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Roman Holiday: December 25, 800, and the Philosophical Origins of Charlemagne’s Purple Reign

Julius Sykes

Faculty Mentor
Alexia Helsley


The late eighth century Frankish king and conqueror Charles the Great was the most powerful monarch in Western Christendom in his day, ruling from the Pyrenees to the Elbe, from the Baltic and North Seas in Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas. He is so inextricably known for his “Greatness” that he is commonly known in many languages by the compound form “Charlemagne.” In addition to his role as secular ruler, warlord, and patron of the arts, Charles acted as the protector of the Catholic Church for nearly thirty years, both giving and receiving benefit from the alliance throughout his life. The dramatic zenith of his partnership with the church occurred on December 25, 800, in the old Basilica of Saint Peter in Rome, when Pope Leo III interrupted Christmas mass to place a crown on Charles’s head and anointed him emperor – the first to bear the title west of Constantinople in more than three centuries. The coronation was both ritual and theatrical, and can be understood as a development in the mutually beneficial half-century-old Franco-Papal alliance, designed to enhance the dignity and authority of both partners by using the awesome heritage of the Roman Empire: Charles was not merely a wide-ranging ruler, but Roman emperor by the grace of God. The intermingling of sacred and profane authority and the universalist ambitions represented by Charles’s coronation would resound through the centuries to follow, with an echo heard as late as the Napoleonic wars of the early nineteenth century.

The Franco-Papal alliance dated to the time of Charles’s father Pepin the Short, who as mayor of the palace was the de facto ruler of Francia under the nominal reign of King Childeric III. In 751, Pepin asked Pope Zacharias if it were right to permit the continuation of the Merovingian dynasty of rois fainéants (“do-nothing kings”). Zacharias obligingly answered that the de facto king ought to be de jure because “it seemed to him better and more expedient that the man who held power in the kingdom should be called king and be king, rather than he who falsely bore the name.”[1] Pepin deposed Childeric and was twice anointed king with oil, in 751 by Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz, and again in 754 by Zacharias’s successor, Pope Stephen II.[2] This “royal unction of the kings of Israel” recalled the biblical anointment of Saul as the king of Israel by the prophet Samuel.[3] It also recalled other, non-biblical beliefs:

The anointing of kings was an Anglo-Saxon custom and had hitherto been unknown among the Franks. The anointing was supposed to indicate that the king’s connection with the supernatural and the divine, a connection deeply rooted in pagan conceptions and popularly attributed to the Germanic kingship of the Merovingians, was not extinguished. The unction demonstrated that God’s grace was with the ruler who had been appointed by the pope.[4]
The Franco-Papal alliance replaced the ancient Merovingian dynasty with the Carolingians on the dual grounds of natural order and papal authority: Pepin ought to be king because form ought to follow function, but he becomes king because the pope anoints him with oil as a quasi-sacramental ritual.[5] This was advantageous to both parties. Pepin increased his power by becoming king, and Zacharias and Stephen quietly asserted the Papacy’s power by becoming literal kingmakers, patres principum et regum.

There were other opportunities to help each other. At the same time that Stephen had anointed Pepin king in 754, the pope also granted him and his sons Charles and Carloman the title “patrician of the Romans,” and asked for military aid against the Lombard kingdom, which had seized most of northern Italy and threatened the Papacy’s security in Rome. Pepin launched campaigns against Lombardy in 754 and 756, and donated territory captured from the Lombards to the Papacy, helping to solidify their alliance.[6] Thus, Francia neatly replaced the Empire as the Papacy’s military protector and secular benefactor, in the process gaining undisputed Carolingian kingship in Francia and a foothold in Italy. Renewed Lombard belligerence toward Rome brought on a new Italian campaign in 773, resulting in the Frankish conquest of all Lombardy, this time led by Charles, who had succeeded his father as king of the Franks in 768. Charles assumed the title “king of the Lombards”; once again the alliance had aggrandized a Carolingian while benefiting the pope.[7]

