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7-08-2015, 23:43

Otto i i i , rome and byzantium

The nature and extent of the impact of Theophano on Ottonian court culture is controversial and ambivalent.34 The many Byzantine objets d’art datable to the late tenth or early eleventh century still extant in German cathedral treasuries and museums probably arrived by a variety of routes, not merely from Theophano’s sumptuous dowry. The emperor, however, remained the principal distributor. Some of the works had important symbolic functions beyond conspicuous display.Otto II is shown on an ivory – most probably Italian-carved and now in theMus´ee de Cluny – wearing an imperial loros (a richly embroidered pendant sash) and other ornamented vestments. Theophano also wears Byzantine imperial vestments and the couple are being crowned with stemmata by Christ (fig. 40). Such depictions were in use in contemporary Byzantium; in Germany they counterbalanced the fact that Theophano had needed to be crowned by the pope before her wedding to Otto. The Byzantine origins of this visual statement – diffused among the Saxons’ Nordic neighbours through crude lead medallions35 – may have been lost on most of Otto’s subjects. But one should not underestimate the comprehension of the political elite; in 984 Gerbert of Aurillac could assume that Archbishop Egbert of Trier would be familiar with the Greeks’ custom of associating ‘a new man’ on the throne as ‘co-emperor’.36 It was probably in such matters that Byzantium had most to offer the Ottonians. Its arsenal of symbols could help each ruler pass on the imperial crown – itself partly of Byzantine inspiration – to his chosen son. For a family with pretensions to being the beata stirps (‘blessed family’), readily recognisable emblems of long-established authority were of inestimable value. Otto II, for his part, seems to have been more positively interested than his father in the imperial Roman past and its Italian foundation stones; the use by his Italian chancery of the title of imperatorRomanorumaugustus from March 982 signalled a much keener commitment to Italian affairs.He tried to subjugate Venice, attacked Byzantine Taranto and aspired to the extra moral authority and power which expulsion of the Saracens from southern Italy would bring. In the 980s and 990s their depredations surpassed those of Fraxinetum’sMuslims, whom local lords had managed to extirpate c. 972.AvictoriousOtto could have complemented hisRoman title through reclamation of Apulia and Calabria, while eclipsing the basileus as pallida Saracenorum mors (‘white death of the Saracens’).37 However, Otto’s army was outmanoeuvred by the Saracens near Reggio di Calabria and he himself escaped only by swimming out to a Byzantine warship anchored offshore that was following events. He died fifteen months later, on 7 December 983, and was laid in an antique sarcophagus beneath a porphyry lid in St Peter’s, Rome; here too, Byzantine imperial symbolism was echoed. Considering Otto II’s misadventures, his son might be expected to have emerged from his long minority with the limited goal of tightening control over his Teutonic subjects and rebellious Slavs. In fact Otto III showed unprecedentedly fervent attachment to both the city and the imperial mystique of Rome from quite soon after his coronation as emperor in 996 until his death in 1002. He also came to envisage his hegemony as extending spiritually and ecclesiastically as far east as Poland and Hungary. Yet these tendencies did not manifest themselves all at once, and they were neither wholly consistent nor the product ofOtto’s whims alone. It was most probably his advisers who were responsible for the decision to seek a marriage-tie with Byzantium, only four or five years after Theophano’s death in 991. Her presence was evidently remembered as benign; it had presumably inspired the king of France, Hugh Capet (987–96) to seek a Byzantine princess for his son and heir, Robert II (996–1031), already in 988. Gerbert of Aurillac, who had a hand in this d´emarche, was esteemed byOtto both as counsellor and polymath and brought into his circle of courtly correspondents; Otto expressed the desire that Gerbert would bring out his ‘Greek exactitude’ while banishing ‘Saxon rusticity’.38 But this serious-minded, highly strung adolescent was also strongly drawn to holy men whose vision was focused on God’s kingdom or on spreading the Gospel on earth. First among these was Adalbert of Prague, who became Otto’s spiritual father in 996. He seems to have aroused in Otto a longing for spiritual regeneration that intensified after Adalbert’s martyrdom by the Prussians in the following year. Otto’s yearning for personal salvation fused with a general sense of mission to save others, itself a facet of his desire to resurrect the empire. Thus