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Book IX
Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book IX
Chapter 9

Book IX (continued)

Chapter VIII

The Final Recognition

Sources: —

Theophanes; Annales Einhardi.

Guide: —

Harnack, 'Das Karolingische und das Byzantinische Reich.'

Defeat and death of the Emperor Nicephorus, 811. Though the treaty of Aachen was virtually concluded with Nicephorus, its final ratification did not fall within that Emperor's reign. When Charles's ambassadors arrived in Constantinople, they probably heard the terrible tidings of the overthrow of Nicephorus by the Bulgarians. The Logothete-Emperor had collected a fine army and had led it, confident of success, against his turbulent neighbour Crum, king of the Bulgarians. The campaign opened brightly: he took and plundered Crum's palace, and received an embassy from that barbarian suing almost abjectly for peace. Puffed up with success, Nicephorus refused to grant it and thereupon the Bulgarian king, driven to despair, drew a line of circumvallation round the camp of the invaders, harassed and terrified them by 'alarums and excursions,' July 25, 811 and finally at nightfall stormed their camp and slew Nicephorus himself, nearly all his officers, and private soldiers more than could be numbered. The disaster must have been as signal as the defeat of Valens by the Visigoths, and like that defeat, it was the result  p251 of a combination of arrogance and bad general­ship. The head of Nicephorus, severed from his body and fixed on a pole, was for days exhibited by the victor in savage scorn to the officers of the barbarous tribes who served under his banner. After this he caused the flesh to be removed, mounted the skull in silver, and was wont to invite the Sclavic chiefs who visited his palace to drink to him out of the skull of a Roman Emperor.

The son of Nicephorus,​1 severely wounded in the great battle, reigned but for a few months, and was then removed into a monastery to die.​2 Accession of Michael (Rhangabe), Oct. 2, 811. On the second of October (811), Michael the grand chamberlain,​3 son-in‑law of Nicephorus, was acclaimed as Emperor. The new Emperor, who reigned but for two years, was one of the most insignificant monarchs who ever received the homage of the servile courtiers of Constantinople. Chosen apparently for no other reason than his reputation for orthodoxy, he reversed in all things the policy of Nicephorus, scattered in lavish gifts to the Church and to the populace the treasures which his father-in‑ p252 law had accumulated, persecuted some of the heretics whom his father-in‑law had protected, and ruled during his brief span of royalty as the passive instrument of the monkish fraternity. Being obliged at last to go forth to battle with the Bulgarians, and being ignominiously defeated, Elevation of Leo the Armenian, July 11, 813. he resigned the throne without a struggle to a popular general, Leo the Armenian, and retired to a monastery, where he droned away thirty‑two years of life unfeared and therefore unmolested.

Michael's embassy of recognition, 812. To this insignificant ruler, however, before his deposition fell the duty of ratifying the treaty with the Frankish prince, and thus establishing that duality of Empire in the Christian world which endured for six centuries and a half, till the fall of Constantinople. He despatched an embassy to Charles, consisting of Michael, Metropolitan of Philadelphia,​4 the life-guardsman Arsafius and his comrade Theognostus, to ratify the peace which had been all but concluded with his predecessor. Michael and Arsafius had made the journey before, the former in 803, the latter in 810. Theognostus, as far as we know, was strange to diplomacy. The new Emperor, trembling on his uneasy throne and possibly thinking of the possibility of enlisting Charles as his helper against the terrible Bulgarians, eagerly consented to an alliance on the terms previously arranged, and begged that it might be made to include his son Theophylact​5 whom he was about to associate with him as a colleague, and whom he vainly hoped  p253 that the people would hail as his successor. The same ambassadors were charged to renew the friendly relations with the Pope, interrupted during the reign of Nicephorus. The Metropolitan and the two Spatharii, accompanied by the returning ambassadors of Charles, made their appearance at Aachen in the early days of January, 812.​6 Having displayed the rich gifts which they brought from the lavish Michael, they were admitted to a public audience in the great church of the Virgin Mary. Written instruments setting forth the terms of the peace — doubtless as settled by the embassy of 811 — were exchanged between the Emperor and the Eastern ambassadors in the presence of the great nobles of the Frankish realm, and this transaction being ended, the ambassadors, who had probably brought a trained choir along with them, burst forth into sacred song praising God for His mercy vouchsafed to the great Basileus, Charles. Basileus in the official language of the Empire was now the technical word expressive of the sublime Imperial dignity, while Rex was reserved for the lesser herd of barbarian potentates. The recognition was thus complete. The accredited representatives of the Augustus of Constantinople had greeted the Frankish chieftain as Emperor. This fact was in itself irreversible. Henceforth no one could deny that there was both an Eastern and a Western Empire, and Charles could with confidence thus describe the two realms in a letter which he addressed a year later to his beloved and honourable brother, the glorious Emperor Michael.7

 p254  The Eastern ambassadors visit Rome. After they had fulfilled their commission at Aachen, the Eastern ambassadors journeyed to Rome, and there, while bringing the Patriarch's greetings to the Pope, and thus resuming the interrupted communication between the Churches, they at the same time solemnly handed to the Pope in St. Peter's the treaty of peace between the two Emperors, and received it back from him stamped in some unexplained way with the seal of his approval.8

