Thursday, December 15, 2011

Carolingian Manipulation of the Definition of ‘Romans’


The Letter of Emperor Louis to Emperor Basil in 871

By Alexandros Hourani

Louis was the son of Lothair, son of Louis, son of Charlemagne. In 844, he became King of Italy. In 850, he was crowned as Emperor (of Rome) by Pope Leo IV. In 871, Emperor Basil reprehended him for using the title ‘Emperor of the Romans’. Consequently, Louis sent him a letter giving pretexts for holding the title. Here are excerpts from the letter showing how the Carolingians manipulated the definition of ‘Romans’ for their own interest. The consequences of this manipulation are still in effect nowadays.

Original:
“Lodoguicus divina ordinante providentia imperator augustus Romanorum dilectissimo spiritualique fratri nostro Basilio gloriosissimo et piissimo atque imperatori novae Romae.”

Translation:
“Louis, ordained by divine providence August Emperor of the Romans, to our most beloved and spiritual brother Basil, the most glorious and the most pious Emperor of New Rome.”

Commentary:
‘Emperor of the Romans’ means ‘Emperor of Rome’. Louis puts this title in opposition to ‘Emperor of New Rome’.

Original:
“Praeterea mirari se dilecta fraternitas tua significat, quod non Francorum set Romanorum imperatores appellemus set scire te convenit, quia nisi Romanorum imperatores essemus, utique nec Francorum.”

Translation:
“Besides, your beloved brotherhood signified your wondering why we call ourselves not Emperors of the Franks but Emperors of the Romans. However, it is convenient that you know that, unless we were Emperors of the Romans, certainly we would not be Emperors of the Franks.”

Commentary:
Basil understood by ‘Romans’ all the Romans of the East and West, and not just the inhabitants of Rome. Thus, for Basil, ruling Rome was not sufficient for Louis to carry this title because the majority of the Romans were under Basil’s rule. On the other hand, Louis understood (intentionally or unintentionally) by ‘Romans’ only the inhabitants of Rome, hence the misunderstanding and the two different perceptions. The definition upheld by Louis, be it intentional or unintentional, served his own interest. If Louis were to recognize the Romans of Basil as Romans not as Greeks, then he would be recognizing that Rome should be under Basil not under him. Obviously, this was not in his interest.

Original:
“A Romanis enim hoc nomen et dignitatem assumpsimus, apud quos profecto primum tantae culmen sublimitatis et appellationis effulsit, quorumque gentem et urbem divinitus gubernandam et matrem omnium ecclesiarum Dei defendendam atque sublimandam suscepimus, a qua et regnandi prius et postmodum imperandi auctoritatem prosapiae nostrae seminarium sumpsit. Nam Francorum principes primo reges, deinde vero imperatores dicti sunt, hii dumtaxat qui a Romano pontifice ad hoc oleo sancto perfusi sunt. In qua etiam Karolus Magnus, abavus noster, unctione huiusmodi per summum pontificem delibutus primus ex gente ac genealogia nostra pietate in eo habundante et imperator dictus et christus Domini factus est, praesertim cum saepe tales ad imperium sint asciti, qui nulla divina operatione per pontificum ministerium proposita solum a senatu et populo nichil horum curantibus imperatoria dignitate positi sunt; nonnulli vero nec sic, set tantum a militibus sunt clamati et in imperio stabiliti sunt, ita ut etiam horum quidam a feminis, quidam autem hoc atque alio modo ad imperii Romani sceptra promoti sunt. Porro si calumpniaris Romanum pontificem, quod gesserit, calumpniari poteris et Samuel, quod spreto Saule, quem ipse unxerat, David in regem ungere non renuerit.”

