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Charlemagne and Rome. Alcuin and the Epitaph of Pope Hadrian I

Joanna Story

STORY Joanna, Charlemagne and Rome. Alcuin and the Epitaph of Pope Hadrian I, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2023.

ISBN : 9780199206346

Charlemagne and Rome is a wide-ranging exploration of cultural politics in the age of Charlemagne. It focuses on a remarkable inscription commemorating Pope Hadrian I who died in Rome at Christmas 795. Commissioned by Charlemagne, composed by Alcuin of York, and cut from black stone quarried close to the king’s new capital at Aachen in the heart of the Frankish kingdom, it was carried to Rome and set over the tomb of the pope in the south transept of St Peter’s basilica not long before Charlemagne’s imperial coronation in the basilica on Christmas Day 800. A masterpiece of Carolingian art, Hadrian’s epitaph was also a manifesto of empire demanding perpetual commemoration for the king amid St Peter’s cult. In script, stone, and verse, it proclaimed Frankish mastery of the art and power of the written word, and claimed the cultural inheritance of imperial and papal Rome, recast for a contemporary, early medieval audience. Pope Hadrian’s epitaph was treasured through time and was one of only a few decorative objects translated from the late antique basilica of St Peter’s into the new structure, the construction of which dominated and defined the early modern Renaissance. Understood then as precious evidence of the antiquity of imperial affection for the papacy, Charlemagne’s epitaph for Pope Hadrian I was preserved as the old basilica was destroyed and carefully redisplayed in the portico of the new church, where it can be seen today.

Using a very wide range of sources and methods, from art history, epigraphy, palaeography, geology, archaeology, and architectural history, as well as close reading of contemporary texts in prose and verse, this book presents a detailed ’object biography’, contextualising Hadrian’s epitaph in its historical and physical setting at St Peter’s over eight hundred years, from its creation in the late eighth century during the Carolingian Renaissance through to the early modern Renaissance of Bramante, Michelangelo, and Maderno.

Table of Contents

Edition and translation : Alcuin’s epitaph for Pope Hadrian I (by David R. Howlett)
Introduction : Charlemagne and Italy
1. Renaissance Rome : Hadrian’s epitaph in new St Peter’s
2. The ’Life’ and death of Pope Hadrian
3. Alcuin and the epitaph
4. Recalling Rome : epigraphic syllogae and itineraries
5. Writing on the walls : epigraphy in Italy and Francia
6. Black stone : materials, methods, and motives
7. Aachen, art, and the court
8. Charlemagne, St Peter’s, and the imperial coronation

Joanna Story, Professor of Early Medieval History, University of Leicester
Joanna Story studied History and Archaeology at Durham University and is a professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester where she has worked since 1996. She specialises in the period c. AD 600-900, and in the material culture of the written word in manuscript and epigraphic form. Her research and publications are characterised by a highly interdisciplinary approach to evidence, combining data derived from text, images, and physical remains surviving from the early medieval European past and deploying traditional historical techniques alongside methods used in archaeology and physical sciences.