he joined with the ruler of the Poles, Boleslaw I Chobry (992–1025) in venerating Adalbert, personally laying the relics on the altar of Gniezno’s cathedral in 1000. Otto came under the influence of other fathers, such as the group of hermits around Romuald whom he met in Rome in 1000; and Nilus of Rossano, the Calabrian Greek holy man who had moved to a monastery near Gaeta and was urged by Otto to come and take charge of any monastery he might wish in Rome. Nilus was later visited by Otto, who is said to have wept and placed his crown in the old man’s hands upon departing.39 Otto seems to have been able to converse freely with Nilus, and he had a reading knowledge of Greek. Thus one of the most formidable barriers to intercourse between Greek and western courts was, temporarily, lowered. But Theophano’s ‘splendid retinue’40 fromConstantinople had included no one who emerged as a dominant figure in theOttonian court or as a special adviser to the youngOtto. The oneGreek to rise high in Theophano’s favour came not from Constantinople but from southern Italy. John Philagathos instructed Otto, his godson, in Greek for several years. In 989 or 990 he was put in charge of the administration at Pavia, overriding entrenched customs and interests there. Subsequently John was sent to Constantinople to negotiate a marriage alliance for his young master. He returned in late 996 without a porphyrogenita, but with aGreek envoy, Leo of Synada. Soon, against all Ottonian expectations, he had been acclaimed pope in lieu of Otto III’s appointeeGregoryV(996–9); but before long John’s chief patron, Crescentius, had been beheaded and he himself was blinded, deposed and paraded around Rome by supporters of Otto III, seated back to front on a donkey, in the spring of 998. Leo of Synada claimed a hand in John’s elevation, but this cannot have formed part of his original brief, and the key axis was that between John Philagathos and the Crescentii.41 Nonetheless, Byzantine support for John was probably suspected by contemporaries, as it certainly was by later writers, and the episode can scarcely have encouraged Otto to employ other Italo-Greeks. In 1000, after his visit to Adalbert’s shrine, Otto had Charlemagne’s remains at Aachen exhumed and the body laid on Byzantine silks, evidently acting here as heir. He contemplated making Aachen his most favoured residence, but then chose another city, like Aachen on the periphery of his lands but still more deeply imbued with historical legitimacy. Otto determined in effect to abandon the essentially absentee lordship of Rome practised by his father and grandfather. He would make Rome a ‘royal city’ as a conscious riposte to the papacy’s self-proclaimed ‘apostolic’ status and to self-willed local nobles.42 The phrase was most probably also a conscious evocation of the Byzantines’ term for their own ‘reigning city’.Otto’s choice of site for his residence there is highly significant: the PalatineHill, where the caesars’ palaces had stood from the reign of the emperorOctavian Augustus onwards. The outpourings of Otto’s clerical staff reflect his residence there: some sixty-five diplomata were issued in or near Rome between May 996 and February 1001, two of them expressly stating that they were issued in palatio monasterio, probably an allusion to the adjoining monastery of San Cesario on the Palatine.43 Otto’s installation of his court there for quite lengthy stretches from 998 onwards blatantly flouted the idea that the area within the city walls had been made over to the papacy by the Donation of Constantine.44 There was no recent precedent for a large-scale secular court in Rome, but a fair proportion of the citizens were acquainted with the luxury products and authority symbols of the Byzantine emperor. Otto’s predecessors had used Byzantine-style media, such as the flamboyantly de luxe copy ofOtto II’s dowry charter for Theophano. IfOtto III borrowed more extensively, this was because he was trying to root his court in a city where such things clearly appealed to some of the leading families and where at the same time elaborate ceremonial trappings and liturgies daily glorified St Peter and his heir. The Byzantine extravaganza of palace ceremonies and street parades could bring to life the idea that the emperors conferred preeminence on the City by residing there and ensured divine favour for it through prayer. The new establishment on the Palatine was intended to be the node of a fresh network of bonds with laymen and clerics. A farrago of terms for officials emerges from Otto’s diplomata. Two are of unmistakably Byzantine stripe, logothete and protospatharius. Otto began in 998 to call his chancellor for Italy,Heribert, cancellarius et logotheta (or archilogotheta). The title protospatharius is consistently borne by only one individual but he too