, a brief review of the actual situation in which he left Europe would be conclusive. There was no capital or permanent centre of administration and law. The old barbarian custom continued of moving the king's officials and retinue from villa to villa. It made no difference in practice that a villa or country residence of a king might be called a "palace" (palatium). Indeed, this use of the word is merely another sign of make-believe by which the central offices of ancient Rome on the Palatine Hill gave their name to any of the scattered houses of a barbarian chieftain. Again there was no central administration. The king's agents (missi dominici) were quite unable to control the counts or other local landowners who had established themselves in almost independent power over different districts. Worse still, there was no permanent armed force, either for internal order or for defence against foreign enemies. Charles the Great followed the old practice of summoning for an expedition as many armed men as he could collect in the early summer, and of allowing them to return to their scattered homes in the autumn. He did, indeed, attempt to establish small permanent outposts on his northeastern frontier, manned by counts and their armed retainers; but that there was no single defensive system is proved by the number of expeditions the king had to make, to help these outposts. Finally, in the system established or rather continued under Charles the Great, there was none of that "providence" (providentia) with which the Emperor was credited under the old Roman system. He made no roads. His system of government did not require them. He conceived a plan of a canal between the Main and Danube; but when the work was begun, it was abandoned because the sides fell in, owing to the lack of competent workers. He repaired the old Roman harbour at Boulogne, but seems never to have grasped the need

8 The oldest son of Emperor Louis the Pious; after 840 he became ruler of a part of Louis' empire and bearer of imperial title. [Editor's note]

for new harbours, as a protection against the raids of the Northmen. He did, indeed, give money and land for the building and maintenance of churches and monasteries -which may be taken to correspond to the building of temples and public baths by the Roman Emperors; but the administration of what would now be called "social services" was in the hands of the clergy and not of the kings or his counts.

In short, Charles the Great, stripped of the romances which adorned. "Charlemagne," was simply a barbarian warrior of great energy, limited intelligence, no education and great simplicity of mind. Like Clovis, three hundred years before him, he believed that he could promote Christianity in the form familiar to him by killing some of those who had never heard of it and compelling the others to be baptized. He was intelligent enough to appreciate the services of scholars and to support their efforts for the promotion of learning and music among the clergy. His ambitions and ideals were those of a barbarian chieftain; and his leisure was spent in hunting and swimming. He was frugal in food and drink and clothing, but somewhat expansive in his affections. The number of his concubines and illegitimate children is not known; and he enjoyed having about him all his daughters. But in an age in which savage cruelty and reckless treachery were not uncommon, even at the Court of the Roman Emperor, which claimed to be the centre of civilized life, Charles the Great was exceptional in attracting faithful supporters and in exciting admiration for the power of his personality.

He was a sincere Christian, in one of the many different meanings of that word. His correspondence shows that he was interested in the peculiar habits of the moon, in the status of the Holy Ghost, in the restriction of the use of religious pictures and in the correct method of administering Baptism. He was not interested in the more subtle moral issues which perhaps would have seemed important to Paulinus of Nola or to St. Boniface. He is said by Einhard to have listened with attention to the reading of St. Augustine City of God and to have kept a writing tablet under his pillow at night, in order to practise writing the alphabet, which he never succeeded in doing. He spoke usually his own Germanic dialect but could speak Latin also fluently; and he understood Greek, although he could not speak it. He extended the dominions which Frankish warriors and churchmen controlled; but he left them so badly organized that soon after his death they were continually troubled by civil war and so badly defended that they were raided year after year by the Northmen and by the Saracens.


. . . The conclusions to be drawn are as follows. The Carolingian "Empire," or at least the adoption of the titles "Augustus" and "Emperor," was an attempt to use the prestige of Rome for the support of a military system. The Frankish kings took advantage of the work of the Christian missionaries in Germany and of the Roman Church in Italy. The coronation of an "Emperor" was a kind of consecration, giving moral authority to military power by connecting it with Christian Rome -- the Rome of the martyrs and apostles. Charles the Great, no doubt, was a sincere Christian, in his understanding of Christianity. He honestly believed, as many medieval warriors and kings did after him, that his wars were waged in the interests of Christianity, even when he attacked a Christian and Catholic king of the Lombards or duke of Benevento. The Christian Churches of Germany and France did indeed derive some advantage from the support given by Charles the Great to missionaries and reformers. And it is difficult to disentangle the motives of any man who has great power over his fellows. Charles may have thought of himself sometimes as the instrument of Christian Rome. But clearly he was never a passive instrument controlled by the policy of others. He expressed definite ideas of his own on ecclesiastical and even theo- logical matters. It is, therefore, probable that he, like his father and grandfather, was not unaware of the use to which Christianity could be put in extending his conquests. The Christianity, for example, imposed by Charles the Great upon the Saxons was not "a way of life" supported by reasoning on evidence, but submission to a military leader and his ecclesiastical and lay officials.

But the titles "Augustus" and "Emperor" were not Christian in origin; and the second was definitely military. The prestige attached to them therefore came, not from Christian, but from pre-Christian imperial Rome. indeed, difficulties arose in later times from the doubt whether the successor of St. Peter could have any power to confer a title which had existed before Christianity was accepted by the Emperors. In the ninth century Frankish poets described the transfer of power from the Romans to the Franks, as if the Franks had inherited a universal dominion which the Romans had transferred to them. Again Hincmar, in his life of St. Remy, says that the Franks came from Troy, as the Romans did, and that the Emperor Valentinian named them "Franks," "using the Greek word which means fierce." The Franks were, therefore, associated with the Romans as warriors and conquerors, not as makers of laws or of roads.

But the prestige of imperial Rome, in the ninth century and indeed in later times, perhaps even until modern times, had two very different meanings. The Roman Empire, to which medieval Europe looked back, was in fact both a military system of conquest and a civilian system of law and of administration. The Rome to which Charles the Great looked back was military, even if the sword was now in the service of St. Peter and not of the Caesars. But the Rome which remained the traditional source of the civilization of Gaul, surviving in Neustria or western France, was civilian -- the Rome of law, administration and trade. The contrast between these two aspects of the Roman system in the minds of men in the ninth century must not be exaggerated. No doubt, Charles the Great was influenced by Roman Emperors as law-givers when he issued his Capitularies. But he was, above all, a soldier -- a leader of expeditions against the Saracens and against the Saxons -- a successor therefore of Alaric and Theodoric, as well as of Roman Emperors who had extended the Empire. . . .


Some historians believe that the events of 800 signified more than a naked attempt to enhance the power and prestige of an already success- ful warrior-king. A leading exponent of a broader interpretation of the imperial coronation, stressing Christian idealism and the practical prob- lems of the Frankish ruler, is the French historian, Louis Halphen, whose work, Charlemagne et l'empire carolingien, is one of the best studies ever made of the political history of the Carolingian period. Halphen devoted most of his career to teaching at the University of Bordeaux and at the Sorbonne in Paris. During his career he published numerous works on the Middle Ages and especially the early Middle Ages. These works are all based on a thorough knowledge of the source materials. For this reason they command great respect.

BY THE END of the eighth century, even before he had completed all the conquests that he had undertaken, Charlemagne had emerged as the master of the West. Saxony was defeated. There remained nothing more to do there than to pacify the extreme northern portion of that land. The ring 1 of the Avars had fallen into the hands of the Franks along with its fabulous treasures. By this time the power of Charlemagne radiated clear to Pannonia and already made itself strongly felt in the Slavic world. Italy was under his domination, and . . . a Pope as haughty as Hadrian felt obliged in several cases to give way before Charlemagne even within the Pope's own territories. Under these conditions, was it not to be expected that in addition to the accumulated titles of king of the Franks, king of the Lombards, and patricius of the Romans, which he had borne up until now, there should be added or substituted a general title better suited to the preponderance of power which he had acquired so as to make evident to all the position which had in fact devolved on him in the West?


One fact of capital importance dominated the whole question: in the course of the events which had unfolded in Italy since the intervention of Charlemagne in the affairs of the Lombards, the West had, around him and through him, come to be conscious of its unity as opposed to the "Roman Empire" which, following its eight-century old career in the Eastern Mediterranean, continued to embody the tradition of ancient Rome. Forced back on

Reprinted by permission from Louis Halphen, Charlemagne et l'Empire Carolingien (L'évolution de l'humanité, dirigée par Henri Berr) ( Paris, Éditions Albin Michel, 1947), pp. 120-139. Translated by the editor. 1 The Avar ring was a vast fortified camp which served as a gathering place for the Avar armies and a place of safe-keeping for the war booty collected by these armies. [Editor's note]

the Bosporus in "New Rome," that Empire had conserved only a few isolated pieces of its ancient territories to the west of the Adriatic and the Ionian seas, and the future held little in store for these fragments. The Papacy itself had ceased to look to the descendants of Constantine and Theodosius and was turning instead resolutely to the Carolingians with whom it felt from this time on a close solidarity. And along with the Papacy all the West, or at least all the continental West, had finally realized that by ranking itself around the conqueror of the Saxons it would gain in strength and in its prospects for the future.

At the very end of the eighth century, after the death of Pope Hadrian I ( December 25, 795), the situation became even more clear. Having emerged from among the minor clerks who populated the offices of the Lateran, having progressed by successive steps from the most modest to the highest functions of the pontifical palace, and finally having been promoted to the sovereign Pontificate on December 26, 795, the successor of Hadrian, Leo III, had more than anyone else felt the need to obtain the complete support of the king of the Franks in order to secure his own power. The reserves of strength which a Hadrian thought that he still held at least to some extent, the means of resistance which he thought he might be able to oppose with some effectiveness to the encroachments of his secular partner were no longer at hand. From the time of his taking office Leo, bowing to the facts, dealt with Charlemagne with the deference due to a chief and accepted the position of being no more than a docile collaborator at his side. He allowed to pass without protest a letter in which the Frankish king, employing without doubt the pen of Alcuin and congratulating Leo on his elevation to the throne of St. Peter, thought it his duty to recall to the Pope that he counted on him to work "for the strengthening of the king's patriciate," that is to say, for the strengthening of the king's control over Rome in his capacity as patricius of the Romans. Then he added these phrases heavy with significance:

I desire to establish with your Blessedness an inviolable pact of faith and of charity, by the grace of which . . . apostolic blessing might follow me everywhere and the most holy see of the Roman Church might be constantly defended . . . by my devotion. It pertains to me, with the aid of divine piety, to defend in all places the holy Church of Christ by force of arms: from outside, against the incursions of the pagans and the devastations of the infidels; internally, protecting it by the diffusion of the catholic faith. To you, most holy Father, it pertains, elevating your hands toward God with Moses, to aid us by your prayers for the success of our arms. . . . Let Your Prudence be attached at all points to the prescriptions of the canons and follow constantly the rules established by the holy fathers. So that your life may in every way give the example of holiness, let only pious exhortations come forth from your mouth and let your light shine before all men. Confining thus the Pope to prayer, Charlemagne reserved to himself the whole domain of action. The messenger who bore his letter, his faithful Angilbert, even had been ordered to watch over close at hand this just distribution of tasks. His instructions read:

Admonish the Pope that he ought to live honestly and especially that he ought to observe the holy canons. Tell him that he ought to govern the holy Church of God piously according to the agreements that will be reached between you and according to his conscience. Repeat often to him that the honor which he has recently received is an ephemeral thing while the recompense promised to good works is eternal. Persuade him to apply himself with great diligence to rooting out the heresy of simony which defiles the holy body of the Church in many places. Tell him all that you recall of the problems discussed between us. . . . Let the Lord conduct and direct his heart in all kindness, so that he might serve usefully the Holy Church of God and intercede in our favor.

This amounted to saying that even the spiritual direction of the Western world had now been claimed by the Frankish king.

Leo III appeared to resign himself to that eventuality the more easily to the extent that his personal position became more uncertain. His election, carried out by surprise on the morrow of the death of Hadrian, had met with opposition in Rome; during the summer of 798 this opposition degenerated into riots. In the following spring developments became dramatic. On April 25, 799, as he participated in a procession from the Lateran to the church of San Lorenzo in Lucina, Leo III was assaulted by a band of conspirators, whose plans had been aided by the complicity of two high functionaries of the pontifical palace, one of whom was the nephew of his predecessor. Thrown to the ground and soundly beaten the Pope was the object of an odious and cruel violence as his assailants tried to tear out his tongue and blind him. Finally, bathed in his own blood, he was helped up only to be thrown onto the floor of a cell in the monastery of Saint Erasmus, from whence only the opportune intervention of two missi of the Frankish king succeeded in saving him. But the conspirators were not yet disarmed, and they heaped their accusations upon the Pope, accusing him in particular of adultery and perjury. Who, outside Charles himself, was capable of rescuing the Papacy from this impasse? Clear to the far end of Saxony, where he was still at grips with the pagans, the desperate appeal of the Sovereign Pope reached out to him.

From the moment when the Pope decided to go to Paderborn, where Charles had invited him to come to meet him and enlighten him on the situation, the writings of contemporaries, and especially the correspondence of Alcuin, sounded a note that was in part new. In a letter written in the month of June, 799, Alcuin wrote to the Frankish king:

Up to now three persons have been at the summit of the worldly hierarchy: First, the representative of apostolic sublimity, vicar of the blessed Peter, prince of the apostles, whose seat he occupies. What has happened to the actual holder of that See you have taken care to make known to me. Second, there is the titular holder of the imperial dignity, who exercises secular power in the second Rome. Of the impious fashion in which the head of that empire has been deposed, not by strangers, but by his relatives and by his subjects the news has been spread everywhere. Third, there is the royal dignity which our Lord Jesus Christ has reserved for you so that you might govern the Christian people. This one triumphs above the other two dignities, eclipses them in wisdom and surpasses them. It is now you alone on whom rests the churches of Christ, on you alone depends their safety, on you, the avenger of sinners, guide to those who err, consoler of the afflicted, exalter of the good.

One could hardly say more clearly that the Frankish monarchy remained the sole hope of the Christian world in the presence of the collapse of the Papacy itself, nor could one hardly underline in more clear fashion the fact that the ancient imperial power -- ruined, it was thought, by the deposition of Constantine VI in 797 -- had now been replaced by the power of the Frankish king. In addition, a new expression began at this time to slip from Alcuin's pen to express the situation thus created: that of "the Christian empire." It is over the frontiers of that "Christian empire" which the Frankish dukes stood guard; it is that "Christian empire" of which Charles is "the defender"; "to increase it by arms" is the end to which he is constantly to apply himself. This usage of the term "the Christian empire," foreign up until now to the vocabulary of Alcuin, but which now has suddenly become familiar to him, corresponds to the concept implied in the term "the Christian people," which had been in use for some time, even in official documents, to designate the Christendom of the West. It is this "Christian empire" which more than ever now forms a block behind the Frankish king; it is over this his authority extends. However, this expression, which Alcuin knowingly sets over against the term "Roman empire," still does not have in his writings a comparable meaning; but the use which he makes of it acts little by little in the manner of an influential and persuasive idea, and, consciously or not, prepared contemporaries for the events for which Rome would soon be the theater.

In the meantime, everything had worked together since the summer of 799 to strengthen the position of Charlemagne and 0 to make prevail the idea that he was the supreme arbiter of the West. The arrival of the Pope, coming to the heart of Saxony hardly recovered from his wounds to demand the aid of the king, produced a powerful impression. In a composition resembling an epic, written a little after the interview, a poet who might have been Angilbert wrote to exalt . . . " KingCharles, supreme in the world and the mightiest of Europe," alone capable "to submit to a just judgment the conduct" of the Pope and "to avenge the cruel blows" which had been delivered upon him. In the stream of classical reminiscences which flowed from his pen, the poet used on two occasions the epithet "August" to apply to Charlemagne. On two other occasions he called Charlemagne "Augustus" and "the great Augustus," letting it be understood thereby that in his eyes the king of the Franks occupied effectively in Europe -- and the name of Europe is familiar to him -- the place of an Augustus.

At the same time and as a result of the same events, the bishop of Orleans, Theodulf, addressed to the king some flattering verses, where, after having recalled that the king is "the honor and glory of the Christian people," he did not hesitate to write that it was St. Peter himself who, "wishing to be replaced by the king,""had sent him to save" the Pope. "Over him that has the keys to heaven," he wrote further, "he has ordained that you will have his care." And to conclude: "Govern the Church, . . . the clergy, and the people."

Finally, at the moment when Charles, after having in the autumn of 799, arranged for Leo III's return to his own capital, made ready to go there to rejoin him in order to determine on the spot the culpability of the conspirators as well as of the Pope himself, Alcuin, even though he was opposed at first to any thought of a procedure against the sovereign pontiff, was not able to forbear from addressing to his "dear David" -such was the surname of the Frankish king -- a small poem in which he expressed in elegant verse his hopes and wishes. May he [he wrote] dress the wounds which Rome suffered, reestablish concord between the Pope and the people, restore order, and bring to all salvation! "Rome, the capital of the world, sees in you its protector"; make peace and piety reign there anew; "guide the head of the Church, the Lord guiding you yourself with His powerful hand." A conclusion which, as one can see, agreed with that of Theodulf: 2 Charlemagne, placed at the summit of the earthly hierarchy, had become the direct agent of God over all the Christians of the West, the sovereign pontiff included.


It is truly in that guise that Charlemagne took, in the autumn of the year 800, the road to Rome; and his voyage turned into a triumph. The Pope, upon whom still weighed the serious accusations which the Romans continued to heap upon him, came to Mentana, about twenty kilometers from Rome, to meet him. Then he returned to Rome in haste to prepare a reception worthy of his illustrious visitor. On the morrow (November 24, 800), he welcomed the "Frankish king in great pomp. . . .

A week later (on December 1), Charlemagne presided at St. Peter's over an assembly composed of prelates, simple clerks, and lay dignitaries, to whose examination he deferred the complaints brought against the Pope, and the Pope was invited to justify himself under oath -- the supreme humiliation which Alcuin had wished to avoid and which constituted, so it seems, an event without precedent. In vain had Alcuin recalled by letter some months before the rule formulated long before according to which "the apostolic see could not be

2 That is, with the ideas expressed by the bishop of Orleans in the verses notes above. [Editor's note]

judged by anyone"; Leo III had to bend before the will of Charlemagne, who had personally taken the affair in hand and conducted the inquest. At the end of three weeks, on December 23, he had to submit in the Church of St. Peter to the harsh obligation which the master of the West imposed on him. Before an assembly composed in the same fashion as that of December 1 and in the presence of the king he made his submission, but not without having made express reservations concerning the legitimacy of the procedure. "In order to hear this case," he began, "the most clement and serene lord, King Charles, here present, has come to this city with his clergy and his magnates"; then he added, without pausing over the contradictory character of his declarations: s"Therefore, I Leo, pontiff of the Holy Roman Church, without being judged or compelled by anyone, but by an act of spontaneous will, purify and purge myself in your presence, before God who knows my conscience, before his angels, before the blessed Peter, prince of the Apostles, in whose basilica we now find ourselves, and I declare that I have not perpetrated or ordered to be perpetrated the criminal and sinful acts which have been charged against me. . . ." Whatever he might have said, this amounted to accepting as valid the intervention of the Frankish king in this sad affair where the dignity of the Pope's private life had been subjected to accusations and to recognizing that in fact Charlemagne had the right to act as the sovereign master of Rome.

By a coincidence, which perhaps was not entirely the result or chance, the day on which Leo III thus submitted himself in the presence of the Frankish King to the ceremony of "purgation" required of him, a delegation arrived at Rome from Jerusalem to bring to Charles on the part of the patriarch of Jerusalem a banner and the keys of the Holy Sepulchre, of the Church of Calvary, and of the Holy City itself. This was a simple mark of honor, comparable to the embassy which the Pope five years earlier had sent to Charlemagne carrying the keys to the "Confession of St. Peter" and the banner of Rome. But the mention which one finds of these two successive missions in the official Annales royales and the satisfaction which Alcuin expressed concerning the second of them when he was informed of it seem to indicate the importance which was attached to it in Frankish circles. Following his receipt of the homage of Roman Christianity, that of the Christians of the East now seemed to ascend towards Charles.

Other affairs in the meantime had held the attention of Charlemagne. The author of the Annales royales speaks of them in enigmatic terms. Charles, he says, having one week after his arrival in Rome (December 1), "called together an assembly, revealed to all the reasons of his trip and occupied himself daily in regulating the affairs for which he had come. Among those, the most important and the most arduous was that which was the first entered upon: the examination of the crimes of which the Pope was accused." What were the other affairs? The annalist does not say. But the rehabilitation of the Pope having been accomplished by December 23, the field was clear to carry out the projects of a different nature matured by the king in the secret deliberations which had been in process for almost a month.

But, on December 25, the second day after [the Papal oath], when Charles had returned to St. Peter's for the Christmas celebration, before the celebration of mass, as he was kneeling in prayer before the "confession" of the prince of the apostles, Pope Leo approached him and, at the moment when he raised himself, placed on his head a crown while the "Roman people" shouted three times the acclamations: "To Charles Augustus, crowned by God, great and peaceful emperor of the Romans, life and victory." After this the Pope, prostrating himself before the new Augustus, "adored him," as required by the ancient imperial protocol inaugurated under Diocletian. Thus, by an event unexpected at the moment but quietly prepared for weeks and perhaps months, Charles found himself suddenly elevated to the dignity of Roman emperor.

The essential end which was intended to be attained by such an act and by the ceremonial modeled on that which had actually been followed since the fifth century by the patriarch of Constantinople in the coronation of the Byzantine emperors was without doubt the clarification of the situation. Up until then the title of "patricius of the Romans" was the only one which Charlemagne could use in his relations with the Sovereign Pontiff and with the Romans themselves; but none of the prerogatives which he had little by little arrogated under the cover of that title, at first purely honorary, was legally valid. When, for example, he demanded from new Popes immediate notification of their election, he usurped a power which, until the middle of the eighth century, had always been exercised by the "Roman emperors" of Byzantium. But since that date, by imperceptible steps, the situation had been modified to such a point that well before Christmas of the year 800 the Frankish king had already appropriated for himself almost all of the prerogatives previously held by the emperor in his relations with regard to the Papacy. The debates caused by the problem of the relationship of the two powers at the time of Pope Hadrian had shown clearly the inconveniences of a situation so badly defined in a legal sense. To substitute for the ambiguous title of "patricius of the Romans" the clear and decisive title of "Emperor of the Romans" was the primary aim of the ceremony which took place in St. Peter's on December 25, 800, and this was the result which contemporaries at first believed that it had had. That is why, after having narrated the coronation in almost the same terms we have used, the author of the Annales royales was content to say laconically: ". . . and, leaving behind his title of patricius, he was called emperor and augustus."

After the ceremony -- as a result of which Charles in fact replaced as a heading to his legal acts the title of "patricius of the Romans" with that of "Emperor Augustus ruling the Roman Empire" -- there was no chant of triumph, no poem to celebrate the event although few periods have had so many court poets. In his correspondence Alcuin himself hardly permits himself more than brief allusions, and when he does, he expresses in a restrained way the contentment he feels over the "elevation" in dignity (exaltatio) of the king, his master and friend, to whom he addresses a letter of affectionate congratulations: "Blessed be the Lord and blessed be His mercy descending upon His servants, for whose prosperity and safety, my most sweet David, He had led you forth with prosperity and brought you back again in peace, honored and elevated you (Honoravit et exaltavit) . . ." and this time again the only allusion to the imperial coronation is entirely confined to those simple terms: the Lord "has elevated you." However important the political transformation which occurred on Christmas of the year 800 may have been in the eyes of contemporaries, it was spoken of with a discretion which can perhaps be explained by considerations of a diplomatic nature.

One must recall in this connection the famous letter of Alcuin . . . where he contrasted the primacy of the Frankish kingship with the weakness of the imperial power. The information which the Western Europeans had at this time -- June, 799 -concerning the events in the East caused them to think that the deeds of Irene, who had deposed and blinded her son Constantine VI, had in fact caused a vacancy in the Empire. This is why, as early as 803 or very shortly after, the facts were presented as follows by an annalist who wrote under the influence of the Carolingian court:

Since, in the land of the Greeks, there was no longer an emperor and since the imperial power was held by a woman, it appeared to Pope Leo himself and to all the holy fathers who were then assembled in council, as well as to all the Christian people, that it was fitting to give the imperial title to the king of the Franks,

Charles, who had in his power the city of Rome, the normal residence of the Caesars, and the other cities of Italy, of Gaul, and of Germany. Almighty God having consented to place them all under his authority, it seemed fair to them that, conforming to the demand of the Christian people, he should also bear the imperial title. To that demand Charles did not want to refuse; but, submitting himself humbly to God and at the same time to the desire expressed by the priests and the Christian people, he received the title of Emperor with the consecration of Leo.

This amounts to saying: first, that the absence of an emperor had rendered the conferring of the title on Charlemagne indispensable in order to meet the demands of the moment; second, that since he exercised the power of emperor in fact, it had appeared legitimate to attribute to him a title corresponding to his real functions, just as fifty years earlier the royal title had come to his father Pepin, king in fact at the side of a king without authority; third, that the initiative for the change belonged to the clergy, with the Pope in the lead, and to the people, whose desires Charlemagne had not thought it wise to resist. It was not the first time in history nor would it be the last that an emperor brought about his own election by the people. And one might invoke in support of this hypothesis as presented [by the annalist] the existence of the great preliminary council of which the annalist speaks and whose mysterious deliberations dealing with the fate of Christendom excited the curiosity of Alcuin at the beginning of 801.