The next major development in the alliance placed the Frankish king in the role of adjudicator. Pope Leo III had become mired in political intrigue in Rome, which turned into a dangerous power struggle. On April 25, 799, his enemies pulled him from his horse during a ceremonial procession and tried to gouge out his eyes and cut off his tongue.[8] Leo fled from Rome and met with Charles at his court at Paderborn to ask his protection (this meeting is the subject of the fragmentary epic poem Karolus magnus et Leo papa, attributed to the Frankish retainer Angilbert, Abbot of Saint-Riquier). Leo then returned to Rome with a cadre of Frankish bishops, who convened a preliminary council to investigate the charges against the pope. In November 800, Charles himself arrived in Rome, and on December 1, 800, he convened a council of “archbishops, bishops, abbots and all the nobility of the Franks and the senate of the Romans” to settle the case. [9] On December 23, Leo appeared before Charles and “all the archbishops, bishops, abbots and all the Franks who were in the great king’s service, and all the Romans,” and swore an oath on the Gospels that he was innocent of all charges.[10] Unsurprisingly, Leo’s good word wholly satisfied his ally Charles, who then sentenced Leo’s enemies to death (commuted to exile at Leo’s request).[11] Charles’s intervention had first restored Leo to his see, and then secured him in it by purging his enemies. The Franco-Papal alliance had once more proven its value to the Papacy, albeit in the midst of a humiliating episode.[12] One good turn deserves another, and Leo was to make good his debt two days later at Christmas mass.[13]

There were already some indications of what was to come, some subtle and others blatant. The Frankish king’s name had already been inserted into certain liturgical prayers after the Roman emperor’s, implicitly linking their power and prestige as defenders of the church and guarantors of peace; the practice of mentioning the emperor and the king in the same breath cannot help but have invited comparison between them.[14] Karolus magnus et Leo papa thrice calls Charles by the distinctively imperial title “Augustus” and speaks of his capital at Aachen as “a second Rome.” [15] Charles’s close friend and adviser, the Anglo-Saxon cleric Alcuin of York, Abbot of Marmoutier, addressed him in letters as “David,” the archetypal king of Israel beloved by God (with whom the emperors also liked to be identified).[16] As early as 798, Alcuin had already begun describing “David’s” realms as a Christian empire (imperium christianum), a political-ecclesiological concept that embraced

. . . the whole of the territories submitted to Charlemagne’s authority and inhabited by the populus christianus, which is the community of Christians spiritually dependent on Rome. Charles’s task is to govern, defend and enlarge it and closely linked with these obligations is his duty to protect faith and the Church. . . . Charles is master of almost the whole of western Christendom and Rome itself is subject to his protectorate.[17]
Alcuin’s imperium christianum is remarkably similar to the traditional “political theology” of the Empire:

. . . the emperor is the vicar of Christ on earth and the absolute ruler of all Christians in political as well as in religious matters. The civilized world, the οίκουμένη, was equated with the territories in which Christianity was the recognized religion. These territories, in turn, were identified with the orbis romanus which was subject to the emperor’s authority, to the authority of the dominus imperator, the christianissimus imperator. All this was the imperium christianum, one and only; for Christ could have only one vicar.[18]
This familiar ideology of a single Christian people united in a single Christian empire invites the conclusion that Charles in 800 already ruled what was functionally a Roman empire.[19] This abstract reasoning was joined by a practical counterpart: Charles’s possession of the original Imperial capital of Rome and other cities in Italy, Gaul, and Germany meant that he already ruled as functionally a Roman emperor.[20] This was presented as the opinion of the “holy fathers assembled at the council as well as the rest of the Christian people,” almost certainly the same body Charles had summoned to consider Leo’s case.[21] These parallel lines of thought hint at a formula with special attractiveness for a Carolingian: form should follow function.[22] The same argument that justified Zacharias making Pepin a Frankish king would equally justify Leo making Charles a Roman emperor.

