“Cities are praised in a manner similar to men.”Footnote 1 So wrote the Roman rhetorician Quintilian in his Institutio oratoria. In Book III of that work, Quintilian surveyed the principles of epideictic rhetoric, identifying appropriate objects for praise or blame, and setting out the criteria by which such evaluative judgments should be made.Footnote 2 After sketching proper grounds for praising gods and men, Quintilian turned to the praise of cities. “The founder stands for the father,” he wrote, “age gives authority [. . .] and the virtues and vices seen in actions are the same as those of individuals.”Footnote 3 “The only particular features” of cities, he concluded, “are those which come from the site and the fortifications.”Footnote 4 Quintilian's Institutio oratoria had a considerable impact on medieval education and rhetorical composition.Footnote 5 Numerous early medieval authors produced poetic panegyrics to cities that exemplified some or all of his precepts.Footnote 6 While many scholars have examined the classical structures and topoi comprising the genre known as laudes urbium, Quintilian's particular comparison between the praise of cities and the praise of men remains largely unexplored.Footnote 7 Furthermore, the integral link between the virtues of cities and those of citizens transcends the context of late antique and early medieval rhetorical education, finding expression in a much broader range of sources including hagiographies, hymns, annals, letters, and epigraphic inscriptions.
This study uncovers the connections between the conduct of citizens and the fortunes of cities instantiated in late antique and early medieval civic discourse, with a geographic focus on the kingdoms that comprised western Europe.Footnote 8 The virtutes et vitia of individuals and cities were the same, as Quintilian suggests, because a virtuous citizenry was considered a necessary condition for the virtues of the city itself. Indeed, even the walls or fortifications, which Quintilian took to be peculiar to cities, develop within this discourse into physical indices of the relative virtue of citizens. As the defensive and defining structures of the early medieval civitas, walls and fortifications echoed the triumphs and tribulations of virtuous or fallen citizens.
Civic discourse appears in the first place in the classical and late antique terminology used to describe the city and its citizens.Footnote 9 Grounded in both the Roman and biblical inheritance, key terms such as civitas, cives, urbs, murus, and moenia occur across a wide range of texts, from hagiographical narratives of saints warding off threats to their cities to laws denoting who can and cannot dwell within the city walls.Footnote 10 These same terms pepper panegyrics praising citizens and cities for their virtuous actions, and color invectives condemning other cities for dwelling in vice. The concepts and models central to civic discourse also surface in early medieval images, from personified civitates flanking early medieval kings and emperors to manuscript illuminations depicting the biblical cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Yet civic discourse does not only refer to the terminology and iconography transmitted from the classical and biblical past into late antique and early medieval contexts. Just as importantly, it encompasses the words and phrases, hymns and prayers ascribed to citizens and even, at times, attributed to cities themselves. In order to understand how the city speaks, we must attend to all of its voices. This study will explore how civic discourse in late antique and early medieval texts describing the city, as well as epigraphic inscriptions carved onto the fabric of the city, both incorporated an inherited language and found striking ways to convey that language into the mouths of cities and citizens.
Any discussion of the early medieval civitas, cives, and civic discourse raises fundamental questions about the nature and survival not only of these terms, but also of the physical city itself. Scholars have long debated the extent to which cities declined throughout the transformation of the western Roman Empire into early medieval kingdoms, and whether — particularly outside the Italian peninsula — civic identity or civic consciousness persisted.Footnote 11 One major area in which this debate has played out concerns the comparative upkeep or neglect of city walls. As a means of fortification and delimitation, city walls remained a crucial feature of urban life throughout Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages.Footnote 12 Indeed, few architectural features were so diligently maintained during the transition from the Roman Empire to the early medieval world.Footnote 13 Italian city walls, often initially constructed or extensively reconstructed between the late third and early fifth centuries, “were repaired continuously through and beyond the Lombard period, becoming one of the most distinctive physical and psychological features of postclassical urbanism.”Footnote 14 Even with the significant decline of manufactured goods and technical architectural standards characteristic of the seventh century, archaeologists have demonstrated that “selected elements of the monumental patrimony inherited from the past, notably city walls,” continued to be kept up.Footnote 15
While the physical context of urban fortifications is crucial, it is equally important to recognize the political, spiritual, and symbolic aspects of these same structures in this period. Saints, for example, often cast as protectors of individual cities, were even at times depicted as patrolling city walls, thus providing ideal exempla for ordinary citizens to emulate.Footnote 16 More crucially, the collective body of citizens sheltered by city walls were implored regularly to gather together at times of crisis and of celebration to praise their city and its saints, or to pray for deliverance from imminent demise.Footnote 17
Tracing this robust civic discourse will take us through several crucial arenas of late antique and early medieval thought. The first section of this article focuses on the most interior, and most figurative, strains of civic discourse: those pertaining to the construction of the individual's mind and soul. Here I examine the motif of the mind as a fortified citadel, the casting of ecclesiastical and secular leaders as city walls, and the extension of civic terminology to preeminently non-urban places, such as monasteries. The second section analyzes how cities could be granted human qualities through the rhetorical technique of personification and considers how the personified city and its saints could serve to encourage citizens to virtuous action and praise, particularly through urban processions. The third section turns to civic encomia and invectives, showing how these exhortatory texts tied the virtues and vices of citizens to the maintenance or neglect of city walls. The fourth and final section presents a historical and epigraphical case study of Pope Leo IV's two programs of mural construction in ninth-century Rome.
“The Virtues Enter the City:” Constructions of Civic Virtue in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages
Late antique and early medieval authors twinned civic discourse with virtus in numerous contexts. Readers and auditors were urged to fortify their minds; secular and ecclesiastic leaders were cast as city walls or other defensive structures; even preeminently non-urban spaces, such as monasteries, at times were cloaked in civic terminology. An initial survey of the extension of the terms of civic discourse in this period will establish just how deeply calls for citizens to practice virtus could resonate.
