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7-08-2015, 23:42

Byzantium and otto i

Although Byzantium’s most active concerns lay in the Balkan andMediterranean worlds, the empire also maintained some contacts with potentates based north of the Alps. The Greek embassies which visited Otto I in 945 and 949 may be the tip of an otherwise unrecorded iceberg of diplomacy, and the ‘pallia graeca’ presented by King Edmund of Wessex to the shrine of St Cuthbert in 944 could have been brought directly by emissaries of the basileus; indeed,West Saxon kings from Æthelstan (925–39) onwards sometimes bore the title basileus in their charters. Increased Byzantine attention toOtto during the late 940s may have been induced by recent Bavarian victories over theHungarians. Constantine VII, was interested too, in this still semi-nomadic people; he devoted three chapters of the De administrando almost exclusively to the Hungarians’ history, and saw to the baptism and investiture with the title of patrikios of at least two of their chieftains.15 In September 951Otto I led an army across the Alps. Probably in the same year Constantine requested the hand of his nieceHadwig, daughter ofDuke Henry of Bavaria (947–55), for his widowed son Romanos. He may have reckoned that Hadwig’s uncle would one day reign as imperator: and Otto did, while in Italy, sound out the pope about a possible imperial coronation, albeit to no effect. But Constantine may also have envisaged Henry as a prospective in-law because of his occupation of Aquileia, which bridged Byzantine interests in Venice and the Dalmatian coast. Around this time Henry went on the offensive against the Hungarians and captured ‘much booty’ fromthem,16 which cannot have escapedByzantine notice. Allegedly, however, Hadwig herself refused the match and Byzantine bids lapsed. Instead, Constantine intervened directly in the central Mediterranean. In 956 he sent a large expeditionary force to overawe rebels in Calabria and Apulia, reduce Naples to submission and attack the Saracen raiders in their Sicilian base (see below, p. 564). This was for the most part accomplished, but the underlying purpose was apparently the defensive one of relieving southern Italy of Muslim pressure. Substantive change in the tempo and tenor of east–west relations was, however, imminent. Other westerners were trying to correspond with Byzantium, judging by a decree issued by Doge Peter IV Candiano in June 960. This implies that the Venetians’ carriage of letters from northern Italians, Bavarians, Saxons and others to the emperor was increasing and bans the delivery of letters other than those customarily passing ‘from our palace’.17 Byzantium soon began to deploy its newly enlarged armed forces in theatres other than those for which they had originally been mobilised, notably in Sicily. Taormina fell to the Muslims for a second time in 962. A huge Byzantine force including heavy cavalry landed on Sicily in the autumn of 964, but was soon crushed at Rametta; the fleet was destroyed in a subsequent action. An attempt to assemble another, more modest, task force in Calabria in 965 was abortive. Byzantium was nevertheless better placed and disposed to flex muscles in the west than it had been since the seventh century, and the later 960s saw some administrative reorganisation (see below, pp. 567–8); the newly instituted katepan¯o Italias was of high rank and may have had some supervisory duties over all Byzantium’s possessions on the peninsula. It was more coincidence than cause and effect that the two leading Christian powers simultaneously turned their attention towards parts of Italy. Already in the late 950s some Byzantines had envisaged the reconquest of Crete as the prelude to victory in Sicily, while Otto I’s intervention in Italy came in response to appeals from nearly every prominent figure, including Pope John XII (955–64). Although it is difficult to assess Otto’s understanding of his title of imperator, his crowning by the pope in 962 or the relevance to this rite of the city of Rome, these steps gave him good reason to care about the pope’s future allegiance. John XII soon tried to make contact with Constantinople and so did Berengar of Ivrea’s son, Adalbert. Otto was well aware of John’s appeals for Byzantine assistance, judging by the allegations which Liudprand puts into his mouth.18 Several other issues troubled relations between the new imperator and his eastern counterpart. These were probably not all clearly understood at the time, and this and the delays caused by distance made the course of events still more tortuous. Firstly, there was the question of the interrelationship between two empires, each of which had some call on the imperial Roman past. One of the foundation stones of Byzantine imperialism was that Constantine the Great had by God’s will moved legitimate leadership from ‘old Rome’ to ‘the reigning city’ on the Bosporus. The De thematibus – not a work of propaganda – states flatly that the city of Rome has ‘put aside’ imperial power and is mainly controlled by the pope;19 and the mid-tenth-century Arabic scholar, al-Mas‘udi, noted that the city’s ruler had neither worn a diadem nor called himself emperor until shortly before the time of writing.20 The Byzantine government can hardly have been