is associated with the palace, as comes palatii in Italy. Most of the other terms come from the contemporary civilian administration of Rome or, as in the case of imperialis palatii magister, were Otto’s own coinings. They feature principally in his documents issued in or after 998, and exemplifyOtto’s efforts to represent himself as the legitimate, palace-based master of the city.45 From 1000 Otto also experimented with his own title, varying it in accordance with his location north or south of the Alps. Very little is known about the ceremonial envisaged for his palace. The descriptions in the Libellus de cerimoniis aulae imperatoris are mainly due to Peter the Deacon’s mid-twelfth-century fascination with classical Rome, but three protocols most probably date from Otto’s time. One of these prescribes how a protospatharius should present to the emperor a prospective patricius; the emperor will then invest him with a cloak and place a golden ‘crown’ (circulus) on his head.46 A conspicuous feature of court life was that Otto would sometimes sit at a separate table, elevated above his fellow diners. To dine apart, or with a few guests at a separate, raised, table was also the practice of the basileus at certain banquets, and this was probably the chosen model of Otto’s dining ritual. Otto also tried to earn the appreciation of Rome’s citizens through his promotion of the cult of the Virgin as protectress of Rome. He even commissioned a hymn in her honour which included the lines: ‘Holy mother of God, look after the Roman people and look kindly on Otto!’ The Virgin, rather than Sts Peter and Paul, is associated with the City, and Otto is acclaimed by name, a combination also to be found in contemporary Constantinople. The hymn was chanted through Rome’s streets by the ‘Greek School’ on the Vigil of the Assumption in 1000.47 The impact of such rites was all the greater at a time when there were still a significant number of Greek-speakers in Rome; there were fresh arrivals of monks from the south at that time, refugees from Muslim raiding. Rome was both central to Otto’s designs and the haunt of influential persons conversant with Byzantine ways, including Byzantine forms of punishment and degradation for rebels, such as those inflicted on Philagathos. North of the Alps Otto’s experiment with a new political culture could expect fewer sympathisers. The fairly plentiful finds in northern Germany of objets d’art and silks showing distinctively Byzantine traits or workmanship do nevertheless show that some members of the north German elite had an appetite for eastern luxuries, and there is evidence that they adapted motifs like the symmetrical double portrait and proskyn¯esis to their own family needs. Authority symbols such as the loros were assimilated by the reigning family. Stemmata of Byzantine design retained a place among the insignia of EmperorHenry II (1002–24), while other items, such as the orb, seem to have belonged to an easily comprehensible vocabulary of directly God-given power common to eastern and western courts. In 1000Otto III’s newly mounted political culture travelled on show to the Slav north-east, to Gniezno. Otto is said to have removed a crown from his own head and placed it on Boleslaw’s, rendering him ‘brother and partner of the empire’. Otto also declared him ‘friend and ally of the Roman people’.48 A comparable crown-transfer is attested only once in Byzantine chronicles, but the emperor was accustomed to crowning junior emperors and caesars personally. Otto seems to have been consciously drawing on Byzantine rites and terminology to convey his own notion of his relationship with Boleslaw as a kind of primus inter pares. He presented him with a gilded lance; for Otto and his forebears a ‘Holy Lance’ – perhaps inspired by Byzantium and its cult of Constantine the Great – had long been a symbol of imperial authority. Nonetheless, Otto’s new political order required frequent displays of military virtus and ample bounty, as well as ceremonial, and time would have been needed to instil it.49 Thietmar of Merseburg voices the incomprehension and dissatisfaction of some northerners in describing Otto’s aim as being to revive ‘the ancient customs of the Romans, now largely destroyed’.50 The reaction of the Byzantine government to Otto’s experiment was as mixed as that of the Saxon nobility.Otto’s initial attempts to tighten his hold on Rome are unlikely to have been welcome, but Leo of Synada’s embassy implies at least a willingness to sound out the young ruler; negotiationswere still in progress, and Leo still in thewest, in September 998.His observations of the turmoil in Rome could have persuaded the government that Otto was too weak to warrant a porphyrogenita. Yet only a few years later, in response to another request or proposal from Otto, Byzantium