Affairs of Benevento. How far the Emperor's relations with the still unsubdued portions of Italy may have been affected by these changing relations with the Eastern Empire we are not informed. We hear nothing of help previously given by Constantinople to Benevento, but the state of affairs between the Frankish king and the Samnite duchy had been for some years about as bad as it could possibly be. Partly, this was due to the personal antagonism between the two rulers. On the one side (I am speaking of a time previous to 810) stood Pippin, young, brave, and headstrong, eager to distinguish himself in war and indignant that there should be any power in Italy independent of him and his father. On the other stood Grimwald, last hope of Lombard rule in Italy, some years older than Pippin, but still young, mindful of his father's wrongs and his own captivity,  p255 determined to escape from the odious necessity of professing himself Charles's 'man,' and of proclaiming by the date of his charters, by the effigy on his coins, by his very garb and the manner of trimming his hair, that the Lombard was subject to the Frank.

The mutual attitude of the two princes is well expressed by a tradition which is embalmed in the pages of Erchempert. 'Pippin spoke thus by his ambassadors to Grimwald, "I wish, and am determined with the strong hand to enforce my wish, that like as his father Arichis was subject to Desiderius, king of Italy, so Grimwald shall be subject to me." To whom Grimwald thus replied: —

"Free was I born and noble my forbears on either side,

So by the help of my God, free will I ever abide." '​9

Gladly would we know whether the Lombard prince uttered his defiance in the correct Latin elegiacs in which the chronicler has couched it, or whether he could still speak in the Lombard tongue words not quite unintelligible to the men of the Rhineland.

Wars of Spoleto and Benevento. The war between the two states resolved itself into a long duel between Spoleto and Benevento, in which, though with some vicissitudes, the fortune of war was on the whole favourable to the Franks. In 801 Teate (Chieti) was taken and burnt by them and its governor Roselm was made prisoner. In 802 Ortona on the Adriatic surrendered, and the Spoletan border was thus pushed forward from the Pescara to the Sangro.

In the same year a more important capture was made. Lucera, that upland city looking towards Mount  p256 Garganus which seems destined by nature for a fortress, and where long after in Hohenstaufen days Frederick II stationed his military colony of Saracens, was taken after repeated sieges and a Frankish garrison was placed therein. In a few months, however, the fortune of war turned. Grimwald marched to the attack. Winichis, the Frankish duke of Spoleto, victor many years before in the battle with the Greeks, now lay sick (probably of malarial fever) within the walls of Lucera. The defence languished, and at last Winichis was obliged to surrender the city and his own person into the hands of the besiegers. He was honourably treated by the knightly Grimwald, and the next year was set at liberty, apparently unransomed.10

Death of Grimwald II (806), and of Pippin (810). The long duel, in the course of which Benevento had suffered much from the ravages of the Frankish troops, was at last brought to an end by the death of the two chief combatants. In 806 Grimwald died and was succeeded by another prince of the same name, who is said​11 to have previously distinguished himself by his personal bravery in the first great war with Pippin. The new prince, who is called sometimes Grimwald II and sometimes Grimwald IV,​12 was perhaps himself more peaceably inclined than his predecessor, and Pippin may have had enough in Venetian affairs to occupy his attention. In 810, as we have seen, Pippin  p257 himself died, and two years later, immediately after the dismissal of the Byzantine ambassadors, his son, the young Bernard, at a general assembly held at Aachen was, as has been said, solemnly declared king of Italy, and sent to govern his new kingdom with the help of the counsels of his cousins, older by two generations than himself, Wala and Adalhard.​13 Pacific counsels of Adalhard, adviser of the young King Bernard. The influence of the latter counsellor seems to have been especially exerted in the cause of peace, and in the same year (810) an arrangement was concluded whereby the prince of Benevento agreed to pay a sum of 25,000 solidi [£15,000] down, and a further sum of 7,000 solidi [£4,200] annually. The payment was distinctly spoken of as tribute, and there seems to be no doubt that the prince of Benevento, though keeping the reins of government in his hands, fully acknowledged his dependence on the Frankish king and his Imperial grandfather. So ended the last glimmer of Lombard independence in Italy.

