Ancient History & Civilisation

Illustrations

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1. Mosaic of Theoderic from St Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. When this was found hidden beneath layers of plaster, art historians interpreted it as Justinian and restored it as such, but St Apollinare was Theoderic’s palace church, making it overwhelmingly likely that he is the figure portrayed.

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2. Eagle brooches from the Apahida treasure: one example of the vast gold wealth which accumulated in central Europe thanks to Attila’s astonishing victories of the 440 s. The struggle for its control underlay the competitive process which pulled the Hunnic Empire apart and saw the Pannonian Goths rise to prominence.

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3. Coin of the Emperor Zeno (474–491). His unending struggle to hold on to imperial power created the conditions which allowed Theoderic the Amal to create a larger still powerbase at the expense of his Thracian Gothic rivals, and even secure the emperor’s approval for his conquest of Italy.

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4. The Emperor Anastasius portrayed in ivory.

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5. The walls of Constantinople. Built in the early fifth century, they were too powerful for Attila or either of the two Theoderics to breach. In fact they resisted all-comers for a thousand years until the Turks brought their cannon.

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6. Mosaic of Theoderic’s Palace from St Apollinare Nuovo. Major political figures – with the king presumably in the centre – were originally portrayed between the arches, but removed after Justinian’s conquest. One hand can still be seen on a pillar.

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7. Theoderic’s mausoleum, following Roman imperial models, at Ravenna. The roof was formed from one stupendous piece of marble.

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8. Theoderic on the Senigallia Medallion. Issuing gold coins was an imperial prerogative; this triumphal portrayal is a clear sign of his claim to quasi-imperial status.

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9. Baptism of Christ, from the so-called Arian Baptistry in Ravenna. Non-Nicene and Nicene Christians cooperated very happily under Theoderic’s rule, with the king even being called in to resolve a difficult papal schism.

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10. Justinian and his court in the famous mosaic from the church of San Vitale in Ravenna. The church was begun under Theodoric, but the decorative scheme was modified after Belisarius’ capture of the city.

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11. Theodora as portrayed in the mosaic panel directly opposite that of Justinian in San Vitale. Here she is every inch the divinely chosen empress, the mirror image of her portrayal in Procopius’ Secret History.

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12. Justinian’s great church of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul. Whether it would have been constructed had the original not been burned down in the Nika Riot is a moot point.

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13. The harbour of Carthage, capital of the Vandals’ North African kingdom. Belisarius’ total and unexpectedly easy conquest of the kingdom, together with the successful completion of legal reform, re-established Justinian’s claim to be a divinely chosen, legitimate emperor in the aftermath of the Nika disaster.

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14. The Corpus Iuris Civilis: Justinian’s great legal achievement was as important to him in ideological terms as his victories in Africa and Italy

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15. A nineteenth-century aquatint showing the Iron Crown of Lombardy. Charlemagne’s conquest of his Italian neighbours marked a step-change in ambition, setting him decisively on the road to his imperial coronation.

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16. Charlemagne’s reliquary from Aachen. His son and grandsons were unable to maintain the legacy of imperial unity which he – in fact by chance – passed on to them on his death in 813.

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17. A copy of Pope Leo’s famous mosaic, portraying both Charlemagne and the Pope as subordinate to Rome’s founding apostle, St Peter. Charlemagne, by contrast, understood his imperial authority to have come directly from God Himself.

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18. Coronation of Louis the Pious. The unexpected deaths of Charlemagne’s older sons in the years before 813 left Louis as his father’s sole heir. This he recognized in an imperial coronation ceremony to which the Pope was not even invited.

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19. Charles the Bald portrayed in imperial style after Charlemagne from his great Gospel book.

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20. Charles the Bald’s Gospel Book of Joshua: a beautiful example of high-end book production characteristic of the Carolingian Renaissance.

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21. Carolingian minuscule: the highly efficient script which the Carolingian Renaissance normalized and which was used to copy – in their thousands – the texts considered necessary to correctio: the proper understanding of the Christian religion which Charlemagne considered it his duty to inculcate across western Christendom.

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22. The Plan of St Gall: the great imperially sponsored monasteries (of which St Gall was one) and the schools established in the households of Charlemagne’s archbishops and more important bishops pooled their resources to build up a shared understanding of ‘true’ Christianity based on a common stock of religious texts.

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23. The trial of Pope Formosus; when the Carolingian imperial structures through which it had begun to play a wider role in western Christendom collapsed, the ambitions of the papacy quickly narrowed into local, central Italian and largely material concerns.

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24. Leo IX: the greatest of the barbarian Popes. Here, he is portrayed cutting the Patriarch of Constantinople down to size.

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25. The death of Leo IX. Quickly and appropriately sanctified after his death, Leo’s reign decisively shifted the papacy towards what would become its customary role as Latin Christendom’s CEO.

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26. An episode from the Investiture dispute. The Emperor Henry IV calls in Countess Matilda to mediate between himself and Pope Gregory VII. In reality, Gregory’s career emphasizes that direct confrontation could never be the basis for a papal renewal of empire.

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27. Gratian’s Decretum in its classic form with the main text surrounded by the relevant sections of the Glossa Ordinaria. Consumer demand for authoritative legal guidance, not confrontation, is what really allowed popes to replace emperors as the recognized central authority of western Christendom.

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28. The Church started under Constantine to commemorate the supposed remains of St Peter beneath. Possession of these relics and the claim they allowed Bishops of Rome to make – that they were the direct heirs of the unique authority that Christ had granted to Peter as Prince of the Apostles – formed the bedrock of the papacy’s eventual claim first to rival and then surpass the long-established religious authority of emperors.

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29. Pope Innocent III. His great reforming agenda set out in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215–the largest gathering of Christian leaders yet seen – both symbolized the emergence of the Papacy as the undisputed CEO of Latin Christendom, and set the high medieval Church forwards on a determined path of constraining its congregations into line with the precepts set out in the council’s canons.

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