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Viewing Rome from the Roman Empires

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image of Medieval Encounters

Twelfth-century German and Byzantine emperors vied with each other—and with the popes in Rome—for imperial status, each of the three seeing himself as the legitimate heir of ancient Roman imperium. From the court at Constantinople, historians Anna Komnene and John Kinnamos leveled a venomous critique against the west, surveying Rome through the lens of religious disputes, Crusade, and the hated Latin presence in the East. The Byzantine narratives have left a gritty view of their contemporary Rome, a violent and cruel city of illicit popes and anti-popes, anarchy, and barbarism. The Peutinger map, by contrast, seems but an innocent relic of the past, a map of the inhabited world as known to the pagan Romans. Typically considered an ancient Roman artifact and product of Roman culture, the surviving map actually dates from the very end of the long twelfth century. Produced in Swabia, it continued the anti-papal assault as a fresh salvo in a long-lived Battle of the Maps between Church and secular imperium. This display map, like its lost prototype, advertised the supreme authority of Roman imperial power with claims much more venerable than those of the papacy. Its visual narrative implicitly contradicted the power of papal Rome by foregrounding ancient Rome as the centerpiece of an intricately connected oikoumene, a world that should be ruled by Rome’s German heirs. For Germans as for Byzantines, Rome still mattered. Even while assailing a resurgent imperial papacy, neither secular emperor nor their courts could ignore the power exercised by pagan Rome and papal Rome over twelfth-century imaginations.

Affiliations: 1: Classics Program, 715 Sproul Hall, University of California Davis, One Shields Avenue Davis, CA 95616 USA


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