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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Iconoclastic epoch (717-867)

Charles the Great and his significance for the Byzantine Empire 


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 2

Iconoclasm contributed its share toward preparing the event of 800. The papacy, which energetically protested against the iconoclastic measures of the Byzantine emperors and excommunicated the iconoclasts, turned to the West in the hope of finding friendship and defense in the Frankish kingdom among the rising major-domos (mayors of the palace), and later the kings of the Carolingian house. At the end of the eighth century the Frankish throne was occupied by the most famous representative of this house, Charles the Great or Charlemagne. Alcuin, a scholar and teacher at his court, wrote him a famous letter in June 799:

Hitherto there have been three exalted persons in the world. (The first is) the Apostolic sublimity who rules in his stead the see of the blessed Peter, the chief of the Apostles. Another is the imperial dignitary and secular possessor of the second Rome; but the report of how wickedly the ruler of that empire was dethroned, not through aliens but through his own citizens, spreads everywhere, The third is (the possessor of) the royal dignity which the will of our Lord Jesus Christ has bestowed upon you as a ruler of the Christian people, more excellent in power than the other dignitaries, more famous in wisdom, more sublime in the dignity of the kingdom. You are the avenger of crimes, the guide of those who have gone astray, the consoler of those who are in distress; it is given to you to exalt the good.

The mutual interests of the pope and the king of the Franks which eventually led to the coronation of the latter is a complex question, variously regarded in historical literature. The event itself is well known. On Christmas Day of the year 800, during the solemn service in the Church of St. Peter, Pope Leo III placed the imperial crown upon the head of the kneeling Charles. The people present in the church proclaimed To Charles, the most pious Augustus crowned by God, to the Great and Peace-giving, many years and victory!

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