It would be, we believe, a little naive to hold as exact in its entirety the thesis which has just been outlined. It obviously answered to the need for an apology, a need which is doubtless explained by a desire to treat with caution the sensitiveness of the Byzantine government, the reaction of which in the face of these events seems to have been very hostile, as could be expected. But, on one essential point, it fits the explanations previously set forth and underlines with still more clarity the incontestable interest which there was in the year 800 to bring legality and reality into accord by conferring on Charlemagne the imperial title, circumstances at that moment permitting one to dispose of the matter without risk of serious opposition.


Once recognized as emperor, Charlemagne had at his disposition more extensive authority in Rome, for the support of which some positive precedents could henceforth be invoked. In principle, all equivocation with respect to his position had disappeared: traditionally, the emperor was the sovereign of Rome; he spoke there as master, and he judged as master. The Pope enjoyed on his part the prestige and the authority attached to the see of St. Peter, but had to conform in the exercise of his functions to the rules which for centuries had governed the relationships between the two powers: not only did he have to notify the emperor of his election, but usage dictated that his consecration must be subordinated to the consent of the latter; and that rule would be expressly recalled at the death of Leo III in 816.

When one compares the situation of Charlemagne in Rome during his first visit in 774 to that which he occupied immediately after his imperial coronation, the contrast appears significant. In 774 it was only in exchange for a formal agreement not to take advantage of the signal favor which the Pope was exceptionally granting to him that Charles was admitted to enter the city for a few hours to make his devotions. Now he was in the city by rights and had full freedom to move at will. Without doubt, he had not waited until this moment to act with the same freedom on the banks of the Tiber as he did in other parts of his realm; but he was able from now on to assert that he had legal right on his side and poor Leo III was unable to contradict him.

But, although clarified in one sense, the situation which was created as a result of the ceremony which took place in St. Peter's on Christmas of the year 800 presented, when looked at more closely, certain complicated problems, which related to external as much as to internal affairs.

Externally, Byzantium, the sole legitimate depositary of the imperial power, had been expected to react violently. In placing at the beginning of his legal acts the title of "emperor and augustus . . . ruling the Roman empire," the Frankish king -- who continued to call himself at the same time "King of the Franks and the Lombards" -committed a clear usurpation which no Byzantine prince could let pass without a protest. In Byzantine eyes there was only one Roman Empire, that of the authentic successors of Augustus and of Constantine, already established for a long time on the shores of the Bosporus and consequently only the Byzantine rulers were able to avail themselves of the Roman tradition. They protested against the elevation of Charles indeed, and one of the most serious difficulties which the Carolingian government encountered after the year 800 was precisely that caused by this inevitable conflict.

On the side of the Franks, it was actually thought or pretended that the elevation of Charles to the Empire was absolutely legal. Had he not been proclaimed emperor on Roman soil, in the legal form, according to the ancient protocol still in use and at the very moment when the throne of the emperors was without a title holder? For, at the end of the year 800, as Alcuin had underlined before the coronation and as the annalists of the West recalled after the event, Constantine VI, overthrown by his mother, the empress Irene, had not yet received a successor. Irene, it is true, pretended to take the power for herself; but that was a scandalous novelty against which even those in Constantinople rose up. And, moreover, since Irene pretended to reign, might not one arrange everything by recurring to the happy solution of a marriage between the two rivals? At one stroke, the ancient Empire could be reconstituted from one end of the Mediterranean to the other to the profit of the imperial couple. That such a project had been conceived is stated by only one Byzantine chronicler, whose statements are in more than one case suspect, and one hesitates to follow him; but in fact that romantic solution of the question of the East, if it really was envisaged, proved to be impracticable; for, even before it could be carried out, a new usurper had appeared in Byzantium in the person of the logothete Nicephorus, and he was soon established on the imperial throne. An accord then had to be negotiated on other bases. The affair was long and delicate, and it was conducted with difficulty. At the beginning the tension between the two governments at Aix and at Constantinople was such that the rumor was abroad of an approaching descent of Frankish armies into Sicily, still a Byzantine territory, and negotiations were pursued amid the clash of arms. These came to a conclusion only under the successor of Nicephorus, Michael I Rangabus, with a lame compromise by virtue of which the emperor of the "New Rome" -- that on the Bosporus -- finally consented that he would no longer designate his colleague of the old Rome as a simple barbarian king in his correspondence but would refer to him as "brother." This amounted to reducing the whole question to a simple matter of protocol and leaving unsolved the real issue which was the problem of the coexistence of the two emperors and of their mutual relationship within the limits of the ancient Roman Empire.

On the internal level, there was a similar ambiguity. Was there attached to the new title which Charlemagne had received a new authority? No one seems to have asked himself the question. They confined themselves here again to the problem of protocol: a new oath of fidelity to the sovereign in his capacity as emperor was required of all as the oaths taken before appertained only to him as king. Beyond that, no changes occurred. Perhaps, however, Charles thought of reforms on the morrow of his accession to the imperial dignity. Refraining for some time from all military operations, in 802 he studied with both his lay and ecclesiastical magnates the revision and refinement of the "laws" in use, as well as a codification of the canonical and disciplinary texts dealing with religious life. The outcome of that activity seems to have been slight, and nothing in the capitularies promulgated then or in the course of the following years reveals in these matters any thought of moving in a new direction. As emperor, Charles simply pursued the line of effort first begun before the year 800.

In any case what was the future which he envisaged for that "Roman Empire" partially reconstituted for his profit? We must admit that once again one remains in doubt, or, to put it better, that everything went on as if Charles envisaged the empire as a momentary realization destined to disappear with his death. At the beginning of 806, as an indication of this, he promulgated an act regulating the succession in case of his death, and the document proved that at that date, conforming to the old Frankish custom, he considered it inevitable that the territory held under his authority would be divided. After having rendered thanks to the Almighty who had given him three legitimate sons, Charles, Pepin, and Louis, he expressed the double wish to see them jointly associated in his power as long as he lived and then to transmit to them the totality of his state after his death. Desirous however, he declared, of avoiding all confusion and all disorder, he wanted to make precise in advance the share which would then devolve on each of them. From his "empire or kingdom," he thus made three shares; one embraced Aquitaine, Gascony, Septimania, Provence, and western "Burgundy"; the second, Italy, Bavaria, and eastern Alemannia; the third, all the rest. The final lot, the most important because the old Frankish lands -- Francia, as one said then -- were included in it in their entirety, was reserved to the eldest, Charles, while the first was given to Louis and the second to Pepin. The emperor stipulated that each of his three sons would have to "content himself with his share" and defend it without encroaching upon the territories of his brothers, among whom, the emperor expected, there would be observed relationships of "peace and charity"; that would imply the obligation of mutual assistance in case of any grave menace to the security of one of them. Also, by virtue of article 6, the three brothers were engaged expressly to aid one another against enemies from the outside or within, and facilities for passage over the Alps were reserved to each of them by virtue of article 3, in order to parry the dangers which might come particularly to menace Pepin. But article 6 also stipulated that the three brothers were forbidden to mix into the affairs of their neighbor and several other articles (articles 10, 11, and 12) looked toward establishing and maintaining a strict separation between the three future kingdoms in those things which touched both on private property and on personal bonds of "commendation" and fidelity.

On only one point did the emperor expect his sons to follow a common policy after his death: in article 15, invoking his own example and that of his father and his grandfather, he charged them "to assure all together the defense of the Church of St. Peter (that is to say, of the Papacy) . . . and to have justice done to it." Beyond that, all the dispositions made by the emperor imply a definitive rupture of unity after his death. The Frankish custom of division was maintained intact, not only for the immediate future, but even in the case of new eventualities: the death of one or the other of his sons, or the birth of grandsons . . . to succeed to the deceased (article 4 and 5). Without doubt Charles saw plainly the necessity of safeguarding without any limitations, as long as he lived, his absolute power over the totality of his Empire (article 20); but at his death, that Empire was destined to disappear, and the union of his heirs was reduced to what their reciprocal good will would permit (articles 14 and 16).

Of the new perspectives opened by the coronation of the year 800, not much was left, as one can see, less than six years after the event. "The Empire" seems in fact to have been no more than a sort of personal apotheosis of Charlemagne, an apotheosis the duration of which was limited to his lifetime only. . . . And yet the premature death close to each other of his two eldest sons, even before he himself died, had the unforeseen consequence of making it possible that the empire, founded in 800 in uncertainty and equivocation, not only would survive the circumstances which gave it birth, but, without retaining anything of the aspects which might have for a moment given the impression of a resurrection of ancient Rome, would little by little assume the form of an original organism -- the organism which we call the Carolingian Empire and which for almost a century dominated Western Europe.


Complementing Professor Halphen's explanation of the coronation of Charlemagne is the following brief passage from a lecture by François Louis Ganshof, which was delivered at the University of Glasgow in 1948 and later published in a pamphlet. Ganshof, a professor at the University of Ghent and often a lecturer elsewhere, is one of the leading authorities on the Carolingian period. His over-all explanation of the coronation, placing the chief emphasis on the ideas of Charlemagne's advisers, follows that of Halphen rather closely. However, Ganshof is more spe- cific about the affairs in Rome during the month of December, 800, which was an extremely critical period. The passage below is only part of his lecture; prior to where it begins, Ganshof has presented evidence to suggest that Alcuin had conceived the idea of crowning Charlemagne emperor.

DID ALCUIN and the other "imperialists" succeed in convincing Charlemagne of their views? It certainly was a hard task. In the first place because other duties may have appeared to him more urgent than to go to Rome in order to settle the affairs of the Papacy. It was difficult also because Charlemagne seems to have been prejudiced against the imperial title; he might even have felt some aversion from it. Finally because Charlemagne, in spite of his appetite for learning, lacked intellectual culture and most likely did not thoroughly grasp what Alcuin and his people meant by the imperial dignity, a notion which required some slight knowledge of history and theology, even if unsophisticated, and some capacity of abstraction.

And yet Charlemagne decided to go the way that, according to me, had been pointed to him.

At the end of the year 799, when Arn had imparted to Alcuin the charges levied against the Pope and the anxiety then prevailing in Rome, the necessity for a personal intervention by Charles and for a restoration in Western Europe of the imperial power proved itself even more urgent than ever.

It is most likely during the stay of Charlemagne in Tours, in the spring of the year 800 and during his own stay at the palace of Aachen in June on the occasion of the council that compelled the heresiarch Felix to abjure adoptionism, that Alcuin managed to convince the king. Perhaps he succeeded by using the "hegemoniac" notion of the empire, the very vast kingdom which was

Reprinted by permission from François Louis Ganshof, The Imperial Coronation of Charlemagne. Theories and Facts ( Glasgow University Publications, LXXIX) ( Glasgow: Jackson, Son & Company, 1949), pp. 18-28.

not contained by rigorous frontiers: these notions were familiar to the Anglo-Saxon Alcuin and they might have been accessible to the realistic mind of Charlemagne, mostly impressed by reasons of power.

Charlemagne started for Italy some time after the assembly of Mainz, which took place in August. I think that I have shown elsewhere that at the end of summer or at the beginning of autumn, Alcuin knew that this expedition must lead to the restoration of the imperial dignity in favour of his master.

How did things happen in Rome?

The Pope whom Charlemagne had re-established on this throne was surrounded by enemies and soon was compelled to clear himself publicly of the accusations brought forward against him. He was but a toy in the hands of the Frankish king and of his counsellors. He would certainly not have been in a position to oppose the realization of a scheme which ' Charlemagne had adopted. His interests moreover were quite different: he might well believe that an emperor would efficiently protect him, and besides, he had always been compliant towards Charles. He might also have found pleasure in removing any suggestion of subordination to Byzantium. One must admit that Leo III showed himself quite willing to take his share in the events.

The leading part belongs, according to me, to a few Frankish clerics of the royal circle, namely, I take it, to Arn and to Alcuin's confidential agents, whom he had sent to Rome: Witto-Candidus, FridugisusNathanael and other monks of SaintMartin-de-Tours. Thanks to their interference, the ideals of Alcuin and of the other "imperialist clerics" won the day.

They sat together in the council with other ecclesiastics, Frankish, Lombard, and Roman. There were very strenuous debates, which resulted in the oath by which on December 23rd, the Pope justified himself. After this on the same day, the council and "the whole Christian folk" -- that is to say the Franks and the Lombards as well as the Romans -- decided that Charlemagne must be made emperor. Was not the imperial throne occupied by a criminal woman, vacant? Were not Rome, capital of the Caesars, Italy, Gaul, and Germany in his possession? Charlemagne accepted.

The imperial dignity for Western Europe had been restored in his favour on that very day.

There only remained the ceremony at which this was to be celebrated.

On December 25th at St. Peter's according to the rules that were known in Rome, but which the king and the Franks ignored and did not care about, Charles was regularly elected by the "Roman people" expressing their will by the way of ritual acclamations. But before these had sounded, the Pope had himself crowned the new emperor. Like many weak characters, Leo III had played a crooked game. Through his gesture which could be understood as a symbolic livery -- as a traditio -- he had given the impression that it was he who had invested Charlemagne with the imperial dignity.

There lies, in my opinion, the reason of the great displeasure shown by Charlemagne, the reason for which he hesitated during several months to adorn himself with the imperial title in his diplomas and for which he refused to adopt the one which had appeared in the acclamations: imperator Romanorum.

He did not wish to seem as if he held his empire from the Pope and especially not from a Pope who owed him so much and had taken him now by a kind of treachery. When in the palace church of Aachen, on September 11th, 813, he himself crowned his son Louis, emperor -- or perhaps ordered him to take the crown from the altar and to put it on his head -- without any interference of either Pope or clergy, he showed how to his liking things should have taken place on December 25th, 800.

There is no doubt to me that Charlemagne has been considered, and has considered himself, as a Roman emperor, the successor of the Christian Roman emperors, of Constantine the Great and his heirs. His authority however, extended over territories of which some, like the greater part of his possessions beyond the Rhine, had not been part of the Imperium Romanum. Because it was for all the territories over which his power extended that he had become emperor, it is all his subjects that in the year 802 had to take an oath of allegiance to him in his capacity of emperor. This did not prevent him from keeping his titles of king of the Franks and of the Lombards; these titles alone were significant of a real political power.

Did he, in the year 800, also become emperor of the countries submitted to the Basileus of Byzantium? One might have admitted it all the more so as one of the reasons put forward in favour of his elevation to his new dignity was the vacancy in the imperial throne. Perhaps for a while in the East, such an attempt by him seemed possible. But he himself does not appear to have contemplated such a thing.

His empire was a Western Christian and Roman empire and on the day on which he could, in the year 812, constrain the emperor of Byzantium to recognize his new imperial dignity, the notion of empire ceased to be one of unique and universal authority.


Many historians have concluded that the coronation of 800 repre- sents a renewal or revival of the Roman Empire in the West after that institution had been dead since A.D. 476. This view was stated in classic form by the distinguished English historian James Bryce ( 1839-1922). Viscount Bryce was not only an historian; during his illustrious career he studied law, taught, wrote extensively on constitutional problems, served as a member of Parliament, held administrative posts in several Liberal governments, and was British ambassador to the United States from 1907 to 1913. The following selection is from one of his most important scholarly works, The Holy Roman Empire, which was first written as an essay which earned Bryce a prize at Oxford in 1863 and then published in expanded form first in 1864 and then in many subsequent editions.

THE CORONATION of Charles is not only the central event of the Middle Ages, it is also one of those very few events of which, taking them singly, it may be said that if they had not happened, the history of the world would have been different. In one sense indeed it has scarcely a parallel. The assassins of Julius Caesar thought that they had saved Rome from monarchy, but monarchy came inevitable in the next generation. The conversion of Constantine changed the face of the world, but Christianity was spreading fast, and its ultimate triumph was only a question of time. Had Columbus never spread his sails, the secret of the western sea would yet have been pierced by some later voyager: had Charles V broken his safe-conduct to Luther, the voice silenced at Wittenberg would have been taken up by echoes elsewhere. But if the Roman Empire had not been restored in the West in the person of Charles, it would never have been restored at all, and the inexhaustible train of consequences for good and for evil that followed could not have been. Why this was so may be seen by examining the history of the next two centuries. In that day, as through all the Dark and Middle Ages, two forces were striving for the mastery. The one was the instinct of separation, disorder, anarchy, caused by the ungoverned impulses and barbarous ignorance of the great bulk of mankind; the other was that passionate longing of the better minds for a formal unity of government, which had its historical basis in the memories of the old Roman Empire, and its most constant expression in the devotion to a visible and catholic Church. The former tendency, as everything shows, was, in politics at least, the stronger, but the latter, used and stimulated by an extraordinary genius like Charles, achieved in the year 800 a victory whose results were never to be lost. When the hero was gone, the returning wave of

From James Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire ( London and New York, Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1897), pp. 50-75. Reprinted by permission of Miss Margaret Bryce.

anarchy and barbarism swept up violent as ever, yet it could not wholly obliterate the past: the Empire, maimed and shattered though it was, had struck its roots too deep to be overthrown by force, and when it perished at last, perished from inner decay. It was just because men felt that no one less than Charles could have won such a triumph over the evils of the time, by framing and establishing a gigantic scheme of government, that the excitement and hope and joy which the coronation evoked were so intense. Their best evidence is perhaps to be found not in the records of that time itself, but in the cries of lamentation that broke forth when the Empire began to dissolve towards the close of the ninth century, in the marvellous legends which attached themselves to the name of Charles the Emperor, a hero of whom any exploit was credible, in the devout admiration wherewith his German successors looked back to, and strove in all things to imitate, their all but super-human prototype.

As the event of A. D. 800 made an unparalleled impression on those who lived at the time, so has it engaged the attention of men in succeeding ages, has been viewed in the most opposite lights, and become the theme of interminable controversies. It is better to look at it simply as it appeared to the men who witnessed it. Here, as in so many other cases, may be seen the errors into which jurists have been led by the want of historical feeling. In rude and unsettled states of society men respect forms and obey facts, while careless of rules and principles. . . . Leo acted not as having alone the right to transfer the crown; the practice of hereditary succession and the theory of popular election would have equally excluded such a claim; he was the spokesman of the popular will, which, identifying itself with the sacerdotal power, hated the Easterns and was grateful to the Franks. Yet he was also something more. The act, as it specially affected his interests, was mainly his work, and without him would never have been brought about at all. It was natural that a confusion of his secular functions as leader, and his spiritual as consecrating priest, should lay the foundation of the right claimed afterwards of raising and deposing monarchs at the will of Christ's vicar. The Emperor was passive throughout; he did not, as in Lombardy, appear as a conqueror, but was received by the Pope and the people as a friend and ally. Rome no doubt became his capital, but it had already obeyed him as Patrician, and the greatest fact that stood out to posterity from the whole transaction was that the crown was bestowed, was at least imposed, by the hands of the pontiff. He seemed the trustee and depositary of the imperial authority. . . .

In these three accounts 1 there is no serious discrepancy as to the facts, although the Italian priest, as is natural, heightens the importance of the part played by the Pope, while the Germans are too anxious to rationalize the event, talking of a synod of the clergy, a consultation of the people, and a formal request to Charles, which the silence of Eginhard, as well as the other circumstances of the case, forbid us to accept as literally true. Similarly Anastasius passes over the adoration rendered by the Pope to the Emperor, upon which most of the Frankish records insist in a way which puts it beyond doubt. But the impression which the three narratives leave is essentially the same. They all show how little the transaction can be made to wear a strictly legal character. The Frankish king does not of his own might seize the crown, but rather receives it as coming naturally to him, as the legitimate cosequence of the authority he already enjoyed. The Pope bestows the crown, not in virtue of any right of his own as head of the Church: he

1 Bryce refers here to three basic sources concerning the coronation, namely, the Liber Pontificalis, the royal annals, and Einhard's biography of Charles, translations of which he has included in his text. These translations have been omitted here, but can be found above, pp. 2 - 3. The reference to Anastasius a few lines below is to a Roman clergyman and scholar presumed by Bryce to have been the author of the biography of Leo III. [Editor's note]

is merely the instrument of God's providence, which has unmistakeably pointed out Charles as the proper person to defend and lead the Christian commonwealth. The Roman people do not formally elect and appoint, but by their applause accept the chief who is presented to them. The act is conceived of as directly ordered by the Divine Providence which has brought about a state of things that admits of but one issue, an issue which king, priest, and people have only to recognize and obey; their personal ambitions, passions, intrigues, sinking and vanishing in reverential awe at what seems the immediate interposition of Heaven. And as the result is desired by all parties alike, they do not think of inquiring into one another's rights, but take their momentary harmony to be natural and necessary, never dreaming of the difficulties and conflicts which were to arise out of what seemed then so simple. And it was just because everything was thus left undetermined, resting not on express stipulation but rather on a sort of mutual understanding, a sympathy of beliefs and wishes which augured no evil, that the event admitted of being afterwards represented in so many different lights. . . . Charles did not conquer, nor the Pope give, nor the people elect. As the act was unprecedented, so was it illegal; it was a revolt of the ancient Western capital against a daughter who had become a mistress; an exercise of the sacred right of insurrection, justified by the weakness and wickedness of the Byzantine princes, hallowed to the eyes of the world by the sanction of Christ's representative, but founded upon no law, nor competent to create any for the future.

It is an interesting and somewhat perplexing question, how far the coronation scene, an act as imposing in its circumstances as it was momentous in its results, was prearranged among the parties. Eginhard tells us that Charles was accustomed to declare that he would not, even on so high a festival, have entered the church had he known of the Pope's intention. Even if the monarch had uttered, the secretary would hardly have recorded a falsehood long after the motive that might have prompted it had disappeared. Of the existence of that motive which has been most commonly assumed, a fear of the discontent of the Franks who might think their liberties endangered, little or no proof can be brought from the records of the time, wherein the nation is represented as exulting in the new dignity of their chief as an accession of grandeur to themselves. Nor can we suppose that Charles's disavowal was meant to soothe the offended pride of the Byzantine princes, from whom he had nothing to fear, and who were none the more likely to recognize his dignity, if they should believe it to be not of his own seeking. Yet it is hard to suppose the whole affair a surprise; for it was the goal towards which the policy of the Frankish kings had for many years pointed, and Charles himself, in sending before him to Rome many of the spiritual and temporal magnates of his realm, in summoning thither his son Pipin from the war against the Lombards of Benevento, had shown that he expected some more than ordinary result from this journey to the imperial city. Alcuin moreover, Alcuin of York, the prime minister of Charles in matters religious and literary, appears from one of his extant letters to have sent as a Christmas gift to his royal pupil a carefully corrected and superbly adorned copy of the Scriptures, with the words "ad splendorem imperialis potentiae." This has commonly been taken for conclusive evidence that the plan had been settled beforehand, and such it would be were there not some reasons for giving the letter an earlier date, and looking upon the word "imperialis" as a mere magniloquent flourish. More weight is therefore to be laid upon the arguments supplied by the nature of the case itself. The Pope, whatever his confidence in the sympathy of the people, would never have ventured on so momentous a step until previous conferences had assured him of the feelings of the king, nor could an act for which the assembly were evidently prepared have been kept a secret.

Nevertheless, the declaration of Charles himself can neither be evaded nor set down to mere dissimulation. It is more just to him, and on the whole more reasonable, to suppose that Leo, having satisfied himself of the wishes of the Roman clergy and people as well as of the Frankish magnates, resolved to seize an occasion and place so eminently favourable to his long-cherished plan, while Charles, carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment and seeing in the pontiff the prophet and instrument of the divine will, accepted a dignity which he might have wished to receive at some later time or in some other way. If, therefore, any positive conclusion be adopted, it would seem to be that Charles, although he had probably given a more or less vague consent to the project, was surprised and disconcerted by a sudden fulfilment which interrupted his own carefully studied designs. And although a deed which changed the history of the world was in any case no accident, it may well have worn to the Frankish and Roman spectators the air of a surprise. For there were no preparations apparent in the church; the king was not, like his Teutonic successors in the aftertime, led in procession to the pontifical throne: suddenly, at the very moment when he rose from the sacred hollow where he had knelt among the ever-burning lamps before the holiest of Christian relics -- the body of the prince of the Apostles -- the hands of that Apostle's representative placed upon his head the crown of glory and poured upon him the oil of sanctification. There was something in this to thrill the beholders with the awe of a divine presence, and make them hail him whom that presence seemed almost visibly to consecrate, the "pious and peace-giving Emperor, crowned of God."

The reluctance of Charles to assume the imperial title is ascribed by Eginhard to a fear of the jealous hostility of the Easterns, who could not only deny his claim to it, but might disturb by their intrigues his dominions in Italy. Accepting this statement, the problem remains, how is this reluctance to be reconciled with those acts of his which clearly show him aiming at the Roman crown? An ingenious and probable, if not certain solution, is suggested by a recent historian, who argues from a minute examination of the previous policy of Charles, that while it was the great object of his reign to obtain the crown of the world, he foresaw at the same time the opposition of the Eastern Court, and the want of legality from which his title would in consequence suffer. He was therefore bent on getting from the Byzantines, if possible, a transference of their crown; if not, at least a recognition of his own: and he appears to have hoped to win this by the negotiations which had been for some time kept on foot with the Empress Irene. Just at this moment came the coronation by Pope Leo, interrupting these deep-laid schemes, irritating the Eastern Court, and forcing Charles into the position of a rival who could not with dignity adopt a soothing or submissive tone. Nevertheless, he seems not even then to have abandoned the hope of obtaining a peaceful recognition. Irene's crimes did not prevent him, if we may credit Theophanes, from seeking her hand in marriage. And when the project of thus uniting the East and West in a single Empire, baffled for a time by the opposition of her minister Aetius, was rendered impossible by her subsequent dethronement and exile, he did not abandon the policy of conciliation until a surly acquiescence in rather than admission of his dignity had been won from the Byzantine sovereigns Michael and Nicephorus.