Translation:
“In fact, we took this name and dignity from the Romans, among whom certainly at first the summit of such a height and appellation shined out, whose nation and town we received from God to govern, and whose mother of all the churches of God we received from God to defend and to elevate. From this church also, the seed-planter of our family received the ability to be king first and, a little after, to be emperor. For the chiefs of the Franks were first called kings. Then those who were moistened with the sacred oil by the Roman pontiff were called emperors truly. Being anointed in this unction through this manner by the High Pontiff, Charlemagne, our great-grandfather, because of the piety abounding in him, was the first of our tribe who was called emperor and who was made christ of the Lord. Especially that, many times before, such persons have attained the empire as those who were posed in the imperatorial dignity by no divine operation set forth by pontifical ministry but only by the senate and the people without taking care of any of these. Some were acclaimed and put in the empire by soldiers very often indeed. Others arrived to the scepters of the Roman Empire through women or through other means. So, if you accuse the Roman Pontiff for what he did, you can accuse Samuel who did not refuse to anoint David as king after the rejection of Saul whom he anointed by himself.”

Commentary:
Here Louis is giving the pretext for holding the title. He says that he holds the title and dignity because he took the title from the Romans themselves, i.e. the people of Rome. He argues that this title and dignity appeared first in Rome and that he received from God Rome, the people of Rome and the Church of Rome. From this Church, his ancestor, Charlemagne, received the title of king, then of emperor, when the Pope anointed him as emperor. Because he was anointed by the Pope, Charlemagne became christ of the Lord, i.e. anointed by the Lord. Christ here means anointed. Louis says that the manner by which he and Charlemagne became emperors was different from the manner by which previous emperors attained this dignity. He says that most of those emperors came to power though the senate and the people, through soldiers, through women (here implying Irene), or through other means. On the contrary, he and Charlemagne were anointed by the Pope, hence by God. In this manner, by claiming that God made him Emperor of the Romans, while previous emperors were made emperors through non-divine manners, he is asserting the lawfulness of his title and dignity.

Original:
“Ergo cum ita sit, cur nos satagis reprehendere, quoniam ex Francis oriundi Romani moderamur habenas imperii, cum in omni gente qui timet Deum acceptus sit illi? Et certe Theodosius maior et filii eius, Arcadius et Honorius, atque Theodosius minor, Arcadii filius, ex Hispanis ad imperii Romani culmen assumpti sunt, nec tamen invenimus quod aliqui clamaverint vel reprehenderint, quod non Romanus, sed Hispanus existeret, vel restiterint aut prohibuerint filios eius in loco patris et honore succedere.”

Translation:
“Since this is how things are, why are you always busy reprehending us that, while we originate from the Franks, we are holding the reins of the Roman Empire, while among all the nations that fear God this thing is accepted? In fact, Theodosius senior and his sons, Arcadius and Honorius, and Theodosius junior, son of Arcadius, originating all from the Spaniards, rose to the height of the Roman Empire, but we did not find anyone who claimed or reprehended him that he was Spaniard not Roman or anyone who prohibited his sons from succeeding to their father’s position and honor.”

Commentary:
According to Basil and to Roman custom, non-Romans could not become emperors. All Roman emperors until Basil were Romans. This is what Basil implied when he reprehended Louis for holding this title although he was a Frank. However, the definition of ‘Romans’ by Louis was different from the definition of Basil. That is why Louis wonders about why Basil was reprehending him. He proceeds to give a justification of his title based on an erroneous understanding of history. He says that although Theodosius was a Spaniard, nobody claimed that he was not Roman, and nobody prohibited his sons from succeeding to their father’s position. Here, he is comparing Theodosius with Charlemagne and the sons of Theodosius with himself. This passage shows that Louis did not know the historic meaning of ‘Romans’, which was still preserved by Basil and his Romans, and that he did not know the situation during the time of Theodosius. The pretext of Louis makes sense only if ‘Romans’ is defined as ‘the people of Rome’. Had Louis known that ‘Romans’ did not mean only this, his pretext would have been useless. By projecting his own definition and perception onto earlier times, he was providing a pretext that served his interest in preserving his rule. Thus, intentionally or unintentionally, his definition of ‘Romans’ served his interest, which meant that he would never adopt the full definition of ‘Romans’ because that would threaten his rule.

