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7-08-2015, 21:21

Carolingians in Italy, papal ambitions in the Balkans and Byzantium’s resurgence

By the middle of the ninth century, the context had changed dramatically. The Frankish empire had fragmented even as Mediterranean infrastructures recovered and ramified. The duchy of Rome was regaining autonomy, Venice grew in wealth and power, while Arab attacks on the coasts intensified and Sicily slowly slid under Arab control, perhaps encouraging Venice to focus its future on the Levant and Constantinople. Yet Byzantine power was on the upsurge at home and abroad. Between the Frankish kingdoms and Constantinople, new centres of power were emerging among the Moravians and the Bulgars. These changes combined with the recent past to shape the final phase of Byzantine–Carolingian interaction. Frankish imperial ambitions continued to irritate the Roman emperors of Constantinople. And the old papal claims to jurisdiction in the Balkans lost none of their relevance as that area figured anew on the historical stage. The installation of Arabs on the Italian mainland from 838 combined with their sack of St Peter’s to dramatise the need for cooperation. The residence of the Frankish emperor, Louis II (855–75) in Italy deepened his involvement in the complex politics of Rome and southern Italy, and consequently with Constantinople. At least two more marriage alliances were contracted between members of the Frankish emperor Lothar I’s (840–55) family and its Constantinopolitan counterpart, although again the marriages never took place.96 Cooperation focused on the key strongholds of Apulia, where the complementarity of Frankish land forces and the Byzantine navy was obvious. Bari had been an Arab emirate for decades; its coastal site counselled a land and sea operation. Joint Byzantino-Frankish operations were foreseen in 869 and 870 but coordination broke down. In 871 Louis II finally captured Bari in an operation in which the Byzantine sources claim they participated. He then failed to take Taranto.97 It was in this context that Louis II sent his famous letter to Basil I, composed probably by Anastasius Bibliothecarius, newly returned from a Frankish mission to Constantinople. The letter responded vigorously to Basil’s criticism of the Carolingian imperial title, even as Louis requested more naval support and suggested that he and Basil had agreed to liberate Sicily once Calabria was rid of Arabs.98 The ambivalent tone of Louis’ letter foreshadowed how interests which had converged at Bari now collided. Both powers aimed to control southern Italy and both focused on Benevento in this respect. Louis II had turned Bari over to the duke of Benevento rather than the Byzantine admiral. But the duke soon turned on him, capturing and humiliating the Frankish ruler. Louis’ further efforts to subdue the duke were frustrated in part because of the duke’s new alliance with Constantinople.99 Louis’ subsequent death without an heir precipitated a struggle over northern Italy which Charles the Bald’s short-lived success failed to resolve, even as the pace of Byzantine intervention accelerated in the south. Already in 872 the Byzantine fleet had scored one success off the Campanian coast to the relief of Pope John VIII (872–82).100 When Rome itself was occupied by the duke of Spoleto early in 878, John VIII felt himself driven into the arms of Constantinople. As his letter to Basil I shows, the Roman see was now led to look with a different eye on the latest in the Byzantine church’s continuing upheavals and to seek resolution of its own bitter conflicts with recent patriarchs.101 These conflicts had arisen despite the final restoration of icons and the appointment as patriarch of Methodios, a Sicilian who had been ordained during the few years he had lived in Rome. In fact, however, the papacy’s resentment over its jurisdictional losses had not disappeared. It was exacerbated by the expansion of Bulgar power in the Balkans, that is Illyricum. Papal suspicion of the patriarchate was plain to see right from 787, when Hadrian had qualified his cooperation by repeating long-standing papal objections against the patriarchal title oikoumenikos or universalis, as well as against Tarasios’ elevation from lay official to patriarch.102 Two generations later new developments were to mix different sources of contention in explosive fashion: Roman primacy, lost jurisdiction over southern Italy and Illyricum, growing awareness of disciplinary divergences and the factionalisation of the Byzantine elite. Monastic pressure on Patriarch Methodios to purge all bishops compromised under the second spell of iconoclasm was given new life by his rigorist successor, the monk Ignatios (847–58, 867–77), a castrated son of Emperor Michael I (811–13). For reasons that are unclear, Ignatios deposed one of Methodios’ close associates, Gregory Asbestas, archbishop of Syracuse, who appealed to Rome. While this case was pending, Ignatios himself was swept away by a political crisis and replaced by the head of the imperial chancery, the great lay intellectual Photios (858–67, 877–86), who was consecrated by none other than Gregory Asbestas. In spring 859, the deposed Ignatios’ supporters met in Constantinople and claimed to depose Photios; Photios retorted with a synod which attacked Ignatios (see above, p. 293). At this point, the opposing factions seemed to stall in stalemate. Photios and Michael III sent an embassy to the new pope, Nicholas I (858–67), seeking his support for a council which would deal finally with iconoclasm and the current schism within the Byzantine church.103 Bishops Radoald of Porto and Zacharias of Anagni, the papal legates, apparently exceeded their mandate at the ensuing council held at Constantinople in April 861, by approving the deposition of Ignatios; but they failed to recover Illyricum.104 The remainingGreek monastic communities in Rome again added an internal dimension to papal relations with Constantinople. Ignatios clearly had vociferous supporters there, particularly the monk Theognostos. Pope Nicholas I convened a council which repudiated his legates’ actions and declared Photios and Asbestas deposed, eliciting from Michael III the famous and contemptuous letter about the barbarity of Latin Rome.105 On an already complex situation, further complications now obtruded, as the Bulgar ruler Boris (c. 852–89) was having second thoughts over his contacts with Constantinople and approached Louis the German about converting to Frankish rather than Byzantine Christianity.106 At about the same time Constantinople dispatched two veteran