Emperor of the World

Emperor of the World: Charlemagne and the Construction of Imperial Authority, 800–1229

Anne A. Latowsky
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Emperor of the World
    Book Description:

    Charlemagne never traveled farther east than Italy, but by the mid-tenth century a story had begun to circulate about the friendly alliances that the emperor had forged while visiting Jerusalem and Constantinople. This story gained wide currency throughout the Middle Ages, appearing frequently in chronicles, histories, imperial decrees, and hagiographies-even in stained-glass windows and vernacular verse and prose. InEmperor of the World, Anne A. Latowsky traces the curious history of this myth, revealing how the memory of the Frankish Emperor was manipulated to shape the institutions of kingship and empire in the High Middle Ages.

    The legend incorporates apocalyptic themes such as the succession of world monarchies at the End of Days and the prophecy of the Last Roman Emperor. Charlemagne's apocryphal journey to the East increasingly resembled the eschatological final journey of the Last Emperor, who was expected to end his reign in Jerusalem after reuniting the Roman Empire prior to the Last Judgment. Instead of relinquishing his imperial dignity and handing the rule of a united Christendom over to God as predicted, this Charlemagne returns to the West to commence his reign. Latowsky finds that the writers who incorporated this legend did so to support, or in certain cases to criticize, the imperial pretentions of the regimes under which they wrote. New versions of the myth would resurface at times of transition and during periods marked by strong assertions of Roman-style imperial authority and conflict with the papacy, most notably during the reigns of Henry IV and Frederick Barbarossa. Latowsky removes Charlemagne's encounters with the East from their long-presumed Crusading context and shows how a story that began as a rhetorical commonplace of imperial praise evolved over the centuries as an expression of Christian Roman universalism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6779-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    Not long after the death of Charlemagne in 814, Einhard recalled in hisLife of Charlemagnethe arrival at court of an elephant sent from the caliph Harun al Rachid.¹ The biographer describes the extravagant gift in a chapter devoted to the friendly relations that the Frankish king had enjoyed with foreign nations once he became emperor, even with the rival Greeks, who sought a friendly alliance with him out of fear. Of the various memorable chapters in the life of Charlemagne, his diplomatic relations with the East proved to be one of the most persistent. Hundreds of years later,...

  6. Chapter 1 Carolingian Origins
    (pp. 19-58)

    The apocryphal travels of Charlemagne to Jerusalem and Constantinople have their roots in the Carolingian sources of the eighth and ninth centuries. The story begins with chapter 16 of Einhard’sLife of Charlemagne, in which the biographer elaborates the ways in which foreign leaders sought the friendship of the Frankish king after his imperial coronation and willingly offered themselves as his subjects.¹ Charlemagne increased the glory of his kingdom, Einhard explains, by winning over kings and peoples through friendly means. One of the surrendering kings was Alfonso, the king of Galicia and Asturias, who sent envoys charged with delivering letters...

  7. Chapter 2 Relics from the East
    (pp. 59-98)

    By the mid-tenth century, Charlemagne had taken on a more ecclesiastical role in the “imaginative memories” of monastic authors, who depicted him as a pilgrim, founder of monasteries, and donator of relics.¹ Part of this evolution in the recollection of his imperial reign involved the transformation of his alliances with Eastern nations into an actual journey from which he returned with relics. The concept of imperial travel involving the transport of saintly remains was not new at the time, of course, for it had been a motif signifying Christian triumph since late antiquity.² The story of Charlemagne’s travels in the...

  8. Chapter 3 Benzo of Alba’s Parallel Signs
    (pp. 99-138)

    In colorful, poetic, and sometimes foul language, Benzo of Alba promoted the Salian inheritance of the Roman Empire on behalf of Henry IV in his virulently anti-GregorianLibri ad Heinricum IV Imperatorem. Throughout his voluminous work, Benzo composed multiple versions of the foreign embassy motif in a variety of forms and rhetorical contexts, including a version of the Last Emperor prophecy, an eerie visitation by the voice of Charlemagne to explain the prophecy, fabricated diplomatic communiqués, and lofty panegyric verse. More so than anyone before him, Benzo reveals his recognition of the encomiastic function of Charlemagne’s symbolic conquest of the...

  9. Chapter 4 In Praise of Frederick Barbarossa
    (pp. 139-182)

    In the years following his imperial coronation in 1155, the German emperor Frederick I Barbarossa came into increasing conflict with the papacy. The late 1150s were also a time of heavy promotion of the Hohenstaufen Romanrenovatio, during which propagandists for the emperor employed a variety of expressions of his universal authority. As the Archpoet proclaimed in the early 1160s after the siege of Milan: “Nobody in his right mind doubts that you, by the assent of God, were set up as the king above all other kings.”¹ This first of two chapters exploring the rhetoric of Roman universalism during...

  10. Chapter 5 The Emperor’s Charlemagne
    (pp. 183-214)

    Otto of Freising made only passing references to Charlemagne in theDeeds of Frederick Barbarossa, the most notable one of which occurs in Book 2 when he describes how in 1152 the duke of Swabia, having been raised to the rank of king, sat upon the throne placed by Charlemagne in the church at Aachen. The Archpoet invoked the name of Charlemagne in theKaiserhymnus, but as only one among multiple exempla.¹ Neither Hohenstaufen propagandist presented the Frankish king as an all-encompassing Christian Roman imperial antecedent. A shift occurred in the wake of Frederick’s break with the Holy See in...

  11. Chapter 6 “Charlemagne and the East” in France
    (pp. 215-250)

    By the twelfth century, Charlemagne had become well known as a pilgrim, a builder and benefactor of churches, and a figure of vernacular epic poetry. Aside from a handful of exceptions, however, the “Charlemagne and the East” tradition proves to have been of little consequence in France until well into the thirteenth century. The relative absence of the “Charlemagne and the East” narrative from the political culture of France, by comparison with its prominence in Hohenstaufen circles, can be largely explained by the fact that the episode would not have enhanced the genealogically based constructions of French kingship that sought...

  12. Epilogue: The Remains of Charlemagne
    (pp. 251-258)

    On the feast of Saint James, 25 July 1215, the Italian-born grandson of Frederick Barbarossa, Frederick II, was consecrated and crowned king of the Romans. After his initial coronation at Mainz, the twenty-one-year-old decided to stage a second coronation at Aachen, a center of Hohenstaufen support in a German realm still divided after the fall of Otto IV at Bouvines the previous year.¹ Contemporary witnesses tell us that soon after the ceremony, the young king was inspired to take up the cross in the name of aid to the Holy Land.² The decision was a controversial one, since he had...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-280)
  14. Index
    (pp. 281-290)