Imperial theory and ritual practice intersected shortly after Charles’s inquiry exonerated the pope. On December 25, Leo celebrated mass in the old Basilica of Saint Peter, with Charles in attendance. This location was unusual in and of itself, because the popes traditionally celebrated Christmas mass in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; the use of Old Saint Peter’s indicated that something was out of the ordinary.[23] Nor was this the only break from custom: for only the second (and last) time in his life, Charles was not dressed in the Frankish national costume of linen shirt and drawers, long hose, silk-edged tunic, otter-skin or ermine jerkin, and blue cloak; at Leo’s request, Charles – who hated foreign dress and pugnaciously refused to wear it – wore a long tunic, Greek mantle, and Roman shoes.[24] Leo, a lifelong bureaucrat of possibly Greek extraction, was almost certainly stage-managing a production according to an existing script. [25] In Constantinople, emperors ceremonially donned a mantle before the patriarch of Constantinople crowned them in their own patriarchal basilica, the Hagia Sophia.[26] Suitably dressed, Charles bowed his head in prayer; Leo placed a gold circlet atop it.[27] The same archbishops, bishops, abbots, Frankish retainers and clergy, and Roman senators, clergy, and people who had attended Charles’s council cried out three times the traditional Imperial polychronion, a liturgical encomium praying for a long reign.[28] The congregation acclaimed him “Charles, pious Augustus crowned by God, great and peaceful emperor” or “Charles the Augustus, crowned of God, the great and pacific Emperor of the Romans.”[29] Leo anointed him with olive oil, and threw himself to the ground to perform the proskynesis, doing him homage by prostration in the fashion of the Imperial court. [30]

At the time of the coronation, no man occupied the throne in Constantinople. The most recent emperor, Constantine VI, had been deposed and blinded in 797 by his own mother, the dowager empress, Irene, who then seized power herself to rule as the first ever empress regnant.[31] Constantine and Irene were not unknown to Charles; he had negotiated the betrothal of his daughter Rotrude to Constantine in 781, and Irene had even sent a eunuch scribe to the Frankish court to teach her prospective daughter-in-law Greek letters and Greco-Roman etiquette.[32] The empress does not appear to have taken offense at Charles’s coronation; the contemporary chronicler Theophanes, who sympathetically refers to her in his Chronographiaas “the pious Irene,” writes tersely that “Leo crowned him Emperor of the Romans in the church of the holy apostle Peter,” without editorializing.[33] He even records that Charles sent ambassadors to Irene in 802 “asking her to join [him] in marriage and unite East and West,” and says that she would have accepted if she had not been prevented by more xenophobic elements at court.[34] These courtiers regarded Charles’s coronation as both insulting and sacrilegious. Horrified at the prospect that the empress might consent to marry this uncouth, illiterate barbarian, a coterie of high-ranking bureaucrats and aristocrats deposed Irene – already unpopular for her stance in the bitter Iconoclastic struggles wracking the Empire and for her shocking treatment of her son Constantine – and sent her into exile.[35] These radically different reactions actually illustrate the same essential point: Constantinople understood that Aachen and Rome intended for Charles to be a Roman emperor in exactly the same way that Constantine VI, Irene, and her successors Nicephorus and Michael I were Roman emperors, whether they accepted it or not.

The coup d’état against Irene discounts one of the best-known justifications for Charles’s coronation, viz., that Irene’s womanhood made the throne vacant (the doctrine of femineum imperium).[36] The argument of femineum imperium would be nonsensical for Charles, who had already implicitly recognized her rulership by sending ambassadors to her and negotiating with her. The so-called Salic Law forbidding women from inheriting title or property was Frankish law, not Imperial law; it would not have applied to Constantinople.[37] It defies credulity that the distinction would go unnoticed by a king experienced in ruling different peoples with separate law codes and served by a cadre of well-educated advisers (including at one point an Imperial scribe sent to teach Greek language and etiquette), and by a pope who was a career bureaucrat at a time when Constantinople still dominated the Papacy. Additionally, Charles claimed to be an equal to the Roman emperors at Constantinople, not their substitute; he did not portray himself as taking an allegedly vacant throne on the Bosporus.[38] Nor did he withdraw his imperial claim after the female emperor was replaced by a male one; Charles applied military and diplomatic pressure on the Emperors Nicephorus and Michael I for more than a decade until he was recognized as an equal in April 812. Michael’s ambassadors hailed Charles in Aachen as imperator and basileus, the unmistakable titles of the Roman emperor at Constantinople.[39] Although the Imperial court would later try to backtrack, it had unambiguously agreed with the Franco-Papal claim that Charles had been crowned a Roman emperor. [40]