Whether, supposing Leo to have been less precipitate, a cession of the crown, or an acknowledgment of the right of the Romans to confer it, could ever have been obtained by Charles is perhaps more than doubtful. But it is clear that he judged rightly in rating its importance high, for the want of it was the great blemish in his own and his successors' dignity. To show how this was so, reference must be made to the events of A. D. 476. Both the extinction of the Western Empire in that year and its revival in A. D. 800 have been very generally misunderstood in modern times, and although the mistake is not, in a certain sense, of practical importance, yet it tends to confuse history and to blind us to the ideas of the people who acted on both occasions. When Odoacer compelled the abdication of Romulus Augustulus, he did not abolish the Western Empire as a separate power, but caused it to be reunited with or sink into the Eastern, so that from that time there was, as there had been before Diocletian, a single undivided Roman Empire. In A. D. 800 the very memory of the separate Western Empire, as it had stood from the death of Theodosius till Odoacer, had, so far as appears, been long since lost, and neither Leo nor Charles nor anyone among their advisers dreamt of reviving it. They too, like their predecessors, held the Roman Empire to be one and indivisible, and proposed by the coronation of the Frankish king not to proclaim a severance of the East and West, but to reverse the act of Constantine, and make Old Rome again the civil as well as the ecclesiastical capital of the Empire that bore her name. Their deed was in its essence illegal, but they sought to give it every semblance of legality: they professed and partly believed that they were not revolting against a reigning sovereign, but legitimately filling up the place of the deposed Constantine the Sixth; the people of the imperial city exercising their ancient right of choice, their bishop his right of consecration.

Their purpose was but half accomplished. They could create, but they could not destroy: they set up an Emperor of their own, whose representatives thence forward ruled the West, but Constantinople retained her sovereigns as of yore; and Christendom saw henceforth two imperial lines, not as in the time before A. D. 476, the conjoint heads of a single realm, but rivals and enemies, each denouncing the other as an impostor, each professing to be the only true and lawful head of the Christian Church and people. Although therefore we must in practice speak during the next seven centuries (down till A. D. 1453, when Constantinople fell before the Mohammedan) of an Eastern and a Western Empire, the phrase is in strictness incorrect, and was one which either court ought to have repudiated. The Byzantines always. did repudiate it; the Latins usually; although, yielding to facts, they sometimes condescended to employ it themselves. But their theory was always the same. Charles was held to be the legitimate successor, not of Romulus Augustulus, but of Leo IV, Heraclius, Justinian, Arcadius, and the whole Eastern line; and hence it is that in all the annals of the time and of many succeeding centuries, the name of Constantine VI, the sixty-seventh in order from Augustus, is followed without a break by that of Charles, the sixty-eighth.

The maintenance of an imperial line among the Easterns was a continuing protest against the validity of Charles's title. But from their enmity he had little to fear, and in the eyes of the world he seemed to step into their place, adding the traditional dignity which had been theirs to the power that he already enjoyed. North Italy and Rome ceased for ever to own the supremacy of Byzantium; and while the Eastern princes paid a shameful tribute to the Mussulman, the Frankish Emperor--as the recognized head of Christendom -- received from the patriarch of Jerusalem the keys of the Holy Sepulchre and the banner of Calvary; the gift of the Sepulchre itself, says Eginhard, from Aaron king of the Persians. Out of this peaceful intercourse with the great Khalif the romancers created a crusade. Within his own dominions his sway assumed a more sacred character. Already had his unwearied and comprehensive activity made him throughout his reign an ecclesiastical no less than a civil ruler, summoning and sitting in councils, examining and appointing bishops, settling by capitularies the smallest points of church discipline and polity. A synod held at Frankfort in. A. D. 794 condemned the decrees of the second council of Nicaea, which had been approved by Pope Hadrian, censured in violent terms the conduct of the Byzantine rulers in suggesting them, and without excluding images from churches, altogether forbade them to be worshipped or even venerated. Not only did Charles preside in and direct the deliberations of this synod, although legates from the Pope were present -- he also caused a treatise to be drawn up stating and urging its conclusions; he pressed Hadrian to declare Constantine VI a heretic for enouncing doctrines to which Hadrian had himself consented. There are letters of his extant in which he lectures Pope Leo in a tone of easy superiority, admonishes him to obey the holy canons, and bids him pray earnestly for the success of the efforts which it is the monarch's duty to make for the subjugation of pagans and the establishment of sound doctrine throughout the Church. Nay, subsequent Popes themselves admitted. and applauded the despotic superintendence of matters spiritual which he was wont to exercise, and which led some one to give him playfully a title that had once been applied to the Pope himself, "Episcopus espicoporum" [Bishop of bishops].

Acting and speaking thus when merely king, it may be thought, that Charles needed no further title to justify his power. The inference, is in truth rather the converse of this. Upon what he had done already the imperial title must necessarily follow: the attitude of protection and control which he held toward the Church and the Holy See belonged, according to the ideas of the time, especially and only to an Emperor. Therefore his coronation was the fitting completion and legitimation of his authority, sanctifying rather than increasing it. We have, however, one remarkable witness to the importance that was attached to the imperial name, and the enhancement which he conceived his office to have received from it. In a great assembly held at Aachen, A. D. 802, the lately-crowned Emperor revised the laws of all the races that obeyed him, endeavouring to harmonize and correct them, and issued a capitulary singular in subject and tone. All persons within his dominions, as well ecclesiastical as civil, who have already sworn allegiance to him as king, are thereby commanded to swear to him afresh as Caesar; and all who have never yet sworn, down to the age of twelve, shall now take the same oath. "At the same time it shall be publicly explained to all what is the force and meaning of this oath, and how much more it includes than a mere promise of fidelity to the monarch's person. Firstly, it binds those who swear it to live, each and every one of them, according to his strength and knowledge, in the holy service of God; since the lord Emperor cannot extend over all his care and discipline. Secondly, it binds them neither by force nor fraud to seize or molest any of the goods or servants of his crown. Thirdly, to do no violence nor treason towards the holy Church, or to widows, or orphans, or strangers, seeing that the lord Emperor has been appointed, after the Lord and his saints, the protector and defender of all such." Then in similar fashion purity of life is prescribed to the monks; homicide, the neglect of hospitality, and other offences are denounced, the notions of sin and crime being intermingled and almost identified in a way to which no parallel can be found, unless it be in the Mosaic code. There God, the invisible object of worship, is also, though almost incidentally, the judge and political ruler of Israel; here the whole cycle of social and moral duty is deduced from the obligation of obedience to the visible autocratic head of the Christian state.

In most of Charles's words and deeds, nor less distinctly in the writings of his adviser Alcuin, may be discerned the working of the same theocratic ideas. Among his intimate friends he chose to be called by the name of David, exercising in reality all the powers of the Jewish king; presiding over this kingdom of God upon earth rather as a second Constantine or Theodosius than in the spirit and traditions of the Julii or the Flavii. Among his measures there are two which in particular recall the first Christian Emperor. As Constantine founds so Charles erects on a firmer basis the connection of Church and State. Bishops and abbots are as essential a part of rising feudalism as counts and dukes. Their benefices are held under the same conditions of fealty and the service in war of their vassal tenants, not of the spiritual person himself: they have similar rights of jurisdiction, and are subject alike to the imperial missi. The monarch tries often to restrict the clergy, as persons, to spiritual duties; quells the insubordination of the monasteries; endeavours to bring the seculars into a monastic life by instituting and regulating chapters. But after granting wealth and power, the attempt was vain; his strong hand withdrawn, they laughed at control. Again, it was by him first that the payment of tithes, for which the priesthood had long been pleading, was made compulsory in Western Europe, and the support of the ministers of religion entrusted to the laws of the state.

In civil affairs also Charles acquired, with the imperial title, a new position. Later jurists labour to distinguish his power as Roman Emperor from that which he held already as king of the Franks and their subject allies: they insist that his coronation gave him the capital only, that it is absurd to talk of a Roman Empire in regions whither the eagles had never flown. In such expressions there seems to lurk either confusion or misconception. It was not the actual government of the city that Charles obtained in A. D. 800; that his father had already held as Patrician and he had constantly exercised in the same capacity: it was far more than the titular sovereignty of Rome which had hitherto been supposed. to be vested in the Byzantine princes: it was nothing less than the headship of the world, believed to appertain of right to the lawful Roman Emperor, whether he reigned on the Bosphorus, the Tiber, or the Rhine. As that headship, although never denied, had been in abeyance in the West for several centuries, its bestowal on the king of so vast a realm was a change of the first moment, for it made the coronation not merely a transference of the seat of Empire, but a renewal of the Empire itself, a bringing back of it from faith to sight, from the world of belief and theory to the world of fact and reality. And since the powers it gave were autocratic and unlimited, it must swallow up all minor claims and dignities: the rights of Charles the Frankish king were merged in those of Charles the successor of Augustus, the lord of the world. That his imperial authority was theoretically irrespective of place is clear from his own words and acts, and from all the monuments of that time. He would not, indeed, have dreamed of treating the free Franks as Justinian had treated his half-Oriental subjects, nor would the warriors who followed his standard have brooked such an attempt. Yet even to German eyes his position must have been altered by the halo of vague splendour which now surrounded him; for all, even the Saxon and the Slave, had heard of Rome's glories, and revered the name of Caesar. And in his effort to weld discordant elements into one body, to introduce regular gradations of authority, to control the Teutonic tendency to localization by his missi -- officials commissioned to traverse each some part of his dominions, reporting on and redressing the evils they found -- and by his own oft-repeated personal progresses, Charles was guided by the traditions of the old Empire. His sway is the revival of order and culture, fusing the West into a compact whole, whose parts are never thenceforward to lose the marks of their connection and their half-Roman character, gathering up all that is left in Europe of spirit and wealth and knowledge, and hurling it with the new force of Christianity on the infidel of the South and the masses of untamed barbarism to the North and East. Ruling the world by the gift of God, and the transmitted rights of the Romans and their Caesar whom God had chosen to conquer it, he renews the original aggressive movement of the Empire: the civilized world has subdued her invader, and now arms him against savagery and heathendom. Hence the wars, not more of the sword than of the cross, against Saxons, Avars, Slavs, Danes, Spanish Arabs, where monasteries are fortresses and baptism the badge of submission. The overthrow of the

Irminsul 2 in the first Saxon campaigns, sums up the changes of seven centuries. The Romanized Teuton destroys the monument of his country's freedom, for it is also the emblem of paganism and barbarism. The work of Arminius is undone by his successor.

This, however, is not the only side from which Charles's policy and character may be regarded. If the unity of the Church and the shadow of imperial prerogative was one pillar of his power, the other was the Frankish nation. The empire was still military, though in a sense strangely different from that of Julius or Severus. The warlike Franks had permeated Western Europe; their primacy was admitted by the kindred tribes of Lombards, Bavarians, Thuringians, Alemannianas, and Burgundians; the Slavic peoples on the borders trembled and paid tribute; Alfonso of Asturias 3 found in the Emperor a protector against the infidel foe. His influence, if not his exerted power, crossed the ocean: the kings of the Scots sent gifts and called him lord: the restoration of Eardulf to Northumbria, still more of Egbert to Wessex, might furnish a better ground for the claim of suzerainty than many to which his successors had afterwards recourse. As it was by Frankish arms that this predominance in Europe which the imperial tide adorned and legalized had been won, so was the government of Charles Roman in semblance rather than in fact. It was not by restoring the effete mechanism of the old Empire, but by his own vigorous personal action and that of his great officers, that he strove to administer and reform. With every effort for a strong central government, there is no despotism; each nation retains its laws, its hereditary chiefs, its free popular assemblies. The conditions granted to the Saxons after such cruel warfare, conditions so favourable that in the next century their dukes hold the foremost place in Germany, show how little he desired to make the Franks a dominant caste.

He repeats the attempt of Theodoric to breathe a Teutonic spirit into Roman forms. The conception was magnificent; great results followed its partial execution. Two causes forbade success. The one was the ecclesiastical, especially the Papal power, apparently subject to the temporal, but with a strong and undefined prerogative which only waited the occasion to trample on what it had helped to raise. The Pope might take away the crown he had bestowed, and turn against the Emperor the Church which now obeyed him. The other was to be found in the discordance of the component parts of the Empire. The nations were not ripe for settled life or extensive schemes of polity; the differences of race, language, manners, over vast and thinly-peopled lands baffled every attempt to maintain their connection: and when once the spell of the great mind was withdrawn, the mutually repellent forces began to work, and the mass dissolved into that chaos out of which it had been formed. Nevertheless, the parts separated not as they met, but having all of them undergone influences which continued to act when political connection had ceased. For the work of Charles -- a genius preeminently creative -- was not lost in the anarchy that followed: rather are we to regard his reign as the beginning of a new era, or as laying the foundations whereon men continued for many generations to build. . . .

There were in his Empire, as in his own mind, two elements; those two from the union and mutual action and reaction of which modern civilization has arisen. These vast domains, reaching from the Ebro to the Carpathian mountains, from the Eyder to the Liris, were all the conquests of the Frankish sword, and were still governed almost exclusively by viceroys and officers of Frankish blood. But the conception of the Empire, that which made it a State and not a mere mass of subject tribes like those great Eastern dominions which rise and perish in a lifetime, the realms of Sesostris,

2 A pagan temple which served as a symbol of Saxon resistance against Charlemagne's conquest of the Saxons. [Editor's note]
3 A small Christian principality in extreme Northern Spain. [Editor's note]

or Attila, or Timur, 4 was inherited from an older and a grander system, was not Teutonic but Roman -- Roman in its ordered rule, in its uniformity and precision, in its endeavour to subject the individual to the system -- Roman in its effort to realize a certain limited and human perfection, whose very completeness shall exclude the hope of further progress. And the bond, too, by which the Empire was held together was Roman in its origin, although Roman in a sense which would have surprised Trajan or Severus, 5 could it have been foretold them. The ecclesiastical body was already organized and centralized, and it was in his rule over the ecclesiastical body that the secret of Charles's power lay. Every Christian -- Frank, Gaul, or Italian -- owed loyalty to the head and defender of his religion: the unity of the Empire was a reflection of the unity of the Church.

Into a general view of the government and policy of Charles it is not possible here to enter. Yet his legislation, his assemblies, his administrative system, his magnificent works, recalling the projects of Alexander and Caesar, the zeal for education and literature which he showed in the collection of manuscripts, the founding of schools, the gathering of eminent men from all quarters around him, cannot be appreciated apart from his position as restorer of the Roman Empire. Like all the foremost men of our race, Charles was all great things in one, and was so great just because the workings of his genius were so harmonious. He was not a mere barbarian warrior any more than he was an astute diplomatist; there is none of all his qualities which would not be forced out of its place were we to characterize him chiefly by it. Comparisons between famous men of different ages are generally as worthless as they are easy: the circumstances among which Charles lived do not permit us to institute a minute parallel between his greatness and that of those two to whom it is the modern fashion to compare him, nor to say whether he was or could have become as profound a politician as Caesar, as skilful a commander as Napoleon. But neither to the Roman nor to the Corsican was he inferior in that one quality by which both he and they chiefly impress our imaginations -- that intense, vivid, unresting energy which swept him over Europe in campaign after campaign, which sought a field for its workings in theology, science, literature, no less than in politics and war. As it was this wondrous activity that made him the conqueror of Europe, so was it by the variety of his culture that he became her civilizer. From him, in whose wide deep mind the whole medieval theory of the world and human life mirrored itself, did medieval society take the form and impress which it retained for centuries, and the traces whereof are, among us and upon us to this day.

The great Emperor was buried at Aachen, in that basilica which it had been the delight of his later years to erect and adorn with the treasures of ancient art. His tomb under the dome -- where now we see an enormous slab, with the words "Carolo Magno" -- was inscribed, "Magnus atque Orthodoxus Imperator." Poets fostered by his own zeal, sang of him who had given to the Franks the sway of Romulus. The gorgeous mists of romance gradually rose and wreathed themselves round his name, till by canonization as a saint he received the highest glory the world or the Church could confer. For the Roman Church claimed then, as she claims still, the privilege which humanity in one form or another seems scarce able to deny itself, of raising to honours almost divine its great departed; and as in pagan times temples had risen to a deified Emperor, so churches were dedicated to St. Charlemagne. Between Sanctus Carolus and Divus Julius how strange an analogy and how strange a contrast!

4 Bryce refers here to three of the world's great conquerors and empire builders. Sesostris was a great Egyptian pharaoh. Attila (about A.D. 406453) was king of the Huns at the time when the Hunnic empire extended over much of central Europe. Timur, or Tamerlane (about 13361405 was a Mongol conqueror who put together a great empire in Asia. [Editor's note]
5 Roman emperors; Trajan ruled A.D. 97-117, several emperors bore the name Severus; Bryce probably refers to Septimius Severus, who ruled A.D. 197-211. [Editor's note]


Over against Bryce's argument that the events of 800 signified the revival in the West of the old Roman Empire after it had been in eclipse more than three centuries, other historians have argued that the corona- tion of Charlemagne reflected the emergence of a new kind of empire, basically Christian and little related to the old Roman Empire. This view has been set forth by the English historian Christopher Dawson in a book, The Making Europe, which the author wrote in order to illu- minate the period of the early Middle Ages, a period which, he argues, "witnessed changes as momentous as any in the history of European civilization"; perhaps "it was the most creative age of all." Dawson has written several books in which he presents a strong case for the role of religion in shaping the basic forms of different civilizations.

THE HISTORICAL importance of the Carolingian age far transcends its material achievement. The unwieldy Empire of Charles the Great did not long survive the death of its founder, and it never really attained the economic and social organization of a civilized state. But, for all that, it marks the first emergence of the European culture from the twilight of pre-natal existence into the consciousness of active life. Hitherto the barbarians had lived passively on the capital which they had inherited from the civilization which they had plundered; now they began to co-operate with it in a creative social activity. The centre of mediaeval civilization was not to be on the shores of the Mediterranean, but in the northern lands between the Loire and the Weser which were the heart of the Frankish dominions. This was the formative centre of the new culture, and it was there that the new conditions which were to govern the history of mediaeval culture find their origin. The ideal of the mediaeval Empire, the political position of the Papacy, the German hegemony in Italy and the expansion of Germany towards the East, the fundamental institutions of mediaeval society both in Church and State, and the incorporation of the classical tradition in mediaeval culture -- all have their basis in the history of the Carolingian period.

The essential feature of the new culture was its religious character. While the Merovingian state had been predominantly secular, the Carolingian Empire was a theocratic power -- the political expression of a religious unity. This change in the character of the monarchy is shown by the actual circumstances of the installation of the new dynasty; for Pepin obtained Papal authority for the setting aside of the old royal house and was anointed king in the year 752 by St. Boniface according to the religious coro-

Reprinted by permission from The Making of Europe. An Introduction to the History of European Unity by Christopher Dawson. (Published by Sheed and Ward, Inc., New York, 1945), pp. 214-222, 256-258. nation rite which had grown up under ecclesiastical influence in Anglo-Saxon England and Visigothic Spain, but which had hitherto been unknown among the Franks. Thus the legitimation of the rule of the Carolingian house sealed the alliance between the Frankish monarchy and the Papacy which St. Boniface had done so much to bring about, and henceforward the Frankish monarchy was the recognized champion and protector of the Holy See. The Papacy had already been alienated from the Byzantine Empire by the Iconoclastic policy of the Isaurian emperors, and the extinction of the last survival of the Byzantine power at Ravenna by the Lombards in 751 forced the Pope to look for support elsewhere. In 754 Stephen II visited Pepin in his own dominions, and obtained from him a treaty which secured to the Papacy the Exarchate of Ravenna and the former Byzantine possessions in Italy, together with the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. In return the Pope reconsecrated Pepin as King of the Franks, and also conferred on him the dignity of Patrician of the Romans. This was an epoch-making event, for it marked not only the foundation of the Papal State which was to endure until 1870, but also the protectorate of the Carolingians in Italy, and the beginning of their imperial mission as the leaders and organizers of Western Christendom.

The Carolingians were naturally fitted to undertake this mission since they were themselves the representatives of both sides of the European tradition. They traced their descent from Gallo-Roman bishops and saints as well as from Frankish warriors, and they combined the warlike prowess of a Charles Martel with a vein of religious idealism, which shows itself in Carloman's renunciation of his kingdom in order to enter the cloister, and Pepin's sincere devotion to the cause of the Church. But it is in Pepin's successor, Charles the Great, that both these elements find simultaneous expression. He was above all a soldier with a talent for war and military enterprise which made him the greatest conqueror of his time. But in spite of his ruthlessness and unscrupulous ambition he was no mere barbaric warrior; his policy was inspired by ideals and universal aims. His conquests were not only the fulfilment of the traditional Frankish policy of military expansion; they were also crusades for the protection and unity of Christendom. By his destruction of the Lombard Kingdom he freed the Papacy from the menace which had threatened its independence for two hundred years and brought Italy into the Frankish Empire. The long drawn out struggle with the Saxons was due to his determination to put an end to the last remains of Germanic heathenism as well as of Saxon independence. His conquest of the Avars in 793-794 destroyed the Asiatic robber state which had terrorized the whole of Eastern Europe, and at the same time restored Christianity in the Danube provinces, while his war with the Saracens and his establishment of the Spanish March were the beginning of the Christian reaction to the victorious expansion of Islam. In the course of thirty years of incessant warfare he had extended the frontiers of the Frankish monarchy as far as the Elbe, the Mediterranean and the Lower Danube, and had united Western Christendom in a great imperial state. The coronation of Charles as Roman Emperor and the restoration of the Western Empire in the year 800 marked the final stage in the reorganization of Western Christendom and completed the union between the Frankish monarchy and the Roman Church which had been begun by the work of Boniface and Pepin. It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that the theocratic element in Charles' rule was based upon his imperial title or that he derived the universal character of his authority from the tradition of Roman imperialism.

Under the influence of his Anglo-Saxon adviser Alcuin, which was no less decisive than that of Boniface had been during the previous period, he had already acquired an exalted view of his authority as the divinely appointed leader of the Christian people.

But this ideal was based on the teaching of the Bible and St. Augustine rather than on the classical tradition of imperial Rome. For to Alcuin and the authors of the Libri Carolini Rome, even in its Byzantine form, was still the last of the heathen empires of prophecy and the representative of the Earthly Kingdom, whereas the Frankish monarch possessed the higher dignity of ruler and guide of the people of God. Charles was the new David and the second Josias, and as the latter had restored the law of God, so too Charles was the lawgiver of the Church and held the two swords of spiritual and temporal authority.

This theocratic ideal dominates every aspect of Carolingian government. The new Frankish state was to an even greater extent than the Byzantine Empire a church-state, the secular and religious aspects of which were inextricably intermingled.

The King is the governor of the Church as well as of the State, and his legislation lays down the strictest and most minute rules for the conduct of the clergy and the regulation of doctrine and ritual. The observance of Sunday, the performance of the ecclesiastical chant and the conditions for the reception of novices into the monasteries are all dealt with in the Capitularies, no less than the defense of the frontiers and the economic administration of the royal estate. On one occasion Charles even required a written answer from every parish priest as to the mode in which he administered baptism, the replies being forwarded by the bishops to Charles' palace for his personal inspection.

The government of the whole Empire was largely ecclesiastical, for the bishop shared equally with the count in the local administration of the 300 counties into which the Empire was divided, while the central government was mainly in the hands of the ecclesiastics of the chancery and of the royal chapel; the archchaplain being the King's chief adviser and one of the highest dignitaries of the Empire. The control and supervision of the local administration was ensured by the characteristic Carolingian institution of the Missi Dominici, who went on circuit through the counties of the Empire, like English judges of assize, and here too the most important missions were entrusted to bishops and abbots.

The theocratic spirit which inspired the Carolingian government is well shown by the curious address of one of Charles' Missi which has been preserved. "We have been sent here," he begins, "by our Lord, the Emperor Charles, for your eternal salvation, and we charge you to live virtuously according to the law of God, and justly according to the law of the world. We would have you know first of all that you must believe in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, . . .""Love God with all your hearts. Love your neighbours as yourselves. Give alms to the poor according to your means," and after recounting the duties of every class and state of life from wives and sons to monks and counts and public officials he concludes: "Nothing is hidden from God. Life is short and the moment of death is unknown. Be ye therefore always ready."

This address is more in the style of a Moslem Kadi than of a Roman official: indeed the Augustinian ideal of the City of God has become transformed by a crude simplification into something dangerously similar to a Christian version of Islam with Charles as the Commander of the Faithful. There was the same identification of religion and polity, the same attempt to enforce morality by legal means and to spread the faith by war. As Alcuin complained, the faith of the Saxons had been destroyed by tithes, and Charles' missionaries were plunderers (praedones) rather than preachers (praedicatores). The religion of Charles was like that of Islam, a religion of the sword, and his private life, in spite of his sincere piety, resembled that of a Moslem ruler. Yet for all that he claimed direct authority over the Church and intervened even in matters of dogma. In the words of his first letter to Leo III, he was "the representative of God who has to protect and govern all the members of God," he is "Lord and Father, King and Priest, the Leader and Guide of all Christians."