Late antique and early medieval authors often referred to the mind as an arx virtutum, which must constantly be defended lest vitia creep in. The mind-as-citadel motif has antique roots, tracing back to Cicero's explication of the Platonic division of the tripartite soul governed by reason placed “in the head as in the citadel.”Footnote 18 In the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo wove this classical motif into the fourteenth book of his De civitate Dei, suggesting that “those philosophers” came close to truth in their assessment that the third part of the soul resides “in a kind of citadel, to rule the other parts, so that, with reason in command and the other parts serving it, justice be preserved as between all the parts of man's soul.”Footnote 19
An arx signified not only command, but also safety — whether for the physical or figurative city. According to Bishop Isidore of Seville (d. 636) in his immensely influential Etymologiae, “citadels (arces) are the high, fortified parts of a city, for whatever are the safest places in a city are called citadels from their holding off (arcere) the enemy.”Footnote 20 One of the chief enemies of the mind, for the fifth-century monk John Cassian, was the vice of pride. After comparing pride to a pestilence that destroys the entire body, Cassian declares that pride takes possession of one's mind, “as if a most savage tyrant, having captured the loftiest citadel of the virtues, utterly destroys and lays waste the entire city.”Footnote 21
Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604) capitalized on this metaphor of the mind as a fortified city in his own discussion about virtue and vice. In his Regula pastoralis, Gregory addressed the dangers of extremes of speech — either talking too much or absolute silence — through biblical exegesis. Discussing “those who spend time in much speaking,” Gregory cited Proverbs 25:28, which states that “As a city that lieth open and is not compassed with walls, so is a man that cannot refrain his own spirit in speaking.”Footnote 22 Gregory builds upon this metaphor, arguing that “because it has not the wall of silence, the city of the mind lies open to the darts of the foe.”Footnote 23 Walls, for Gregory, could also signify virtues themselves. In his condemnation of the vice of gluttony, Gregory builds upon the verse in 2 Kings 25:10, which states “the chief of the cooks broke down the walls of Jerusalem.”Footnote 24 For Gregory, the walls of Jerusalem “are the virtues of the soul, elevated to a longing for supernal peace,” while the chief of cooks symbolizes the vice of gluttony “because when the belly is held in gluttony, the virtues of the soul are destroyed through lust.”Footnote 25
The metaphor of the fortified mind, and the perilous consequences of any breach by vice, recurred throughout early medieval texts. In biblical commentaries, this particular exegetical reading from the Regula Pastoralis appeared in seventh-century Northumbria with Bede's Super parabolas Salomonis allegorica expositio as well as in ninth-century Francia with Hrabanus Maurus's Expositio in proverbia Salomonis.Footnote 26 Yet, this metaphor was not confined to the exegetical sphere. Indeed, late antique authors’ instrumentalization of this metaphor of the mind as an enclosed fortress finds expression in Old English poems, including the Juliana and Vainglory.Footnote 27 Both of these poems characterize the mind as a fortress, which can come under attack from the devil through the vices if not well fortified by the virtues. In Vainglory, the anonymous poet contrasts the virtuous with the vicious, the latter of whom is controlled by the sin of pride. The poet describes the mind of a prideful man as one that has “let missiles of deceit / shatter that city-wall (burgweal) which God commended to him / in order that he should defend that rampart.”Footnote 28 Whether in exegesis or poetry, each of these authors drew on a shared civic discourse, speaking across the conventions of genre and encouraging their readers to fortify their own minds.
Along with walls and citadels, late antique and early medieval authors utilized another fortified structure, the castrum, to signify mental fortifications in relation to virtues and vices. Perhaps the most eloquent example appears in the Psychomachia written by the fifth-century Iberian lawyer-turned-bishop Prudentius.Footnote 29 In this immensely popular poetic account of the battle of the virtues and the vices, Prudentius only rarely uses terminology associated specifically with cities. In his preface, he mentions the urbes of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as the holy city of Jerusalem.Footnote 30 However, as the pitched battle between the virtues and the vices comes to a conclusion, the virtue Concordia commands her army to divide into two long columns: “the infantry, in one column, intoned psalms; while on the other side the cavalry sang out hymns.”Footnote 31 The other virtues follow her lead: “when they had conquered the swarm of the vices, the virtues in their sweet measured psalms echoed their sacred songs.”Footnote 32 Prudentius then describes these melodious soldiers as entering the narrow passages of the gate of the fortification (ad fauces portae castrensis).Footnote 33 Significantly, several early medieval manuscripts labeled their ornate illuminations of this joyous event “the virtues enter the city” (virtutes urbem ingrediuntur).Footnote 34 Multiple ninth- and tenth-century manuscripts likewise glossed this castrum as urbs, suggesting some interchangeability in these civic terms.Footnote 35
Prudentius himself draws out the close connections between the fortified mental city and physical civic sites. After Concordia was injured as she entered through the porta castrensis, the virtue Fides convinces the assembled virtues to follow Solomon's example by building a templum within their castrum.Footnote 36 Fides then rhetorically asks, “For what does it profit to have driven back with the sword the earthly phalanx of vices, if the Son of Man coming down from high heaven and entering the city of the cleansed body (purgati corporis urbem) finds it unadorned and lacking a shining temple?”Footnote 37 The crux of Fides's speech correlates Solomon's temple within Jerusalem with an embodied urbs symbolizing the individual human being's readiness for the Second Coming. Whether figured as arx, castrum, or urbs, this civic terminology rhetorically asks its audience to envision themselves as a fortified city, guarded against vice and girded with virtus.
The fortified city required strong impregnable walls. In early medieval panegyrics, secular and ecclesiastical leaders at times became these very physical defenses of the city and its citizens. The Merovingian poet Venantius Fortunatus fused the physical defense of the city and the virtuous protection provided by its leader in an epideictic poem in praise of Bishop Vilicus of Metz (d. 568). Amongst praise for the happily situated city and the many merits of its bishop, Venantius apostrophizes the city of Metz, declaiming “O city, exceedingly well fortified, girt with wall (murus) and river, / you stand to flourish all the more through the merit of your bishop.”Footnote 38 Venantius then turns to address Vilicus directly, casting the bishop himself as those walls, for “however much the wicked threatens with his vain blows, / they for whom you are a wall fear no hurt.”Footnote 39
Carolingian authors likewise employed this metaphor of the ideal episcopal leader as civic structure and extended it to secular leaders as well. Abbot Alcuin of Tours wrote to Archbishop Æthelheard of Canterbury admonishing him to “be a shepherd, not a mercenary; a ruler, not an insurgent; light and not darkness, a city walled with firm faith (civitas firma fide murata), not a house destroyed by rains.”Footnote 40 The Carolingian bishop Theodulf of Orléans (d. 821) crafted an epitaph for the recently deceased Pope Hadrian in which a personified Rome and her people — including “people of both sexes, the old, the young, the boy, the stranger (advena), and the citizen (civis)” — were called to “remember always this bishop [Hadrian] / who was the guardian of your riches, [who was] your arms and your wall.”Footnote 41 Theodulf employs this same phrase — murus et arma — in the preface to his Libellus de processione spiritus sancti, in which Theodulf characterizes this “little book” as travelling to the Carolingian court and addressing Emperor Charlemagne itself. In the dialogue between the book and the emperor, the Libellus praises Charlemagne (who was still living) as the “decus of the world, the light of the kingdom, the defender of equality, as well as the murus et arma of the Catholic faith.”Footnote 42 Most poignantly, there is an epitaph composed by Bishop David II of Benevento (d. 796) for Romoald, who died soon after a series of failed negotiations on behalf of his father, Duke Arichis of Benevento, with Charlemagne.Footnote 43 In this epitaph, supposedly engraved on the young heir's grave, David hailed Romoald as “the most beautiful of the great Arichis's children / The one hope of their patria, its walls and arms.”Footnote 44