There is no question that the coronation was audacious. Its audacity was perhaps matched only by its logical elegance. The classical, “universal” emperors were not chosen by any single procedure; generally speaking, they gained power by recognition by the Senate, approval by the people, or acclamation by the army (accompanied by an oath of allegiance).[41] The decision to crown Charles emperor had been made by “the holy fathers assembled at the council as well as the rest of the Christian people,” which is known to have included the “senate of the Romans.” [42] At mass he was thrice declared emperor by the “Roman people.”[43] He was already a warrior-king who commanded the loyalty of his army, and he commanded in 802 that all his subjects who had already sworn fealty to him as king “should now make the same promise to him as Caesar.” [44] Charles’s emperorship could claim compliance with all the norms of the undivided, “universal” Empire. Thanks to the ingenuity of Leo, he had even enjoyed a version of the Constantinopolitan ceremony, coronation and unction from a patriarch in a basilica while wearing a Greek mantle, followed by a triple polychronion and proskynesis.[45] The patriarch of Constantinople could hardly argue that the pope had no right to crown an emperor, given that Constantinople claimed its ecclesiastical rank and privileges as being those of Rome, and Charles was not even the first emperor to be crowned by a pope.[46] Charles was not himself a Roman, but the same was true of many emperors at Constantinople, such as Zeno, the Isaurian chieftain who married an Imperial princess and was crowned co-emperor by his own nine-year-old son in 474.[47] Charles was frankly as Roman as the emperor who had looked on while the last Roman emperor in the West was deposed in 476.[48] And unlike every emperor since Constans II in 667, Charles had actually set foot in Rome. [49]

Charles’s ambivalence toward his new title is well known. One of his court officials, Einhard, even goes so far as to assert that Charles “made it clear that he would not have entered the cathedral that day at all, although it was the greatest of all the festivals of the Church, if he had known in advance what the pope was planning to do.”[50] This seems highly unlikely, if for no other reason than it suggests that a career bureaucrat in full pontifical vestments was able to inflict a crown and anointment with oil on an able-bodied warrior-king who always carried a sword and literally stood head and shoulders above the men around him.[51] If he had not wanted to be crowned, he could undoubtedly have physically prevented it, like Cæsar at Lupercalia. It may therefore be accurate to say he was never comfortable with his imperial title, but inaccurate to say that he had not wanted it. Explanations for his ambivalence are many: that he did not wish to offend the court at Constantinople, or that he disliked the pseudo-sacerdotal Imperial cult, or that he was annoyed at the suggestion that the Papacy could crown emperors whenever it chose.[52] Much is made of Charles’s apparent dislike for the straightforward title “emperor of the Romans” that Leo had instigated, and that after initial experiments with the style “Charles, the most serene Augustus, crowned by God as great and pacific Emperor, governing the Roman Empire, King of the Franks and Lombards by the grace of God,” he eventually dropped references to Romanity altogether.[53] It is important to note, however, that Roman emperors had not referred to themselves as “Roman” in the first place. Charles’s mature formula, Dominus noster Karolus imperator pius felix perpetuus Augustus, is basically the formula used by emperors in the 4th and 5th centuries, Dominus noster N. pius felix (perpetuus) Augustus.[54] The Imperial logic was that there was only one emperor – however many ones there happened to be – who was called imperator and Augustus in Latin or basileus in Greek; it was redundant to specify that he was “Roman” because there was no other kind.[55] The emperors at Constantinople, for centuries simply calling themselves “emperors,” did not begin using the title “emperor of the Romans” until after they recognized Charles’s status as imperator and basileus in 812 – i.e., as a way of differentiating themselves from the other emperor at Aachen.[56]

