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Clemens Gantner / Walter Pohl (eds.): After Charlemagne. Carolingian Italy and its Rulers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2021, X + 337 S., 2 Kt., ISBN 978-1-108-84077-4, GBP 75,00
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Rezension von:
Paolo Tomei
Dipartimento di Scienze Storiche del Mondo Antico, Università degli Studi di Pisa
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Étienne Doublier
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Paolo Tomei: Rezension von: Clemens Gantner / Walter Pohl (eds.): After Charlemagne. Carolingian Italy and its Rulers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2021, in: sehepunkte 23 (2023), Nr. 6 [15.06.2023], URL:

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Clemens Gantner / Walter Pohl (eds.): After Charlemagne

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"Was there a Carolingian Italy?" The articles gathered in this book, edited by Clemens Gantner and Walter Pohl, which prints the proceedings of the last conference organised in Vienna, on 25-26 April 2016, as part of the ERC Advanced Social Cohesion, Identity, and Religion in the Early Middle Ages (SCIRE) project, revolve around this question.

The book is designed to fill a gap: to provide an up-to-date overview in English of the Kingdom of Italy from the reign of Pippin (781-810), after his father Charlemagne's victory over the Lombards, to the death of Berengar I (924), seen as the last "Italian" emperor. Many of the articles are, in fact, in direct dialogue with the synthesis on Lombard and Carolingian Italy published by Paolo Delogu in 1995 for the second volume of The New Cambridge Medieval History.

The initial questionnaire reflects the point of view from which this topic is to be investigated. From the time of The New Cambridge Medieval History onwards, and precisely on the impulse of many of the scholars who had written in that book, the process of reorganisation that began at the court of Charlemagne has been read, as is well known, through the lens of correctio.

What correctio took place in Italy, where we have a very different landscape of sources than in France? This is a delicate interpretative knot, also on the methodological front: much scarcer in number, if not completely absent, are those types of sources (historiography, liturgy, exegesis, theology, specula principum) on which the study of the correctio was founded. Furthermore, how and for how long would the practices of the correctio, typified and considered as innovative with respect to the Italian context, have been carried out?

The introductory pages (1-16) offer the following interpretative framework. Italy was part of the "Carolingian Commonwealth" but constituted an appendix to its "core area" (1). From it, a flow of people, objects, ideas, and texts spread, which invested Italy above all during the rule of Lothar I, between 834 and 840, and during the soft transition of power with Louis II, so much so that the Carolingian making of Italy can be considered as a "Lotharization" (9).

With the loss of Carolingian control in the last quarter of the 9th century, a season of chaos began. In terms of political order and social cohesion there would then be a strong break. Italy would cease to be a Carolingian region and thus a region endowed with stability, centralisation, and internal coherence. Based on this implicit connection, the Ottonian age would therefore be configured as an "Afterlife" (16) of Carolingian Italy.

The collected book consists of thirteen essays divided into four sections: Was There a Carolingian Italy? (17-82); Organizing Italy (83-132); Carolingian Rulers (133-182); Cities, Courts and Carolingians (183-274). To facilitate the exposition of its contents, I divided the articles into two clusters. In the first group are those contributions aimed at illustrating specific features of the Carolingian history of Italy, limited in time and/or space.

To the Northeast of the Italian peninsula are devoted the articles by Stefano Gasparri (85-93) and Francesco Veronese (219-249), who offers a precise contextualisation of hagiographies - another privileged field of investigation on the Carolingian age in the last decades. Tom Brown (184-197) writes about the exarchate of Ravenna and its triangulation with Pavia and Rome. Igor Santos Salazar (116-132) focuses, instead, on two episcopal centres in Central Italy, Parma and Arezzo, united by the preservation of a significant series of diplomas - a type of source that he observes according to the investigative perspectives of Barbara Rosenwein and Geoffrey Koziol. Marco Stoffella (135-147) examines the reign of Pippin, specifically focusing on dating formulas in private charters.

Finally, Elina Screen (148-163) and Clemens Gantner (164-182) deal with the dynamics of the relationship and the handover of power between Lothar I and Louis II, with emphasis on the Roman coronation of 844.

In the second group there are articles with a more general approach. I deal with them at greater length because they allow me to return to the research questionnaire and the interpretative framework of the volume. The essay by Paolo Delogu (36-53) invites us to reflect on the multifaceted meaning of the term Italia and offers an acute moving image of the body politic of the Kingdom: a structure with a complex and changing identity that retained, however, its coherence and organicity, finding a synthetic representation in the person of the king installed in Pavia.

Giuseppe Albertoni (94-116) tracks down a new element brought by the Frankish conquest, namely the vassals. His analysis of the mentions of vassals in the "Italian" capitularies, preceded by a historiographical overview that deals with the watershed represented by Susan Reynolds' volume, is a stimulating lesson in method.

Caroline Goodson (198-218) discusses a structural feature of the Italian peninsula: the holding, albeit regionally differentiated, of a constellation of cities of Roman heritage, which remained the main pivots of gravitation of political and cultural life, of concentration of demand and investment of the elites. This is a crucial point in the "grand narrative" on the Italian Middle Ages, which must be approached with caution so as not to fall into schematics and teleology. In a review that is meant to be systematic, it is striking the total absence of Tuscany and of the research carried out in the last fifteen years by Maria Elena Cortese, which would have benefited the author's argument.

While using narrative sources in quite a different way, Thomas Noble's article (19-35) agrees with that of François Bougard (54-82) on one point: the significant contribution of Lombard Italy to the Carolingian project of correctio. Bougard's very dense article offers a well-rounded treatment of the politics, institutions, and cultural production of the Kingdom of Italy that struggles to be contained within the interpretative axes of the introductory framework. It is certainly a merit of the volume to leave room for divergent readings, to which I find myself closer.

There is no single model of "Carolingianness". In the relationship between Italy and the Carolingians, it is appropriate to speak of a reciprocal acculturation. Giorgia Vocino's contribution on this is a perfect fit. It focuses on the lasting interest in the Kingdom, and above all at its central focus, the palace of Pavia, for the teaching and practice of rhetoric, in all three Ciceronian genres: judicial, deliberative, and epideictic. From this milieu came some of the leading figures of the first generation active at the court of Charlemagne: Peter of Pisa, Paulinus of Aquileia, and Paul the Deacon.

Italy was not only a source of inspiration for the Carolingians, but also, like other regions of the Carolingian galaxy of power, a laboratory of political and institutional experimentation that did not suffer any significant setbacks after the election of kings not related by male lineage to the Carolingians. Moreover, the Frankish conquest had not changed its favoured cultural fields in the practical, juridical, and educational spheres. In a nutshell, Italy too was Carolingian, but in its own way.

Paolo Tomei