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7-08-2015, 21:20

The coming of the Franks and the crowning of Charlemagne

Theological tension probably converged with Lombard military pressure to drive the papacy into the arms of the Franks: Pope Stephen II’s trip across the Alps to seek Frankish intervention effectively put him and his chief advisers out of Byzantine reach for the iconoclast council scheduled in Constantinople for February 754. In any event, Pippin the Short’s twin invasions of Italy in 754 and 756 signalled to Constantine V that his power counted in the ancient territories over which Constantinople was reasserting control (see below, p. 444). That Byzantium viewed the Franks in the light of Italy emerges from every aspect of its diplomatic d´emarche to the west: the embassy to Pippin followed his first intervention in Italy; John silentiarios, one of the ambassadors, had headed previous negotiations with the Lombards; he stopped at Rome to liaise with the pope before heading on to Pippin’s court.77 Papal assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, Constantine V’s efforts to woo the Franks for his version of an anti-Lombard alliance clearly tempted the Franks and frightened the Romans. In May 757, Byzantine ambassadors pressed their case and presents, including an organ, on Pippin’s court at a general assembly at Compi`egne. More than simply symbolising superior technology, a Byzantine organ was a strictly secular instrument used chiefly in ceremonies glorifying the emperor. Its ostentatious presentation to the usurper king at the gathering of his unruly magnates suggests that Byzantium curried royal favour by supplying the means to magnify a nascent monarchy.78 In the last twelve years of his reign, Pippin’s frequent diplomatic contacts with Constantinople provoked papal anxiety; the papacy tried to examine Frankish correspondence with Byzantium and stressed the heretical character of imperial theology. This explains for instance the staging of a theological debate between imperial and papal representatives at Gentilly in 767. The popes supplied Pippin’s court with specialists who could advise him on the Byzantines. To papal horror, Pippin solidified his Byzantine relations by betrothing his daughter Gisela to Constantine V’s son.79 But the fragile Frankish political consensus which had allowed intervention in Italy disintegrated with the king’s death. The Frankish aristocracy turned inwards to the succession of Pippin the Short’s sons, Charlemagne and Carloman, as Italy and Byzantium receded to the far periphery of Carolingian politics. Yet this very succession issue triggered decisive Frankish intervention in Italy. Among the reasons spurring Charlemagne to invade the Lombard kingdom in 773, the escape of Carloman’s wife and sons to her father’s capital of Pavia after Charlemagne pounced on his dead brother’s kingdom was critical. Carloman’s kin residing at the Lombard court in Pavia constituted a permanent threat to Charlemagne. The papacy’s position appears ambivalent. It had worked hard to foster warm relations with the Carolingians and benefited from the virtual Frankish protectorate in northern Italy. But for all its differences with the emperors, Rome continued formally to recognise imperial sovereignty.80 In fact, the year before Charlemagne’s invasion, Pope Hadrian I was comfortable enough with the iconoclast regime to send his political enemies to Constantinople for safekeeping.81 In any event, Charlemagne’s conquest of Pavia brought renewed relations with Constantinople. A marriage alliance was resurrected and formally concluded in Rome in 781; the eunuch official Elissaios was dispatched to Charlemagne’s court to prepare his daughter Rotrud for her new life as a Byzantine empress.82 Rome again faced the disturbing prospect of its two major partners making arrangements over its head, when Pope Hadrian responded cautiously but positively to Empress Irene’s overtures in 784 and 785 about restoring icons and doctrinal – and therefore political? – unity.83 The second Frankish–Byzantine entente was short-lived. Why it collapsed is unclear. Einhard claims that Charlemagne simply could not bear to lose his daughter and torpedoed the alliance. It is no less likely that the Franks had inherited the Lombard kingdom’s conflicts with Constantinople – notably in the Adriatic, where Venice already presented an inviting target – and the Lombard assimilation of Byzantine Istria was pursued.84 To the south, the allegiance of the powerful duchy of Benevento oscillated. Charlemagne’s efforts to impose his overlordship met with patchy success, and the policies of the dukes there and in Bavaria – both of whom had married sisters of Adelchis, the Lombard co-king who had escaped to Constantinople – were unpredictable. Hadrian’s growing disillusionment with Frankish domination can be read in his constant, vain entreaties to Charlemagne to fulfil his part of the bargain struck by his father.85 The break came early in 787, when Charlemagne met with Byzantine ambassadors at Capua, even as he reasserted