Emperor Charles was unambiguously the paramount ruler of the west. His new title carried centuries of prestige and even sacramental power (even if Charles himself took a dim view of the more extravagant aspects of the imperial dignity). Basileus had been the Greek title of the ancient Persian god-kings,[57] and the court of the classical, “universal” emperors was so suffused with “sacredness” that he slept in the “sacred bedchamber” and disbursed monies from the “sacred largesses.”[58] There were distinct, practical advantages associated with emperorship. Charles’s authority to intervene on Leo’s behalf and his wider interest in the good government of the Church were questionable when he was merely a Roman patrician; as Roman emperor, these were routine matters.[59] The Saxons had no indigenous tradition of kingship, and resisted the domination of the Frankish king for years; a Roman emperor was a hegemonic figure to whom barbarian tribes could submit without loss of national self-respect.[60] Indeed, the Franks themselves had been settled in Gaul as a federate tribe submitting first to the western emperors at Ravenna and then to the eastern emperors at Constantinople, ruled by tribal kings who doubled as imperial magistrates nominally governing Roman provinces on the emperor’s behalf.[61] In addition to this hegemonic role, the emperor had a traditional role as lawgiver, actively making and interpreting law in the west even after the collapse of most of his practical authority in the late fifth century.[62] This must have appealed quite strongly to Charles, who was interested in comprehensive reform of the Frankish legal system. Frankish law had originally been codified with considerable reliance on Roman precedent, and had been subsequently amended by enactments of Frankish kings using the novels and rescripts of the Roman Codex Theodosianus as models.[63] With the emperor’s power to enact and reform law on his own authority as the supreme representative of the whole body politic, Charles could correct discrepancies between the Salic and Ripuarian codes of Frankish law, and oversaw the compilation of the previously uncollected, uncodified, and unwritten laws of the various nations under his rule. [64]

Charles’s receipt of the name of emperor on Christmas Day, 800, both evolutionary and revolutionary, was deeply immersed in the history of Franco-Papal relations and in the theory and practice of emperorship in the west since late antiquity. The imperial title brought the roles of defender of the Church, hegemon, and lawgiver; in true Carolingian fashion, Charles enthusiastically embraced the functions that came with the form of emperorship. Like the rise of Cæsar Augustus as the first Roman emperor, there was little about Charles’s coronation that was novel in and of itself. He was neither the first Frank to be allied to the Papacy, nor the first Frank crowned and anointed by a pope, nor the first Frank to exercise Roman authority, nor the first barbarian to be crowned emperor, nor even the first emperor to be crowned by a pope. To be the first Frank crowned emperor by the pope in Rome was nevertheless something exceptional, the genesis of something altogether new. The coronation signified a decisive cleavage between the Empire and the Papacy, and a deepening of the cleavage between the Papacy and Francia. The change could be easily justified: so far as Leo was concerned, his chief ally and protector was still the Roman emperor. The alliance between them had been mutually beneficial for half a century before Charles spent his Christmas in Rome; the holiday pageantry had been merely one more episode in a series, albeit a particularly remarkable one. In keeping with the mutuality of the alliance, the coronation had allowed both partners to tap into deep reservoirs of religious and political tradition, and both partners emerged from Old Saint Peter’s stronger than when they had entered: one was an emperor crowned by a pope, and the other a pope who had crowned an emperor. Charles and Leo were both illuminated by the brilliance of Roman laurels at the dawn of Charles’s purple reign.



About the Author 


Julius SykesJulius Sykes

I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in the nearby city of Lebanon. I received my associate of arts degree while serving in the United States Navy, the third consecutive generation in my family to have served in this branch. I settled in the Aiken area after marrying the former Ashley New, a particularly delightful native of South Carolina, and began attending the University of South Carolina Aiken in Spring 2013. Since then, I have been named to the Dean’s List (Spring 2013) and the President’s List (Fall 2013). The decision to declare a history major came naturally; I have entertained a passionate interest in history since reading a biography of Julius Caesar when I was in the fourth grade. My particular fondness for studying Roman civilization and its long legacy made the coronation of Charlemagne a highly appealing subject for research, involving as it does the three major claimants to Romanitas (the Eastern Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Holy Roman Empire). My first major research project, it helped provide practical experience with research methods, interpretation of sources, and synthesis of material into a coherent narrative. I am deeply grateful to all the mentors I have had throughout my academic and professional careers, including Carol Fedders, Karen Fout, Don Dilg, Celena Williams, Dave Roy, Cathy Keefe, Suzie Fowler-Tutt, Vicki Collins, and Alexia Helsley, who oversaw the writing of “Purple Reign: Emperor Charles’s Roman Holiday, December 25, 800” for her highly informative and enjoyable class on the birth of modern Europe.