Original:
“Sicut ergo potuit Deus de lapidibus suscitare filios Abrahae, ita potuit de Francorum duritia Romani suscitare successores imperii; et sicut si Christi sumus, secundum apostolum Abrahae semen existimus, ita si sumus Christi, omnia possumus per gratiam ipsius, quae possunt illi, qui videntur existere Christi; et sicut nos per fidem Christi Habrahae semen existimus Iudaeique propter perfidiam Abrahae filii esse desierunt, ita quoque nobis propter bonam opinionem, orthodosiam, regimen imperii Romani suscepimus; Graeci propter kacodosiam, id est malam opinionem, Romanorum imperatores existere cessaverunt, deserentes videlicet non solum urbem et sedes imperii, set et gentem Romanam et ipsam quoque linguam penitus amittentes atque ad aliam urbem, sedem, gentem et linguam per omnia transmigrantes.”

Translation:
“As God was able to raise up children of Abraham from stones, thus he was able to raise up the successors of the Roman Empire from the hardness of the Franks. And since, if we are from Christ, according to the apostle, we are the seed of Abraham; thus, if we are from Christ, by his grace we have power of everything that those, who are seen to be from Christ, have power of. And as we, for our faith in Christ, are the seed of Abraham, and the Jews, for their faithlessness, ceased to be the children of Abraham, thus, for our good opinion, that is orthodoxy, we took the command of the Roman Empire, while, for their cacodoxy, that is bad opinion, the Greeks ceased to be Emperors of the Romans. The Greeks have abandoned not only the town and the seat of the empire, but also have lost the Roman nation and that language itself, having transmigrated in everything into another town, seat, nation and language.”

Commentary:
Here Louis gives more justifications for his position from the Bible and Gospel. He is saying that because he was anointed by the Pope, the successor of Christ, his position is derived from Christ. He gives an analogy between Christians and Jews, on the one hand, and Franks and Greeks, on the other hand. In the same manner as the Christians have become the children of Abraham for their faith while the Jews ceased to be for their faithlessness, thus the Franks have become Emperors of the Romans for their orthodoxy while the Greeks ceased to be because of their cacodoxy. He recognizes that the Greeks were Romans before but that they abandoned the town and the seat of the empire, Rome, and transferred it to Constantinople, that they ceased to be Romans and became Greeks, and that they abandoned Latin and adopted Greek. However, at no time before 871 did part of the Romans suddenly become Greeks, as he is claiming. All these justifications are not based on any historic event, but on his own imagination and explanation of events that suited his interest.

The following conclusions can be deduced from this text:

1) The prime interest of the Carolingians, since Charlemagne, was to keep Rome and the Pope under their rule. Controlling the Pope meant controlling all Western Christians.

2) To keep Rome under their rule, they had to manipulate the definition of ‘Romans’ by defining it as the people of Rome only and by excluding the other Romans from this definition.

3) Their definition of ‘Romans’ meant the destruction of Western Romans who were living under the Carolingians. The reason is the following. If the Romans were just the people of Rome, then the Romans of Gaul and northern Italy would not be Romans because they did not inhabit Rome. In this manner, any solidarity between the Romans of the Carolingian Empire was dissolved and the threat they were posing to the Franks was eliminated. Any solidarity between the Romans of Rome and the Romans of Gaul and northern Italy was also eliminated in this manner.

4) Excluding the Romans of southern Italy and the East from this definition, by calling them only Greeks, was meant to prevent them from claiming Rome. Recognizing the Greeks as Romans meant that the Carolingians were giving the Greeks pretexts to recover Rome. Obviously, this was not in the interest of the Carolingians.

In brief, the Carolingians changed the definition of ‘Romans’ in Latin in order to preserve their interest in keeping Rome under their rule. Their manipulation of the definition is seen in all history books written by the historians of the Carolingians like Paul the Deacon or Eginhard. The historians of the Carolingians are the direct predecessors of all modern historians like Mommsen, Gibbon and others who have dealt with Roman history. The Carolingian point of view is still seen among those historians until now.

Since the Carolingians manipulated definitions and historic events back then in order to suit their interests, why is it that modern historians are still holding to the erroneous Carolingian point of view?

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