Although ideally enclosed and separated from the external world, early medieval texts on the monastic life at times employed civic discourse to illuminate how these largely non-urban communities should live.Footnote 45 Hendrik Dey, for instance, has argued that walls played a central role in the formation of monastic identity in his examination of monastic rules from the fifth and sixth centuries.Footnote 46 Although the number of instances of murus and related terms are limited, Dey finds that “conceptual walls” — that is, figural walls that separate the monks from the outside world — permeate these monastic rules.Footnote 47 He draws attention to passages in the anonymous sixth-century work known as the Regula magistri, in which the body (and, indeed, the mind) of the monk is compared to a fortified enclosure.Footnote 48 In one such passage, the Regula magistri conjures a metaphor comparing evil thoughts consuming the mind to a palace filled with mire and ineffective fortifications:
It is inappropriate that a palace should be cleansed on the outside while the room within is soiled with filth. Instead, the correct thing to do is to throw out the filth from inside, and only then the outside to be cleansed. Indeed, entrenchments (fossata) cannot be secure when the enemy is within. So also a bolted door is its own captor when the walls (muri) do not keep the enemy out, but hold him enclosed.Footnote 49
The monk's mind as a fortified space finds further expression through the lens of civic discourse centuries later in Carolingian collections and commentaries on monastic life. In his Expositio regulae, Hildemar of Corbie and Civate compares those fighting alongside their fellow soldiers within a city to those monks who fought against the devil within the monastery.Footnote 50 The comparison of a fortified city and a monastery is even more direct in the chapter on the character of the prior of the monastery. Hildemar recalls that Benedict of Nursia was greatly concerned with potential discord arising in the monastery, to the point that this represented “such a great evil that all good can be destroyed by the evil of discord.”Footnote 51 The Expositio then goes on to state that the corpus monasterii must be united against this malum discordiae, otherwise “it would not be able to stand against the enemy; because if a city or army fighting against an enemy were divided, it would not prevail, but [instead] would be given into the hands of its enemies by those whom it considers the opposition.”Footnote 52
The cardinal civic term civitas could at times be applied to non-urban spaces and communities, as the seventh-century Antiphonary of Bangor attests.Footnote 53 Written sometime between 680 and 691, this antiphonary contains a hymn labeled in rubricated letters as Versiculi familiae Benchuir. After describing the rule and community of Bangor as full of virtue and happiness, the hymn offers a series of metaphors for the monastery itself, casting it as a sturdy ship, an expectant bride, a house built on a rock, and “the true vine / Transferred from Egypt.”Footnote 54 It proceeds to describe Bangor as “Surely a firm city, / Strong and united, / Glorious and worthy, / Situated on a mountain,” and, a verse later, as a “queen for Christ / Clothed in the light of the sun / Simple, yet learned, / Unconquered on all sides.”Footnote 55 While not fully drawn out in this short hymn, these verselets’ association between a physical civitas and an unconquered regina could be read as suggesting a reinterpretation of the classical personified city.Footnote 56 In this case, the author defined Bangor equally as a city on a mountain, a queen, and a community girded by a series of virtues.Footnote 57
As these varied texts and contexts indicate, civic discourse penetrated to the core of late antique and early medieval thinking about how individuals and communities should structure their actions. It provided a framework for mental fortification, a vocabulary for praising exemplary individuals, and a flexible iconography which could be adapted even to non-urban places like monasteries. The primary link between each of these uses of civic terminology consists in the need for one's civitas to be guarded, to be defended, and to be peopled with virtue.
Civic Personification and Public Processions in Late Antique and Early Medieval Cities
Human beings, as we have seen, can be described as cities. Cities, in their turn, could be figured as human beings. In their discussions of cities past and present, classical and medieval authors frequently employed the rhetorical technique of personification, or prosopopoeia.Footnote 58 Deeply rooted in rhetorical tradition, personification “operates in multiple registers — sensory and spiritual, visible and invisible, concrete and abstract — and it deals in facts, opinions and beliefs.”Footnote 59 Exercising impressive powers of imagination, authors across this period cast cities in specific human forms, cloaked them with carefully considered attributes, and placed eloquent speeches into their mouths.Footnote 60
One distinctive feature of the technique of personification is that it can be employed equally in texts and images. Scholars such as Gudrun Bühl and Alan Cameron have drawn attention to the complex ways in which the personified cities of Rome and Constantinople figured in a variety of media throughout Late Antiquity.Footnote 61 The image of the personified Roma often stands behind newly elected consuls in consular diptychs of the fifth and sixth centuries, while in one particularly intriguing set, the personified cities of Rome and Constantinople each take up an entire frame of ivory.Footnote 62 Other leading cities of the late Empire were also personified. Londinium, for instance, appears on a gold medallion minted in the wake of Constantius Chlorus's reconquest of Britain in 296 CE; kneeling, she raises her hands in supplication in front of the turreted gates of the city wall.Footnote 63 Personified cities also populate the folios of deluxe early medieval copies of late antique manuscripts. The intricate compilation of late antique pagan and Christian texts and images known variously as the Codex-Calendar of 354, the Chronograph of 354, or the Calendar of Philocalus, for instance, contains four full-page illustrations of the city tyches of Rome, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Trier.Footnote 64 Each personified city sits or stands draped in chitons and embellished with distinctive insignia, as Rome sits clad in armor and Constantinople stands adorned with a mural crown.Footnote 65 These illuminations of personified cities, along with the personifications transmitted through other manuscripts such as the Notitia Dignitatum, had a demonstrable impact on Carolingian and Ottonian illuminated manuscripts.Footnote 66
Shifting from image to text, the personified city also figures prominently in the works of several late antique authors, including the fourth-century poets Claudian (d. 404) and his contemporary Prudentius, already mentioned above. In 404, Claudian stood before the assembled crowds of Rome to praise their approaching emperor, Honorius, in a threefold celebration of the emperor's triumph over the Goths, his slightly belated decennalia, and his sixth consulship.Footnote 67 Claudian cast a lengthy section of his panegyric as a dialogue between the young emperor and a personified Rome — who, unable to bear any longer the delay of “what the City with one voice was praying for,” — convinces the young ruler to return.Footnote 68 After recounting the emperor's journey from Ravenna, Claudian describes the recently rebuilt Aurelian walls as the source of Rome's defense and renewal.Footnote 69 Immediately after this description, Claudian shifts focus to Rome's citizens. “All the space,” Claudian declaims, “that extends from the Palatine hill as far as the Milvian Bridge, and from the ground up as far as the roofs could soar, was filled by a crowd that wore a single face: you could see the ground flooded with waves of men and the high buildings ablaze with matrons.”Footnote 70 Together this mixed and massive assembly praised the emperor and judged that Honorius had come before them as a fellow citizen (civem).Footnote 71 In this panegyric intended for public performance, Claudian places the citizens directly on the fabric of the physical city, enlivening the streets and illuminating the buildings. In doing so, the poet blurs the boundary between the city as physical site and as rhetorical conceit.Footnote 72