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“The Coronation of Pepin the Short.” Lesser Annals of Lorsch. In A Sourcebook of Medieval History, 106-107. Edited by F. A. Ogg. New York: American Book Company, 1907.

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——. “The last period of Charlemagne’s reign: a study in decomposition.” The Carolingians and the Frankish Monarchy: Studies in Carolingian History, 240-255. Translated by Janet Sondheimer. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.

——. “The imperial coronation of Charlemagne: theories and facts.” The Carolingians and the Frankish Monarchy: Studies in Carolingian History, 41-54. Translated by Janet Sondheimer. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.

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[1]   Lesser Annals of Lorsch a.d. 751; Henry Mayr-Harting, “Charlemagne, the Saxons, and the Imperial Coronation of 800,” The English Historical Review, 1119. Mayr-Harting writes of the “name-consciousness of the age,” and notes that the pope “had given it as his opinion that he who had the power should have the nomen (of king); and when Louis the Pious was deserted by many of his bishops and aristocracy in 830 he was said to be emperor only in name, with the implication that therefore he ought not to have the name.”

[2]   Annals of Lorsch a.d. 751, a.d. 754.

[3]   Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 636.

[4]   Heinrich Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire: The Age of Charlemagne, trans. Peter Munz, 18.

[5]   Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 73, notes that the deposition of Childeric III was done “in order to avoid disturbance of the divinely-appointed order”; Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni 1:3, but erroneously says that Stephen II wrote Zacharias’s letter of 751.

[6]   Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 18-19, describes patricius Romanorum as “that east-Roman title which the imperial Exarch of Ravenna, as the representative of the Byzantine emperors, was wont to bear.” This is not the first time a Frankish king had borne an Imperial title. P. S. Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings: The Roman West, 395-565, 94-95, notes that Clovis I was appointed to the ancient office of consul by Emperor Anastasius. Eamon Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, 87-89, notes that the donated territories included the Exarchate of Ravenna, formerly governed by the senior Imperial representative in Italy, and that Constantinople protested that the Donation of Pepin was a misappropriation of Imperial territory.

[7]   Judith M. Bennett, Medieval Europe: A Short History, 89.

[8]   Claudio Rendina. The Popes: Histories and Secrets, trans. Paul D. McCusker, 166.

[9]   Liber Pontificalis 98:21; Rendina, The Popes, 166-68.

[10] Liber Pontificalis 98:22.

[11] Duffy, Saints & Sinners, 94-95.

[12] Derek Wilson, Charlemagne: A Biography, 92-93. In substituting the Franks for the Empire, the Papacy “had exchanged a distant lion for a closer tiger.”

[13] Theophanes the Confessor, Chronographia a.m. 6289. Theophanes explicitly says the coronation was repayment.

[14] F. L. Ganshof, “The imperial coronation of Charlemagne: theories and facts,” The Carolingians and the Frankish Monarchy: Studies in Carolingian History, 46.

[15] Ganshof, “The imperial coronation of Charlemagne,” 50; Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 72. “New Rome” is the special epithet of Constantinople, justifying its ecclesiastical rank as a patriarchate junior only to Rome itself because “Constantinople is New Rome.”

[16] Ibid., 72. The Second Council of Constantinople speaks of “the faithful emperor, the new David.”

[17] Ganshof, “The imperial coronation of Charlemagne,” 45.

[18] Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 62. This ignores the common Diocletianic practice of multiple emperors.

[19] John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium, 118.

[20] Annals of Lorsch a.d. 800.

[21] Roger Collins, “Charlemagne’s Imperial Coronation and the Annals of Lorsch,” Charlemagne: Empire and Society, 53.

