The Merovingian/Carolingian power switch & The Papal-Frankish Alliance

The Franks were one of many barbarian groups that took over the land that previously belonged to the Western Roman Empire. They were ruled by a family called the Merovingians. One of their most important kings was Clovis I, who converted to Catholicism rather than Arianism, the religion most barbarians adhered to.. The Merovingian rulers, however, became less and less competent, and their line had many children, women, and mental defectives in it. Because of this, the royal line was not well respected by the people. Eventually a position was made called “The Mayor of the Palace”. The mayor of the palace had all of the responsibility of the kingdom, and the king became a mere figurehead. The position of mayor of the palace was hereditary, with the father handing off the position to his son. This position was held by the family known as the Carolingians.

One of the mayors, Pepin the short, asked pope Zachary I if it was right for the person with the power to be without the title and for the person with the title to be without the power. Pope Zachary said that it was wrong, and told Pepin that he should become the king instead. Pepin then deposed Childric III, the last of the Merovingian kings, and became the king instead.

Meanwhile, in Italy, the popes were having some trouble. To both the north and the south Rome was surrounded by Lombards, a warlike people who were a danger to the Popes in Rome. The original protector of the popes was the Byzantine empire, but they were involved in wars with other peoples and could not protect the popes as much as was needed.

Under their leader Aistulf, the Lombards began to put significant pressure on Rome by taking the city of Ravenna, a very important city. Pope Stephen tried to negotiate with Aistulf, but failed. But, Pope Stephen’s plan B was to meet with Pepin to ask him for help. So Pope Stephen went to meet Pepin and they met in January of 754. The day after his arrival, the Pope prostrated himself before Pepin in an act of supplication. They continued to meet, and they had acquired a solid relationship by April 754. Pepin then agreed to maintain the rights of the papacy and restore the land taken by the Lombards. The pope, in return, performed a ceremony where Pepin was confirmed as the king instead of Childric III, which was based on the Old Testament model of the anointing of king David.

Pepin went after the Lombards, and as a result Aistulf gave up the city of Ravenna. In 756, the Lombards attacked again, which prompted another Frankish invasion. Pepin also gave Stephen some territories, which became the Papal states. Today, all that is left of the Papal states is Vatican City, which has an area of about one square mile.


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