diplomats and missionaries to the edges of East Francia, in response to the Moravians’ expression of interest in conversion. It is a sign of the rapid development of both Bulgar and Moravian societies that they now looked to conversion and therefore cultural integration with the dominant neighbouring cultures. It is a measure of their political astuteness that each explored the advantages of converting to the church most removed from their respective borders. The Bulgar initiative, which was soon notified to the pope, opened up the unexpected prospect of recovering jurisdiction over Illyricum regardless of the Byzantine emperor’s attitude. In 866, the Bulgar ruler expressed dissatisfaction with the Greek missionaries working in his kingdom by approaching Pope Nicholas I, who answered with legates and a remarkable document responding to the khan’s queries about Byzantine criticism of Bulgar customs. The pope expressed a fairly enlightened attitude towards Bulgar practices even as he slammed the customs of rival Constantinople (see above, p. 319). Photios retorted by enumerating western doctrinal and disciplinary deviations in an eastern encyclical. He convoked a council which deposed Nicholas I and dispatched emissaries to Louis II to solicit his help in toppling the pope, even as Nicholas sought theological support from the dynamic cultural centres of the Frankish kingdoms.107 At that very moment, the power constellation with which Photios was identified crumbled when Basil I had Michael III assassinated. The new emperor soon restored Ignatios and requested papal support, offering to have the rival patriarchal parties submit to the pope for judgement. Only Ignatios’ legation made it to Rome intact, and Nicholas I’s successor, Pope Hadrian II (867–72), unsurprisingly found for Ignatios. Papal legates then travelled to Constantinople for a council convened over the winter of 869– 70 to sort out the implications of the recent upheavals. At the same time, Louis II’s ambassadors – including AnastasiusBibliothecarius –were busy in Constantinople discussing a marriage alliance and the military cooperation we have already noted. The intractable papal legates imposed their own views on the council. But afterwards, theywere confronted and confounded by Bulgarian ambassadors and a Byzantine hierarchy led by Ignatios, backed by Basil and supported by the eastern patriarchates, which forcefully denied Roman claims in Bulgaria. The resulting strain would endure until events in Italy drove Pope John VIII in 878 to seek political rapprochement with Byzantium.108 Ignatios had died in 877 and Photios resumed the patriarchal office. The pope allowed his legation to participate in another winter council in 879–80. The text of the Roman documents presented there appears to have been toned down; Photios emphasised that he had never opposed Roman jurisdiction over Bulgaria; he had only bowed to the imperial will in the matter. Concord of a sort was re-established. Although Roman jurisdiction over Bulgaria would never become a reality, old and new Rome were again in communion and the way was open for military cooperation.109 The need was great: the Byzantine stronghold of Syracuse had fallen to the Arabs a few weeks after John VIII wrote to Basil seeking his support, and Constantinople reacted vigorously. In 879, the Byzantine navy attacked the Arabs off Naples, and the pope complained that the detachment had not continued up the coast to receive his blessing and defend Rome. After the latest council in Constantinople the pope received the seemingly good news about Bulgaria, the loan of several warships and the restoration of Roman rights over the elegant Justinianic church of Sts Sergius and Bacchus next door to the Great Palace.110 A powerful military force from the western themes reconquered Taranto, even as a Byzantine fleet won an important victory off the northern coast of Sicily. Basil I’s hold on Calabria expanded considerably, as the Byzantines occupied some strongholds while others recognised eastern overlordship.111 Charles the Fat now claimed his family’s inheritance in Italy; he rightly feared that Rome – and even the Frankish family who ran the duchy of Spoleto – was turning away from the Carolingians to Constantinople. Duke Wido had in fact sent his own embassy to Byzantium.112 As post-Carolingian chaos descended on the north of Italy, the Byzantines briefly occupied Benevento from 891 to 895, organised the new theme of Langobardia and seemed more significant to Italy’s fate than ever.113 That significance expressed itself in the dating formulae of local charters or the dispatch of Venetian bells to adorn Basil I’s splendid new palace chapel of the Nea. Monasteries scurried to obtain Byzantine confirmations of their privileges and local Italian aristocrats flaunted Greek court titles. Reinforced by population transfers from the east, the Byzantine south became increasingly active in the renewed writing and copying of Greek texts.114 Italians made pilgrimages to St Demetrios’ shrine in Thessaloniki and Leo VI invited to his court holy men from Italy, even as Eugenius Vulgarius sent him fawning panegyrical poems in Latin.115 Presumably in anticipation of the impending Carolingian succession in Italy, in 872 and 873 Basil I had reopened diplomatic contacts with a northern Frankish court by concluding an alliance (amicitia) with Louis the German.116 Italy motivated, at least in part, the Byzantine envoy who travelled to Regensburg in 894 for an audience with King Arnulf of Carinthia after his Italian expedition. So too another embassy in 896 followed Arnulf’s imperial coronation.117 Pope John IX’s ambassadors to Constantinople in 899 consecrated the renewed harmony between Rome and the east and may have played a hand in arranging the betrothal of Louis III, king of Provence – whose mother Ermengard had once been promised to the Byzantine emperor – to Anna, daughter of Leo VI (see below, p. 541). The question of whether the betrothal was followed up by actual marriage is controversial. If the marriage did take place, Louis III the Blind, who sporadically controlled areas of northern Italy between 900 and 905, sired the only Carolingian also descended from the Byzantine Macedonian house, Charles-Constantine, count of Vienne. Such a union might perhaps clarify the mention of Greek merchants in Louis’ privilege of 921.118 In any event, Rome’s relations with Constantinople and renewed Byzantine power in Italy would soon be symbolised by the victorious joint operation against the Arab colony on the Garigliano river in 915.119

 

 

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