It is obvious that these claims were hardly reconcilable with the traditional authority of the Papacy. For Charles regarded the Pope as his chaplain, and plainly tells Leo III that it is the King's business to govern and defend the Church and that it is the Pope's duty to pray for it. Thus the destruction of the Lombard Kingdom seemed only to have increased the difficulties of the Papacy. It left Rome isolated between the two imperial powers of the Frankish monarchy and the Byzantine Empire, neither of which respected its independence. The dangers inherent in the situation soon became evident in the disputes that followed the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. The latter was a victory of the allied forces of Rome and Hellenism over the oriental heresy of the Iconoclasts. But Charles, whose religion had something in common with the militant simplicity of the Isaurian emperors, refused to accept the conciliar decisions. The Franks could hardly appreciate the importance of the question of image-worship for the peoples of Hellenic tradition. For as Strzygowski has shown (though not without exaggeration), the art of the Northern peoples was essentially at one with that of the East in its abstract aniconic character. Moreover, the influence of the Old Testament which was so strong in the Caroline circle led to a Puritanical attitude in the question of image-worship no less than in that of the observance of Sunday. Consequently Charles in person entered the theological lists against Byzantium and Rome. He caused his theologians to compile a series of treatises against the council which were published in his name as the Libri Carolini. He sent a Missus to Rome with a capitulary of eighty-five reprehensions for the Pope's instruction, and finally, in 794, he called a great council of all the western bishops at Frankfurt in which the Council of Nicaea was condemned and the doctrines of the imageworshippers refuted.

The position of Pope Hadrian was one of intense difficulty, and he was forced to temporize. He found himself in agreement with the Byzantine Empire against the Frankish kingdom and the Western Church; and yet the Byzantines had robbed him of his patrimonies in the East and regarded him as no better than an alien. In the event of a schism between East and West he would have been left isolated and powerless. Politically he was entirely dependent on the Frankish power, and on the death of Hadrian in 795, his successor did homage to Charles as his overlord.

This anomalous state of things was ended by the Pope's recognition of Charles as Roman Emperor and his coronation at Rome on Christmas Day in the year 800. It is difficult to say how far the Pope acted on his own initiative or whether he was the instrument of Charles and his Frankish advisers. The testimony of Charles' biographer, Einhard, is in favour of the former alternative, but it has met with little favour from modern historians, at least in France and England. Certainly Charles was the gainer, for his universal authority in the West now received the sanction of Roman law and tradition. For the Papacy, however, the advantage was no less clear. The supremacy of the Frankish monarchy which had threatened to overshadow that of Rome was now associated with Rome, and consequently also with the Papacy. The political allegiance of the Pope was no longer divided between the de jure authority of the Emperor at Constantinople and the de facto power of the Frankish King. As King, Charles had stood outside the Roman tradition; as Emperor, he entered into a definite juridical relationship with the head of the Church. His power was still as formidable as ever, but it was no longer indefinite and incalculable. Moreover, the idea of the Roman Empire was still indispensable to the Church. It was synonymous with Christian civilization, while the rule of the barbarians was so identified with heathenism and war that the Liturgy couples together "the enemies of the Roman name and the foes of the Catho- lic Faith." Consequently it is by no means improbable that the Papacy as the representation of Roman universalism should have taken the initiation in the restoration of the Empire in 800. . . .

However this may be, it is certain that the restoration of the Roman Empire, or rather the foundation of the new mediaeval Empire, had a religious and symbolic value which far outweighed its immediate importance from political point of view. Charles used it, no doubt, as a diplomatic counter in his negotiations with the Eastern Empire, but his coronation made no difference in his life or government. He never attempted to ape the ways of a Roman or Byzantine Caesar, as did Otto III 1 and other mediaeval emperors, but remained a thorough Frank, in dress and manners as well as in his political ideals. He even imperilled his whole work of imperial unification by dividing his dominions among his heirs in 806 according to the old Frankish customs, instead of following the Roman principle of indivisible political sovereignty; and the same tradition reasserted itself among his successors and proved fatal to the unity and continuity of the Carolingian Empire.

It was the churchmen and the men of letters rather than the princes and statesmen who cherished the ideal of the Holy Roman Empire. To them it meant the end of the centuries of barbarism and a return to civilized order. To Einhard Charles is a new Augustus, and he views his achievement in the light of the Augustan ideal; while Modoin, the Bishop of Auxerre, writes of his age as the Renaissance of classical antiquity. . . .

The storm of barbarian invasion that fell upon Europe in the ninth century seems sufficient of itself to explain the premature decline of the Carolingian Empire and the dissolution of the newly-acquired Western unity. Nevertheless, it is easy to exaggerate its importance. It was far from being the only influence at work; indeed, it is almost certain that the fortunes of the Carolingian Empire would have followed a similar course, even if it had not had to undergo the attacks of the Vikings and the Saracens.

The germs of decay were inherent in the Carolingian state from its origins. For in spite of its imposing appearance, it was a heterogeneous structure without an internal and organic principle of unity. It claimed to be the Roman Empire, but it was in fact the Frankish monarchy, and so it embodied two contradictory principles, the universalism of the Roman and Christian traditions on the one hand, and the tribal particularism of barbaric Europe on the other. Consequently, in spite of its name, it bore little resemblance to the Roman Empire or the civilized states of the old Mediterranean world, it had much more in common with those barbaric Empires of the Fluns and the Avars and the West Turks which were the ephemeral products of military conquest and which succeeded one another so rapidly during these centuries on the outskirts of the civilized world.

The Roman Empire of the Carolingians was a Roman Empire without the Roman law and without the Roman legions, without the City and without the Senate. It was a shapeless and unorganized mass with no urban nerve centres and no circulation of economic life. Its officials were neither civic magistrates nor trained civil servants, but merely territorial magnates and semi-tribal war leaders. And yet it was also the embodiment and representative of an ideal, and this ideal, in spite of its apparent failure, proved more durable and persistent than any of the military or political achievements of the period. It outlived the state to which it had given birth and survived through the anarchy that followed, to become the principle of the new order which arose in the West in the eleventh century.

The champions of this ideal were the great Carolingian churchmen, who played so large a part in the administration of the Empire and the determination of the imperial policy from the time of Charles the

1 A later Holy Roman Emperor of Germanic origin; he ruled from 983-1002. Otto III lived in Rome during most of his reign and tried to make it his capital. [Editor's note]

Great to that of his grandson Charles the Bald.

While the counts and secular magnates for the most part represented local and territorial interests, the leaders of the ecclesiastical party stood for the ideal of a universal Empire as the embodiment of the unity of Christendom and the defender of the Christian faith. Agobard of Lyons 2 even ventures to attack the traditional Frankish principle of personal law and to demand the establishment of a universal Christian law for the universal Christian commonwealth. In Christ, he says, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Barbarian nor Scythian, neither Aquintanians, nor Lombards, nor Burgundians, nor Allemanni. "If God has suffered in order that the wall of separation and enmity should be done away and that all should be reconciled in His Body, is not the incredible diversity of laws that reigns not only in every region or city, but in the same household and almost at the same table, in opposition to this divine work of unity?"

Thus the Emperor was no longer the hereditary chieftain and war leader of the Frankish people; he was an almost sacerdotal figure who had been anointed by the grace of God to rule over the Christian people and to guide and protect the Church. This involves, as we have seen, a strictly theocratic conception of kingship, so that the Carolingian Emperor was regarded, no less than the Byzantine Basileus, as the vicar of God and the head of the Church as well as of the state. Thus Sedulius Scotus ( c. 850) speaks of the Emperor as being ordained by God as His vicar in the government of the Church and as having received power over both orders of rulers and subjects, while Cathulf goes so far as to say that the king stands in the place of God over all his people, for whom he has to account at the Last Day, while the bishop stands in the second place as the representative of Christ only.

But the Carolingian theocracy differed from the Byzantine in that it was a theocracy inspired and controlled by the Church. There was no lay bureaucracy such as existed in the Eastern Empire; its place was taken by the episcopate, from whose ranks the majority of the Emperor's advisors and ministers were drawn. Consequently, as soon as the strong hand of Charles the Great was removed, the theocratic ideal led to the exaltation of the spiritual power and the clericalization of the Empire rather than to the subordination of the Church to the secular power. . . .

2 Agobard was bishop of Lyons and an important intellectual leader in the ninth century. [Editor's note]


Among many historians there is a feeling that the explanations of the imperial coronation noted above are the results of dubious interpretations of the sources pertaining to that event and are the product of reading into the contemporary accounts ideas that are really the result of hindsight. The nature of these challenges can best be appreciated by reading the two short passages that follow, each the work of an eminent medievalist. Ferdinand Lot ( 1866-1952) was for many years a professor at the Sorbonne and the École des Hautes-É:tude in Paris. During those years his penetrating scholarship resulted in the publication of a wide range of works extending over the whole of the Middle Ages. Geoffrey Barraclough ( 1908-) is an English medievalist, specializing in German constitutional history. During his career he has taught at the Universities of Cambridge, Liverpool, and London.


During the last years of the eighth century, Charles, the king of the Franks, appeared as the most powerful ruler of the Christian world. The idea of conferring on him the title of emperor, which was still one full of prestige, appears natural to a reader who is not warned. In reality, to contemporaries it was a thing unheard of, almost monstrous.

More than three centuries earlier the Roman Empire had disappeared in the West, or more correctly, only one emperor continued to rule whereas before there had been two, and that single emperor resided not in Rome, but in Constantinople.

Justinian in the sixth century had attempted the reconstitution of the Empire in all Mediterranean areas. He had succeeded in Africa and Italy and only partially in Spain. He had attempted nothing in Gaul and for a reason. The Franks, who had made themselves masters there, were unconquerable and did not recognize any real supremacy on the part of Justinian. Very quickly in the following years the attempt at reconquest proved to be disastrous. The Lombards conquered almost all of Italy. Islam seized Syria, Egypt, Africa, and Spain from the Empire. Slavs flooded over the Balkan peninsula. However, even so frightfully amputated, the Empire which persisted in calling itself Roman still cut a great figure in comparison to the barbarian principalities of the West. It was understood that the sovereign who reigned at Constantinople was, in dignity, the highest in the Christian world and kings treated him with deference. The idea of opposing

Reprinted by permission from Ferdinand Lot, "Le concept d'empire à l'époque carolingienne," Mercure de France, CCC ( 1947), 415-416. Translated by the editor.

to him a rival in the West was not consonant with the spirit of the times. The Empire was considered to be a unity. Two emperors at once, one in the East and one in the West, was a concept as monstrous as a man with two heads. Thus nothing of that kind could have sprung into the heads of that small coterie of ecclesiastics who venerated old traditions and who, in the course of the year 799 (since there is no trace of such a design earlier), are supposed by some to have pushed Charles, "king of the Franks and the Lombards and patricius of Rome," into assuming a title still more imposing. According to this view it was the thought of these churchmen that Charles the Emperor would have to reign in Constantinople as well as in Rome, and the occasion was propitious since the imperial throne in the East was at the moment empty. This was a perfectly senseless scheme. The Byzantines, the "Romans" on the Bosporus, would never have accepted for their master one of the Franks, a people which they always thought of as barbarians. And Charlemagne would have been completely incapable of forcing them to accept his will, even if he was powerful in the West. How would he transport himself to the East? The center of Europe had been an impracticable route of approach for several centuries and he had no war fleet of any consequence. It is that which explains without any doubt, in my personal opinion, why, when Charles departed from St. Peter's crowned emperor by Leo III and proclaimed by the so-called people of Rome (in reality, the nobles massed in the basilica by the pontiff), he manifested discontent and declared that if he had known what had been prepared for him he would not have entered. His coronation was in effect a complete surprise. Pope Leo III, who owed his reestablishment to this Frank and who trembled for his own security, believed that he could win Charles's support by placing the crown on his head. . . . But the one thus elected suspected that he had been launched on art ill-fated affair -- into a conflict with Byzantium. . . . If he desired the imperial dignity -- . . . and that is not certain -- he wished for it at an hour of his own choosing. His hand had been forced; things had been precipitated hastily; it was that which a politically perceptive mind such as his could not allow. . . .


The curtain [on the history of the mediaeval Empire] traditionally rises on a scene of deliberate ceremony set in the basilica of the apostle Peter in Rome on Christmas Day in the year 800.

The question immediately arises whether this traditional starting-point is correct, whether the coronation of Charles the Great really was (in Bryce's formulation) "the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire." The answer, I think, is this: that it does, of course, set a train of events in motion, but that it is prehistory, rather than history. The empire of Charles the Great (it has been truly said) "went with him to the grave"; he did not found the western empire of the middle ages, nor was his empire "revived" or "restored" (as is so often stated) by Otto I. Not so long ago the coronation of Charles the Great was called "the most important and most puzzling riddle in the whole of mediaeval history"; but we may fairly say to-day that the riddle has been solved. We know now, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Charles's coronation was the outcome of a curious chain of events, of intrigues and dissidence, in Rome itself and in Constantinople, reaching back no further than 798. We know also that the events of Christmas, 800, were played out within the

____________________ Reprinted by permission from Geoffrey Barraclough, History in a Changing World ( Oxford: Basil Blackwell & Mott, 1955), pp. 109-110.

framework of the existing Roman empire -the empire we often loosely term Byzantine -- of which Rome was still an integral part. All that was intended and all that was done, was to elect a new emperor in the existing empire. There was no idea either of creating a new empire in the west, or of "restoring" or "reviving" the Roman dominion in the west, which had been obliterated centuries earlier with the rise of the Germanic kingdoms; nor was there even the idea of "transferring" the existing Empire from east to west. All that was at issue was the person of the emperor -- the emperor, not the empire.

Consequently we are justified in saying that no tradition, no idea of assuming the imperial title as "the most appropriate expression" of the "universal" power of the Frankish monarchy, lay behind the events of 800; the imperial crown was not (as Bryce maintained) "the goal towards which the policy of the Frankish kings had for many years pointed." The initiative in 800 seems clearly to have come from the side of the Pope; but the constitutive act was not coronation by the Pope but election by the Roman people. The idea that the Pope, in crowning Charles, bestowed the imperial dignity upon the Carolingian dynasty, or even simply on Charles himself, is erroneous; coronation was a pleasing solemnity, which heightened the effect of the proceedings and surrounded them with a religious nimbus, but it was in no way necessary for the lawful institution of an emperor. Election, on the other hand, though it conferred the imperial title, could not convey it to a dynasty; for the dignity of emperor was not, and never had been hereditary; and though Charles became emperor in 800, no right to succeed was thereby conveyed to his son or sons. That is why it is true to say that Charles's empire died with him. All that happened in 800, therefore, was that Charles, who was already king of the Franks and king of the Lombards, became -- in the eyes of those who elected him -Roman emperor. He did not, of course, become sole emperor; though there might often be a "senior" emperor, it had never been the rule that only one emperor could reign over the Roman dominions at one time. Nor, of course, did he become Frankish emperor; there was not, and never would be, such a person. His Frankish and Lombard kingdoms were, and remained, outside his empire; and that could not be otherwise, because the empire in which he claimed to be emperor was the existing Roman empire.



The brief remarks of Lot and Barraclough just presented suggest a new line that scholarship has recently taken in seeking to assess the nature and significance of the events of 800. There has been a tendency to look to the Papacy and to local affairs in Rome to explain the coronation of Charles. The scholar most instrumental in establishing this concept of the coronation was the German medievalist, Karl Heldmann, long a professor at the University of Halle. His minute investigations of the problem of the coronation led him to conclude in a brilliant book published in 1928 that the coronation of Charlemagne occurred to resolve certain difficulties that arose in the city of Rome in connection with the career of Pope Leo III. The small segment of his book which follows gives only the basic elements of his thesis; it by no means does justice to a study of the problem of the coronation of Charlemagne which still remains the most thorough ever made.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Heldmann believes that the whole range of interpretations of the imperial coronation of Charlemagne can be reduced to two opposing views: a universalist theory and a localist theory.]

The general historical background is the same for both theories [of the coronation of Charlemagne]. On one side there was the general political situation of Europe at the end of the eighth century, conditioned as it was by the internal and external difficulties with which the Roman Empire in Byzantium had to contend under Leo IV ( 775-780), his son Constantine VI ( 780797), and his widow Irene ( 780-790, ruled together with Constantine; 797-804, ruled alone); by the ascending might of the great Frankish monarchy which was becoming a world power in the western Mediterranean under Pepin ( 751-768) and still more under Charles ( 768-814); by the . . . uncertain position of an Italy divided politically between the Frankish-Lombard and the Roman-Byzantine empires; and finally by the difficult and unsettled conditions of Rome, the Roman Church, and the Papacy under Stephen III ( 768-772), Hadrian I ( 772-795), and Leo III ( 795-816). On the other side there were the spiritual currents which determined the character of the times: the numerous complications which the iconoclastic struggle in particular had cast over the whole church; [the effect of] the expansion of the concepts of the Roman Catholic Church over the whole RomanGerman world; the special problems of ecclesiastical discipline and dogma which by the end of the eighth century had affected the western Church in all its parts; and finally the cultural striving of the so-

Reprinted by permission from Karl Heldmann, Das Kaisertum Karls des Grossen. Theorien und Wirklichkeit (Quellen und Studien zur Verfassungsgeschichte des deutsches Reiches in Mittelalter und Neuzeit, hersg. von F. Hartung, K. Rauch, Altf. Schultze, Edm. E. Stengel, Band VI, Heft 2) ( Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1928), pp. 5-6, 66-73, 207-244. Translated by the editor.

called Carolingian Renaissance which above all was directed toward the awakening and strengthening of religious life.

No difference of opinion exists with respect to the appreciation of the fact that without this historical situation in the eighth century the emperorship of Charles would have been entirely impossible. What does divide the scholars is their judgments about the nature and the weight of these influences and the significance which they had with respect to the origin and realization of the imperial concept.

According to the universalist position . . . the emperorship of Charles the Great is the direct product, the internally as well as externally "necessary" and "natural" conclusion, the "logical result" of that general development, the self-explanatory culmination of the relationships between the Frankish kingdom and the Roman Church, between the Arnulfingers 1 and the Papacy, the logical and "most fitting" expression of the universal position of power of the great ruler of the Franks, and so something like a ripe fruit which Charles' emperor-like policy dropped in his lap. As seen from the point of view of the universalist concept, the act of December 25, 800, was preceded by a more or less long series of preparatory steps, was put into operation systematically, and only in outward appearance was brought to completion in a spontaneous fashion.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Heldmann now proceeds to submit the "universalist" theory to a searching criticism. He sums up his investigation as follows.]

Now let us sum up the results of our critique of the universalist theory.

An impartial evaluation of all historical conditions in Western Europe as they had developed under Charles the Great and as the are revealed by the sources dealing with events at the end of the eighth century makes it undeniable that certain general conditions actually existed without which the emperorship of Charles would have been entirely impossible. Such an evaluation will also have to concede that only in the context of all these phenomena could there have developed a Roman emperorship for the Frankish king whose hands helped shuffle the cards and held the reins. But it is not possible to make it appear that these are factors out of which the emperorship inevitably had to arise from a logical and inner necessity and from which it actually did proceed on that Christmas day in the year 800. There was no "authorship of the imperial project" in the sense of the universalist theory, since there existed no imperial project which had emerged from the general course of events and from the general hopes and wishes, currents and needs of the time.

The doctrine of the continuation of the Roman Empire in the West did not call for Charles' emperorship -- for that idea was foreign to the Frankish realm -- nor did the desire of the West for a revival of the imperium Romanum -- for this empire still existed. . . . The ideals of the intellects of that time bound them neither to the sovereign universal empire of the past nor to the weakened territorial empire of the present. The world of their "universal" thoughts and ideals lay, politically, within the boundaries of the worldly state of the great Frankish king, and religiously, in the wholly other kind and really higher sphere of an imperium christianum, an empire of Christ on earth, which embraced all people of the true faith and which would last until the end of time. This empire, linking heaven and earth, was already well governed; it received its spiritual leadership through the bishops as successors of the apostles, at the head of whom was the representative of the prince of the apostles, and also its external expansion and welfare was cared for through the strong arm of worldly powers acting as the representatives of God, above all the Roman emperor in the East and the Frankish king and patricius of the Romans, the orthodox and most powerful ruler of the West. A Roman emperor was not needed in the

1 That is, the Carolingians; the founder of the family was a man named Arnulf. [Editor's note]

West in order to fulfill this so-called theocratic ideal of state. That Charles before 800 was ever at any time associated with an imperial idea or an imperial title in a political sense or that he ever possessed any imperial ambitions or that he, so to speak, flirted with the imperial concept, can in no instance be proved: just as little can it be ascertained at any point to whom and from whom such a thought took precise form.

Not only was it the case "that nobody before 800 had spoken of the elevation of Charles to emperor"; but also in the broad reach of the Frankish kingdom nobody could even have thought of such a possibility. It is not just the insufficiency, poverty, and incompleteness of the contemporary sources, so often and so movingly complained about, which cause them to fail us when we look for information concerning the origin and the realization of the most grandiose political ideas of that time, . . . those concerning the plan to crown the Frankish king Charles as the Roman emperor and to bring back again to new life the Roman Empire in the West. Rather it is modern investigators who, on the one hand, seek in vain to hear from those sources what they do not say, since there is nothing to be said, and who, on the other hand, refuse to credit, in the name of the art of interpretation, what Einhard assures us as clearly as possible was the decision of Charles: that he would not have gone to the Church of St. Peter on December 25, 800, had he known what was awaiting him. Some men have even gone so far as to accuse Einhard of a lie and Charles of hypocrisy. . . . And it is also not the fault of Alcuin and his literary contemporaries if scholars have drawn from their sycophantic letters and verses more than is in them, or if some scholars have not been satisfied with the very simple knowledge that these writings, aside from their personal contents, are throughout inclined toward only two tones: one of concern over the building up and extension of Christendom internally and externally, and the other of admiration for and glorification of the great Frankish . . . ruler as the lord protector, defender, and guide of the holy Church of God and the Empire of Christ. . . .

Thus emperorship of Charles is an example of one of those which are found so often in history. As universal as its importance has become, . . . as far reaching as have been the effects which it exerted either directly or indirectly on the development of world history: still it could only be a prophecy issued with the benefit of hindsight that could make one believe that its origin must also necessarily have laid in universal needs and demands. Never would the Frankish king and patricius of the Romans have aspired to the rank of the Roman emperor, nor would at any time the eagle of the Roman Empire in his person have extended its wings over Western Europe, had not a precise event served as the direct cause for such an eventuality. It was not the Orbis Romanus [Roman world], nor the universal idea of the Imperium Romanum [Roman Empire], nor the need for expansion on the part of the Frankish empire, nor the theocratic ideas of Charles and his friends, but the Urbs romana [the Roman city] and the local relations between the Papacy and its citizens which supply the solid ground upon which one must walk in order to discover the roots of the Carolingian empire. And it was not a long prepared and well discussed project which finally brought about the elevation of Charles to the rank of emperor, but the incidence of a sudden event. . . .

It was the double position of Rome and its duchy, more easily discernible in its de facto than in its legal aspect, which provides the immediate background for the elevation of Charles to the imperial throne. On the one hand Rome was a territory under the administration of the Pope and the protection of the Frankish king in his role as patricius of the Romans; on the other, Rome existed as an actual "autonomous territory constituting part of the Roman Empire." The act of December 25, 800, grew directly out of the local opposition [to the reigning pontiff], as that opposition developed in Rome during the Pontificate of Leo III (beginning December 26, 795) and as it had shaped itself by the end of the eighth century, [and if this situation is not taken into account] that act will not be intelligible in either its external or its internal nature.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Heldmann then describes at considerable length the trouble between Leo III and the Roman population, the appearance of Charles in Rome to settle this affair, and the negotiations that resulted. He also examines with great care the legal position of Rome, its citizens, the Pope, and the patricius of the Romans within the existing Roman Empire. This sets the stage for his explanation of the imperial coronation.]

During the entire second half of the eighth century the Roman Empire remained the sphere within which was enacted the political life of Roman Italy, and of Rome, which was not only its ecclesiastical but also its political capital. Since, however, [the free exercise of the political] life [of Roman Italy and of Rome] did not demand a political emancipation from the Empire of the Caesars nor from the imperial throne in Constantinople, which still represented the highest dignity in the world, the emperorship of Charles the Great cannot then be explained on this basis. Yet, it is clear that the Frankish king's title as Roman emperor can only be understood in the context of the Roman Empire: it is no different from what was once the case with the rank of patricius of the Frankish king. 2 If it was not a political motive, then it must have been another motive which brought forth the action of December 25, 800, out of a real and historically determined necessity. And if this motive did not arise out of the general political conditions and events of imperial Italy, we will have to seek it in the special conditions of Rome at that time.

This is the view which . . . [has been developed by several historians and called] the Blutbanntheorie [theory of judicial authority], which might more appropriately be called the Majestätstheorie [theory of sovereignty]. It goes as follows: the patricius Charles had been promoted to [the rank of] Roman emperor by the Pope and his following "primarily" or solely for this reason, that he alone -- being in full possession of the "higher, the imperial power" and "the highest jurisdictional authority," the sovereign authority "in the sense in which the ancient emperor possessed an authority superior to the exercise of criminal jurisdiction enjoyed by the urban prefect" -- could carry through the trial for crimes and treason against the enemies of Leo according to the precedents of the Roman criminal law. And also [ Charles was promoted for the further reason] that he could then prevent "threatening clashes," in Rome and so make the regime of Leo in Rome secure against a rebellious noble faction. . . .