Claudian's contemporary Prudentius likewise brings cities to life through the technique of personification.Footnote 73 Quite apart from the Psychomachia, his Liber Peristephanon, a collection of fourteen poems composed in a wide variety of meters and set as hymns, charts how various saints abide in and guide the civitates in which they were martyred and where their tombs reside.Footnote 74 In his eloquent study of Prudentius, Cillian O'Hogan rightly argues that the poet centers the martyr of each hymn as the heart of their respective cities. However, while O'Hogan suggests that “the city itself fades into the background,” this effacement does not include the civic community, or the citizens’ connection to their civic space.Footnote 75
For Prudentius, a martyr can transform the physical city and its citizens alike. In his metrical hymn for Bishop Fructuosus and deacons Augurius and Eulogius of Tarragona, for example, Prudentius addresses their personified city as felix Tarraco, whose head (caput) is aflame with the fire of her three martyrs and whose happiness stems from God's favor “for it is the mighty Trinity that crowns / With triple martyrs this Iberian city (arcem).”Footnote 76 This personification recurs at the hymn's conclusion, when Prudentius proclaims “Oh, how our city's head is exalted! Triple / Honor, triple glory we obtain / In towering over all the cities of Spain!”Footnote 77 He then entreats “choirs of both sexes [to] stand and sing / Grown men, maidens, boys, girls, and the old” all together to chant hymns in praise of their martyrs.Footnote 78 Prudentius then links this civic choir's hymns to the physical city itself, entreating the singers to redouble their voices so that the gilded roofs of the city (arx) will resound.Footnote 79
Prudentius restates this intricate connection between citizens, martyrs, and the personified city in his hymn for the eighteen martyrs of Caesaraugusta (modern-day Zaragoza). Unlike many other hymns in the Peristephanon, these verses do not narrate their subjects’ martyrdom. Instead, Prudentius envisions a Judgment Day “when God, upon on a cloud of flame, / Shaking His flashing hand, shall come / To set His scale, to bless or blame, / Weighing all justly.”Footnote 80 When this occurs, according to Prudentius, individual cities will raise their heads and rush to meet Christ, bearing their martyrs along in baskets.Footnote 81 Carthage bears the bones of Cyprian, Tarragona proffers “a diadem / Fructuosus wove with triple gems,” while Alcala delights in bearing the blood of Justus forward.Footnote 82 After narrating this parade of personified cities bearing relics of their saints, Prudentius then declares that Caesaraugusta will step forward, outshining each of the other cities with her eighteen martyrs and a head wreathed with golden olives.Footnote 83 Because she bears so many martyrs, Prudentius claims that Caesaraugusta stood alone as “richer than all who have adored Him.”Footnote 84 Crucially, Prudentius concludes this hymn by addressing the sancta civitas of Caesaraugusta, entreating the city to “prostrate yourself, with me, great city, / Upon these holy graves” in order to ensure that Caesaraugusta and its citizens will indeed be resurrected.Footnote 85 Throughout his hymns, Prudentius emphasizes the power of the personified city and its citizens, whose voices echoed throughout the physical city.
Prudentius's hymnal retrospective on the Christian transformation of civitates in the Roman world resonated far beyond fifth-century Iberia.Footnote 86 The widespread reception of Prudentius's work throughout western Christendom in the early Middle Ages has attracted the attention of several scholars, who have carefully analyzed the extensive glossing traditions, the magnificent illumination cycles (particularly of his Psychomachia), and the incorporation of Prudentian phrases into new works.Footnote 87 The Peristephanon has been identified as a model for one of the most famous authors of the tenth century, the Ottonian canoness Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim.Footnote 88 As a Christian response to Terence's plays, Hrotsvitha created eight sacred stories in poetic form for the delight of an educated audience, at times peppering her plays with Prudentian phrases.Footnote 89
Hrotsvitha framed one of these stories, the tenth-century martyrdom of a young Leonese Christian, Pelagius, within a decidedly civic context, beginning with the personified city of Córdoba.Footnote 90 After an initial prayer from Hrotsvitha herself to the young martyr in heaven, the poem begins by describing the city of Córdoba as an urbs augusta, illustrious and renowned, but with the very human failing of superba due to her new fierceness in war.Footnote 91 Once a city filled with Christian cives ruled by a virtuous Christian king, the city now suffers under the yoke of a perfidia gens led by a perverse and profane man.Footnote 92 As a result, the lamenting city (maerentem urbem) was filled with many barbarous enemies, who “defiled the ancient mother of pure faith” by attempting to persuade the rightful inhabitants (iusti coloni) to discard their patrios mores.Footnote 93
Over the course of this poetic passio, Pelagius suffers the life of a hostage and the unwanted advances of the caliph, which resulted in the caliph ordering the young Christian to be catapulted from the walls of Córdoba onto the rocky banks of the river below, and eventually his decapitation. After his remains were found by fishermen, Pelagius's remains were brought secretly to an unnamed monastery consecrated within the city's walls (urbis muros) where a Christian throng soon gathered to receive the relics of their recent martyr while singing hymns.Footnote 94 According to Hrotsvitha, the caliph had tried to eject Pelagius from the city, hurling him over the city walls and, consequently away from Córdoba's cives; however, Pelagius triumphed not only by gaining his martyr's crown, but also by returning to the very heart of the Christian community, with the city once more reverberating with the voices of its Christian citizens.
In each of these authors, the personified city was accompanied by the songs, hymns, and resonating voices of its citizens. Personification permitted poets to put words into the mouths of cities, while public processions provided an opportunity to air the voice of the entire body of citizens.Footnote 95 Gregory of Tours, for instance, provides a record of Visigothic citizens coming together to defend their city through processions in the sixth century.Footnote 96 According to Gregory, the Merovingian king Childebert I and his son Chlothar I led a campaign into the Iberian peninsula in 542. As the kings and their army besieged the city of Zaragoza, Gregory claims that the citizens
turned in great humility to God: they dressed themselves in hair-shirts, abstained from eating and drinking, and marched round the city walls singing psalms and carrying the tunic of Saint Vincent the martyr. Their women-folk followed them, weeping and wailing, dressed in black garments, with their hair blowing free and with ashes on their heads.Footnote 97
Gregory states that the Merovingians had no idea what was happening around the walls of Zaragoza, for “as they watched them march round the walls they imagined that it was some curious kind of black magic.”Footnote 98 After they learned that the citizens were praying to St. Vincent for deliverance, the Merovingian army became afraid and “they withdrew from that city.”Footnote 99
The mounting of civic processions in the face of danger would not have been unknown to Gregory of Tours. In his Liber in Gloria confessorum, Gregory narrates how, in the wake of news of a certain “plague of the groin” spreading throughout Germania, the people of Reims rushed to the tomb of St. Remigius where “they kept watch for the entire night while singing hymns and celestial psalms.”Footnote 100 The following morning, the citizens were divinely inspired to “fortify the defense of the city (urbs) with a still more effective defense.”Footnote 101 Gregory of Tours plays with the word propugnaculum here, a term that signified defense or a bulwark in a general sense, but one that was also closely tied to city walls.Footnote 102 The additional layer — which, according to Gregory was the more effective layer — of defense for the city lay in the procession of its citizens and their supplications to St. Remigius. The citizens of Reims journeyed “around the city (circumeunt urbem) as well as [through] its villages” with St. Remigius's shroud.Footnote 103 Thankfully, Gregory reports that as the plague approached the city's border (fines huius civitatis), the pestilence could not advance past the edge of the processional route. Gregory's portrayal of these liturgical responses to urban menaces points to the continued currency of a civic discourse in which the communal words and actions of the city, citizens, and saint could directly impact the survival of the city itself.
