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Food and prejudice: a western ambassador in Byzantium

Otto_IFood and prejudice: a western ambassador in Byzantium

By Andrea Maraschi

Published Online (2013)

Introduction: On the 4th of June, 968, Liutprand of Cremona made landfall at Constaninople as ambassador for the German emperor Otto I. His official mission: the arrangement of a nuptial alliance with the basileùs Nicephorus II Phocas. His unofficial mission: the draft of a report on the political framework and the military efficiency of the Byzantine Empire.

The relationships between the parties in question were unstable, to say the least: on the other hand, the Byzantine Empire didn’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the imperial title in the West. As a matter of fact, the duke of Saxony had been crowned emperor in Rome in 962 by pope John XII, an event which perpetuated that figure of maximum authority that Charlemagne had performed starting from Christmas Eve 800. The Byzantine emperors maintained that the only legitimate successor to the Caesars could be he who resided in the land where Constantine the great had moved the capital city in 326. The western emperors would constantly try to justify their title, just like the kings of the young Roman-Barbaric kingdoms had attempted to connect the origins of their lineage to ancient heroes. And neither of them should be blamed: after all, the authority of a leader mainly depended on the recognition of his power by his subjects since, as the Romans used to say in the ancient times, people are more glad to be ruled by someone of high birth or by one who is destined to leadership.

In other words, the political and cultural context Liutprand was to cope with is the following: Otto I recognized the authority of Nicephorus II Phocas; this latter did not recognize the imperial title of Otto I. Needless to say, this condition of things had much to do with prejudice. Liutprand himself complained about the insults Leo, brother of Nicephorus, threw at the emperor Otto: Leo used to call him rega (king), not basileùs (emperor).

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See also Andrea Maraschi’s Facebook page HistorEat

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