The objections raised by Ohr and Hauck 3 against the "Blutbanntheorie" cannot be regarded as conclusive. The former, who has taken the most openly opposed position, sees in this theory only a "paper system," which cannot be fitted by either him or Hauck into the notions which both have formed concerning the political and legal position not only of the Pope but, more particularly, of Charles himself before the imperial coronation. According to Hauck, Leo needed no emperor, since Charles as patricius already was in a position that would have made it possible for him, through the rights imposed by his promises of protection, to use force against any enemy of the Pope; on the other hand the pro-church view of Ohr makes Charles appear as an unscrupulous power politician of the most Machiavellian kind "who throughout his life continually broke laws and created new ones" and to whom the position of patricius would have been no

2 Heldmann means here that when the title of patricius was granted to Pepin by the Pope that act represented an attempt to provide the Frankish ruler with some kind of legal status within the Roman Empire so that he could legally exercise protection over Rome and the Papacy. Thus, the title of patricius had no meaning unless the Roman Empire continued to exist. [Editor's note]
3 Heldmann refers here to two German historians, W. Ohr and Albert Hauck, who wrote influential interpretations of the coronation of Charles the Great. [Editor's note]

hindrance "to the illegal settlement of a criminal case in Rome" and to the striking down of the arch-enemies of Leo, if they only could have been so dealt with.

These objections misunderstand not only the personality and ideas of Charles the Great as well as the political, legal, and actual conditions as they existed in imperial Italy and Rome during the second half of the eighth century, . . . but also they underestimate . . . the importance of legal principles in the medieval world. Only from this viewpoint . . . can the emperorship of Charles the Great be understood in both its external and internal historical context and in its true character.

Just as in antiquity and the Middle Ages there always existed as the basis and nerve center of all social and political life a sacredly-founded law which was superior to mere custom and tradition and which stood in opposition to all changes in political arrangements and administrative institutions, so also [in the eighth century] there persisted both a formal and a real connection between the whole of imperial Italy recovered by Justinian 4 and the [vestigial] Roman Empire [with its capital in the East]. The antithesis [which had prevailed in the early years of the Empire] between the old ius civile (law of the city) and the newer ius gentium (universal law) had long since dissolved into the unity of the ius Romanum as the expression of the legal community of Roman imperial society. Upon the Roman law of Justinian and his successors, "the highest glory of Roman civilization," there was erected, without the suppression of non-Roman national laws, the social order, all constitutional life, and all civic life in the Empire as a whole as well as in Rome. The lex Romana, the foremost law in the world, was the only law having validity in imperial Italy and in Rome, it being the law by which, according to medieval principles of tribal and personal law, the Romans as well as the Popes and their Roman church lived, and thereby [serving as] the legal basis for the Western Church dependent on Rome and [constituting] one of the most powerful links between Roman civilization and the Middle Ages.

But this law -- even in its specialized ecclesiastical form as the canon law -- was absolutely incomprehensible without an emperor as its source and its final authority. No power on earth could remove one title from or add one title to this law without the consent of the emperor. And in no sense was the supremacy of the emperor, implicit in this law, either over the territory where Roman law applied or over Rome only nominal or "fictitious." Certainly this authority was no longer so rigidly administered in the old capital city and the cradle of the Empire as in the provinces, and in the course of the eighth century it was constantly restricted in the direct political and administrative realm by the autonomous action of the Roman population under the leadership of the Papacy. Nevertheless, it lived on as a piously respected tradition in the consciousness of both imperial Italy and Rome; and it persisted as a living reality not only for the Pope as an imperial bishop, but also for the imperial subjects in the form of their political institutions, and especially for the whole population of Rome in the sphere of its judicial organization. Legal jurisdiction was, along with military authority and financial authority, the decisive mark of political sovereignty. But legal jurisdiction as such belonged in no instance to the bishop of the imperial city of Rome; on the contrary, in the last instance, it belonged to the emperor. He alone held the power of life and death over the Roman citizens; he alone was authorized to punish "law-breakers for whom the Roman law prescribed death or deportation."

In the person of the urban prefect (praefectus urbi) was lodged the administration of imperial judicial authority over and in Rome by virtue of a general and a fixed delegation. A high noble of senatorial

4 Heldmann refers here to Justinian's (ruled 527565) conquest of Italy from the Ostrogoths and his reinstitution of direct imperial control over that territory. By this time, of course, Constantinople was the seat of the imperial government which controlled Italy. [Editor's note]

rank -- subject always directly to the emperor and since the imperial reforms of Diocletian and Constantine standing equal in rank beside the four Praefecti praetorio [praetorian prefects], 5. . . -- the Praefectus urbi was . . . the representative of imperial authority and the imperial civil administrator for the city of Rome. Only through him did the old capital city of the Empire still enjoy a jurisdictional independence, just as through the Senate it enjoyed a special position administratively. The position [of the urban prefect] certainly was not independent of the military-political power of the exarch-patricius or of the duke-patricius, 6 but it was independent of the civil provincial organization and the other authorities of the Empire. Indeed, herein lay the chief priority which Rome enjoyed over the rest of Italy in the legal realm -her prefecture had not like the praetorian prefecture been absorbed over the course of time in the office of the exarch. "All imperial public officials with competence in the city of Rome" were placed under the urban prefect, who was from the beginning the head of the imperial police of Rome and who from the second century A.D. throughout the Middle Ages also held the highest criminal jurisdiction, or as one would say in German, the judicial authority (der Blutbann), over Rome. Confined like the old praetor urbanus to the city and its territory, the later urban prefect, standing at the head of the Senate, . . . remained as the last memento of the time when the city of Rome had exercised lordship over the Empire. The Pope was also subordinated to the city prefect to the extent that in the Ostrogothic period the latter had been declared . . . the last temporal court for the appeal of those suits of the Roman clergy decided by the Pope in the first instance.

To be sure the official position of the urban prefect was lessened in competence through his subordination in rank to the exarch-patricius of Ravenna or the dukeparticius of Rome, and his administrative importance, if perhaps not legally lessened through the general superintendence of the patricius, was nevertheless reduced as a result of the greater weight of papal influence over the administrative departments placed under the urban prefect. But the urban prefect and the Senate still officially represented the temporal and civil Rome, just as the Pope and the clergy represented the spiritual and ecclesiastical Rome. And the judicial authority of the urban prefect continued to exist in full measure. Territorially, that authority extended, as it had at the beginning of the third and at the end of the sixth centuries and at least in theory still in the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, to the one hundredth milestone on every road running out of Rome. The prefect's legal competence included, according to imperial law, all criminal jurisdiction directly, and ordinary civil jurisdiction indirectly, in so far as the urban prefect was vice sacra the highest court of appeal for the civil tribunals of Rome. For the city nobility of senatorial rank and for members of the city guilds (corporati) he was the sole judge in criminal affairs from the beginning and in civil affairs after the middle of the seventh century, at which time the office of praetorian prefect, the holder of which competed with the urban prefect under certain

5 The praetorian prefects were the highest administrative officials in the Roman imperial bureaucracy, standing just below the emperor. After the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine each was assigned to direct civil affairs in one of the four great praefectures or subdivisions of the empire; the prefects, however, were deprived of military power by these reforms. [Editor's note]
6 The exarch of Italy was a special authority created by the emperors in Constantinople to exercise military and civil authority over imperial territory in Italy. Graced with extensive powers, this official had been created especially to meet the constant military threat to Italy after its reconquest by Justinian. Usually the exarch resided at Ravenna. The Italian territories under the emperor were subdivided into military districts called duchies; in each of the duchies military command was entrusted to a duke (dux). Rome was the center of such a duchy; the duke of Rome therefore had military precedence over all other imperial officials in the city. The effective power the duke of Rome declined in the seventh and eight centuries. Both the exarch and the duke Rome enjoyed the title of patricius which enhanced their prestige and implied their obligation to protect. [Editor's note]

circumstances, ceased to exist. In the hands of the urban prefect lay the right to impose the capital penalty (ius gladii) on Roman citizens, a power delegated to him by the emperor, as well as the right of deportation with immediate loss of Roman citizenship. Against his sentences in criminal cases one could appeal only to the emperor and then only in major matters; his sentence of deportation could be executed only by the emperor who had to determine the place of internment; and only the emperor had the right to pardon a sentence made by the urban prefect.

The scholars who have adopted the traditional notion of the not only de facto but also legally absolute rule of the Pope over the Eternal City . . . are confronted with a grave difficulty, in that it must be conceded that at the beginning of the Pontificate of Hadrian I "the [Roman political] community assembled once more in the old way under the urban prefect, who here in the presence of all the people acting in the capacity of judge" had to judge in a murder case. It is understandable enough that pains have been taken . . . to try to accommodate this appearance of the urban prefect into the context of the traditional concept. But any such attempt is confronted by the paucity of source material concerning the office [of the urban prefect] from the Ostrogothic period of the sixth century onward. For from the time of Gregory the Great ( 590-604) to the time of Hadrian I ( 772-795) there is no mention of this office, and again from Hadrian's time on for almost two hundred years there are no certain traces of its existence.

Likewise contemporary sources give no information about either the question of the procedure for filling the office of prefect or about the length of his term. As a result of this -- and how could it be otherwise? -it has been concluded that the urban prefect received his office from the hands of the Pope, that in the exercise of his authority as judge he came into official "dependence on the Pope," that he sat in judgment in the name of the Pope, and that accordingly the Pope could also set him aside. What proof is there for all these suppositions? None. . . .

Just as little as it can be proved that at any time the Pope used his official position to participate in any legal manner in the choice of an urban prefect, can it be demonstrated that the praefectus praetorio of Italy participated in it so long as this official existed. For this official was in no way superior to the urban prefect but was equal to him in rank; and the assumption [made by some scholars] that the retiring urban prefect had to answer to the praetorian prefect rests only on an error. Likewise, it cannot be proved that the exarch appointed the urban prefect.

Like the praetorian prefects, the urban prefects of Rome and Constantinople belonged rather to that group of imperial officials whose appointment, since the reforms of Diocletian and Constantine, had been specifically reserved directly to the ruler and whose offices, in so far as they were based on imperial certificate of appointment (codicillus) and imperial instructions (liber mandatorum), were also dependent on the personal decision of the emperor with regard to their duration. If not specifically limited to one year or if the emperor did not withdraw their mandate from them, in any case they usually legally relinquished their posts at the death or at the end of the reign of the emperor.

This was the legal basis of the urban prefecture. However little information we may possess about the history of this office during the period from the end of the sixth to the end of the eighth century, there is no doubt that this office actually "was transmitted in uninterrupted continuity" beyond the eighth century to the end of the Middle Ages, without having left during this time too many signs of its existence in the historical sources. Moreover, and more importantly, one would need quite specific evidence to make it credible that its legal character had changed since the time of Justinian and Gregory the Great. How could an office, which as late as the twelfth century was characterized as "the greatest and the oldest" of the city of Rome have lost its "old splendor and its earlier importance" as early as the end of the eighth century and have sunk from an office directly under the emperor to an office subordinated to the bishop of the city of Rome?

Neither legally nor actually did this happen. Even the murder trial -- usually cited in support of these views -- held at the beginning of the Pontificate of Hadrian I ( 772 or 773), in connection with which the urban prefect appeared directly for the first time in almost two hundred years and left behind for the last time for almost another two hundred years any provable traces of the exercise of his office, does not prove this. For this action was not only settled in accordance with the scrupulous observance of legal precedents, but moreover it also shows that the urban prefecture had still completely maintained its old character as the highest criminal court of Rome, and what in this case is even more important, had maintained itself as an imperial office. The Pope appears in this procedure only as the leader of the preliminary inquiry and then . . . only as the public plaintiff acting at the request of and in the name of, which is to say, as the spokesman of the Roman people. Neither did he exercise thereby any independent secular judicial authority, nor did he even empower the prefect to carry out "the trial and judgment." On the contrary, he transferred the defendants to the prefect for trial and judgment: not because the judicial authority (der Blutbann) at that time would have been thought incongruous with any spiritual dignity, including especially the papal dignity, but because it still lay in the hands of the prefect of the city. Who could ever have imagined it to be in the hands of the bishop of the city? . . .

No more than the Pope, had the Frankish king-patricius at any time become involved in the legal system of Rome. This "restraint with reference to all internal affairs in Rome" is decidedly . . . characteristic not only of Pepin but also of Charles the Great. All activity which Charles had carried on, at least after 774, as patricius did not cause him, even as an actual neighbor of the Roman territory, to infringe upon the legal position either of the Roman Church or of the city of Rome. The law of the Roman Empire, the sovereignty of the Roman emperor, the autonomy of the Roman capital, the judicial system of the Roman people, and the jurisdiction of Roman officials stood outside his policy. At the time of the murder trial about 772, he was already patricius; but neither at that time nor at any other time did his patriciate play a role in the judicial system and in the legal life of Rome.

One can make no greater mistake in trying to interpret the real conditions and the whole ideological point of view of either that period in general or of Charles the Great in particular than to carry over into them the one-sided and brutal concepts of power politics and the political Machiavellianism of modern times. [It has been] . . . rightly remarked that "Charles in all his battles and wars did not pursue a blind drive to conquest, but allowed himself to be guided only by the idea and the conviction that he understood the challenges of his time correctly" -- challenges born above all out of the spirit of Christianity and the Church, which "permeated all of Charles' political actions." But this spirit was the orderly and conservative spirit of the medieval concept of the state based on law. It is hard to understand how an historian could think that it would not be understood [by his contemporaries] why Charles, when he in his role as patricius Romanorum had to decide in the quarrels between the Pope and the Romans, could not in that same capacity reach a final judgment -- a decision of life and death over members of a foreign people! -- or [that they did not understand] why, supposing that there was no urban prefect, "since neither the Pope nor Charles could exercise criminal justice, an urban prefect was not named" -- [who but the emperor could have legally named] the chief official of the emperor in Rome! -- nor finally, [did they fail to understand] why Leo, "supported by Frankish soldiers," did not have the "power" to "compel the urban prefect" [to do papal bidding] or "to depose him and put a more docile one in his place" -especially in a metropolis with a proud citizenry which was conscious of its merits and its rights! Only if one approaches the problem with the modern idea of the mightover-right cult does it appear [as some scholars have argued] that "if it was only a matter of bringing about a judgment against the enemies of Leo, certainly the means could have been found that would have spared King Charles from the unpleasant imperial crown."

No, it was not the case that at the end of the eighth century complete anarchy ruled in Rome, which could only have been brought to an end by a policy of the mailed fist and of sic volo, sic iubeo [as I wish so will I order], such a policy being superior to "judicial sophistry" and "thin [legal] threads." To argue thus does not mean to underrate the importance of the promise of the Carolingians to protect Rome, which rested on an entirely different basis, so long as one remains conscious of the fact that between the position of both Leo and Charles with respect to Rome and the existing legal order in Rome there existed very clearly defined boundaries, the maintenance of which was not only a vital question for Rome and its population, but equally of primary interest to the patricius called there as an arbiter.

As little as the Pope was the sovereign of Rome so long as the legal membership of Rome and the Romans in the Roman Empire and the sovereignty of that Empire over Rome remained firm, just so little also did the dignity of the patricius of Charles include in itself a legal right extensive enough to embrace judicial supremacy over Rome and-as an extension of the same -the right of pardon. At no time was Charles as patricius "the highest judge" in Rome and over the Romans, [nor was he one] who "already before his coronation" felt himself so much "lord of Rome" that "as sovereign he might judge" even the Pope inasmuch as he had "forced him to take the purification oath. . . ." Moreover, on the other hand, the Pope did not need to give himself into the protection of a secular master through the elevation of Charles to emperor, since on the contrary he had long enjoyed such protection [from Charles as patricius of Rome]. . . . It is not only "unlikely" -it is not even to be considered, that Charles had thought about "the possession of Rome before he held the Empire and the imperial crown." Neither had he thought of the Empire and of the imperial crown "after the coup d'état of Irene," nor could he think of them.

From these basic considerations of the continuity and the integrity of the legal life and the judicial constitution of Rome at the end of the eighth century we now turn again to the trial of Leo III and its importance for the emperorship of Charles the Great.

Leo's oath of December 23, 800, had formally vindicated the Pope -- that meant that his opponents were placed formally in the wrong by virtue of his action. For every true son of the Church, and for Charles too, their guilt was thereby made clear in a legal sense. The tables were now turned: legal proceedings now not only could but indeed had to be directed against them. With these one could proceed properly only according to the precedents of the Roman law. Only now for the first time did the Pope find himself in a position to raise a formal accusation against his opponents. This charge cited them as traitors.

In the writings concerning the problem the statement is often made that the sentencing of the opponents of Leo III followed immediately after the purification oath. But this is not correct. Between the two events lay the imperial coronation. And that is decisive. There can be no doubt about it. Since the imperial coronation cannot be explained in any other way, as my earlier investigations hoped to demonstrate, then it belongs organizationally to the sphere of this trial and is to be understood in the context of this trial.

The purification oath of Leo, in itself, had cleared the way for a criminal procedure against the conspirators. Any independent intervention of the Pope or the king-patricius into such a procedure would -- as things stood before December 25, 800 -- have signified not only a complete break with the legal traditions and order of Rome, would not only have upset the entire legal system of Rome, but also would have openly sharpened the political opposition and hatred against Leo to the extreme, and furthermore would have extended that feeling to Charles. Could either of them have allowed such a state of affairs to exist? According to the Roman law observed in Rome the urban prefect alone was able to conduct a legal criminal action. Of him, however, there is no mention in any source. Why not? This question has been answered in different ways . . . [and] none of these conjectures can be opposed or confirmed with certainty. But that is clearly not the point. For the essential consideration is something entirely different. . . .

A suitable pronouncement of judgment by the urban prefect -- supposing the office was occupied at the time-would not necessarily have ended the struggle. For from his sentence the way was open for an appeal by the defeated party to the emperor: only the emperor's sentence was absolutely final. Furthermore: if the prefect refused [to judge the case in favor of the Pope], if he himself perhaps belonged to the conspirators -- which we do not know for certain -- then only the direct judicial power of the emperor could intervene and the urban prefect himself could not be brought to account except by the emperor and his council of state, as was the case with all holders of the highest imperial offices. Thirdly, however, just at that time the legal organization not only of Rome but also of the empire in general was tottering, threatened most seriously at an unprecedented place in its basic structure, the emperorship, because after the overthrow and death of the Emperor Constantine VI ( 797), for the first time since the empire had arisen, a woman wielded the scepter of the Caesars with full sovereignty. It is of little consequence how Irene herself had laid her plans to cover up this political anomaly or to what extent the Eastern Empire under the pressure of force endured her overlordship as legitimate. But how did the West and especially Rome come to terms with the new situation? This is decisive for our question. . . . That the imperial urban prefect and the whole administration of justice in Rome could do without an emperor who was recognized on a sound basis, indeed, that anyone can doubt that an urban prefect was authorized to exercise his office at all without the authorization of the emperor needs no further argument after all the previous discussion.

As a result Leo III was in a difficult position. His purification oath had legally cleared him personally, but his position in Rome was still in no way "secure." From a juridical standpoint the possibility of a proper and final conclusion of the treason trial in his favor was completely uncertain as long as the question of the imperial throne, made acute by the coup d'état of Irene, appeared not to have been resolved beyond any doubt. From a political standpoint it was absolutely hazardous for the Pope to appeal the decision of his dispute, from which the king-patriciusCharles had to stand apart, to the imperial court in Constantinople which alone was competent to handle it, if on top of everything else, his enemies were in some way associated with the imperial party.

Out of this dilemma arose the new imperial project, built upon the patricius Charles. Who it was that brought the project up first we do not know. In any case its agent was none other than Leo III personally, and of him we shall speak as the father of the plan. It was the guarantee through which he could secure a proper and final settlement of the treason trial, favorable to his wishes; it was the political move by means of which he, after his own purification oath of December 23, intended to prepare an absolutely certain method in the form of a criminal procedure to bring about a quick and full defeat of his opponents in Rome, without first having to make juridically and politically precarious evasions with respect to Constantinople. The patricius Charles once established as emperor offered a way for the Pope not merely to replace a sometimes lacking supreme judge, i.e., the imperial urban prefect, but also to place once again beyond a doubt and on a legitimate basis the whole legal system of Rome and imperial Italy, at least over against the doubtful right of Irene to rule.

This was the real motive which led to the coronation act of December 25, to the elevation of Charles, the king of the Franks and the Lombards and the patricius of the Romans to the rank of emperor of the Romans. It was not the wish to sanction formally an outwardly already far developed separation of Rome from the Roman Empire and to establish in place of that Empire a legal supremacy of the Frankish king over Rome that supplied Leo with the imperial concept; rather it was the compelling need to bring into existence, at all costs as quickly and with as little risk as possible, a lord established on the basis of the Roman Empire and its legal organization who would have supreme authority over his opponents in Rome. Not the romantic spell of universal empire, nor thankful respect for the truest son of the Roman Church created the emperorship of Charles the Great, but a sober political consideration of a purely local, yes, even purely personal kind.

Also the fact that such an intent fits in with actual historical events can be proved clearly. After the Mass Charles dedicated to St. Peter a silver table and along with his sons and daughters some golden vases, but this was not his first action in his official capacity as emperor: as simply patricius- king he would have brought his offerings there to the church too, especially after the (previously prepared for) coronation of his son Charles as king. The first official action of the new emperor and sovereign of Rome was not "an act of grace" but rather [his assumption of authority in seeing to] the continuation and the conclusion of the undecided quarrel between the Pope and his opponents in the form of a criminal procedure against the latter. Whatever might have been the situation in that day with regard to the urban prefect, with an emperor at hand his powers no longer had any bearing on the question. The absolute and highest ranking court was now at hand. "A few days" after Christmas the new emperor took up the proceedings against Leo's opponents. They were subjected to "a severe questioning according to the Roman law" and "sentenced to death as traitors," but that sentence, on the request of the Pope, was changed to exile into Francia. . . . Only after the death of their enemy Leo ( May 25, 816) and the trip of his successor, Stephen IV ( June 22, 816; died, Jan. 24, 817), to the imperial camp of Louis the Pious were they relieved from exile and their return to their homeland made possible.


Walter Ullmann, an English scholar who has made a thorough study of papal history and especially of the evolution of papal ideas of government, supplies us with a judicious statement of the policies and aspirations of the eighth-century successors of St. Peter and attempts to show the relationship of these policies and aspirations to the imperial coronation of 800. Ullmann lectures in medieval history at Cambridge University.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Ullmann's discussion of the coronation of Charlemagne centers fundamentally around the idea that this event was one step in the creation of a system of Papal government. Several steps had been taken in that direction before 800. In order to understand his interpretation of the imperial coronation that is reproduced below, we must try to understand his previous argument. He believes that the concept of Papal government rested on certain fundamental principles that were slowly shaped over the centuries following the earliest days of Christianity. One such principle was that, although the Church was made up of all baptized Christians, membership in that body did not give a right to rule. The governance of the Church was reserved to those qualified; their qualifications were recognized by ordination. Thus there existed a clergy as distinct from the laity, and the right of governance of the Christian body lay with the clergy. A second principle was a monarchic one, holding that the governance of the Church belonged to the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter to whom Christ had transmitted the power to rule over the Church. Pope Leo I ( 451-461) gave permanent theoretical fixation to the monarchic form of Church government by insisting that the whole ecclesiastical organization hinged on a personal commission made by Christ to Peter. Leo speaks of the Roman Church having a principatus, meaning that that Church has jurisdictional primacy within the Christian body.

According to Ullmann, the emperors resisted the assignment of a principatus to the Roman Church, chiefly because this tendency threatened the authority of the emperors, who by ancient right had the power to regulate religious life. This emergent Caesaro-Papism already began to receive an answer from Leo I, who argued that the emperor was a member of the Christian body with the function of protecting that body. Pope Gelasius I ( 492-496) developed a more precise definition of the role of the emperor in Christian society. He argued that the emperorship was indeed divinely ordained, constituted to perform a specific function in society. But the emperor (rex) is subordinate to the priestly power (sacerdos) and is obligated to accept the direction of the spiritual leaders in society. A sixth-century Spanish scholar, Isidore of Seville, complemented the Gelasian concept by developing the idea that the function of the emperor was to support and carry out the priestly directives by force if necessary.

In the sixth century the caesaropapist theory, which exalted the emperor above the priest and made him a priest-king, gained new impetus as

Reprinted by permission from Walter Ullmann, The Growth of Papal Government in the Middle Ages. A Study in the Ideological Relation of Clerical to Lay Power ( London, Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1955). pp. 44-45, 72-74, 87-102. a result of the success of the Emperor Justinian. But, according to Ullmann, in the long course of events Justinian and his successors could not exercise strong rule over Italy. Slowly there arose a gulf between the empire in the East, constantly more Greek in its orientation, and the West, where the bishops of Rome were accepted as the guardians of the Roman tradition and spirit. Pope Gregory the Great ( 590604) played an important role in developing this idea. He spoke of a Christian society ruled by the bishop of Rome which consisted of many people outside the empire properly speaking. His effort to convert and organize the AngloSaxon people under Roman rule was a practical demonstration of this Christian society larger than the old Empire ruled from Constantinople. After Gregory I the gulf between East and West widened. Roman religious influences of a liturgical, doctrinal, and disciplinary nature spread over the West during the seventh century. On occasion the Papacy could openly revolt against the caesaropapist concepts of Byzantium and find support in the West. This dual tendency for the Papacy to see the Christian community as something larger than the Roman Empire and the tendency for the Christians of the West to look to Rome for guidance set the stage for decisive developments in concepts and practices of papal government during the eighth century.