acceded and a daughter of Constantine VIII (1025–8) landed at Bari, probably in February or March 1002, too late to find Otto alive; he had died near Rome on 23/24 January. Why was the eastern empire now so much more forthcoming, subjecting a porphyrogenita to a winter sea voyage? Otto’s pretensions and claims had grown more sweeping in the meantime, and Gerbert of Aurillac’s assumption of the name Sylvester upon becoming pope in 999 signalled that Otto himself was to rank as a new Constantine: the pope in the era of Constantine the Great’s adoption of Christianity had been called Sylvester. The signal was aimed mainly at Otto’s heterogeneous subjects and the newly Christianised peoples of eastern Europe. But a poem composed soon afterGregory V’s return to Rome in 998 claims that ‘golden Greece’ and the Muslims fear Otto and ‘serve [him] with necks bowed’.51 The poem, probably chanted at a festival in Rome, challenged Byzantine claims to be sole continuators of the imperium Romanum and thus the crucible of legitimate earthly authority. Yet these various manifestations of Otto’s God-given majesty did not win round all the leading families or the mob in Rome, and his experiment with an urbs regia (reigning city) could therefore have been dismissed by the Byzantines as tawdry and ill-starred; Otto had to abandon his residence on the Palatine in 1001. Such things probably did not go unnoticed by easterners passing through Rome. Otto’s one foray into southern Italy, in 999, took him only to Benevento and Capua, and was not notably effective, nor is there evidence that he claimed all southern Italy (see below, p. 581). Otto III did, however, show a pronounced interest in Venice, and visited Doge Peter II Orseolo (991–1009) in April 1001. Already the godfather of a son of Peter named after him, Otto now became godfather to the doge’s daughter. His visit may have been viewed with unease from Byzantium; the empire’s position in the Adriatic was hard pressed after the loss of Dyrrachium to Samuel of Bulgaria (987/8–1014). Samuel lacked a fleet to reduce Byzantium’s subject cities on theDalmatian coast and his incursions probably ranged no further north than Ragusa. But they may well have occasioned Doge Peter’s show of force down the coast in 999, when he received oaths of fidelitas from the notables of Zara, Split and most of the other Dalmatian towns. Whether this operation was undertaken with prior Byzantine approval is uncertain, but Venice’s fleet had proved its efficacy in an area where Byzantine possessionswere beleaguered. This alone could account forByzantium’s close attention to Venice and to any other power exercising leverage over it. Another, related reason may lie behind Byzantium’s readiness to oblige Otto III between 1000 and 1002. Basil II was about to lead his army up the Danube against Samuel. As Samuel was probably linked to Stephen I of Hungary (1000–38) through a marriage alliance, Basil was liable to be attacked by Stephen, and he most probably joined forces with a Hungarian chieftain in the region of Vidin, Ahtum-Ajtony (see above, p. 527). Otto may have appeared a useful potential restraint on Stephen, for Stephen’s wife was sister of Duke Henry of Bavaria, the future emperor Henry II; and through ‘the grace and urging’ of Otto, Stephen founded cathedral churches and duly received a crown and, most probably, a gilded lance in late 1000:52 such links gave Otto a certain moral leadership. If word of Otto’s d´emarches towards Hungary reached Byzantium in 1001, while preparations for the daring venture up the Danube were afoot, this could have tipped the balance in favour ofOtto’s repeated requests for a marriagetie. This explanation, though hypothetical, fits the pattern of east–west relations throughout the tenth century. The Balkans, especially Bulgaria, loomed large among the concerns of the Byzantine government; matters further afield were mostly of secondary importance. A well-disposed Otto might do little more than discourage Stephen I of Hungary from attacking Basil’s far-reaching Danubian expedition, but Otto will have seemed likely to be a force in east-central Europe for many years to come, and for his good offices a porphyrogenita probably seemed a price worth paying. Otto III’s unexpected death and his successor’s preoccupation with matters north of the Alps loosened Byzantino-German relations for almost two decades. Basil II for his part was embroiled in the Bulgarian war. It was the Venetians who came to the relief of Bari when it was in danger of falling to the Saracens in 1003, and the Sicilians and North Africans continued to pillage the south Italian coastline through the opening decades of the eleventh century. Imperial authority suffered another blow when an Apulian notable, Melo, instigated a revolt c. 1009. This was far from being the first