Collations of civic bodies concerned for the defense of their city also appear in Carolingian narratives of relic translations. In the poetic Sancti Cornelii Compendiensis translationes, the anonymous author claimed that the rejoicing people (gaudens plebs) of Compiègne swarmed around the arriving relics of St. Cornelius, stretching to touch the posts of the saint's bier as the relics were carried by King Charles the Bald and his bishops to their new resting place.Footnote 104 As the turba multa clericorum proceeded, followed by the turba plebis, they sang together with a “great voice,” and their singing “reverberated with a loud song of praise.”Footnote 105 The verses later clarify who precisely made up these crowds, as the poet claims that “the old man and the old woman, together with the young men and the little ones / the holy cleric and all of the plebs cry out for you, having been enticed to you.”Footnote 106 The verses culminate in a prayer specifying the relationship between the city, citizens, and their saint, as the poet calls upon St. Cornelius to “fortify this city (civitatem istam) with your protection” and likewise to “protect its citizens (eius cives) with your intercession.”Footnote 107
Whether echoing with the words of citizens in procession or speaking itself in personified form, the security of the late antique and early medieval city seemed to require the consistent articulation of its virtue. Saints, along with ecclesiastical and secular leaders, played primary roles in this articulation; yet the entire civic body was implicated. The repetition of such phrases as “girls and boys, old men and women” underscores the importance of these communal actions in the city, while prayers addressed to the city's saints and to God often require that the supplicants prove themselves worthy of intercession or deliverance.
The City Celebrated and Condemned: Early Medieval Encomia, Invective, and Urban Fortifications
The security of the early medieval city depended on the virtue of its citizens, their devotion to and care for their city's saints, and the diligent maintenance and guarding of the city's walls. The poetic genre known as laudes urbium provides insights into each of these ideals structuring early medieval urban life, notably in cities within the Italian peninsula, but also across the Alps. When analyzing laudes urbium, scholars tend to focus on how closely early medieval authors adhered to classical topoi and what the poetic descriptions embedded in each poem can and cannot tell us about “real” life in early medieval cities.Footnote 108 More recently, however, scholars have revisited these poems from a different angle. Thomas Granier, for instance, recently reexamined the ninth-century polemical (or, as Granier would argue, elegiac) Versus Romae and its complex manuscript transmission, ultimately arguing that this twenty-four hexameter invective underscores its author's “commitment to the city in the sense of identity and belonging.”Footnote 109 Likewise, in her analysis of the creation of liturgical hymns in Liège beginning ca. 1000 and spanning the next eight centuries, Catharine Saucier eloquently reexamines the earlier liégeois hymns from the tenth century in light of the laudes urbium tradition. Crucially, Saucier argues that “we can begin to consider as ‘civic’ a fuller spectrum of ideas, both secular and sacred, that reflect and celebrate the diversity characteristic of every civic community.”Footnote 110 Whereas Saucier concentrates on civic identity embedded in central and later medieval liégeois hymns, Paul Oldfield examines what he terms “civic consciousness” in urban panegyrics from the twelfth through the fourteenth century. Civic consciousness, according to Oldfield, was a specific “mode of being” that “created appreciation of the positive values connected with the urban world, attached pride to one's home city, and countered negative, disparaging perspectives on the city.”Footnote 111 To uncover this civic consciousness, Oldfield analyzes urban panegyrics in the later Middle Ages, arguing that this genre “has often been dismissed as being too bound by convention, rhetoric, and exaggeration and therefore rather sidelined from the understandings of the medieval city.”Footnote 112
Oldfield and Saucier concentrate on the clerical composition of, and audience for, medieval hymns, as well as the increased production of civic encomia in the central and later Middle Ages. Yet earlier medieval urban panegyrics often reflected strikingly similar constructions of civic identity, prescribing how citizens should act and contemplating how failures of virtue could lead to communal demise. Much of this discussion surrounding civic virtue related to the upkeep and defense of the city's walls. Walls, in these poems, not only physically defended the city, but also echoed the triumphs and tribulations of the cities themselves.
The well-known laus dedicated to Milan, and its later emulator, the Versus de Verona, each celebrate the personified city and its well-defended walls.Footnote 113 Composed around 740, the Versum de Mediolano civitate praises Milan as the urbium regina mater adque patrie, a beautifully built and spacious city with carefully constructed towers, twelve-foot-wide stone walls, and nine gates secured with iron bolts and well-guarded drawbridges.Footnote 114 Her populus, moreover, are characterized by their great charity, as they all hurry to church to proffer gifts before the altar.Footnote 115 Milan's charitable citizens not only benefit from the city's wide walls, but also remain secure through the saints that rest joyfully around the walls.Footnote 116 The Versum de Mediolano civitate then declares that as no other city could boast of so many blessed cadauera, Milan is a truly “happy and blessed city, which desires to have so many holy defenders, by whose prayers she remains unconquered and fertile.”Footnote 117 After praising the pious king, Liudprand (d. 744), and Milan's bishop Theodore (d. 735), the author then honors the cives of Milan, who in their firm faith stand against nefandarum gentium, encouraging the cives to pray with him and to sing hymns together, “so that he [Christ] may deem this city worthy to be ruled and guarded, and free her from all evils.”Footnote 118
The later eighth-century author of the Versus de Verona speaks to this personified city directly, declaring that “no city in Ausonia deserves more praise than you, / Splendid, powerful and fragrant from the bodies of saints, / among a hundred [cities] the most opulent in Italy.”Footnote 119 These civic saints encircle Verona, embracing her and her citizens to make her “happy, enriched, distinguished, / and surrounded by a throng of most holy guardians (custodes sanctissimi), / to defend and drive the wicked enemy away from you.”Footnote 120 According to the Versus de Verona's anonymous author, many Italian cities lifted their voices in praise of Verona, for “you are praised by Aquileia, Mantua, / Brescia, Pavia, Rome, and Ravenna.”Footnote 121 Finally, the author declares that “we shall sing” to God who gave Verona her saints — implying that the audience will join the author in a song of praise.
Both authors cited above augmented the praise of their respective cities through amplificatio. Cicero identified amplificatio as a key technique for the “supreme virtue” of eloquence, while Quintilian argued that “the peculiar business of panegyric is to amplify or embellish its subjects.”Footnote 122 This type of amplification often occurs within the text of a poem, but at times individual manuscripts visually enacted this rhetorical technique. Modena, Biblioteca capitolare, O.I.4, for instance, presently exists as a composite manuscript with texts ranging from a collection of papal letters to episcopal sermons to selections from Isidore's Decretals.Footnote 123 Towards the end of this complex manuscript, however, a series of poems juxtapose the virtuous defense of a city and the downfall of another city immured in vice, creating a mise-en-page that visually strikes the reader quite apart from the specific contents of these texts.