Professor Ullmann introduces his discussion of the eighth century in this fashion: "There can have been few decades in European history which were of so decisive moment for Europe as those between the third and fifth decades of the eighth century. Battered, in the literal and metaphorical sense, the Papacy had emerged from the many vicissitudes of the previous age . . . -- indeed all these . . . had tested the Papacy to a point at which ordinary human endurance would have failed. The seventh century can indeed be called the heroic age of the Papacy. And yet, the underlying causes of the virtually inexhaustible disputes and battles were simple. The papal claim to magisterial and jurisdictional primacy (the principatus) was severely attacked by the emperor acting as a true monarch (autokrator): in this function he could not permit papal intervention in spheres directly affecting the working of his (Christian) body politic. The Papacy, on the other hand, insisted on the proper qualification for determining doctrinal matters and for controlling the sacerdotal organism. Papal insistence on these vital points led to resistance.

"But, from the constitutional point of view, resistance on the part of the Papacy to the imperial claims was made much more difficult, since the Roman Church was within the constitutional framework of the Roman empire. The empire as such had not changed; what had changed was merely the capital. Again from the constitutional point of view, resistance to the decrees issued by the Eastern emperor, the Rex-Sacerdos, was a very serious matter, since resistance took the form of rebellion which was nothing else but high-treason. This was really the crux of the matter. As long as the Roman Church formed an integral part of the Christian Roman Empire -- and we must take note that the empire in its turn was highly concerned with this, for it would have been most incongruous if the Church of Rome was outside the nexus of the Roman Empire -- there was no means by which it could offer effective resistance to the imperial government. The only way open to the Papacy was to extricate itself from the imperial framework, a step that was to entail freedom of movement for the Papacy and a good deal of loss of prestige for the Roman Empire.

"There was no gainsaying the lesson which the Papacy had learnt in the preceding two centuries. Perhaps the chief lesson which they taught was that the Papacy as an institution was powerless, if it did not have at its disposal a protector and defender, when protection and defence were called for. The Papacy had, so to speak, grown into the texture of the already existing Roman Empire, precisely because the Papal church was the Church of Rome, when Rome was still the capital of the Empire. Considered from this historical point of view, there was indeed no possibility for the Roman Church as a Roman institution to create a defender and protector in the shape of the Roman Empire which had turned out to be its oppressor. But there was no secular power which could have been made a protector and defender of the Roman Church. In short, then, by virtue of the Papacy's being part and parcel of the Roman Empire, it could not only not offer effective resistance to the Roman Emperor, but there was also no possibility of obtaining an effective protector and defender. In order to attain these two objectives emancipation from the imperial framework was essential."

The issue of the eighth century was, according to Ullmann, the liberation of the Papacy from the constitutional framework of the Roman Empire. The papal solution took the form of using the Frankish rulers to achieve emancipation. Accompanying this development on the plane of practical affairs was a continuing theoretical elaboration of a doctrine supporting Papal independence. Ullmann cites considerable evidence showing how the Popes defied the authority of the emperors in Italy. He likewise indicates the growing bonds of unity linking Rome with all parts of the West, but especially with the Frankish rulers. The ever closer alliance between Papacy and Franks posed anew for the Papacy the problem of superior authority, since the Frankish rulers effectively controlled the Church in their own realm. However, the Frankish rulers were not as great a threat as the Greek emperors. So the Popes moved on toward liberation through the Franks.

The device employed by the Papacy to achieve its emancipation was to impose on the Frankish ruler the function of "patricius of the Romans." The Franks were drawn into acceptance of this function chiefly as a result of the threat of the Lombards to the Papacy and by the need felt by the Carolingian mayors of the palace to find an authority capable of transferring the royal crown of the Franks from the Merovingians to the Carolingian family. Ullmann traces in detail the transactions in the crucial years 751-754 by which the Frankish king became the "patricius of the Romans" and which erected for the Papacy a legally constituted state that had an existence outside the Byzantine Empire. Behind these actions lay certain basic assumptions relating to papal government. One was that there existed mutual recognition that the Papacy enjoyed imperial power in the West at this time; the nature of that authority was clearly expressed in the Donation of Constantine, which was forged at this moment. In creating a papal state Pepin was merely restoring what belonged to the Papacy by virtue of a grant made by the Emperor Constantine. Another assumption was that the Papacy exercised authority over something different from the old Roman Empire; the terminology used by the Papacy suggests that there existed a commonwealth of Romans composed of those who adhered to the Roman faith rather than to the Byzantine faith. The center of that Christian Roman commonwealth was Rome and the surrounding territory over which the Papacy was entitled to rule. Pepin as a Christian and a member of the Christian commonwealth had the function to protect that body in its extended sense of all Roman Christians and in the more confined sense of the papal state and Rome in Italy. As "patricius of the Romans" it was his function to protect all Christians who lived according to the Roman faith; he had a special obligation to protect the Pope as head of that body. The office of "patricius of the Romans" was papally conferred. In its entirety, then, the concept of "patricius of the Romans" was conceived to fit the papal ideology about the nature of society and the place of lay rulers in it. The "patricius" was subordinate to the Pope, bound to act as the Pope directed in the interests of protecting the Church.

Pepin was seriously interested in protecting the Papacy and doing what was right as a Christian. But his concept of protecting the religious system, shaped as it was from ideas of Germanic origin, did not include taking orders from the Papacy concerning how and when to defend the Church. He thus paid little heed to the title of "patricius of the Romans," and in a sense was a disappointment to the Papacy. Still the action of Stephen II in 753-754 was highly significant. Ullmann provides this summary:

"It is thus hardly possible to overestimate the ideological significance of Stephen II's step. In a symbolic nutshell, so to speak, the papal theme is presented to us, the theme according to which the king in a Christian society fulfils a certain function allotted to him: the king, in papal terms, is not a monarch: he is not autonomous; he is an assistant, adjutor, defender, advocatus. We can perhaps now understand why the papal letters issuing forth from the papal chancery in such prolific quantities during the second half of this century, consistently disregard Pippin as a king before the papal intervention: St. Boniface's unction of Pippin as a king was not mentioned once. What the papal letters stressed was that the Pope anointed Pippin a king for the particular purpose of defence. A perusal of the papal communications may easily lead to the assumption that Pippin was not king before the papal act.

"That Stephen II did not act upon this assumption is obvious. But it is also obvious that the unction of Boniface was tacitly set aside: into its place stepped the papal unction. Thereby kingship was given a new meaning altogether, a meaning that was expressed in the newly coined term of public law -- the `patrician of the Romans.' Pippin was created king by the papal unction; he was created a king for a specific purpose, that of protecting and defending the Roman Church. This was his task with which he was entrusted by the Pope and this was to be his function as a king. Indeed, this is very far removed from the function of the king who is a monarch. It is understandable why the letters lay so much stress on the fact that Pippin was anointed by God Himself (or St. Peter) through the instrumentality of the Pope: thereby the function of the king in a Roman (Christian) society was made manifestly clear: Christ Himself, `King of kings and Lord of lords' had instituted Pippin as a king for the purpose of exalting His Church. Papal unction was given a constitutive meaning. In brief, the function of the king, that of the patrician of the Romans, is the king's raison d'être. As yet, it is still attached to kingship, but the time is not so far distant when the `patricius Romanorum' will give way to the 'imperator Romanorum.' And on the distant horizon there appears the problem of legitimate rulership in a Christian society."]

Although it had emancipated itself from the constitutional framework of the Eastern empire, the Papacy had little cause to rejoice in its newly won "freedom." The position of the Pope as the lord of the Duchy of Rome drew the Roman nobility conspicuously to the fore: it now demanded a share in the making of the Pope and the "election" of Constantine (II), himself a soldier, and the subsequent tumultuous scenes brought forth a vigorous opposition party under the able leadership of Christophorus. The Council held at Rome in April 769 in which many Frankish bishops as well as of course still more Italian bishops participated, proceeded to the condemnation of Constantine (II) and, what is more important for us, to the promulgation of an election decree. This election decree was later to serve as the model on which a better known papal election decree was built. The synodists of 769 laid down that no layman must partake in the election of a Pope -- only clerics were allowed to vote, whilst all the laymen were permitted to do was to salute the thus elected Pope as the "lord of all."

This election decree, however, lacked proper backing. And the subsequent history of papal elections and consecrations and the ever-increasing military influence of the Roman nobility made it imperative for the Papacy to appoint an effective protector, a protector who was to guarantee the "freedom" of papal elections and thereby also to guarantee the authority of the newly elected Pope. In course of time this need for protection was to lead to a number of special arrangements made in the ninth century which were to enshrine in documentary form the defence and protection of the Roman Church and herewith of the Pope himself.

None was better qualified for this office than the Frankish "patricius Romanorum." Whilst the father [ Pepin] had refused to bear the title, the son [ Charlemagne] adopted it, certainly from 774 onwards. The intimate connection between the Roman Church and the Frankish Church no less than the strengthening of the bonds between it and the Frankish monarchy in the two decades since Ponthion, 1 were not without effects upon the mind of Charlemagne. The acceptance of the title and office of "patricius Romanorum" by Charlemagne is, we think, the effect, not of any political consideration on his part, but of his purely religious views. To him "Romitas" and "Christianitas" were tautological expressions. Romanism for Charlemagne was not a historical-political term, but had an exclusively religious connotation: it signified the contrast to "Grecism," to that kind of faith which was not Roman-directed. Romanism simply meant Latin Christianity -- that Christian faith which was directed and orientated by the Roman Church. The Bonifacian work, its concomitant close association with Roman-papal organization, the spreading of the characteristically Roman liturgies and their prayers, the religious orientation of the Frankish domains towards Rome, led to a complete amalgamation of

1 That is, since the meeting of Pepin and Stephen II. [Editor's note]

Christian and Roman elements. This Roman ferment in that eighth-century Christianity of the Franks was of decisive importance, because "Christianitas" and "Romanitas" became virtually indistinguishable. It is assuredly no coincidence that Charlemagne requested Adrian I for an "authentic" copy of the sacramentary which the great Gregory had created. It is furthermore significant that at this time also the Benedictine Rule with its typically Roman features spread so rapidly through Frankish and newly conquered lands. Not less significant is it that a copy of the canonical collection of Dionysius Exiguus in the expanded and modified form given by Adrian I was personally handed to Charlemagne by the Pope in 774.

All these vehicles of Romanist transmission effected the imperceptible, though significant, orientation towards Rome in all things that mattered most, namely, in those of religion and its cult. The old Roman formulae were repeated, the old Roman liturgical prayers were said and spoken by the Franks who might not always have fully grasped the intrinsic meaning of these prayers. . . . In short, the Romanization of the Western mind by virtue of these diverse channels, led to the ideological conflation of Romans and Christians.

Set against this background it is perhaps understandable that Charlemagne should have had no hesitation in adopting the title and in playing the role of the "patricius Romanorum." When "Romanus" equalled "Christianus," there was indeed no obstacle to prevent his assuming that role which virtually meant no more than that of a military defender of the "Romans," that is the "Christians," a role which in fact he was accustomed to play in any case. What the title meant to him was that his protective function naturally embraced also those Romans who were the epitome of all the Romans in the world, that is, the geographical Romans: they were merely the Christians, as it were, in a condensed and crystallized form. And it was in his function as "patricius Romanorum," in his function as a protector of the Church of Rome, that he not only confirmed the "donation" of his father, 2 but also added a considerable part of Italy to the territories which his father had "restored" to their rightful owner, the Church of Rome. . . .

It seems clear that the Easter transaction of 774 had the same character as its precursor of twenty years earlier: in each case the transaction concerned "restoration" of property, stolen by the Lombards from its legitimate owner, the Roman Church. The test here as there lies in the transfer of property that was not in the hands of the Lombards -- in our case, Venetia and Istria, to mention only the two most conspicuous examples. For both Venetia and Istria were still Byzantine and therefore belonged to the empire. The insistent demands of the Pope put to Charlemagne for the implementation of the "donation" of 6 April 774, show us the rift between the Pope's intentions and the king's actions, a rift that seems to have become particularly clear after Charlemagne's assumption of the title "Rex Langobardorum" on 5 June 774. What is, moreover, very characteristic of these many letters sent by the Pope, is the emphasis on the function of the Roman Church as the "spiritualis mater" of the king and the emphasis on his duty of protecting his spiritual mother -- for this reason, if for no other, he ought to be a fighter "pro justitiis beati Petri exigendis" ["for seeing that justice is done for St. Peter"]. The prospect of appropriate reward is not omitted in these papal letters: if he fulfilled his promises the king would exalt the Roman Church and herewith the universal Church, and thereby the orthodox Christian faith would be preserved.

The exaltation by Charlemagne of the Roman Church is in fact the dominant theme in all these numerous papal appeals to the Frankish king. In one of his communications the Pope goes even so far as to remind Charlemagne of the exaltation of

2 This confirmation of the Donation of Pepin occurred during Charles's trip to Rome in 774. [Editor's note]

the Roman Church by the Emperor Constantine: he is held up to the Frank as the model, for he had exalted the Church through his grant and had bestowed upon the Pope these parts of the West, so that the "sancta Dei ecclesia" might flourish and blossom forth "Et pro hoc petimus eximiam precellentiam vestram, ut in integro ipsa patrimonia beato Petro et nobis restituere jubeatis." ["And we beg your most distinguished excellence for this, that you order to be restored to blessed Peter and to us that patrimony in its entirety."] Divers emperors, Adrian I claims, patricians and other God-fearing men had conceded to St. Peter and the apostolic Roman Church territories, such as Tuscany, Spoleto, Corsica, and so forth, and "of these transactions we have the documents in our Lateran archives." Hence Charlemagne should imitate the great emperor Constantine who had exalted the Church under Silvester so enormously and who had given the Roman Church the "potestas" over these Western parts of the world.

Even though the Pope's territorial ambitions remained largely unfulfilled, the papal creations of Pippin, Charles's son, as "King of Italy," and of Louis as "King of Aquitaine," when there was no precedent for these offices and for papal conferments of royal dignity and function, should be appraised adequately as regards their symbolic significance. Taken in conjunction with the creation of the Carolingian "patricius Romanorum" by Stephen II, these actions throw into clear relief the steady continuity of papal doctrine and plainly herald the much more significant act on Christmas day 800. Ponthion, Kierzy, Pavia, the creation of the "patricius Romanorum," Charlemagne's donation, the creation of the Italian and Aquitanian kings -- these are powerful preparatory steps culminating in the creation of Charlemagne as "Imperator Romanorum." It is as if the papal theme gained momentum towards the closing years of the eighth century.

For we must bear in mind that during the Pontificate of Leo III there were some very specific signs pointing to great changes. It will be recalled that . . . the newly elected Pope was to announce his election to the emperor or, in order to save time, to the exarch at Ravenna, so as to obtain imperial confirmation of the election. But when Leo III became Pope, there was no longer an exarch nor did the Papacy consider itself as part of the Roman empire. Yet Leo III sent a "decretalis cartula" to Charlemagne immediately after his election. We hold that the reason why the deed of the election was despatched, was not indeed to adhere to an obnoxious system -- the requirement of imperial confirmation was of course fundamentally inimical to the papal point of view -- but in order to utilize this old rule for quite a different purpose: the Papacy thereby implied clearly the role for which the Frankish king was destined -- that of an emperor, for it was the emperor (or on his behalf the exarch) who had to give imperial confirmation to the papal election. But whilst the purpose of notification was previously to obtain imperial confirmation, the purpose now was, we consider, to implement the duty of the protector of the Roman Church and of the Pope. The notification was to serve as the signal to the "patricius Romanorum" that a new Pope had assumed his office, who is now to be protected by the patrician.

Furthermore, Adrian I had disregarded the rule laid down by Justinian that all documents, including therefore papal ones, must be dated according to imperial years. Leo III definitely abandoned this prescription of Justinian, but substituted in a document issued on 20 April 798, the regnal years of Charlemagne's rule in Italy for the imperial years (of the Eastern emperor). The idea behind this innovation was the same as in the case of notification: it was to indicate the role for which the Frankish king was destined.

The plan of Charlemagne to erect a Second Rome at Aix-la-Chapelle was an additional motive for Leo III to expedite matters in the direction in which they had already been moving. This plan of Charle- magne was revealed to him on the occasion of his visit to Paderborn in the summer of 799. Expelled by the Romans Leo sought to implore the help of the protector, the "patricius Romanorum." We shall have an opportunity to make some observations on what may be called Charlemagne's imitative rivalry with the Eastern emperor, but for the moment it must suffice to state that the residence of the Frank at Aix was largely modelled on the residence of the Eastern emperor, who lived in "New Rome" and, moreover, had at hand his chief priest, the patriarch. According to Charlemagne, the "Old Rome" was to be transplanted to Aix: next to the minster and the "sacrum palatium" which was the residence of the Frankish king, there was a third building, the "Lateran." Like Constantinople, Aix was to be the Second Rome: the Lateran is in fact the "house of the pontiff" in Einhard's description. And the court poet tells us of the "coming Rome" -- "ventura Roma" -- which Charlemagne is about to erect at Aix. It was the secunda Roma.

When Leo III implored the help of Charlemagne, the latter's intentions cannot have remained hidden from the Pope. Did not in fact everything point to a most uncomfortable exchange of Byzantium for Aix? Was this exchange not a repetition of the set-up which the Papacy had hoped to relegate to the past? Did not Charlemagne's exhortation to the Pope have an ominous ring: he should lead an honest life, respect the canons, guide the Church religiously and diligently and fight simony -- when this is compared with Justinian's view on the functions of the priesthood? 3 What other role but that of an archpriest was the Pope to play in the scheme of things devised by the Frank? For the king's task was the effective strengthening, consolidating, propagating, and preserving the faith -- the Pope's task was to support the king in this duty by praying for him like Moses did with elevated hands.

The Carolingian idea of a Second Rome at Aix, we hold, was one of the most severe challenges which the papal programme had to meet. For if this scheme or things had gone through, the foundations of the papal theme would have been sapped. European Christianity drawing its life blood from Romanism and nurtured by the Church of Rome, would have been deprived of its strongest and most attractive foundations. To have acquiesced in this plan of Charlemagne would have been a betrayal of all the Church of Rome stood for. And had not the instrument been carefully prepared, though primarily as a weapon against the East? The Donation of Constantine was precisely the handle by which the emancipation of the Papacy from the clutches of the Eastern emperor could be effected: and the threatening clutches of the Frankish king were a sufficient justification for employing the same weapon against him. The "vacancy" in the empire provided the pretext; Leo's trial by Charlemagne two days before Christmas provided the additional stimulus for the momentous action on Christmas Day -- for the transfer of the empire from the Bosphorus to the Tiber, by making the Frank the Imperator Romanorum. The historic significance of the act is only heightened when this twofold objective is appraised: the coronation was aimed against the empire as well as against the Frankish king. The seat of the empire was where the Pope wished it to be -- the seat of the Roman empire was Rome, not Constantinople, not Aix-la-Chapelle.

It was a magnificent political and symbolic device which Leo adopted. There can be no doubt that the initiative lay in papal hands: the act was well prepared -- the Romans knew exactly what they had to shout, although no Pope had ever crowned an emperor in Rome. The accounts in the official papal book 4 and in the Frankish annals 5 are substantially the same: because the Pope had put the crown on Charle-

3 This passage is quoted on p. 29 above.
4 See above, p. 2, where this account is reproduced.
5 See above, p. 2, where this account is reproduced.

magne's head, the Romans acclaimed him, in accordance with the previous arrangements, "imperator Romanorum." This acclamation by the Romans was to announce publicly the meaning of the papal act. Charlemagne became, by virtue of the Pope's action, "imperator Romanorum"; but he also had to be designated and named as such in a public manner by the Romans present. That all this must have been carefully arranged, goes without saying: these previous arrangements, however, appear in the official papal accounts as the spontaneous inspiration of the Romans. Because the Romans -- we follow the account -- saw how much Charlemagne defended and loved the Roman Church and its vicar, they unanimously in a raised voice exclaimed, at the bidding of God and of St. Peter: "To Charles, the most pious Augustus crowned by God, the great and peace loving emperor, life and victory." It is plain that the "spontaneous inspiration" was well planned and need not detain us.

It is not, however, without significance that the Romans witnessing the act with their own eyes, acclaim Charlemagne as "a Deo coronatus." And it is as a result of divine and Petrine inspiration that they shout thus. The significance of this lies in that the whole ceremony is presented as the working of the divine will -- it is not the Pope who crowned the Frank, but God Himself: "a Deo coronatus."

If we wish to understand this, we must keep in mind that, according to the papal standpoint, there was no difference at all between the function of the newly created emperor and that of the patrician of the Romans: he was the protector and defender of the Roman Church. In both of our sources this vital point breaks through. The Liber Pontificalis declares that out of recognition for Charlemagne's defence of the Roman Church the Romans had acclaimed him emperor; according to the Frankish annals the patrician became absorbed in the emperor. And this is exactly what the papal book also says: "et ab omnibus constitutus est imperator Romanorum." This means that the patrician was now acclaimed or called-as the Frankish annals have it -or was "set up" as "emperor of the Romans" because the Pope had crowned him: papal action preceded the acclamation -- the Romans acclaimed the thus crowned Frank an "imperator" who had as a consequence of the papal coronation been raised from the office of patrician of the Romans to the dignity of the emperor of the Romans. The constitutive act was that of the Pope: the acclamation derives its meaning from the papal act: the papal act is announced to the world. The patrician wears no crown; the emperor does, and he wears it because the Pope has imposed it: the crowned emperor is acclaimed.

The "vacancy" on the imperial throne -and we take note that the increase of the indications pointing to fundamental changes coincides with Irene's rule as empress -provided the pretext for transforming an office into a dignity: the office of the patrician was transformed into the dignity of Roman emperorship. Functionally, however, nothing changed, as far as papal intentions went: whether patrician or emperor his function was defence and protection of the Roman Church. Constitutionally, however, there was a radical change for there was now an emperor of the Romans where previously there had been none -- the consequence was the emergence of the "problem of the two (Roman) emperors." Charlemagne's coronation was, so to speak, the final and solemn and public act by which the Papacy emancipated itself from the constitutional framework of the Eastern empire. There remains to be answered the question, By what authority did the Pope proceed in the manner in which he did?

If we keep in mind that according to the accepted doctrine all power comes from God; if we recall that ideologically there was no difference between the famous Gelasian statement and the Donation of Constantine; if we consider the function which, in the papal view, the (secular) Ruler was to play -- if we duly appraise all this, it will not be too difficult to realize that the Pope acted not only as the mediator between God and man in imposing the crown -- hence Charlemagne is "a Deo coronatus" -- but also as the dispenser of the highest available dignity and power (potestas), of Roman emperorship. In fact, the dignity and power conferred by the Pope could be no other but a conceptually universal one: the Roman Church, being the epitome of universal Christianity, can confer through the Pope only a universal Christian power: and the only universal power that was available at the time was that designated by the title "emperor of the Romans." Moreover, although the imperial crown was in Constantinople, it was there on sufferance by the Pope ( Silvester): not only was there no emperor now, but those emperors who had been there before, were not worthy being called Roman-Christian emperors. For -- we try to follow papal reasonings -- these emperors had in fact constantly infringed the -- for the Papacy -most vital principle, that of the principatus of the Roman Church. With particular reference to this point Gelasius had declared that the emperor held his empire as a trust, as a beneficium, from, God: but by demonstrably setting aside the divinely instituted Papacy, the Eastern emperors had misused their trust -- hence the Pope considered himself entitled to withdraw his consent which by implication he had given to Constantine's taking his crown to Constantinople.

The emperors in the East, although ostentatiously styling themselves Roman emperors, had, by virtue of their opposition to the Roman Church, forfeited their claim to be Christian emperors. They were considered -- as later terminology will have it -unsuitable emperors, and the Papacy therefore was, always provided that the Donation was efficacious, entitled to transfer Roman emperorship from Constantinople to Rome: the Donation was the basis upon which Leo could proceed. This is nothing extraordinary, for, as we pointed out, the Donation was originally intended to be employed as a weapon against the East, so as to effect the emancipation of the Papacy from the Eastern constitutional framework. And the possibility of a withdrawal of Roman emperorship from the East was as much inherent in the document as the papal consent to Constantine's taking the crown thither.

Gelasius had maintained that Christ was "Rex" and "Sacerdos" the "potestas regalis" "[regal power"] -- signifying the "Rex" -and the "auctoritas sacrata pontificum" ["Sacred authority of priests"] -- signifying the "Sacerdos" -- were united in Him, but "by a marvellous dispensation" He had distinguished between the function of the priest and that of the king. It was Christ's own act: Christian imperial power therefore originated in Christ. There was no possibility of asserting that the Pope conferred imperial power: until his position as the vicar of Christ was fully developed there was indeed no possibility for him to combine -- like Christ -- "potestas regalis" and "auctoritas sacrata"; therefore, there was also no possibility of conferring imperial power or of withdrawing it. This defect was made good by the Donation: as a consequence of Constantine's grant, the Pope disposed of the crown, the external symbol of imperial power. And in this capacity Leo III acted on Christmas Day 800. Had not his predecessor, Adrian I, declared that the Roman Church was the "caput totius mundi," ["head of the whole world"], . . . and was it not the same Adrian who quoted the Donation? The "mundus" could be nothing else but Christendom, of which the Roman Church was the epitome and head: Charlemagne should conquer the barbaric nations; he in fact was already hailed as the Christian Ruler, Christian, because the spiritual son of the Roman Church. The empire in the East, though so ostentatiously calling itself Roman and Christian, could not justify these appellations -- Leo took the step which was, from the point of view of papal doctrine, wholly understandable. The Roman Church being the "caput" of the (Christian) universe ("Mundus") creates through the Pope a universal (Christian) protector who alone deserves the dignity of an "emperor of the Romans." This is his dignity -- his function is that of a protector and defender, in the Roman-papal sense: the principatus of the Roman Church over the ideational universal entity, the corpus Christi (the universal Church), can be exercised through the agency of an ideational universal potestas, the emperor of the Romans.