his authority over the Beneventans. Hadrian frantically relayed reports of Beneventan collusion with an impending Byzantine invasion which would restore Adelchis. The invasion occurred early in 788; it coincided – perhaps not coincidentally – with attacks by the Bavarians and Avars. The Byzantine expeditionary force expected aid from Benevento. But the new duke sided with the Franks and the imperial troops were crushed in Calabria. Alcuin of York boasted that 4,000 Byzantines were killed and another 1,000 captured. Among the latter was Sisinnios, Patriarch Tarasios’ (784–806) brother, who would spend the next decade in western captivity. The Byzantine defeat secured the Frankish position in Italy and left relations with Constantinople at a standstill.86 There was a complication. Even as Byzantine forces and the Lombard king were disembarking to drive the Franks from Italy, Hadrian’s ambassadors were en route or just back home from Constantinople with their copy of the Acts of the second council of Nicaea (787). The Greek text of the proceedings proclaimed the perfect unity of the Byzantine rulers and the pope on icon-veneration, punctuated by the usual acclamations of imperial power; the whole, of course, signed and approved by papal legates. To make matters worse, the Greek text had silently excised references to Charlemagne (and the papal patrimonies) from its quotations of Hadrian’s correspondence with the emperors.87 Exactly when Charlemagne and his advisers learned about all this is unclear. Their reaction is not: it can be read in the enraged pages of the Libri Carolini. Although papal opposition ultimately forced the Frankish court to abandon the treatise, more accurately called the Opus Caroli regis contra synodum, this theological assault on the second ecumenical council of Nicaea was clearly about more than pure doctrine.88 Hadrian’s relations with Charlemagne survived this crisis, but the Frankish court persisted in a modified version of its iconoclast views as the council of Frankfurt (794) shows, and the court of the next pope, Leo III (795–816), made its differing opinion known to the Roman public and visitors by raising huge icons in the city’s main pilgrim shrines. In the south, Byzantium recouped its position somewhat by marrying the emperor Constantine VI’s sister-in-law Evanthia to the duke of Benevento.89 Starting again in 797, Byzantium attempted to normalise relations with the increasingly powerful Charlemagne, whose contacts with the caliphate and Byzantine milieux in Palestine could scarcely have escaped Constantinople’s notice.90 Two more legations had arrived at the Frankish court by late 798. But the crisis in Rome pre-empted whatever was cooking between the two courts, and Charlemagne’s actions in subsequent months appeared hostile. The Frankish crackdown which restored Pope Leo III was soon followed by the famous visit to Rome at Christmas 800.91 In Constantinople, Charlemagne’s coronation as emperor naturally appeared as the latest in a long series of Italian usurpations, the most recent of which had occurred only nineteen years before, and it was believed an invasion of Sicily would soon follow.92 When this did not materialise, Irene (797–802) continued her contacts and two of Charlemagne’s righthand men travelled to Constantinople, according to a Byzantine witness, in order to discuss a marriage between the new emperor and the increasingly beleaguered empress.93 Irene was toppled, however, and subsequent contacts led nowhere, as Charlemagne’s imperial pretensions poisoned an atmosphere of increasing hostility. Again Italy supplied the kindling, as an internal power struggle inVenice spilled over into Frankish politics: the new Venetian leaders and two key officials of Byzantine Dalmatia shifted their allegiance to Charlemagne in 805. The result was Charlemagne’s second war with Byzantium, which ended only when the Franks, whose Adriatic successes were mitigated by naval defeat and the death of Charlemagne’s son, renounced their claim to Venice. In return Byzantine ambassadors acclaimed Charlemagne as basileus – without specifying of what or whom – in the new chapel of Aachen. Byzantine silver coins henceforth entitled their rulers basileis Romaion: ‘emperors of the Romans’ (see fig. 28).94 This compromise would govern the two powers’ basic modus vivendi for over a quarter of a century. The compromise facilitated some military co-ordination in Italy. Arab raids increasingly menaced the peninsula’s western coast, and the pope was able to act as intermediary between the Byzantine governor of Sicily and Charlemagne. Border disputes along the western Balkans were the subject of two Byzantine missions in 817. But the crisis of the Carolingian political structure that overtook Louis the Pious’ court interrupted the progress realised by the missions of 824 and 827, aimed at a deepened diplomatic and theological union. Further embassies in 833, 839 and the early 840s found the Franks enmeshed in civil war and a looming succession crisis, which dashed Theophilos’ hopes of Frankish military support.95