Two distinct poems were written on fol. 154v, with the first in the upper half of the verso now known as the “Song of the Watchmen of Modena” (one of the three so-called Carmina mutinensia), while the lower half transmits a copy of the Versus Romae in the same ninth- or tenth-century hand.Footnote 124 After a brief comparative history of the risks and rewards of watchmen, citing the fall of Troy and the white goose's warning that saved Rome from the Gauls, the poet then smoothly switches to Modena's present adoration of Christ. Echoing Psalm 126:1, the poet exhorts the watchmen to “sing these songs of praise to Him as we keep watch,” imploring Christ to watch over their city.Footnote 125 A later tenth-century interpolator inserted two lines in a darker ink, entreating Christ not only to watch over Modena, but indeed to “be an impregnable wall for Your followers,” to become the very wall of Modena itself.Footnote 126 The poet concludes by returning to the young watchmen, exhorting them to “let your songs be heard through the walls,” so that through the very walls themselves “may it echo: Keep watch!”Footnote 127
The second twenty-four-line poem, the Versus Romae, is an invective against a ruined Rome. Composed in the eighth or ninth century, the Versus Romae addresses a personified Rome and bemoans her state of disintegration, both in terms of her crumbling infrastructure and the debased population that now dwells within her walls.Footnote 128 The poem opens by declaring that “now, alas, submitted to slaves, Rome, you are falling apart.”Footnote 129 From the outset, the Versus Romae frames the constitution of the civic body — once the most noble, and now stemming from the lowest classes — as essential to the former glorious construction of Rome as well as to her now ruined physical state. After declaring that Rome's name and honor had been ceded to the Greeks as Roman natives now “tend Greek lands,” the author then comes to the crux of the matter.Footnote 130 Enlivened with the best of the former Roman population, Constantinople flourishes as the new Rome, a stark juxtaposition to the state of Rome, for “[y]our morals, as your walls, ancient Rome, are fallen.”Footnote 131 Even in her dilapidated condition, Rome obstinately persists in the vices of pride and greed.Footnote 132 As the site of multiple Christian martyrs’ deaths, the Versus Romae reminds Rome that she not only pierced the saints with cruel wounds, but even now “has the habit of selling their dead limbs” as relics for profit.Footnote 133
This sharp juxtaposition between a virtuous, well-defended Modena and a ruined Rome finds further context on this same manuscript's fol. 157r. Three more poems in three different hands survive on a partially torn and somewhat water-damaged piece of parchment. Two poems begin with similarly phrased invocations for the fourth-century bishop of Modena, Geminianus, to defend the city's gates (portas) from the threatening Hungarians, who attacked the city around the turn of the tenth century.Footnote 134 More intriguingly, the third poem on this folio has been interpreted as “un’Epigrafe murale.”Footnote 135 This particular set of verses praises a late ninth-century bishop of Modena, Leodoin, for erecting defenses “while wretched madness oppressed istam patriam.”Footnote 136 He did so, according to this possible inscription, because he “desires to defend the cives with the proper guard.”Footnote 137
Civic discourse was not confined to the Italian peninsula. North of the Alps, the ninth-century monk and magister Abbo of St-Germain-des-Près devoted a lengthy poem to the year-long Viking siege of Paris from 885 to 886.Footnote 138 Composed in 1,393 lines of dactylic hexameter divided into three books, Abbo classified his narrative as having a dual purpose: the first as a personal exercise in grammar, inspired by his reading of Virgil's Eclogues; the second so as “to provide a lasting example for the protectors of other cities.”Footnote 139 In his poetic descriptions of destruction and fear, Abbo intermingled the emotions, the voice, and the fate of both the physical city and her citizens.
Abbo interweaves several classical tropes into his Bella Parisiacae urbis.Footnote 140 He opens the poem by beckoning Paris to “Speak keenly, Lutetia,” and asks her to recall her founding, her natural surroundings, her walls, and her towers. Here, he intones such phrases in her voice as “I am a city, gleaming queen above the rest.”Footnote 141 Paris herself, so Abbo claims, wonders who can narrate the siege against her, and proclaims that Abbo should do so, for he saw it with his own eyes.Footnote 142 More striking than classically-informed structural elements and topoi, the poet animates a personified Paris, and ties the physical city to the virtuous actions of her citizens. Abbo relates at length the various attacks Paris suffered, and it is through these attacks and the many trials of her inhabitants that the audience develops a clear sense of the ties that bound the citizens to each other and to their physical space.
These ties were particularly articulated in two moments: in periods of intense battle and in periods of intense communal devotional practices intended to counteract enemy attacks. Each time the city is assaulted, the attack reverberates throughout its citizenry. In one place, Abbo declares that “the city roars, its citizens (cives) quail, the bridges quaver;” in another, “the city quakes, its citizens (cives) shriek, and trumpets blare.”Footnote 143 Further on, as the tower comes under attack and “its citizens feel dread,” not only does Abbo list the particularly spectacular leaders who fought the Vikings, but he also animates the defensive structures themselves: “The painted turrets grieve, stained by many wounds; / The bridge beams weep the strength of men, the floating dead. / No city street remained unstained by blood of men.”Footnote 144 During another juncture, the tower itself was imbued with fear at the prospect of the Danish forces “pluck[ing] its eyes — its gates — away.”Footnote 145 In this way, Abbo imbued the very defensive structures with emotive, anthropic qualities, and added another layer of personification to the urban fabric.
In each of these cases, the terrified city and its terrified citizens respond to existential dread in a deliberate manner: by turning to the Virgin Mary and the sixth-century bishop of Paris, Germain. At the moment of the death of Bishop Gozelin of Paris, Abbo interrupts his narrative and addresses his audience directly. Like Prudentius before him, Abbo first reminds his audience and auditors that “the city shines in honor, dedicated to / Great Mary, by whose aid we safely relish life.”Footnote 146 He then implores his audience to pray collectively to the Virgin, encouraging them by saying “let us give verbal thanks to her, and let us sing / Our hymns of peace to her, if we have strength, and let / High voice resound and sing her praises, for it is right.”Footnote 147 Abbo then sets forth a hymn for “us” to sing, and clarifies who this “us” comprises: Lutetia's people.Footnote 148 After praising the Virgin Mary as queen and mistress of the world, Abbo encourages his audience to praise Mary, “who deigned to free Lutetia's people (plebem) from fierce hands / And from the menace of the savage Danish sword.”Footnote 149 During another attack, as “the city mourns, the watch-towers fear, the walls shed tears,” the citizens (cives) gather together to pray to St. Germain. Abbo makes clear that the entire civic body — including “fine-looking youth and grey-haired old age” — all fear for their lives.Footnote 150 With one communal voice, the citizens and the city cry out to their saint. Not only does the gathered civic body sing hymns to their saintly intercessors for delivery, but the walls of the city itself “resound with Saint Germain's name.”Footnote 151
In the second book, St. Germain himself appears and circumambulates Paris. According to Abbo, an unnamed person crept into the church of St. Germain, fell asleep, and dreamed a vision of the saint. In this dream St. Germain “walked around the walls and sprinkled all the town” with holy water and promised hope to the townspeople before departing.Footnote 152 Soon thereafter, Abbo relates that
For his ultimately successful defense of the city, Paris proclaims at a later juncture that Germain was not only her king, shepherd, and sturdy friend, but also “my double-sharpened sword, my catapult, / Germain is my shield, my extending wall, my speedy bow.”Footnote 154
Whether in Paris, Rome, Milan, or Verona, cities, saints, and citizens remain tightly intertwined in civic encomia and invectives, above all by their display of virtus. Early medieval authors not only drew attention to the physical fortifications that surrounded cities, but also encircled their citizens in a multifaceted form of defense that combined the physical walls, their saintly intercessors, and their own actions. The walls depicted in these poetic verses often reverberate and reecho the hymns as well as the cries of their citizens. As we shall see in the next section, the walls themselves could also be inscribed with words exhorting citizens to virtue.