During the past several years all interpretations of Carolingian history have had to undergo readjustment in the face of the results of scholarly investigations into Byzantine history of that era and especially into the problem of the impact of Byzantium on the West. The work of the Byzantinist scholars has in general compelled historians to attribute greater importance to Byzantine influences on the West. With respect to Charlemagne's coronation there has emerged strong evidence to suggest that the Byzantine Empire played no small part in influencing the actions of the Frankish ruler and Papacy. This influence is set forth clearly in the following selection from Werner Ohnsorge, a German medievalist, who in recent years has published several penetrating studies concerning Carolingian and Papal history.

THE HISTORICAL alliance between the Carolingians and the Papacy in the second half of the eighth century was initially based on their common opposition to the Lombards. The Papacy, which just then had begun to shape its own territory in Rome and the vicinity of Rome, saw itself in increasing difficulties because of the encroachments of its warlike neighbors. With the Carolingians, on the other hand, it was a question of finding out that the very state in the north of the Italian peninsula, against which Gregory III had already asked Charles Martel for help -- without the Franks at that time having seen the necessity of intervention -- had now entered into undesirable family and political relationships with some of the nations north of the Alps who had only recently been brought into the Frankish empire; this could not be tolerated in the long run.

Meanwhile, behind these local political controversies there stood a world situation which by its very existence created an ideological basis for a community of interest between the two partners.

In view of its century-old diplomatic tradition the papal see could not fail to recognize that conditions in the great Roman Empire were moving toward a crisis. Its head was still as before the emperor in Constantinople. The Popes themselves occupied a position that was recognized to be the highest in the hierarachy of spiritual dignitaries, although the Byzantines had not insignificantly reduced the Popes' spiritual sphere of influence in the course of the dogmatic quarrels between East and West. Fully Graecized Constantinople had in practice ceased to encompass the whole Roman world. It was not in a position either to offer the imperial protection befitting the Papacy against its neighbors in Italy, or to influence in any substantial way the development of events in the West. Its powers were almost completely absorbed in continuous battles with the peoples on its eastern borders, even though in principle

Reprinted by permission from Werner Ohnsorge, Das Zweikaiserproblem im früheren Mittelalter.
Die Bedeutung des byzantinischen Reiches für die Entwicklung der Staatsidee in Europa
( Hildesheim, August Lax Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1947), pp. 15 - 31. Translated by the editor.

it did not change its insistent claims to universal overlordship.

But now through the energy of the Carolingian mayor of the palace the Frankish kingdom had also emerged as a power on the basis of the conquests of the earlier Carolingians, a power which encompassed a very significant part of the old Roman Empire and which was filled with that faith in its call to rule and in the might of its monarchy which already was shown in the prologue to the Lex Salica. 1 It also at the same time had, as a result of the development of religious affairs, entered into an especially close spiritual relationship with St. Peter and the successors of the prince of the apostles in Rome. The political success of the Franks rested for the most part on their belief in their religious mission, in their Christian duty to battle with the heathens and to expand the Christian realm. This vision rested in the last analysis on the same Christianization of the concept of the duties of the ruler which even the Roman emperorship in the western part of the Roman Empire had not been able to avoid. In the hymns and the prayers of the West the "Imperium Christianum" took the place of the "Imperium Romanum" after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. To be sure the Franks held themselves, particularly on the basis of the intensity of their religious feelings and their efforts for Christianity and St. Peter, competent to exercise an extensive independence from the Pope in questions of dogma and in internal religious affairs.

The political ambition of the Carolingians in their consciousness of their position of political supremacy in the West, their pride in being unsurpassed by any other political power on this earth, coincided with the striving of the Papacy to replace the politically incapable Byzantine emperorship with a new and better ordering of political conditions which would at the same time take into account the claims of the Roman see.

Their relationship with the Papacy and their falling out with the Lombards drew the Franks into the great realm of world politics.

The last remnant of the territorial possessions of the Eastern Roman Empire in the north of the Italian peninsula was the socalled Exarchate of Ravenna. This territory was no less threatened by the Lombards than by the Franks when the Franks established themselves in place of the Lombards. Up until this time the Byzantine emperor had maintained a relationship with both Germanic nations through embassies and diplomatic correspondence and had tried to play one against the other. The Carolingians had thus come into direct touch with that power which felt itself to be at the head of the hierarchy of worldly powers and which in its official documents and diplomatic customs represented itself over against other states in a correspondingly authoritarian form.

The Franks learned to know not only the pompous Byzantine legal documents with their attached gold seal, but they also saw the pompous and arrogant bearing of the Eastern "Apocrisiarii" (legates). Byzantium had developed the practice of arranging all the states in the world into a ranked system of spiritual relationship to the Byzantine emperor, so as to designate the rulers of these states as the spiritual "brothers," "sons," or "friends" of the emperor. For a long time it had been the custom for the German princes to be designated as "sons" of the Byzantines. That might have been acceptable in the fifth century, but to the pride of the Franks in the eighth century it was provoking and insulting. King Pepin had concerned himself very little with Byzantine wishes and had presented to the Pope, beside the Pentapolis, the territory of Ancona and Rimini and also the Exarchate of Ravenna. And when the Lombards thereupon intrigued increasingly with Byzantium against the Frankish empire, Charles the Great put an end to that state in 774 without taking eastern interests into consideration at all.

1 See above, p. 11, footnote 12.

Also as the result of a legation which Constantine V sent to the West in 765 which was to have sealed the sought-after political alliance in accordance with Byzantine custom by a Byzantine-Frankish state marriage, the Franks were for the first time directly involved in the religious questions which at that time agitated the Christian world. Not only was 754 the year of the union of Pope Stephen II with Pepin, but it was also the year of the synod at Constantinople at which Constantine V publicly proclaimed the battle against the [use of the] images [in Christian worship]. The embassy of Constantine and the marriage project resulted in everyone in the Frankish kingdom becoming more intensively occupied with the question of the images, and to no small degree the treaty and the marriage project were wrecked as a consequence of the difference in the views of the West and the East on this question.

Certainly it is true, as modern investigation has already brought out, that the iconoclastic question had in the thought and feeling of the Eastern world an entirely different importance than it had for the West, since the iconoclastic struggle was thought of in Byzantium as being the most recent form of the old difference of opinion over the divine nature of Christ, in so far as [it was believed that] in each image, especially in any statue of Christ, there had to exist a portion of the essence of the person represented-a concept which in general was foreign to the West. Nevertheless, for the Franks a stronger direct stand with relation to this religious issue had to be taken into consideration now than had been the case before. In dogmatic theory the Franks during the eighth and ninth centuries accepted neither the position of Constantine V nor of his predecessor Leo the Isaurian, who forbade the ikons, nor the position of the Papal curia, which adhered to the veneration of images. They did not condemn ikons; they did not venerate them; they held that they had value as religious reminders. In view of this there was actually a sharper opposition between the Frankish position and those who venerated ikons. If it was believed under Pepin that one must fully reject the iconoclastic position, still as a result of their consequent views it was the position of the Franks in political practice after the accession of Charles the Great to consider as possible a diplomatic marriage with a partner hostile to images, while a matrimonial union of the ruling house with an image-worshipping partner was excluded as a matter of course.

This new attitude of Charles showed itself for the first time in the year 781. Irene, the widow of Leo IV, decided to accept as a fait accompli the encroachment of Charles in Italy and the loss of the Exarchate and to counter the further expansion of the Franks in Italy in the direction of lower Italy and Sicily, which were still Greek, through an agreement which would have been underpinned by a marriage alliance involving her son Constantine VI and the daughter of Charles. It was of extraordinary significance that Charles accepted the marriage project. From the later course of events it appears quite clear that the proposal to set aside dogmatic differences met with the personal approval of Charles; on the main point he was at one with the East at that time, namely, in the denial of the worship of ikons as unworthy. In return for this there was opened to Charles the prospect of being ranked, as the father-inlaw of Constantine, on a plane with Irene, so to speak. This marriage project was the first attempt of Charles to effect the recognition of the equality of the Frankish empire with the Byzantine empire. This point has not been made sufficiently clear heretofore.

Perhaps as in indirect result of the Greek instruction which his daughter received from a Byzantine teacher-Einhard says (c. 25) that Charles himself also understood Greek -- there originated in Charles' mind a political concept of world historical significance. With the quick perceptiveness of a German proud of his political prowess but not heavily weighted down with classical tradition, Charles came to the realization that the great Roman emperor, who claimed to be the head of the world hierarchy of states, in reality was no greater than Charles himself, a king as other kings, since beginning in 629 he had entitled himself "Basileus" (translated literally as "king"). Consequently, [it appeared to Charles that] the claim of universality made by the Byzantine ruler was only an usurpation, only a presumption, which from the Germanic point of view was based on nothing. Why should the Frankish kingship not be worth as much as the kingship of that alleged Roman emperor on the Bosporus?

Sooner than was to be expected Charles found an opportunity to make use politically of this discovery. Through a Frankish chaplain, Witbod, who in 786 was sent to Constantinople in connection with the marriage negotiations, or else through a Byzantine legate, who appeared in 787 to take away the Frankish princess, the Frankish king received the surprising report that Irene together with her son had decided to change over to idol worship, and in fact, the worship of idols was again instituted in Byzantium by the synod of 787.

This report hurt Charles in two respects. He would now have to give one of his beloved daughters in marriage to a man who was known to have taken up the worship of ikons, which was repugnant to the Franks. That was contrary to the basis upon which the marriage had been arranged in 781. Thus Charles withdrew from the project. The Greek legate had to return home empty-handed.

But further: how did it happen that the Byzantine empress by herself in a universal synod had decreed concerning the worship of ikons without having consulted him, Charles, and his great western empire on this question? He had very honestly entered into the marriage project on the supposition that he was taking a step forward through this rapprochement with Byzantium toward the recognition of the equality of his Frankish empire. The behavior of Irene proved that she had not departed in the least from her Greek arrogance, which according to the Frankish view was only a prejudice. There followed on Charles' personal order the compilation of the great state publication, the Libri karolini, which vigorously put forward for the first time, as a result of this religious-dogmatic quarrel, the demand [for the recognition] of the political equality of the West with the East. The Frankish empire, which included so great a part of the ancient Roman empire, claimed equality of rights with Byzantium. Moreover, this claim to equality of rights was raised on the basis of a concept of monarchy. The king of the Franks was in no way inferior to the "king" ( Rex) on the Bosporus. The Frankish kingdom thus emancipated itself from East Rome and openly announced its claim to world prominence.

In the wake of the widening opposition there arose a small-scale war in Italy. The situation grew more complex as a result of the strife which soon broke out between Irene and her son Constantine. The latter joined the iconoclasts, who after 787 had been forced into opposition [to the throne], and then sought on the ground of a common opposition to the worship of idols to establish again an alliance with his onetime prospective father-in-law, Charles, against his own mother. Before this interesting historical constellation of events had fully developed, Irene caused her son to be blinded in 797. The empress alone held the Eastern Roman throne. In order to avoid as far as possible any undesirable hostility with the West at a time when she urgently needed quiet for the maintenance of her regime in the East, Irene sent a new legation to the West. The legation dealt . . . only with the question of peace; the religious-dogmatic question, for which there existed a possible basis of discussion between Charles and Constantine, was now excluded as a subject of discussion, since Irene still held fast just as before to the veneration of idols.

The Papacy had followed the development of this situation with the greatest attention. It had been placed in a difficult position by the Libri karolini, in so far as it opposed the Franks and stood in agreement with Byzantium in its recognition of idol worship.

The setting aside of Constantine and the assumption of sole authority by Irene opened the possibility of carrying out the emancipation plan long entertained by the curia, a plan which was foreshadowed by several signs: the new interpretation of Charles' Roman-Byzantine title of "patricius" as a curial-Roman title; the falsification of the so-called Donation of Constantine; the dropping of the emperor's year in the dating of the papal documents; the stamping of papal coins with the picture of Hadrian in place of the use of the imperial coins; the mosaic in the Lateran which placed Charles and Constantine on an equal level. The possession of the imperial throne by a woman was an unprecedented and also legally doubtful situation. The political ambition of Charles in the struggle for world recognition had long been known, and written proof of it existed in superabundance in the Libri karolini. Still from the Libri karolini one also knew of the Frankish pride of monarchy of Charles and of his unqualified rejection of the concept of emperorship. Then the fact that, Charles' wife died in the summer of 800 gave to the Papacy the impulse to try an audacious secret plan to proclaim. Charles as universal emperor of the Romans against his will and to establish through a marriage between Charles and Irene a new western emperorship in place of the existing eastern one. What strengthened the curia in its belief in its ability to carry through its project were certain tendencies in the Frankish court circle, which, because it was influenced by older Saxon and Anglo-Saxon concepts of sovereignty, was inclined to designate Charles in a rather perfunctory way [without bothering about legal formalities] as (Roman) world emperor. Furthermore, as already mentioned, there was the old religious tradition in the West of equating the "Imperium Romanum," the Roman Empire, with the "Imperium Christianum," the Christian world empire; by virtue of the Christian belief of Charles and his veneration for St. Peter this concept was of compelling importance. The papal curia could also understand from the fact that . . . Charles had adopted a gold seal modeled on the Byzantine style for his royal documents [to be used] along with the usual wax seal and that he had taken over the dating method of the so-called Greek indiction for Frankish royal documents, that -in spite of the Franks' aversion in principle to the imperial concept -- the Graeco-Roman court always stood as an object of comparison, an example, and a spur behind Charles' concept of kingship.

The Papacy prepared its action in all secrecy. For the settlement of a conflict in the city of Rome, in which the Pope was involved, Charles had in December, 800, come to Rome. . . . On Christmas day the son of Charles was to be anointed king according to previously arranged plans. Then before this anointment took place Leo III surprised Charles by placing on his head a crown and acclaiming him emperor. The world had a new Roman emperor who through the acclamation of the people, the Senate, and the warriors had been installed in a proper fashion in Irene's place, whose right to hold the imperial power was denied.

The coronation of Charles as emperor, i.e., the replacement of the Roman emperorship of the East with a new Roman emperorship in the West, was the consequence of a development dating back to the original empire. The political world up to this time had known merely one empire, the Roman Empire, whether it was officially designated as this or not. . . . Charles himself was on December 25, 800, called to be emperor and by virtue of that he was Roman emperor. There was no concept of emperor apart from Rome before 800 nor even before 812. . . .

It was completely clear to Charles that there were only two alternatives. The Roman emperorship could exist only as an entity either if it were kept in Byzantium as at that time or if it were once again transferred from the East to the West, as it had at another time been transferred by Constantine the Great from the West to the East. But the Papacy had taken this transferral into its own hands, from which it might be concluded that just as the transferral met the needs of the West, in view of the world political situation, so also had the curia at the same time made certain of its superiority over the new imperial regime which it had shaped. The coronation of Charles must appear as an organizational formalization of the . . . developing process of union between the Carolingians and the Papacy, which had begun in 752 with papal approval of the transfer of the Frankish crown to Pepin.

The research of the last decades . . . has denied the universal character of the imperial coronation and has sought to explain it merely as the by-product of a particular historical moment in connection with the conflicts of the Papacy in Roman politics. Certainly, reservations have rightly had to be raised against this modern position: it runs contrary to the line of development of papal policy, especially in the second half of the eighth century. In addition the universalist position rests on a narrow interpretation almost always used in the last few years, yet a completely one-sided one, of the chief source concerning the coronation of the emperor, the Vita Karoli of Einhard. [Several modern scholars have arrived at] an interpretation which says that although Charles actually denied the form in which Leo III had carried through the coronation on December 25, 800, he still did not stand unconditionally opposed to the imperial idea itself. It still is stated . . . clearly and unequivocally by Einhard, Charles' trusted biographer, that Charles so strongly disliked the "word," that is, the imperial title, that he would not have sought out the court of Peter, in spite of the great feast day, had he known beforehand that the Pope planned his coronation as emperor. It accordingly remains certain, and this is reinforced by the surviving legal documents, chiefly the protocol of the diplomas of the winter of 800-801, that Charles did not want to be emperor on Christmas day 800; between the Charles of the Libri karolini and the Charles of December 25, 800, there was no difference; and in addition it is still certain that it was not just the form of the coronation as such that was extraordinarily painful and unacceptable to the great Frank.

Charles saw at once that the Pope had played him against Irene and that this signified the end of the peaceful relations with Byzantium that had been established during the last years of the eighth century and could lead to unforeseen political developments. It signified further that the papal curia had forced him into the acceptance of a dignity which Charles in his whole inner course of development had proudly and consciously denied. He was the king of the Franks, filled with a sense of the greatness of his people, for whom he would provide a world position comparable to that possessed by the emperor in the East, who for all that was only a king as Charles himself was. Now this Roman imperial dignity had been imposed on him in a sanctified place which excluded any immediate resistance, by an act of the Pope performed publicly and in a solemn fashion and not to be undone by subsequent protest; all of which he detested. Einhard knew why he designated his master only as king until his death, and it is not accidental that the chief wax seal of Charles, which bore only the inscription: "Christe, protege Carolum regem Francorum [Christ, protect Charles, king of the Franks], was used from 772 to 813, even during the imperial period and was not replaced by a special imperial seal. Charles felt himself to be king of the Franks and wished only for the greatness of his Frankish people; all things Roman were indifferent to him, if not hated.

Step by step in the course of the winter of 800-801 the papal curia through tedious negotiations had subsequently won Charles over to its project. We can follow the steps. A few days passed [after the coronation] before Charles decided to make use of [his new power under] the Roman law in settling the difficulties in the city of Rome. With that step the Papacy had already won a victory in principle: Charles had recognized on practical political grounds the necessity for assuming the Roman tradition. But still he thought it might be possible to champion Roman concepts without bearing the imperial title. For some months he had resisted the acceptance of the imperial title in his official documents; for a while in March 801 he believed that he had reached the same end [of exercising legal authority in Rome] when he consented to the honor of being named consul. For the first time in May 801 he finally acknowledged his acceptance of the imperial title through the suitable change of the protocol of his documents.

Very significant as a reflection of Charles' inner opposition is how this title [of May 801] was formed. In the first place he took over the words "Augustus . . . Imperator." So far this was the title of the Roman emperor, but Charles depreciated that title at the same moment to a certain extent by adding to it in a completely unusual way the words: "Romanum guberans Imperium" [governing the Roman Empire]. The expression "Romanum guberans Imperium" has, as has long been known, a double meaning. It can signify the Roman Empire as well as the territory of the city of Rome. Research has decided chiefly in favor of the last-named interpretation. But this is clearly not possible, since the words "Romanum guberans Imperium" are absent in the last expression of Charles' title in the year 813. Charles had not at that time given up his authority over Rome, but rather, as will be shown, [had given up] the Roman emperorship. . . . The words "Romanum guberans Imperium" thus mean "he who rules the Roman Empire." If this qualifying addition to the words: "Augustus . . . Imperator" in the imperial title, is not a senseless tautology, then at that time [ May 801] Charles by this means instinctively distinguished an absolute emperorship from a Roman emperorship; on the basis of the latter he possessed the former. Then he added to the foregoing the title "King of the Franks and Lombards," so that the new title in its full expression with all additions read: "Karolus serenissimus augustus a Deo coronatus magnus pacificus imperator, Romanum guberans imperium, qui et per misericordiam Dei rex Francorurn et Langobardorum" [ Charles, the most serene Augustus crowned by God the great pacific emperor, governing the Roman Empire, who through the mercy of God is king of the Franks and Lombards]. This imperial title of Charles was the product of intensive thought, built up, as can be proved, out of older title forms originating in the Frankish realm. It represented an attempt to de-romanize as far as possible the Roman imperial title, which Charles had had to accept under the pressure of the situation, and it already aimed toward shaping an imperial concept which would be independent of Rome without, however, actually being able to realize such a Roman-free imperial concept at this time. What we know about the political reforms made by Charles during the rest of his life is only further proof of the correctness of the explanation of the form of his title of 801 as we have expounded it. Also in the years during which Charles had to acknowledge the Roman emperorship against his will, he never denied his basically purely Frankish position.

Evidently the papal curia was able to convince Charles that at that time [in 801] the struggle for world prestige would be decided on the basis of the Roman imperial concept. The experiment of the Libri karolini had been an attempt [to raise the Franks to a supreme position] by unsuitable means. [The curia must have argued] that only by making the decision to continue the Roman tradition would Charles be able to obtain for his Franks the portion of universal power which they deserved.

Along with the political motive there was another one which up to now has not been recognized: a Christian-religious motive. . . . There was no reason why the curia should now hold back with the already noted marriage project . . . ; if in a sense the curia intended to replace the eastern emperorship with a new western one, in that case the change could have been brought to completion through a marriage of Charles with Irene. If from the following events the surprising fact emerges that this project found strong acceptance with Charles, still the motive of the Frank was quite different from that of the curia. A marriage was forbidden from Charles' viewpoint as long as Irene held fast to the worship of the idols. But was it not perhaps possible for Irene to return to her original iconoclastic position? Charles could consider himself a good servant of Christ if through his person he united the East and the West around a dogmatic position sanctioned by the Franks and accepted by them as the only correct one. That this concept did not coincide with papal ideas was for the curia provoking, but for the moment the Papacy was willing on the whole to take it into the bargain considering what was at stake. The repeatedly disputed fact . . . that Charles after 801 embraced the universal imperial title merely to please the curia but against his own will, without in any way denying by that act his purely Frankish position, this fact is proved by Charles' position in the marriage affair.

When Charles departed in the spring of 801 from Rome, the Pope could feel sure that he who had been newly crowned by the Pope would not lay aside his crown. But Charles had declined to take any kind of initiative against the Eastern Romans. It was still in no way clear whether developments could really follow the direction wished by the Papacy, and that a western emperorship could be established effectively in place of the eastern. There was the possibility that the East would simply overlook the development in the West; whereupon the imperial problem would become a problem of two emperors, especially inasmuch as Charles would not decide to proceed against Byzantium. First it had to be seen what attitude would be taken by the East. It has been maintained rightly that Charles after his return to Germany had given serious thought to the whole complex question: contrary to custom he remained in his imperial palace at Aachen and undertook no military expeditions. He demanded a new oath of loyalty from his subjects to him as emperor. He issued a new coin, stamped uniformly for his whole empire with a picture of his head. He introduced finally . . . a new form of imperial document, in which in place of the use of the actual signature of the ruler to complete the document there was employed the eastern Roman form of imperial document in which the chancellor's signature, done in red ink, replaced the ruler's signature.

In 802 Irene's legates finally appeared at the Frankish court at Aachen, since Byzantium was interested in finding out how things stood with the new imperial usurper in the West, who now continued the line of earlier Roman emperors raised to power in the West, but who surprisingly made no threat to come to Constantinople and make good his rights with the sword. As a result of the wide reverberations of the political relationship of Charles with the caliph Harun-al-Rachid the political position of Charles had to be considered in the East at least as a cause for anxiety and especially was it to be feared that Charles would attack Sicily. The negotiations [of 802] must have been conducted in a friendly sense. The result was that an embassy of Charles, accompanied by papal legates, went to Constantinople and there set before Irene the marriage project. We know that this was synonymous with a demand for a change in the East from the veneration of the idols to iconoclasm. Also Charles would never have yielded to Eastern Roman custom in order to take up residence in Constantinople. . . . The movement of Irene to the West had to be accepted as the second condition for the marriage. It is very remarkable that in spite of these decisive stipulations . . . Irene reacted positively to the offer of the West. It seemed as if the Papacy had comprehended the world political situation correctly, and that in the Roman emperorship it was as if its removal from the East could be brought about through the West. It was, as far as we can establish, these two stipulations of Charles which brought about the fall of Irene. To the circle on which Irene had depended for protection after her return to the veneration of images, the thought of a reaction was intolerable. The western policy of Irene contained the seeds of her fall.

The Greek legates of her successor, the emperor Nicephorus, who appeared in 803 at Salz in Thuringia at the court of Charles in the company of the returning German negotiators, presented to the West a wholly new situation. Byzantium now had no intention of bowing before the West in any way. The new emperor in the East had been legally enthroned; he repudiated his western rival simply as a usurper. It has been pointed out correctly that the discussions at Salz as well as the letters which the Greeks brought with them must have been not very friendly. A completely changed position had developed: papal theories had been false, and the problem of two emperors had now arisen.

The question was now whether Charles would in the future force the course of events to follow the line desired by the curia, or whether this would be for him the occasion to take a course opposed to what the Pope expected and so to seek now an independent political policy.

