Carolingian diplomacy and the dynamic pursuit of legitimacy

Date of Completion

January 1996


History, European|History, Medieval




In the eighth and ninth centuries, under the newly risen Carolingian dynasty, Peppin the Short and Charlemagne needed to establish their legitimacy as Frankish rulers. While Peppin usurped the Merovingian throne and exerted his power over the unwilling Bavarians and Aquitanians, his successor Charlemagne stole the inheritance of his nephews (half of the Frankish realms), seized the Lombard throne, and forced the Beneventans, the Saxons, the Bavarians, and the Aquitanians to accept him as their sovereign. Although these leaders possessed the military strength to seize their power and their vast holdings, they needed legitimacy to secure them.^ The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the nature of Carolingian diplomacy in pursuit of that goal. While many recent studies have emphasized the complexity and and dynamism of Carolingian social and economic life, the older view of Carolingian politics and diplomacy as essentially static still prevails. This study shows that Carolingian diplomacy was complex and rarely static as Carolingian rulers attempted to define their authority and status in relation to the Byzantine emperors and the Roman popes. Peppin used papal approval as a means to designate a new line of kings, and Charlemagne sought a Byzantine grant of imperium. In addition the Carolingians emphasized their adherence to orthodoxy as a means to prove their legitimacy and, eventually, their superiority to the pope and the emperor. During this age, friendships and alliances were forged and broken with great regularity, and diplomatic objectives and methods changed in accordance with the outcome of events.^ This study has developed a new dynamic model for understanding Carolingian diplomacy through the use of a wide range of sources from the Carolingian age (such as papal letters, chronicles, archaeological findings, royal capitularies, treatises, poems, biographies, and histories) and by emphasizing the importance of Byzantine involvement in Carolingian affairs. In addition, this study has acknowledged that there were multiple perspectives of what constituted legitimacy and has avoided using anachronistic concepts and terminology (such as "papacy"). The result is a thesis that demonstrates the complexity of Carolingian thought and diplomacy. ^