Inscribing Virtue: Mural Destruction, Construction, and Celebration in Ninth-century Rome
In his Etymologiae, Isidore of Seville emphasized a crucial element of defense through his definitions of two different terms often used to designate walls. The first, moenia, are “so called because they protect (munire) the city, as if they were the bulwarks (munimentum) of the city, that is, the guardians,” while the second, murus, “is so called from ‘defending’ (munitio), as if the term were ‘to be defended’ (muniri), because it defends and guards the inner parts of the city.”Footnote 155 In addition to practical defensive considerations, Isidore hints at another reason why late antique and early medieval urban residents continued to maintain city walls. Not only were city walls a distinguishing feature between an urbs (or oppidium) and a vicus, but like the laws “city walls are said to be holy (sanctus)” because both laws and city walls “defend from wrong by imposing punishment.”Footnote 156
Heavenly and earthly defense remained critical themes in extant descriptions of early medieval mural construction as well as in surviving mural inscriptions. Here, Rome may serve as a case study. According to the eighth- and ninth-century papal biographies contained in the Liber Pontificalis, several popes aimed to restore the walls of Rome, though not all of them lived to see their projects completed.Footnote 157 The most extensive description of papal mural construction occurs during the papacy of Leo IV (d. 855).Footnote 158 This pope carried out at least two campaigns surrounding walls: one reconstructing and refortifying the city of Rome; the other constructing new walls around St. Peter's itself.
The first round of mural restoration occurred soon after Leo IV came to power in the immediate aftermath of a severe attack on Rome by Muslim raiders in 846.Footnote 159 The Liber Pontificalis describes the Romans as a broken people drained of all vigor, due to the dual blow of “the pontiff's sudden death and the plundering that had taken place in the holy churches and the territories of all the Romans.”Footnote 160 As Roman dignitaries debated who might take Sergius II's papal seat, “suddenly the fame of the blessed prelate and also his value was manifested to all, broadcast through the whole city.”Footnote 161 Together, all of Rome, “everyone from the last to first with one voice and one heart,” declared their unanimous intention of Leo IV as their next pope and dragged him to the Lateran palace “with hymns and distinguished acclamations of praise.”Footnote 162 As we see here, even before the extensive program of mural restoration, the Liber Pontificalis casts the death and destruction that struck the city as an impetus for all of the Romans “with one voice and one heart” to come together as citizens and identify the best among them as their future ecclesiastical leader and prospective securer of their city.
According to the Liber Pontificalis, Leo IV oversaw and directed a massive donation and building program throughout the city and churches of Rome, including the restoration of the city's walls. In 848 or 849, Leo IV began “to treat the condition of the city of Rome and the restoration of the walls which by long old age were broken to age and utterly destroyed.”Footnote 163 The stated motive for this project was Rome's defense and fear of future attack for, “if it stayed for long in this neglect and forgetfulness, they could easily with the Lord permitting it be captured or perhaps stormed by an enemy.”Footnote 164 The Liber Pontificalis claims that Leo IV himself “bustled about” amongst the walls as they were being rebuilt and fortified, “not simply staying at ground level but even going on his own feet along the walls and gates,” so that the restoration would be completed as quickly as possible.Footnote 165 This image of a bustling pope might have recalled for its audience not only the circumambulations of citizens during liturgical processions, but also the activity of other sainted figures patrolling the walls and protecting their city.
Out of “the greatest care and anxiety for the city of Rome,” Leo IV ordered fifteen towers restored around the circuit of the city, with particular attention to the Portuensis Gate by the shore of the Tiber in anticipation of future naval attacks.Footnote 166 These refortifications in and along the city's walls provided “both defense for the city of Rome (Romanae urbi defensionem) and for viewers (videntibus) no small wonder but a large one, as it was done with great prudence, subtle wisdom and honor.”Footnote 167 Here, the Liber Pontificalis draws attention to the dual function of the city's wall, both as a defensive deterrent for any future enemy as well as a physical site imbued with virtue itself. Fear of future attacks also inspired Leo IV to encircle the borgo around St. Peter's into a new walled suburb, known as the civitas Leoniana. The Liber Pontificalis claims that Leo IV conceived of his plan to fortify the area around St. Peter's out of love and concern for the Roman people, for
while all the nobility of the Romans were lamenting exceedingly over what the wicked and malevolent Saracens had just recently inflicted in their looting, for fear they might subsequently cause worse damage if St. Peter the apostle's church were not speedily fortified with walls on all sides, this lovable pontiff began to have great distress for all the Romans, and anxiously to think how precisely he could remove so much sickness and fear from their hearts.Footnote 168
The Liber Pontificalis situates the impetus for this new wall squarely in the initiative of Leo IV, with financial support and encouragement coming from the Carolingian emperor Lothar I (d. 855).Footnote 169 However, an earlier capitulary of the Carolingian imperial court dated to October 846 claimed that it was not the pope, but instead the Frankish emperor and his people who spearheaded this effort to defend Rome. Whereas the Liber Pontificalis isolates the Romans’ lamentations and fear as a driving force for the construction of these walls, the capitulary situates the so-called pagans’ attack on Rome as punishment for the Franks’ own sins and offences (quia pro peccatis nostris et offensionibus).Footnote 170 The capitulary declares that Lothar himself decreed and sent an order “to the Apostolicus by our letters and envoys, that a very strong wall be built round St. Peter's church.”Footnote 171 Lothar demanded that the funds for this wall be collected throughout his kingdom, “so that so great a work, pertaining to the glory of all, may be completed with the help of all.”Footnote 172 Such a collection would be accomplished by speaking to the kingdom's subjects via Frankish bishops, whom he ordered “to preach in their churches and cities, to persuade those who have no benefices yet have possessions and money, by exhorting and urging . . . for the making of a wall round St Peter the apostle's church at Rome, since it is particularly fitting for children to honor their mother and, as far as they can, guard and defend her.”Footnote 173 This remarkable clause personifies Rome as the Franks’ vulnerable mother reaching out for protection, defense, and support from her transalpine children. Furthermore, this evocative image appears in a legal document theoretically sent throughout Francia to command preachers not only in their churches but also in their cities to persuade, exhort, and urge the Frankish people to donate to a massive mural building project hundreds of miles away. By defending this personified Rome through the creation of a murus firmissimus, the entire Frankish regnum will reap the collective glory.