local insurrection (see below p. 570), but it was serious, involving Ascoli as well as Bari. The imperial authorities took several years to suppress it andMelo then fled to the courts of Lombard princes. Subsequently, in 1017, he mounted another challenge to imperial power, relying heavily on a band of Normans, at first exiguous but later reinforced. This is the first occasion when the Normans’ armed presence in the south is incontrovertible, although a few Normans had probably found employment at Lombard courts from the opening years of the century onwards. Melo now ventured to fight pitched battles and several important towns such as Trani renounced imperial authority. However, in October 1018 Melo and his Normans were defeated at Cannae by Basil Boioannes, the katepan¯o of Italia. Boioannes was assisted by the fact that Bulgaria was being pacified and manpower and money were now available for operations in Italy. The forces which he led onto the battlefield were like ‘bees issuing forth from a full hive’.53 But he showed great organisational talent, building numerous strongholds in northern Apulia. Several towns were founded in what amounted to a system on the Byzantine side of the River Fortore, including Civitate and Fiorentino. Others were founded in Calabria. Boioannes expressly claimed to be restoring at Troia a town long abandoned; the name and site of Civitate likewise evoked classical antiquity. Troia – ‘Troy’ – lay only 215 kilometres from Rome. Boioannes’ prime objective was to consolidateApulia’s northern defences and overawe the borderland princelings. But the effect was to provoke the German emperor and aggravate the hostility which Pope Benedict VIII (1012–24) had already shown in granting a fortress on the Garigliano to Melo’s brother-in-law, Datto. In 1017 Benedict had probably played a part in encouraging Norman fortune-seekers to join up with Melo and the rulers of Capua-Benevento andNaples. Benedict also looked to theGerman emperor as a patron of church reform and counterweight to the Crescentii, and it was toHenry II’s court thatMelo fled after Cannae. In 1020 Benedict himself acceptedHenry’s invitation and crossed the Alps to Bamberg, where he exchanged the kiss of peace with Henry and celebrated the liturgy using the filioque clause in the creed, a heretical interpolation in Byzantine eyes. Henry made his claim to overlordship in the south explicit by conferring on Melo the title of dux Apuliae. However, on 23 April 1020 Melo died. The following spring Boioannes suddenly attacked Melo’s brother-in-law on the Garigliano. The fortress was handed over to Pandulf IV of Capua, now a Byzantine vassal; Datto himself was paraded through Bari’s streets on a donkey, then thrown in the sea. Henry II marshalled a large army and reached Ravenna at the end of December 1021. A detachment was sent to deal with Pandulf and his cousin Atenulf, abbot ofMonte Cassino. Henry led the main force towards the base which had assisted Boioannes to operate so effectively on theGarigliano, an area where Picingli had required allies a hundred years earlier (see above, p. 538). Henry besieged Troia for about three months, until his army succumbed to dysentery, the basileus’ abiding ally against intruders from the north. Henry eventually managed to extract token submission from Troia, but soon after his withdrawal the inhabitants opened the gates to Boioannes. So long as Henry stayed in the south, he could overawe the Lombard princes. Pandulf IV, besieged in Capua, sued for terms and was stripped of his principality; the prince of Salerno, Guaimar III (999–1027), surrendered; and a new abbot was installed atMonte Cassino in lieu of Atenulf. But Boioannes’ barrier fortress stood undemolished; Henry’s southern foray had made no more impact on Byzantine Apulia than Otto I’s or Otto II’s expeditions had done. In 1025 the eastern empire appeared on course towards reconquering Sicily and dominating commercial traffic in the central Mediterranean when Basil II died and his expeditionary force dispersed. But Byzantine Italy was becoming more prosperous and populous than it had been for centuries.Many of its inhabitants seem to have preferred the distant, undemanding basileus as the safeguard of their interests, while Byzantine emperors contemplated yet another Sicilian expedition. Byzantium’s build-up of power in southern Italy antagonised the papacy and the western emperor, but their retaliatory capability was very limited. It was small groups of alien predators whose energies, greed and organisational skills wore down the Byzantine authorities in the mid-eleventh century. The spoils of the burgeoning towns and, eventually, power over them would go to these self-reliant freebooters, hailing from the shores of a northern sea.

 

 

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