unaware that Louis the Blind and Berengar of Friuli had both called themselves imperator following a papal coronation, and Berengar’s realm is even termed a basileia by Constantine Porphyrogenitus himself.21 But if Byzantium did not actively oppose the western warlords’ pretensions, neither did it actively encourage them. Hugh of Arles adapted various Byzantinising modes of depicting his majesty, such as gold bulls and documents written in gold on purple parchment, and his daughter married a porphyrogenitus. This renderedHugh’s status comparable to that of the basileus, and Bertha’s large dowry was probably meant to indicate parity. It was perhaps in deference to Byzantine sensitivities that Hugh abstained from the imperial title itself. That these could be awakened is shown by Leo Phokas’ qualification of Liudprand’s master in 968: Otto was not an imperator, but a rex.22 Nikephoros II Phokas (963–9), like most tenth-century basileis, had personal grounds to be vigilant about unauthorised use of the imperial title; he was himself an intruder in the palace, while even Constantine VII deemed it necessary to flaunt his purple birth. Moreover, the Saxon arriviste Otto was a different class of imperator from his earlier tenth-century predecessors. He showed himself both more blind to the Greeks’ concerns and less pressed to gain their recognition of his title than Charlemagne had been in 800 (see above, p. 417). A second potential source of tension was the developing Christianisation of eastern Europe. In 961, on the point of departure for Italy, Otto I sent a religious mission to Princess Olga of Kiev. A few years earlier she had been baptised in Constantinople and had taken the Christian name of Helena, after the emperor’s wife, and a significant proportion of the Rus elite were beginning to show interest in Byzantine Christianity. The German mission folded almost immediately and does not feature in Byzantine sources, but it displayed a certain readiness to intervene in the Byzantines’ patch.Not that Byzantium was wholly inert: a BishopHierotheos had been sent to Tourkia (Hungary) with the chieftain Gyula c. 948, and ecclesiastical ties were subsequently put on a permanent footing (see above, p. 322).Ametropolitan ofTourkia was in office in 1028 and the see remained in existence throughout the eleventh century. The papacy was also interested in Hungary, and in 965 John XII was accused of trying to send two emissaries there among the envoys destined for Byzantium. More alarmingly for Byzantium, the appearance of Bulgarian envoys at Otto’s court in 961 or 965/6 and in 973 suggested that the Hungarians were ceasing to act as a barrier between the east Franks and the Balkans. Otto’s actions in Italy touched on some of these sore points. InDecember 967 he came to terms with Venice, largely renewing earlier pacta between rulers of the Italian realm and Venice (see above, p. 456). Doge Peter IV (959–76) was married to a niece of the emperor. Otto had already gained the fealty of Pandulf I Ironhead (961–81) of Capua-Benevento, the leading power in south-central Italy. At the same time, the Greeks’ very ability to make trouble in Rome confronted Otto with their continuing presence in the peninsula. There were also some more positive reasons for an accommodation with the basileus. A Greek marriage alliance would not merely demonstrate thatOtto’s predominance in thewest was acknowledged by the other outstanding Christian ruler; it would also transfuse purple-born blood into his own descendants’ line, enhancing their imperial status. Moreover, the connection would open up the basileus’ store of portrayals, emblems of authority and valuables. After Otto’s imperial coronation in 962, his seals began to show him frontally, wearing a cross-topped crown and holding an orb and a sceptre, echoing although not slavishly copying contemporary Byzantine coins and imperial seals. There were thus strong reasons for Otto to regularise his relations with the eastern emperor. The build-up of Byzantine armed forces in the central Mediterranean need not preclude an accommodation. Judging by one interpretation of a prophecy then current in Constantinople, some Byzantines viewed Otto as a promising future junior partner in the coming fightto- the-death with the Saracen ‘wild ass’.23 Yet the negotiations reached an impasse with the visit of Liudprand to Constantinople in 968. It seems clear that Otto I, after Otto II’s coronation as co-emperor, was impatient for a number of objectives: a fittingly purple-born bride forOtto II (973–83); the destruction of theMuslims’ notorious lair in Fraxinetum as a demonstration of his God-given invincibility; and his own return to his northern power base. Most of these aims are enumerated, and the impatience evinced, in a letter dated 18 January 968. Time spent away from Saxony probably seemed time wasted, and this, rather than any positive desire to conquer the Byzantine south, probably made for Otto’s threatening tone towards the eastern empire. In the letter,Otto asserts that the Greeks ‘will [be forced to] give up Calabria and Apulia . . . unless we consent’ [to their remaining];24 he had already given a hostage to fortune by publicising his bid for a purple-born bride for his son, ‘the step-daughter of Nikephoros himself, namely