[22] Mayr-Harting, “Charlemagne, the Saxons, and the Imperial Coronation of 800,” 1119. Mayr-Harting writes of “the importance of nomen in Charlemagne’s time, of how one was named” and the “name-consciousness of the age,” and cites the anointing of Pepin as king as a previous example; note the added significance that this “name-consciousness” gives to Einhard’s habit of addressing Charles as “David.”

[23] Duffy, Saints & Sinners, 95.

[24] Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni 2:23.

[25] Liber Pontificalis 98:1. Leo was “from early youth . . . brought up and educated in the vestiarium of the patriarchate,” i.e., the operational part of the papal household; he eventually became head of the vestiarium; Duffy, Saints & Sinners, 93; Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 75.

[26] George P. Majeska, “The Emperor in His Church: Imperial Ritual in the Church of St. Sophia,” Byzantine Court Culture from 829 to 1204, 2.

[27] Friedrich Heer, The Holy Roman Empire, trans. Janet Sondheimer, 11.

[28] Denos John Granakoplos, Interaction of the “Sibling” Byzantine and Western Cultures in the Middle Ages and Italian Renaissance (330-1600), 81.

[29] Liber Pontificalis 98:23; Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 75. The Annales Regni Francorum omit Charles’s pietas and include Romanitas, while the Liber Pontificalis omits Romanity and includes piety. Fichtenau cites P. E. Schramm’s suggestion that different people may have been chanting both versions simultaneously.

[30] Theophanes, Chronographia a.m. 6289. Theophanes writes that Leo anointed Charles “with olive oil from head to foot and clothing him in the imperial regalia and crown,” believing the pope to have dressed the emperor in his chlamys, as Majeska, “The Emperor in His Church,” 2, indicates was the custom in the Hagia Sophia. Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 71, says Constantinople saw the anointment as a faux pas: “Leo III, so his [Theophanes’s] report runs, utterly ignorant of the proper ceremonial, anointed Charles ‘from top to toe’. The ceremony, therefore, amounted to nothing more than the conferment of extreme unction!” Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 75; Duffy, Saints & Sinners, 93. Duffy notes that the Annales Regnum Francorum mention the proskynesis but the Liber Pontificalis does not; Fichtenau adds of Leo that, with a bureaucrat’s eye for detail, “was anxious to take all precautions against a possible Byzantine charge that, owing to the non-observance of the customary ceremonial, the coronation was null and void.”

[31] Norwich, Short History of Byzantium, 117-18.

[32] Theophanes, Chronographia a.m. 6274. The wedding of Constantine and “Erythro” was ultimately called off.

[33] Theophanes, Chronographia a.m. 6289.

[34] Theophanes, Chronographia a.m. 6293, a.m. 6294.

[35] Norwich, Short History of Byzantium, 120; Wilson, Charlemagne, 96. The Iconoclasm controversies were often violent disputes in the eighth and ninth centuries over veneration of religious images, dividing the Eastern Church and Empire into Iconodule supporters and Iconoclast opponents of images. An aggressive Iconodule, Irene had faced considerable opposition from Iconoclasts in the church and government for years.

[36] Annals of Lorsch a.d. 800, explicitly gives femineum imperiumand Charles’s possession of the Imperial seats of Rome, Italy, Gaul, and Germany as the reasons that “Pope Leo and the holy fathers assembled at the council as well as . . . the rest of the Christian people” decided to crown Charles emperor. Collins, “Charlemagne’s Imperial Coronation,” 66, notes that the AL speaks of “the name of emperor” (nomen imperatoris) as lacking among the Greeks because of femineum imperium, another example of Frankish “name-consciousness.”

[37] Norwich, Short History of Byzantium, 120.

[38] Ibid., 125-26. The existence of multiple emperors did not contradict the concept of an indivisible empire, having been constitutionally acceptable since the so-called “Tetrarchy” of Diocletian.

[39] F. L. Ganshof, “The Frankish monarchy and its external relations, from Pippin III to Louis the Pious,” The Carolingians and the Frankish Monarchy: Studies in Carolingian History, 179-80; .F. L. Ganshof, “The last period of Charlemagne’s reign: a study in decomposition,” The Carolingians and the Frankish Monarchy: Studies in Carolingian History, 241.

