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7-08-2015, 21:19

Lombard perils

Some time between c. 724 and 755, a series of distinct developments coalesced to undermine the old assumptions which governed the church of Rome’s thinking about the empire. They did so at about the time trans- Mediterranean communications in general reached their lowest ebb and direct overland travel had ceased. The precise chronology and relative weight of each development is disputed, but the overall result is clear. As Constantinople reorganised, it increased the tax burden on the lands of the Roman church. The papal establishment resisted paying. Despite imperial efforts to stabilise the Arab threat from the south, expanding Lombard power menaced Rome and Ravenna ever more acutely, even as pressing military threats closer to home kept Constantinople from shoring up Italy’s defences. Leo III’s new doctrine of iconoclasm met papal opposition. The imperial government responded to papal tax delinquency by confiscating the papal properties in Sicily and Calabria; then or somewhat later, the emperor transferred ecclesiastical jurisdiction over southern Italy and Illyricum from Rome to the patriarch of Constantinople.71 According to their loyal biographers, the popes vociferously protested at doctrinal and administrative measures of which they disapproved even as they dutifully represented imperial power in security matters. Thus in 713 Pope Constantine intervened to quell a murderous riot against an official who had accepted an appointment in the name of Emperor Philippikos (711–13), whose orthodoxy the pope himself had challenged.72 Gregory II (715–31) is supposed to have quashed an Italian plan to elect a rival emperor to oppose Leo III’s iconoclasm and attack Constantinople, despite purported Byzantine plots on his life.73 Pope Zacharias (741–52) intervened twice with the Lombard kings to protect Ravenna. Despite recognising the usurper Artabasdos (see above, p. 258), he even obtained the imperial estates of Ninfa and Norma in Campania from Constantine V.74 To judge from the imperial largesse, papal opposition sounded louder locally and beyond Byzantine borders than it did inside the Great Palace in Constantinople. Nonetheless, the pope had held a local synod in 731 to clarify his position against iconoclasm. Roman links with theGreek milieux of Jerusalem, which were ardently defending icons from the safety of the caliphate, and with monks fleeing from Constantinople, perhaps stiffened papal attitudes. The emperors’ appropriations of papal patrimonies and jurisdictionwere certainly not tailored to soften the papal stand on doctrine. Doctrinal and administrative differences might have remained just that, as they had in far more dramatic circumstances a hundred years earlier, were it not for the inexorable Lombard threat. This pressure produced a triangular relationship between Constantinople, Rome and whoever controlled the Po valley, in which every rapprochement between two of the partners might threaten the third. When Rome urged Constantinople to check the Lombard threat, it nonetheless dreaded that Constantinople might sacrifice Rome to accommodate the Lombards. So, too, when the popes entered their alliance with the Franks, Constantinople attempted to bind the Carolingian kings to Byzantium – to the popes’ detriment. Paradoxically, when Rome seemed strictly subordinated, relations between the Franks and Byzantines were on the best footing, for instance immediately after Pope Leo III’s restoration by Frankish arms in 799. In its last century of existence, the Lombard kingdom centred on Pavia must have had fairly intensive contacts with Byzantium, not least because of its ongoing absorption of the exarchate of Ravenna. But records are rare. Diplomatic exchanges, for instance, are known only in so far as the papacy was involved. The extent of contacts is suggested by a few hints: a Byzantine jester named Gregory entertained the court of King Liutprand (712–44); Lombard royal charters emulated Byzantine models; and in 750, King Aistulf forbade business with the Byzantines during periods of conflict.75 The same pope who convened the council condemning iconoclasm in 731 had secretly invited the Franks to attack the Lombards in what was, after all, only a classic manoeuvre of Byzantine diplomacy. In 732, a Roman council very publicly ignored imperial sovereignty. A decade or two after the fact, a member of the Carolingian family remembered that the pope had promised to defect from Byzantium if Charles Martel helped him. True or not, it shows that under Pippin the Short the Carolingian clan fully grasped the Byzantine implications of intervening in Italy.76