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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2014

1 - Introduction

Summary

The dawn of the carolingian age

Late in the year 753, Pippin, king of the Franks, heard news that the pope had left Rome and was coming to visit him. This journey – the first time a pope had ever crossed the Alps – presented the king with both a problem and an opportunity. On the one hand, he may have known that what Pope Stephen II wanted was military protection, with all the risk and expense that that entailed, against an opponent in Italy, the king of the Lombards, whose predecessor had been Pippin's own godfather. On the other hand, the pope was just the kind of politically neutral and prestigious figure from whom Pippin could seek endorsement for the radical move he had made two years earlier, when he had usurped the throne of the Franks from the Merovingian dynasty that had held it for the previous two and a half centuries.

Neither Pippin nor Stephen quite appeciated the impact that their actions that winter would have but, in a process that typifies the problems faced by historians of this period, political significance was quickly heaped onto their meeting and within a few years the circumstances surrounding it were being intensively rewritten. Thus Stephen II's biographer, a clerk in the papal bureaucracy, reports that Pippin sent his young son Charles to meet the pope 100 miles from his destination and to escort him to the king, who knelt in homage before him. A Frankish source, on the other hand, has the pope and his attendant clergy kneeling before the king. Other Frankish sources assert that Pippin had already sought the approval of Stephen's predecessor for his usurpation; a claim apparently unknown to papal writers. It was certainly true that each could help the other. Frankish and papal sources concur that the pope anointed Pippin and his family. Pippin then secured the approval of the Frankish aristocracy and despatched campaigns in successive years which forced the Lombard king Aistulf to sue for peace. Returning home, Stephen reinforced his attachment to the Franks by granting buildings near St Peter's in Rome to the Parisian monastery of St Denis, the Frankish royal saint under whose auspices he had secured his alliance with Pippin.

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