In the place of a universalist solution to the question of prominence [for the Franks in the] world Charles established a solution of equality, which basically corresponded to what he had stood for in the Libri karolini and had already striven for through the marriage of Rotrude. 2 The path to a world emperorship [to be established] in the place of Eastern Rome, along which the papal curia had led him basically against his own will, had proved an impossible course. With a greater energy he now set himself to gain acceptance for his Franks as a power equal to Byzantium. But in one respect the years 800-803 had not been without effect. In full consciousness he conducted a battle to gain recognition from the East on the basis of the Roman concept of emperorship. It is characteristic of this effort that immediately after [the meeting with Byzantine legates] at Salz he created a new imperial stamp for his bull 3 which he used in diplomatic relations, especially with Byzantium, as well as for especially important domestic acts. The reverse side showed a picture of a city gate (with a cross) over the word "Roma" and carried the inscription "Renovatio Roman(i) imp(erii)" (renewal of the Roman Empire). But that the Roman motif was for him basically only a means of conducting his campaign for recognition and bore no relation to the permanency of the Frankish empire is shown clearly by the fact that in the division of the Empire in 806 no mention was made of the emperorship. [In this act of division] Charles comprehended the imperial dignity as a unique, once-granted title belonging to him personally. In other respects the tactical emphasis on his imperial dignity in the years after 803 furnished the basis on the ground of which he was to be designated no longer as the son but as the spiritual brother of the Greek emperor in diplomatic correspondence.

The problem of two emperors now presented the curia with a wholly new unexpected situation. It is understandable that it took pains to retain the influence which it had won over Charles after December, 800. In the course of the year 804 Leo approached Charles to ask whether he could meet with him for Christmas. That was a clear allusion to December 25, 800. It was an allusion likewise to the origin of Charles' imperial dignity, to the papal coronation of him as (Roman) emperor. Charles granted the request. The official Frankish annals concealed . . . some-

2 That is, the marriage project of 781; see above, p. 82.
3 The bull was the seal used to validate official documents.

thing here intentionally. They concealed, as we now know, an important, decisive political negotiation. It is clear that the problem of two emperors at that time created a real barrier to papal-imperial discussions. The idea of co-equal emperors held by the great Frank and the idea of the universality of imperial power held by the Pope joined one against the other in battle. At that time Leo must have finally come to a realization of the situation which Einhard had so excellently described: the emperor in the East feared that Charles would deprive him of his Roman emperorship; but Charles had no thought of it. Equal, peaceful co-existence was his goal; and he rejected the papal idea of exclusiveness resting on Roman tradition. In place of the papal alternative of either East or West, Charles now established the idea of "one as well as the other." If Leo at that time made a last effort to influence Charles in the direction of a universal emperorship, still he must have been convinced that his attempts were in vain. Charles pushed now to an independent world policy, that is, his Frankish-Christian policy of imperial parity. His relationship with the Papacy remained henceforth to his death extraordinarily cool. Charles did not again come to Rome.

The first offer for a peaceful co-existence of the western and eastern emperors, which Charles had directed from Salz to Nicephorus, Byzantium passed over with disrespect. Years of war with Byzantium followed, fought in Italy by Charles' son Pepin. Political conditions in the East finally made it appear desirable for Constantinople to bring to an end the conflict in the West. A legate was sent to Pepin, who was no longer living, but the legate was sent on by the Franks to the court at Aachen. Charles himself was in no way inclined to war with Byzantium, but concerned himself only with striving for equality of rights in the realm of world politics. The leader of this Greek legation, Arsaphios, whose fitness was expressly attested by Charles, was a man of the greatest political capabilities. He recognized that Charles' emperorship had no universal, imperialistic tendencies, that Charles was in his way the king of the Franks and really wanted nothing more. . . . Charles' emperorship was only an "exalted kingship," an emperorship in title: that is what at that time became clear to the Greek negotiator. He reported in this sense to Byzantium. The result was that Constantinople decided in 812 to make a virtue of necessity, and through an official act the Byzantine legate in Aachen recognized Charles as the spiritual "brother" of the Byzantines and of the emperor-basileus instead of the previously used "son" -- he is the "emperor of the Franks," as [the Byzantine historian] Theophanes says. Political practice rendered necessary the introduction in Byzantium of a new imperial concept for Charles, which was in effect to consider him simply an exalted king. . . . While the eastern ruler up until 812 was designated sometimes simply as "emperor," and sometimes as "Roman emperor," henceforth "Roman emperor" always appeared on the coins and in all of the diplomatic designations, as a conscious expression of the claims of the East for its world emperorship -- over against the new Frankish "emperor." Thus Byzantium had in no way departed from its ideology; it had merely introduced into the order of its designations for crowned rulers under the world emperor in Constantinople a special designation for the Frankish king.

Very much stronger was the ideological influence which Byzantium exercised on Charles in a reverse sense. We do not know what the decisive influential event had been for Charles . . . [but] in any case at the end of his life Charles recognized in the Byzantine emperorship a power which was in his eyes basically nothing more than an exalted kingship, whose rulers took the (Roman) imperial title only as a name, and which therefore could serve as a prototype and model for the creation of a native Frankish emperorship which in its internal characteristics had very little more to do with Roman concepts than it did with the Greek.

The last form of Charles' imperial title, dating from the year 813, used only the expression "Imperator et Augustus" before "Rex Francorum et Langobardorum." The expression "Romanum guberans Imperium" was not used. It has long been believed that here was a case of a conscious retreat by Charles before the claims of the Eastern Roman Empire, a concession to the political wishes of his imperial rival, who believed that he should have exclusive possession of the Roman imperial title. Actually things were quite otherwise. Charles had in no way deviated from his program of obtaining absolute equality of rank with the East. That is shown by the further events of the year 813.

Just as the Greek emperor out of the fulness of his own power crowned himself, so Charles in the spring of 813 at Aachen crowned his youngest, only surviving son, Louis, as emperor without recourse to Rome and only with the acclamation of his Franks according to the eastern pattern; also the form in which this acclamation was offered was no longer Roman, but Frankish-Christian. No longer did Charles consider, as he had in 806, that the emperorship was a title granted only to him personally; in 813 he viewed his emperorship as a sovereign expression of power, which the holder, following Charles' example, could in the future give over to his successor without calling upon papal cooperation or without getting recognition from the East, but solely out of his own fulness of power. Charles' new Frankish empire was no longer foreign to the Frankish people, but was one belonging exclusively to them; it represented a heightening of their prestige and their aspiration to world rule. The Frankish empire, so conceived, was simply a further development of the Frankish monarchy. At the end of his life Charles stamped "Renovatio Regni Franc(orum)" (renewal of the kingdom of the Franks) on the reverse of the seal used on his last bull in place of the now abandoned city gates of Rome. . . . When the old Charles discovered . . . the formula "Renovatio Regni Francorum," which bore the mark of his spirit, it must have seemed to him that he had now fulfilled his mission. Thus the "Renovatio Romani Imperii" which in 803 he had allowed to be stamped on his seal under the influence of the Papacy was not retrospective, but signified a looking forward: not as a resumption but as an extension, an extending outward of the Roman Empire. The formula which he put forward in 813 and which according to his wish was to point toward the future was the result of the continued and deeply felt clash with Byzantium.

Eastern Rome had thus to a great extent helped the Frankish ruler to realize historically his own individual emperorship. [The final form of that emperorship] had already been foreshadowed in a certain respect by Charles' imperial title of 801. But its political realization was possible only by following along the devious path opened by the Roman emperorship, which up until 812 represented the only historical form of emperorship [which Charles could lay claim to].

When Charles in his famous letter to Byzantium in 813 speaks of an occidental and an oriental Imperium (a western and an eastern empire) . . . this is in effect the political testament of Charles, a concept of the fraternal co-existence of the Frankish and Byzantine super-states, united by a common love of Christ and governed in a parallel fashion.

Seen from a world point of view, the death of Charles left behind a double problem. There was the question of whether the new Frankish emperorship could maintain itself against the Greeks, who had actually expressly recognized Charles as emperor in 812, but still only with repugnance. In addition to the political mistrust of the West by the East, there still existed the opposition on questions of religious dogma. Certainly as a result of the agreement of Aachen Charles' idea of a partnership on a basis of equality between the two emperors, a partnership based on a common love of Christ, had developed far. But this aim had still not been fulfilled, since the East still held as firmly as before to the veneration of idols. Charles, who later designated himself in his epitaph as "Orthodoxus Imperator" [orthodox emperor], consequently had not been able . . . to confirm the agreement through the marriage of the son of the emperor, Theophylactus, to a Frankish princess, as the Greeks wanted. Would it be possible as a result of a change of dogmatic views in the East, still possible at that time, to build up the existing community of interests into a still closer alliance agreement?

The other decisive problem was: would the new Frankish emperorship be able to maintain itself against the papal curia, which was now too greatly alienated from it to approve the self-willed new concept of empire of Charles, shaped without any consultation with the Pope, since the new concept could in the last analysis only have come into being on the basis of the impulsion which Leo III had given to the Frankish king on December 25, 800? Here was revealed for the first time the opposition between the Western emperorship and the Papacy. The claim of both powers was the same as it was later in the time of the Investiture struggle and the Hohenstaufens, even if the problem on which the opposition of 804 arose was completely different from that of the High Middle Ages.


Henri Pirenne ( 1862-1935) was certainly one of the most influential medievalists of the last few decades. For many years he was a teacher at the University of Gand in Belgium. Numerous scholars from nearly all over the world studied under him and were powerfully influenced by his seminal ideas concerning the Middle Ages. Pirenne's teaching was based on extensive scholarly investigation of medieval history, especially in its economic aspects. His studies resulted in the production of several books and innumerable articles in learned journals, all of which together propounded what is known as the "Pirenne Thesis." In its simplest terms this thesis states that Western European civilization originated as a result of the Moslem invasion of the Mediterranean world, an invasion which destroyed the economic, political, and cultural unity that had bound that area together in the era of Roman dominance. To Pirenne, Charlemagne's coronation was a key event in the reaction of Western Europe to the shattering experience of the Moslem invasion. His interpretation of that event is taken from one of his chief books, Mohammed and Charlemagne, which he finished in rough form just before his death.

OF ALL the States which the Germans founded in the Occident at the close of the 5th century in the basin of the Mediterranean, the two which had the most brilliant beginnings, the Vandal and Ostrogothic kingdoms, had fallen under the attacks of Justinian. In 629 the Visigoths reconquered from the Empire the scrap of territory which it still retained in the Peninsula. The Franks had remained intact. As for the Lombards, it seemed for a moment that they were about to reconstitute the kingdom of Italy for their own benefit. The fact that the Empire was compelled to defend itself against the Persians had favoured their enterprise; and it had been necessary, in order to cope with them, to have recourse to a Frankish alliance, which was not without its dangers. However, just as the victory of Heraclius seemed to portend a resumption of the Byzantine offensive, Islam suddenly made its irruption into the Empire.

Before this irruption the Empire finally retreated. It had lost Africa, and its Italian possessions were menaced by the Musulmans established in Sicily. The Visigoths had been annihilated. The Franks, though Islam had broken through in the South, had made a recovery at Poitiers; notwithstanding which they were cut off from the sea. The Lombards alone had not yet encountered the attacks of Islam, which, on the contrary, had actually been advantageous to them, for they had loosened the grip of Byzantium, now obliged to turn to the Eastern front; and, on the other hand, they had protected them against the Frankish peril.

It was however, reserved for France, hav-

Reprinted by permission from Henri Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne ( London, George Allen & Unwin Ltd.; New York, Barnes & Noble, 1939), pp. 186-187, 210-211, 223-224, 227-235.

ing checked the continental expansion of Islam in the West, to reconstitute Europe upon new foundations.

It was on France that the future depended. But France, as she appeared at this moment, was very different from the France of the Merovingians. Her centre of gravity was no longer inside "Romania." It had shifted towards the Germanic North, and with this new France there appeared, for the first time, a political force which ceased to gravitate toward the Mediterranean, where Islam was predominant. With the Carolingians Europe finally assumed a new orientation. Until their advent Europe had continued to live the life of antiquity. But all the traditional conditions were overthrown by Islam. The Carolingians were to find themselves in a situation which was not of their making, but having found it they exploited it in such a way as to open up a new epoch. The part which they played is only to be explained by the change of equilibrium imposed on the world by Islam. The coup d'état by which they replaced the Merovingian dynasty, the only dynasty which had subsisted since the invasions, was itself very largely explained by the closing of the Mediterranean by the Saracens. This will become obvious if we study the Merovingian decadence without prejudice. If it has not been sufficiently realized, this is because the Frankish period has always been regarded as a whole in which the Carolingians appeared, so to speak, as the continuation of the Merovingians; and it has been held that this continuity was manifest in the laws and the institutions of the age as well as in its economy and social organization. As a matter of fact, there was an essential difference between the Merovingian epoch and the Carolingian period.

[EDOTOR'S NOTE: Pirenne then proceeds to trace the decline of the Merovingians and the rise of the Carolingians in detail. He complements that story by injecting a highly significant change in the policy of the Papacy.]

The Church, on the fall of the Imperial government in the West, had loyally cherished its memories of and its reverence for that Roman Empire whose organization was reflected in its own, with its dioceses (civitates) and its provinces. It not only venerated but in a certain sense it continued the Empire since the upper ranks of its personnel were composed entirely of descendants of old senatorial families who remembered the Empire with respect and regret. The whole Church was subject to Roman law. It regarded the events of 476 as having no real importance. It had acknowledged the Emperor of Ravenna; it now acknowledged the Emperor of Constantinople. What is more, it acknowledged him as its head. The Pope, in Rome, was his subject, corresponded with him, and maintained an apocrisiary in Constantinople. He loyally attended the synods and other Imperial convocations.

The Emperor himself, when things were normal, regarded and venerated the Pope as the first patriarch of the Empire, having primacy over the patriarchs of Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria.

This unrestricted adhesion of the Western Church to the Empire is all the more comprehensible inasmuch as until the Pontificate of Gregory the Great the limits of the ancient Roman Empire were those of the Church, or approximately so. It was true that the formation of the Germanic kingdoms, established on the ruins of the Empire, had divided the Church among several States, ruled by different kings; towards whom, however, it had from the very first manifested an absolute loyalty. Although in reality the Empire no longer existed, there was still an Empire for the Pope of Rome.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Pirenne then proceeds to trace the development of the alliance between the Papacy and the Franks, an alliance prompted chiefly by the fact that the Popes could no longer rely on the Greek emperors for protection. The emergent alliance was culminated in 751 when the Pope gave his approval to a change of dynasties in the Frankish kingdom.]

From this moment the great change of orientation was realized. The North had definitely prevailed. It was there that the temporal power resided, since Islam had ruined Southern Gaul, and this was the only power that could not support the Papacy, since the Greek Empire had cut it off from the Orient.

The year 751 saw the alliance of the Carolingians with the Papacy. . . . Before the situation could be completely reversed the last thread that connected the Pope with the Empire had to be broken, for so long as it existed the Papacy was forced to remain, in defiance of its nature, a Mediterranean power. It doubtless would have remained a Mediterranean power if Islam had not robbed it of Africa and Spain. But Germany, in the North, was now of greater significance.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Pirenne traces the involvement of the Franks in Italy under Pepin, stressing especially the role of the Frankish ruler as protector of the Papacy. Thus the stage was set for Charlemagne.]

Charlemagne's reign was in all respects the completion of that of Pippin. His father bequeathed to him his Italian policy; that is to say, his Lombard and his Roman policy. He ascended the throne October 16th (768) with the title of patrician, like his brother Carloman. It was only after Carloman's death that he was really able to take action. ( December 771).

The King of the Lombards, Didier, still cherished the ambition of becoming the master of Rome. In January 773 Pope Adrian had to appeal to Charlemagne for assistance against Didier. Charlemagne immediately marched into Italy, and while his army laid siege to Pavia, where Didier was blockaded, he proceeded to Rome, in order to be present at the Easter festival ( 774). On this occasion he intervened as the great benefactor of the Holy See. He not only renewed, but enormously increased, the donations made to the Pope by his father, to the point of including among them the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento as well as Venetia and Istria. Then, returning to Pavia, which, with Didier, surrendered in June 774, he himself assumed the title of King of the Lombards.

Hitherto he had been content to call himself Carolus, gratia Dei, rex Francorum vir inluster. His title was now: Rex Francorum et Longobardorum atque patricius Romanorum.

This innovation makes it clear that for him his Roman patriciate -- though this was certainly not what the Pope would have wished -- was of secondary importance to his Lombard monarchy. The King of the Franks had become an Italian potentate. His power, which had its origin in Germanic Austrasia, was extended to the Mediterranean. But he did not settle in Rome; he did not become a Mediterranean; he remained a Northerner. Italy and the Papacy henceforth gravitated in his orbit. He left the Lombard kingdom a certain autonomy, but he sent Frankish counts thither, and he distributed some of its domains among the great churches of Francia.

As for the Pope, he naturally tried to regard this patrician, who after all had received his power from Stephen II at Quiersy, as merely the protector of the Papacy. But here there was a fatal contradiction. To begin with, a protector readily becomes a master. Pippin was never that, for he had loyally modelled his Italian policy on that of the Pope; but Charles was to become the master. The fact that he assumed the title of patrician only when he had conquered the Lombard kingdom shows plainly that he regarded this title also as a conquest; as one that he held in his own right. As for the Pope, who from the year 772 no longer dated his Bulls from the year of the Emperor's accession and who from the year 781 dated them from the beginning of his Pontificate -- he was evidently attempting to extend his power. But he encountered the opposition of the Lombard prince of Benevento and the patrician of Sicily, who governed, or professed to govern, in the name of the Emperor, Sicily, Calabria, and the Duchy of Naples.

Charles had no intention of surrendering Italy to the Pope. He was King of the Lombards, and as such he fully intended to become the master of the whole Peninsula. Thus, when he went to Rome for the second time, at Easter 780, going back on his first declarations, made when he had not yet conquered the Lombard crown, he prevented the Pope from extending his authority to Spoleto, whose duke acknowledged his sovereignty.

On the other hand, the Byzantine Empire, where, after the death of Leo IV, the Empress Irene had renounced Iconoclasty, was suggesting a rapprochement. In 781 an embassy came from Constantinople to ask Charles for the hand of his daughter Rothrude for the young Emperor, and they were accordingly betrothed. This was obviously not the moment for embroiling himself with the Emperor, so that Charles was unable to support the enterprises of the Pope against the Imperial territories.

At the close of the year 786 Charles was once more in Rome, having been called thither by the conspiracies of the Duke of Benevento, whom he was obliged to reduce to obedience. But almost immediately upon his departure Duke Arichis concocted an alliance with Byzantium, according to which he was to receive the title of patrician and represent the Emperor in Italy, and even in Rome. The Pope and Charles were thus suddenly threatened with a Byzantine offensive. The clash which occurred in 788 ended in reinforcing Charles's hold on Benevento, while in the North he conquered Istria. Nevertheless, Charles was never really able to impose his sovereignty upon Benevento, despite his successful expeditions against the Duke in 791, 792793, 800, 801-802.

Charles protected the Pope because of his veneration for Saint Peter, but he did not subordinate himself to the pontiff as Pippin had done. He even attempted to dictate to him in a matter of dogma. After the reprobation of Iconoclasty by the Council of Nicaea in 787, which, from the dogmatic standpoint, reconciled Rome and Constantinople, Charles refused to accept all the decisions of the Council. He had a series of treatises against the Council composed by theologians -- the Libri Carolini -and he sent an ambassador to Rome, who presented to the sovereign pontiff a capitulary containing eighty-five remonstrances addressed to the Pope; and finally, in 7 94), he assembled all the bishops of the West at Frankfort, in a Council which abandoned several of the conclusions of the Council of Nicaea, and condemned the doctrines of the worshippers of images.

In 796, after the death of Adrian, Charles wrote to his successor, Leo III, that he was "lord and father, king and priest, chief and guide of all Christians." And he laid down the lines which the Pope was to follow, defining very exactly the limits of his own temporal power and those of the spiritual power of the Pope.

Meanwhile, on succeeding to Adrian, Leo III sent him the banner of the city of Rome and introduced the new fashion of inserting in the date of his bulls the year of Charles's reign, a quo cepit Italiam.

It is obvious that Charles no longer regarded himself as a patricius Romanorum. He was acting as the protector of Christianity. At this period he had triumphed over Saxony and the Lombards, and had subdued the Avars or driven them across the Theiss ( 796), and in the plenitude of his power he could claim to assume this rôle. Apart from the petty princes of England and Spain he was the only sovereign in the West. His situation was superior to that enjoyed by any king in history, and although the remnants of Byzantine supremacy still lingered in "Romania," there was no such influence in the North, not in the Anglo-Saxon and Germanic environment which Charles inhabited; Alcuin, in addressing himself to Charles, might well call him Emperor.

In Rome itself, the Pope, although he did not deny the sovereignty of the Emperor of Byzantium, was in fact no longer his subject. Was it not inevitable that the idea should occur to him, recognizing as he did the power and the prestige of the King of the Franks, of reconstituting, for the benefit of Charles, that Empire which since the 5th century had no longer existed in the West? But it is evident that what he had in mind was not merely to reconstitute the Empire in partibus Occidentis, and to create, so to speak, a successor to Romulus Augustulus. To do this would be to bring the Emperor back to Rome, and then he would be in his power. But he wished to remain independent of him. This is clearly proved by the mosaic which he had placed in the triclinium of the Lateran, in which we see Saint Peter presenting the pallium to Leo III and the standard to Charles. It was not Imperial Rome, but the Rome of Saint Peter, that the Pope wished to exalt by reconstituting the Empire; Rome, the head of the ecclesia, the ecclesia of which Charles proclaimed himself the soldier. Did not Charles himself declare, in speaking to Leo III, that his people was the populus Christianus?

Charles, of course, could have conferred upon himself the dignity of Emperor, or he could have had it conferred upon him by a synod of his Church. But how much more legitimate it would appear to all Christendom if it were bestowed upon him by the initiative of the Pope! The disproportion between the title of patricius which Charles bore and the power which he possessed would disappear. He would be the military representative of Saint Peter as the Pope was his religious representative. They would both be bound together in the same system, that of the ecclesia.

By the year 800 Charles had conquered Saxony and Bavaria, annihilated the Avars, and attacked Spain. Almost the whole of Western Christendom was in his hands.

And on December 25th, 800, by placing on his head the Imperial crown, the Pope consecrated this Christian Empire. Charlemagne received his title in accordance with the usage of Byzantium; that is to say, by acclamatio. The Pope then placed the crown upon his head and adored him.

As regards its form, then, Charles's accession to the Empire was in conformity with legality. He was acclaimed by the people, as in Byzantium. In reality, however, there was one essential difference between the accession of Charles and that of a Byzantine Emperor. As a matter of fact, the Romans who acclaimed him were not, like the people of Constantinople, the representatives of an Empire, but the inhabitants of a city of which the Emperor-elect was the patrician. Their acclamations could not bind the subjects of Charles from the Elbe to the Pyrenees. As a matter of fact, these acclamations were simply drama. In reality it was the Pope, the head of the ecclesia, and therefore the ecclesia itself, that gave Charles the Empire; and thereby he became its appointed defender. Unlike the title of the old Roman Emperor, his Imperial title had no secular significance. The accession of Charles to the Empire did not correspond with any kind of Imperial institution. But by a sort of coup d'état the patrician who had protected Rome became the Emperor who protected the Church.

The power which had been conferred upon him made him not an Emperor, but the Emperor. There could no more be two Emperors than there could be two Popes. Charles was the Emperor of the ecclesia as the Pope conceived it, of the Roman Church, regarded as the universal Church. He was serenissimus Augustus, a Deo coronatus, magnus, pacificus, imperator. Note that he did not call himself Romanorum imperator, nor semper Augustus, titles borne by the Roman Emperors. He added only Romanorum guberans imperium, a somewhat vague expression to which reality was given by the titles rex Francorum and Longobardorum. The Pope himself called him in his Bulls imperante domino nostro Carolo piussimo perpetuo Augusto a Deo coronato magno et pacifico imperatore.

The centre of the effective power of this defender of the Church, this holy and pious Emperor, was not in Rome, where he had received the Imperial power, but in the north of Europe. The ancient Mediterranean Empire had logically been centred upon Rome. The new Empire was logically centred upon Austrasia. The Emperor of Byzantium was an impotent witness of the accession of this new Emperor. All he could do was to refuse to acknowledge Charles. But on January 13th, 812, the two Empires concluded peace. The Emperor of Byzantium accepted the new condition of things. Charles surrendered Venice and Southern Italy, which he restored to the Byzantine Empire. On the whole, Charles's policy in Italy had failed; he had not become a Mediterranean power.

Nothing reveals more clearly the upheavals of the ancient and Mediterranean order which had prevailed for so many centuries. The Empire of Charlemagne was the critical point of the rupture by Islam of the European equilibrium. That he was able to realize this Empire was due, on the one hand, to the fact that the separation of East from West had limited the authority of the Pope to Western Europe; and, on the other hand, to the fact that the conquest of Spain and Africa by Islam had made the king of the Franks the master of the Christian Occident.

It is therefore strictly correct to say that without Mohammed Charlemagne would have been inconceivable.

In the 7th century the ancient Roman Empire had actually become an Empire of the East; the Empire of Charles was an Empire of the West.

In reality, each of the two Empires ignored the other.

And in conformity with the direction followed by history, the centre of this Empire was in the North, to which the new centre of gravity of Europe had shifted. With the Frankish kingdom -- but it was the Austrasian-Germanic Frankish kingdom -- the Middle Ages had their beginning. After the period during which the Mediterranean unity subsisted -- from the 5th to the 8th century -- the rupture of that unity had displaced the axis of the world.

Germanism began to play its part in history. Hitherto the Roman tradition had been uninterrupted. Now an original Romano-Germanic civilization was about to develop.

The Carolingian Empire, or rather, the Empire of Charlemagne, was the scaffolding of the Middle Ages. The State upon which it was founded was extremely weak and would presently crumble. But the Empire would survive as the higher unity or Western Christendom.

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