3.2.1. The rise of the Holy Roman Empire

3.2. THE FIRST PERIOD: 950-1000

3.2.1. The rise of the Holy Roman Empire

In the year 1000 Western Christians continued to be obsessed with the fate of the Roman Empire. Glaber said that Western Christianity was the successor of the Roman world and he dedicated to the memory of the former empire his most important work, Historiarum libri quinque ab anno incarnationis DCCCC usque ad anum MXLIV.165

In 954 Adson, abbot of Montier-en-Der, concluded Libellus de Antichristo, a work addressed in particular to the queen of West Francia and in general to all who were concerned with the issue of the end of the world. Adson advised his contemporaries to calm and peace because, from his point of view, the end was far: the prophecy of the messianic emperor had not been yet fulfilled, the Jewish Antichrist had to be preceded by many other antichrists, who would create disorder, and the Antichrist could not appear as long as the Roman Empire was still standing. The destiny of the Universe was still tied to that of the empire: the disintegration of this structure, ruling over the earthly city, preceded the return to chaos and total annihilation. Adson, however, like Glaber, did not refer to the Byzantine Empire. For the medieval Western scholars the coronation of Charlemagne as Imperator Augustus and the beginning of the Carolingian dynasty had revived certain political and spiritual structures which were ensuring the continuity of the genuine Roman Empire with the capital in Rome. Better said, Adson assured his queen that, as long as her Carolingian dynasty was reigning, the Carolingian Empire and the Roman Empire were standing and they were preventing the rise of the Antichrist.166 Indeed, for a current observer this idea may seem ridiculous, but Adson and his contemporaries treated these things with the utmost seriousness.

Unfortunately for Adson, the political situation which he relied on in his arguments changed dramatically until the end of the millennium. After the death of Charlemagne in 814 the Carolingian Empire was progressively divided into three regions: West Francia (France), East Francia (Germany) and Middle Francia (Northern and Central Italy). At first, each of these regions was led by representatives of the Carolingian dynasty. But in 954, when Libellus de Antichristo was written, the Carolingian dynasty was ruling only in West Francia, which made Adson remark that “the Roman empire [is] almost completely destroyed.”167 And three decades later, in 987, Louis V the Carolingian died without leaving heirs, which led to the enthronement of Hugh Capet and the beginning of the Capetian dynasty. So, for any reader of Adson’s treaty the perspectives were grim: central authority was decomposing in West Francia and the death of Louis V and the end of the Carolingian dynasty cleared the path for the coming of the Antichrist.

Things stood different in Middle and Eastern Francia, where the Ottonian dynasty attempted to create a historical linearity by reviving the Roman Empire. After he took the power from the Carolingian dynasty, Otto I aimed to confer legitimacy to his reign by proving that he was a legitimate successor of Charlemagne: he arranged the coronation ceremony to be held in Aachen, the former capital of Charlemagne; he was anointed by the archbishop of Mainz, the supreme authority of the German church; he largely copied the structure and organization of the Carolingian Empire; he adopted many titles previously held by Charlemagne; and he started to conquer the same territories.168 Furthermore, just as Pope Leo III asked for Charlemagne’s help and he offered the imperial crown in return, in the same way Pope John XII asked Otto’s protection and anointed him emperor in February 962. Otto named his territories the “Holy Roman Empire” (Latin: Sacrum Romanum Imperium) and ten days after the coronation the pope and the new emperor ratified the document Diploma Ottonianum; through this, Otto, like Charlemagne, became the guarantor of the independence and security of the Papal States.169 Added to the name “Roman Empire,” the religious word “Holy” reveals the basis of the new organism: the Christian religion. In the records of the time the coronation of Otto I was called translatio imperii (the “imperial transfer”) – a concept taken from the succession of power between the empires in Daniel’s vision. As God transferred the power from the Babylonians to the Medo-Persians, then to the Greek-Macedonians, and ultimately to the Romans, in the same way the power, the purpose and the authority of the former Roman Empire were transferred to the Holy Roman Empire. The German emperors adopted the title of “kaiser” (derived from the Latin word caesar), and later the Russian emperors took the title of “tsar” because Russia was considered the successor of the Byzantine Empire.

It was not clear, however, if the Holy Roman Empire was a continuation of the former Roman Empire, or it was the materialization of the fifth and the last empire from Daniel’s vision, which would never be destroyed and would bring the end of the world. The German chronicler Otto of Freising ... (This text is incomplete. If you wish to read it in full, please purchase the book)



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