Imperium et Credo: Frankish-Byzantine Rivalry over Leadership of the Roman-Christian Credo-State in the Ninth Century
By Elijah Wallace
Hortulus: The Online Graduate Journal of Medieval Studies, Vol.14:1 (2017)
Abstract: The age of Carolingian rule traditionally demarcates the point at which Europe arose from the ashes of the Roman world. It was the end of the turbulent period following the fall of Rome during which, according to the historian Henri Pirenne, “the tradition of antiquity disappeared, while the new elements came to the surface”, thus heralding the start of the Middle Ages.
Michael McCormick and others have argued that this era was, in fact, a continuation of Late Roman and Byzantine traditions instead of a shocking rupture between East and West. The key to understanding this era comes from perceiving how the Franks appraised their achievements and how that worldview influenced their international relations. The 871 letter to the Byzantine Emperor Basil I provides the best window to view this Frankish thinking in action. Louis II’s bold, imperial political testament has been overlooked in the discussion of the Carolingian political thought and foreign relations.
Only two articles (Grierson and Fanning) have dealt with its contents or meaning at any length. This is almost certainly due to it having been produced by a supposedly weaker Carolingian monarch who has yet to be accounted for in a biography, in comparison to the glorious and more well-documented courts of his ancestors or his uncle, Charles the Bald. Despite this discrepancy, the 871 letter is the most forthright summary of Frankish perceptions about the world order and claims to Rome’s imperial legacy written in the entire period.