THE ROMANS AND THE FRANKS
Late in the year 753, Pope Stephen II, accompanied by a large retinue of cardinals and bishops, did something no previous Roman pope had done. He crossed the Alps and paid a visit to Pepin III, known as Pepin the Short, the king of the Franks. They met on 6 January 754 at Pepin’s royal estate, located at Ponthion, near the present-day city of Vitry-le-François on the river Marne, some 95 miles from Paris in what is now northeastern France. (France, then the western part of the Frankish kingdom, went in those days by the Roman name of Gaul; the country’s modern name is derived from that of the people Pepin ruled.)
The pope was coming as a supplicant. The Lombards, a Germanic tribe whose territories reached from what is now Hungary into northern Italy, had conquered Ravenna, the capital of the Western Byzantine (Greek Christian) Empire, and were threatening Rome. Stephen asked Pepin, who three years earlier had concluded a mutual assistance pact with his predecessor Zacharias, to intercede on his behalf. When Pepin agreed to honor his earlier commitment, Stephen went with him to the cathedral city of Saint-Denis, just north of Paris, and cemented their covenant by officially declaring Pepin and his heirs to be honorary “Roman patricians” and recognizing them as the legitimate hereditary rulers of the united kingdom of the Franks, which encompassed (in addition to France) most of present-day Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, in addition to smaller territories now belonging to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Czech Republic. This ceremony inaugurated the Carolingian dynasty, which for the next two centuries would remain the most powerful ruling house in Europe.
Pepin duly invaded Italy. He not only successfully defended Rome but also wrested Ravenna and its surrounding territories back from Aistulf, the Lombard king. Ignoring the claims of the Byzantine emperor, Pepin made a gift of these territories to the pope; they became the so-called “Papal States,” which were administered by the Roman see as an independent country, with the pope as temporal ruler, until the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century. (The immediate territory around St. Peter’s Church in Rome—a few city blocks known as Vatican City—is still recognized internationally as a temporal state, the world’s smallest.) The Carolingian king and the Roman pope thus became political and military allies, pledged to mutual long-term support.
Thus, when in 773 Desiderius, a later Lombard king, made renewed forays against Adrian I, a later pope, it was a foregone conclusion that Pepin’s son and successor Charles I, known as Charlemagne (“Charles the Great”), would intervene. Charlemagne did even better than his father, defeating the Lombards in Italy on their own ground and incorporating their kingdom into his own. After yet another intervention, this time on behalf of Adrian’s successor, Pope (later Saint) Leo III, Charlemagne entered Rome in triumph and was crowned by Leo on Christmas Day, 800 CE, as temporal ruler (with Leo as spiritual ruler) of the reconstituted Western Roman Empire. This date is traditionally said to inaugurate the so-called “Holy Roman Empire,” which lasted—in name, anyway—until the early nineteenth century. (The actual title Holy Roman Emperor was first assumed by Otto I, crowned in 962.)
- Citation (MLA):
- Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 1 The Curtain Goes Up." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 28 Aug. 2016. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-001002.xml>.
- Citation (APA):
- Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 1 The Curtain Goes Up. In Oxford University Press, Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 28 Aug. 2016, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-001002.xml
- Citation (Chicago):
- Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 1 The Curtain Goes Up." In Music from the Earliest Notations to the Sixteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 28 Aug. 2016, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume1/actrade-9780195384819-div1-001002.xml