the daughter of Emperor Romanos [II]’.25 Otto’s close counsellor Adalbert, archbishop of Magdeburg, penned these words in, most probably, early 968, when Otto still publicly aspired to a top-ranking bride for his son. Otto II’s coronation on 25 December 967 may well have originally been planned as a preliminary to the wedding. Otto I’s exasperation is understandable if, as is likely, his envoy Dominicus had returned with the news thatNikephoros was favourably disposed; for the Byzantine embassy which arrived onDominicus’ heels brought words of peace, but no porphyrogenita. Otto miscalculated badly in supposing that he could jolt the Greeks into compliance by launching an assault on Bari. Soon afterwards, Liudprand was despatched at his own suggestion to finalise a marriage agreement and, seemingly, to fetch the bride. Otto probably planned to use Bari as a bargaining chip, while demonstrating to regional magnates such as Pandulf Ironhead, whom he had recently invested with the duchy of Spoleto, his ability to better the basileus. Liudprand’s mission was no more effective than Otto I’s assault on Bari had been. The venomous apologia for failure which he wrote soon afterwards, the Legatio, registers a certain pattern of development. Dominicus had sworn thatOtto would never invade imperial territory and according to Nikephoros II Phokas he had given a written oath that Otto would never cause any ‘scandal’ (scandalizare) to the eastern empire.26 This sweeping undertaking had been flagrantly violated byOtto’s simultaneous attack and styling of himself as emperor. Then Nikephoros proceeded to demand that Otto relinquish his bonds of fealty with the princes of Capua-Benevento, Pandulf and his brother Landulf. Nikephoros reiterated that they were rightfully his douloi and demanded that Otto ‘hand them over’,27 but he may essentially merely have been seeking a disclaimer to these borderlands. That thesewereNikephoros’ top priority is shownby a subsequent proposal: even if a ‘perpetual friendship’ was no longer in play,28 Liudprand could at least ensure that Otto would not aid the princes, whom Nikephoros said he was planning to attack. At the eleventh hour the prospect of a ‘marriage treaty’ to confirm ‘friendship’ was dangled before Liudprand;29 the price would presumably have been an undertaking on Otto’s behalf concerning the Lombard princes. Thus Liudprand’s fulminations do not quite conceal the Byzantines’ continued willingness to negotiate, and indeed he returned with official letters for emperor and pope. Otto’s was sealed with a gold bull whereas the pope was only accorded silver, against custom. It may be that one, perhaps the principal, purpose of the Legatio was to counteract such emollient effects as the letter might have on Otto. In the short term Liudprand’s militancy was in key with Otto I’s. Otto invaded southern Italy again and in an Italian charter of 2November 968 was represented as seeking the reconquest of all Apulia.30 Otto’s advance was, however, hindered by the numerous kastra whose constructionNikephoros and earlier emperors had encouraged. In 969 Byzantine forces went on the offensive. Pandulf Ironhead was captured while besieging Bovino and shipped to Constantinople. In 970 Otto sent another mission to the new basileus, John I Tzimiskes (969–76); one of the envoys may have been none other than Liudprand. The eventual outcome was a marriage agreement. Princess Theophano was sent to Italy, and married to Otto II on 14 April 972. Soon afterwards, Otto and his father returned to Germany. Otto I had stayed on in the south four years longer than his letter of January 968 intimated. If the main reason for the delay was his quest for an imperial bride for his son, it is at first sight surprising that Theophano was not in fact a porphyrogenita but ‘the most splendid niece’ ofTzimiskes, asOtto II’s dowry charter terms her.31 More than forty years later a chronicler could comment openly that she was non virginem desideratam; all the Italian and German magnates mocked at the match, while some urged that she be sent home.32 There was an authentic porphyrogenita available, but Tzimiskes apparently did not feel sufficiently threatened or tempted by Otto to offer her up, and many years later Princess Anna would be wedded to the Rus prince, Vladimir (see above, p. 525). Otto, for his part, could see that the Greeks’ presence in the south was ineradicable. Moreover, his former adjutant, Pandulf Ironhead, now urged peace, and although he remained Otto’s vassal, he could no longer be counted on in future hostilities.Otto probably concluded that some sort of ‘royal’ ‘from the palace of the Augustus’ was better than none.33 The other issues do not seem to have carried the same weight with him. His very insistence on retaining Pandulf as his vassal suggests this; he was essentially trying to provide for his own inevitably prolonged absences from Rome, by forging close personal bonds with the leading potentate to the south. These alarmed the basileus, but really they signalled the marginal role which the city of Rome and central Italy played among Otto’s concerns. Once Pandulf had been neutralised, Otto let other Mediterranean matters rest and returned to his Saxon grassroots.

 

 

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