Connection of some Italian cities with the Eastern Empire. The connection with the Eastern Empire, chiefly maintained by two cities, Naples and Otranto, may perhaps have died out in some other parts of Italy more slowly than we suppose. There is a curious entry in Annales Einhardi for the year 809, that 'Populonia​14 in Tuscany, a maritime city, was plundered by the Greeks who are called Orobiotae' (Mountain dwellers). Who are these highlanders, so wedded to Byzantine sovereignty that their very name is Greek, who plunder  p258 'the sea‑girt Populonia' on its promontory just opposite the isle of Elba? Possibly they may have been corsairs from the other side of the Adriatic, like the Dalmatian pirates who were so long the plague of Venice, but if they were highlanders of the Apennines or of the mountains of Massa or Carrara, we have here a hint of a strange unwritten chapter of Italian history.

Saracen raids. During all this early part of the ninth century the thundercloud of Saracen piracy and conquest, which was to break so terribly over its central years, was growing darker and darker. The chronicler mentions six invasions of Corsica by the Moors of Spain between 806 and 813,​15 repelled with various fortune by the Frankish admirals. The great peace with Cordova, concluded in 810, does not seem to have had any effect in staying these piratical raids. One of the invasions is described immediately after the mention of that peace, and in 813 we find the Moors not only attacking Corsica and Sardinia, but, in order to revenge a defeat which they had sustained from a Frankish general, invading Nice in the Narbonese Gaul and Civita Vecchia in Tuscany. The Saracen had thus indeed drawn very near to Rome. Even in Charles's lifetime the City which gave him his Imperial title was obviously in danger from the Islamite rovers of the sea.

The Author's Notes:

1 Stauracius.

2 The reason for this palace revolution, the actors in which could not wait for the obviously impending death of Stauracius, is said to have been partly his design to secure the diadem for his wife Theophano, but partly a scheme which was floating through the brain of the dying Emperor, for turning the Empire into a democratic republic. Theophanes says (A. M. 6303): Ὁ δὲ Σταυράκιος ἀνιάτως ἑαυτὸν ὁρῶν διακείμενον τῇ γαμέτῃ τὴν βασιλείαν ἐσπούδαζε περιποιήσασθαι, ἢ δημοκρατίαν ἐγεῖραι Χριστιανοῖς ἐπὶ τοῖς προλαβοῦσι κακοῖς. One would gladly hear more of this scheme for the restoration of the old Republic. The thought suggests itself, whether it was possibly connected with the assumption of the Imperial title by Charles the Frank.

3 'Curopalates.'

4 So says Simson, II.481. See Annales Einhardi, s. a. 812.

5 This is probably the meaning, as Harnack points out (p58), of the rather obscure words of Theophanes (A. M. 6304): ἀπέστειλεν δὲ πρὸς τὸν Κάρουλον βασιλέα τῶν Φράγγων περὶ εἰρήνης καὶ συναλλαγῆς εἰς Θεοφύλακτον τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ. There is no warrant for the Latin version 'qui de pace atque matrimonio cum Th. ejus filio tractarent.'

6 We get the date 'in octavâ die Theophaniae' [= 13 January] only from the Monk of St. Gall (II.7), a doubtful authority.

7 Ep. Car. 40: 'Karolus divinâ largiente gratiâ Imperator et Augustus, idemque rex Francorum et Langobardorum, dilecto et honorabili fratri Michaeli glorioso Imperatori et Augusto, aeternam in domino nostro Jesu Christo salutem. . . . Benedicimus dominum nostrum Jesum Christum . . . qui nos in tantum divites efficere dignatus est ut in diebus nostris diu quaesitam et semper desideratam pacem inter orientale atque occidentale imperium stabilire . . . dignatus est' (sic).

8 'Eundem pacti seu foederis libellum a Leone papa denuo susceperunt.' Ann. Einh., s. a. 812.


'Liber et ingenuus sum natus utroque parente,

Semper ero liber, credo, tuente Deo.'

Erchempert, c. 6.

10 Isernia (Istoria della Città di Benevento, p175) says that Pippin after a long siege recovered Lucera and generously let the garrison go free: but I have not found the authority for this statement.

11 By the Chronicon Salernitanum.

12 The difference arises from the doubt whether the two earlier Grimwalds, who were dukes but not princes, should be included in the reckoning or not.

13 Sons of Bernhard, the son of Charles Martel; see Genealogy on p86 of vol. VII.

14 The usual form of the name at this time was Populonium (so Annales Einh. and so the Codex Carolinus), but I use the better known classical form.

15 In 806, 807, 809, 810 (twice), and 813.

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