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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2010

3 - A “principality of priests”: the inauguration of Europe


If Trier embodies the Rhineland of the Romans, Aachen embodies the Rhineland of the Franks, who once ruled a territory almost coterminous with that of the six signatory states of the 1957 Treaty of Rome from this small city lodged today at the intersection of the German, Belgian, and Dutch borders. Its octagonal Imperial Cathedral, site of Charlemagne's throne, was, at the time of its construction, the tallest edifice north of the Alps (see plate 3.1). Its innovative fusion of Roman and Byzantine styles influenced western architecture for centuries. The late eighth and early ninth centuries were a time of prodigious ecclesiastical construction. New construction “brought to light” a political space that restored, and was legitimated by, the twin legacies of the old and new Rome – the old Rome of classical Latin speech and rational administration, and the new, Constantinian Rome of God and Church. It was an ambitious and costly enterprise, inaugurated by the coup de force of forged evidence that posited a close, cooperative relationship between the bishop of Rome and an emperor whom he “restored” to power to govern and evangelize Gaul and the northern barbarian march. Rhineland commercial links with the Baltic Sea and central Asia helped finance this vast enterprise. Discursive revolution and Rhineland commerce forged, in mutual resonance, a new myth of place, a new ontopology called “Europe.”

This chapter interrogates this ontopology by tracing it to the coup de force that engendered it, the “Donation of Constantine.

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