Whether spearheaded by the pope or the emperor, the walls surrounding the civitas Leoniana were completed under Leo IV's “watchful and anxious” eye in 852. “Then at last,” so the Liber Pontificalis narrates, Leo IV ordered a series of public processions and liturgical celebrations “so that this city (which is called Leonine from its founder's own name) might stand strong and firm forever.”Footnote 174 On the day before the vigils of Rome's spiritual founders, St. Peter and St. Paul, Leo first led a procession around the new walls.Footnote 175 After chanting litanies and the psalter, he proceeded with all the clergy to “round the whole circuit of the walls, barefoot and with ash on their heads,” while casting holy water “in every direction to hallow the wall as they crossed it.”Footnote 176 Over the three new gates of the city at the Porta S. Peregrini (Porta Viridaria), the Posterula Castelli, and the postern facing the Saxon quarter, Leo IV stopped and recited a prayer imploring God to deliver the city from its sins and to ensure “this city which we have newly founded with thy assistance may ever remain safe from thy wrath and have new and manifold triumphs.”Footnote 177 The pope then celebrated a mass “for the salus populi in the perpetual security and stability of the city,” after which he distributed money and other “manifold gifts” to the assembled crowds and the Roman nobles.Footnote 178 Finally, “throughout the whole city of Rome there were celebrations of unbounded gladness and unmeasured rejoicing.”Footnote 179
The echoes of prayers and celebrations recorded by the Liber Pontificalis have long faded. Fortunately, several inscriptions on the gates of the civitas Leoniana have survived, thus providing another means for the city to speak.Footnote 180 A number of extant late antique and early medieval epigraphic inscriptions memorialize a particular individual's contributions to the construction or maintenance of a city's walls.Footnote 181 Extant inscriptions attest to this complex nexus of defensive, political, and symbolic functions surrounding city walls. Of course, not all inscriptions fall under the notion of civic discourse; indeed, just because words appear on a wall does not mean that they reflect wider conceptions of what it meant to be a citizen or live in a city. However, some inscriptions directly employ the terminology of civic discourse and, more specifically, refer to the process of building or restoring walls and encourage a specific response from those people who gaze upon their inscriptions. One of the inscriptions surrounding the civitas Leoniana implores travelers passing through its gates to gaze upon the wall, to marvel at its beautiful construction, and to praise “the triumphant prelate” (ovans praesul) who carried out this task.Footnote 182 The inscription, composed in elegiacs, then turns to the city of Rome, stating that “I believe that the wars of evil-minded men will never harm you, nor will your enemies triumph further.”Footnote 183 It finally begs a personified Rome, “head of the world, splendor, hope, golden Rome,” to behold its new walls.Footnote 184
When Rome came under attack again, Pope John VIII (d. 882) erected another walled enclosure around St. Paul's and labeled his new urbs Iohannipolis. Above the Porta Burgi of St. Paul, an inscription read “Here is the wall our savior and the undefeated portal that dissuades reprobates and welcomes the pious. Enter through here, oh illustrious ones, old and young who wear the toga, and blessed folk who seek the sacred threshold.”Footnote 185 As Angela Esposito has suggested, this new fortified urbs acted as an essential point in a complex network of ancient and medieval fortifications that connected and protected Rome.Footnote 186 Furthermore, as Nicola Camerlenghi has eloquently pointed out, “to the medieval mind, the apostolic affiliation added apotropaic value. Now St. Paul, his basilica and its fortified enclosure safeguarded the city and region as a whole.”Footnote 187
These early medieval mural inscriptions on Rome's walls spoke, in a way, to those who passed by and passed through their gates. These inscriptions often directed their viewers to remember those ecclesiastical or secular leaders who had commissioned their creation and invoked God and his saints to protect those people who dwelled within their walls. More crucially, these inscriptions implored citizens and the personified city itself to gaze upon and reflect their walls, the same walls in which they would collectively gather together at times of crisis and times of celebration, and the same walls which would reverberate and reecho their prayers or quake in fear as they came under attack.
Some 900 miles north of Rome at the abbey of Corvey, an inscribed bronze panel long greeted those entering the church of Sts. Stephanus and Vitus with an invocation in four evenly spaced lines of capitalis monumentalis for God to “surround this city (civitatem istam) and let your angels guard its walls (muros eius).”Footnote 188 According to one scholar, this large bronze inscription would have served “as a public proclamation at the entrance to the church,” and “allow[ed] the prayer to be recited and to echo.”Footnote 189 While such an interpretation is hard to substantiate, this invocation for God to surround the civitatem of Corvey and to protect muros eius reflects the broader civic discourse that has been the focus of this study. The gleam of the bronze and the elegant composition of the lettering point to the wealth of Corvey's benefactors and the skillful direction of its abbot. Yet the wording itself calls upon all of those who enter this city to gaze upon the inscribed letters, to recognize that they are entering a sacred space (as all walls, according to Isidore, are holy), and to consider how they might guard the walls of their own mental civitates.
Although we can no longer hear the processional hymns or defensive calls rebounding off surviving city walls, the early medieval city speaks to us still: through rhetorical compositions of praise, descriptions of processions, poetic accounts of destruction and defense, episodes in saints’ lives, and words inscribed in the fabric of the city itself. Nor has this study addressed the full extent of the extant evidence. One could look more closely at archaeological findings detailing the upkeep of early medieval city walls or trace how medieval authors constructed the heavenly Jerusalem with their written words. One could also examine the development of Rogation ceremonies in Late Antiquity, and how crucial the cives were for such important figures as Sidonius Apollinaris, or the Carolingian adventus hymns composed for Metz, Orléans, and other Carolingian cities, which implored the collected body of citizens to gather, praise the arriving ruler, and celebrate his or her virtus together.Footnote 190
The theme that connects each of the sites and texts treated in this article — running through non-urban spaces, through public processions and civic personifications, through rhetorical praises and censures of the city, and through the focus on the formation of the civitas Leoniana — sounds through the voices of citizens. Often, it is hard to access the late antique and early medieval individual, particularly if the individual in question held no significant office or public power. However, attention to civic discourse allows the modern reader to access how late antique and early medieval authors urged citizens of particular cities to act; these are prescriptive texts and mental images, designed to persuade. The repeated and emphatic exhortations to civic virtue also suggest how the city was perceived as incapable of functioning — particularly during times of looming threats — without the collective body parading together, praying together, and singing hymns and psalms with one voice.