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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 3

Scholars have expressed differing opinions on the significance of Charles' acceptance of the imperial rank. Some have believed that the title of emperor gave him no new rights and that in reality he still remained, as before, only a king of the Franks and Lombards, and a Roman patrician; that is, that in receiving the crown Charles assumed only a new name. Others have thought that through the coronation of Charles in the year 800 a new western empire was created which was entirely independent of the existence of the Eastern or Byzantine Empire. To regard the event of 800 in either of these ways would mean to introduce into this analysis the opinions of later times. At the end of the eighth century there was not, and could not be, any question of a titulary emperor, or of the formation of a separate western empire. The coronation of Charles must be analyzed from a contemporary point of view, i.e. as it was looked upon by the participants of the event, by Charles the Great and Leo III.

Neither of these rulers intended to create a western empire which would counterbalance the Eastern Empire. Charles was undoubtedly convinced that upon receiving the title of emperor in the year 800 he became the sole ruler and the continuator of the single Roman Empire. The event meant only that Rome had reclaimed from Constantinople the right of imperial election.

The mind of that time could not conceive of the simultaneous existence of two empires; in its very substance the Empire was single. The imperial dogma of a sole empire rested upon the dogma of a sole God, since only in his capacity of God's temporary deputy could the emperor exercise divine authority on earth. The prevailing conditions of this period facilitated the popular acceptance of this view of imperial power, and it was the only view possible at the time.

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