[40] Harry Turtledove, The Chronicle of Theophanes: An English translation of anni mundi 6095-6305 (a.d. 602-813), with introduction and notes, 155. Theophanes himself refers to Charles as “Emperor of the Franks” in Chronographia a.m. 6304. But he who laughs last laughs longest: Western historiography calls Charles “Holy Roman Emperor,” but has nearly obliterated Constantinople’s Romanitas with the retaliatory label “Byzantine.”

[41] Harold Mattingly, Roman Imperial Civilization, 41.

[42] Annals of Lorsch a.d. 800; Liber Pontificalis 98:21.

[43] Ganshof, “The imperial coronation of Charlemagne,” 47; Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 75. Raymond Davis, The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes (Liber Pontificalis): The Ancient Biographies of Nine Popes from AD 715 to AD 817, xi, argues that “in some sense the Roman people, even in the eighth century, had imperium and were conscious that they had it, and the pope was their representative (vicarius), the man they had elected much as their ancestors had elected other holders of imperium,” so that the physical act of coronation by Leo might itself be interpreted as an expression of the will of “the Roman people,” by their representative, the pope.

[44] Bennett, Medieval Europe, 89, 94-95; Capitulare missorum generale 2. It was also required of “those who until now have not made the promise.”

[45] Norwich, Short History of Byzantium, 51. The patriarch of Constantinople first crowned an emperor on February 7, 457, when a Romanized Dacian (i.e., not a Roman) was chosen to succeed the extinct Theodosian dynasty.

[46] Canon III of the First Council of Constantinople; Canon XXVIII of the Council of Chalcedon; Davis, The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes, 191, mentions that Pope John I re-crowned Justin I (a Thraco-Roman) in Constantinople in 526; he had already been crowned by the patriarch of Constantinople in 518.

[47] Norwich, Short History of Byzantium, 51-52. Co-emperors were clearly not a violation of the doctrine that there was only one emperor. Evidently the rule was that there could be only one, for a given value of “one.”

[48] Chris Scarre, Chronicle of the Roman Emperors, 232. The “last emperor,” Romulus, was a usurper, having been made emperor in place of Constantinople’s nominee, Julius Nepos, who died in exile in 480.

[49] Davis, The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes, xi.

[50] Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni 1:28.

[51] Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni 3:23; Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 25, mentions that Charles’s skeleton was measured at 6 feet 3½ inches in 1861.

[52] Notker Balbulus, De Carolo Magno 1:26; Fichtenau, The Carolingian Empire, 69-71; Ganshof, “The imperial coronation of Charlemagne,” 48.

[53] Wilson, Charlemagne, 92.

[54] Ildar H. Garipzanov, The Symbolic Language of Royal Authority in the Carolingian World (c. 751-877), 139. Perpetuus was a fifth century addition to the formula.

[55] Evangelos K. Chrysos, “The Title Βασιλευς in Early Byzantine International Relations,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers, vol. 32, 53-54.

[56] Harry Turtledove, The Chronicle of Theophanes, 155.

[57] L. G. Pine, Titles: How the King Became His Majesty, 33-34.

[58] Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings, 20-32.

[59] Mayr-Harting, “The Imperial Coronation of 800,” 1123; Duffy, Saints & Sinners, 96-97.

[60] Mayr-Harting, “The Imperial Coronation of 800,” 1123-26, 1127-29; Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings, 49

[61] Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings, 90-113. Barnwell distinguishes between the interrelated roles of national (gentilicus) tribal king and the semi-magisterial (halb magistrarisch) federate king, among the Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, and Ostrogoths. The federate tribes maintained Imperial types on coinage even after 476.

[62] Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings, 11, 15, 59.

[63] Barnwell, Emperor, Prefects, & Kings, 97-99.

[64] Justinian, Institutiones 1:2.6. The emperor’s authority to legislate on behalf of the whole people is termed the law of kings (lex regia); Einhard, Vita Karoli Magni 3:29, writes that Charles initiated his legal project “now that he was Emperor” (post susceptum imperiale nomen), associating function (lawgiver) with form (emperor) in another example of Frankish “name-consciousness.”

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