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First Intermission: Art and Culture
Italy under Alberic and Octavian: Art and Culture


The Byzantine Church of Stilo, Calabria, built in the 9th century, demonstrating
a cross-in-square plan with a quincunx arrangement of domes.

The Roman Kings

Alberic and Octavian were the first rulers of Italy to be born in Rome since that state had emerged from the ashes of the Western Roman Empire. For Italian nationalist historians centuries later, their rise to power was a moment of exultation; it was the re-emergence of “native” rule in Italy after half a millennium of subjugation and darkness (supposing that the Ostrogothic and Lombard kings, though born in Italy, were nevertheless always foreign interlopers). To the people of Lombardy, however, the “Roman kings” were no native sons. For the duration of the Lombard kingdom, Rome had stood apart, under Greek and then Papal control. Direct Byzantine control of Rome had ended in the mid-8th century, but diplomatic, economic, and cultural contacts between Rome and the Greek east remained strong. The Tusculani were even more alien to the nobility of Lombardy, who through the 10th century were still largely of Franco-Burgundinian extraction despite Alberic’s introduction of Roman and central-Lombard counts into the north.

Yet there is very little evidence to suggest that these “foreign kings” attempted to create a new state in the image of their own cultural heritage. As with many successful foreign conquerors, the early Tusculani adapted to their circumstances. Alberic’s kingship depended on the support – or at least acquiescence – of the Frankish nobility of Lombardy, and clearly sought to present himself as a Frankish king. His emphasis of his familial link to Anscar and his son’s descent from Charlemagne, his election by the magnates of Lombardy, and his cultivation of an image of a victorious warrior-king after Augusta are all unremarkable examples of legitimacy-building in the Frankish model. Octavian was even more “Frankish” than his father, and more earnestly so – while Alberic merely attempted to be palatable to the Frankish nobility, Octavian made himself one of them. His comitatus of young warriors and his familiarity with them, his personal gift-giving, his feasts and martial pursuits – everything about his leadership style, such as it was, appears more classically Germanic than Romano-Byzantine.

Given the marked Greek influences in the courts of Octavian’s successors in the 11th century, it is understandable that historians, both professional and amateur, would seek the germ of this development in the early Tusculani period. Yet Constantinople cast a long shadow, and Italy was hardly the only country which looked to the wealthy, powerful, and sophisticated empire of the east for inspiration in matters both political and artistic. The eastern influence upon Italy was clearly deeper than elsewhere in the Latin West, but no special Hellenizing agenda by Alberic or Octavian is needed to explain this – Italy was, after all, the most proximate Latin land to the eastern empire, and parts of the peninsula had been in Byzantine hands since the conquests of Justinian.

The last refuge of those who seek 10th century antecedents for 11th century Italian Hellenism is Empress Agatha. The empress lived to see the dawn of the 11th century and exercised power and influence for some time after her husband’s death. Agatha undoubtedly saw the court and culture of her birth as something to be emulated; if any person with power in 10th century Italy was a conscious, active promoter of “Hellenism,” it was surely her. As a result, it has long been the unfortunate practice of historians to lazily ascribe every feature or flourish of literature, culture, or governance in Octavian’s reign which has the slightest odor of Constantinople about it to the Hellenizing project of the empress. Agatha, however, had very significant limits on her power and influence during Octavian’s reign. While she gathered a court about her that was clearly intended to be Constantinopolitan in form, that court was not the nexus of imperial power in Italy. Its greatest influence was in Tuscany, and specifically in the urban centers of the Arno Valley where the empress was unopposed by a strong nobility.

In material culture, however – the physical art and architecture of the period – the notion of Agatha as the foremost exponent of Hellenism stands on somewhat firmer footing. Liutprand tells us that the dowry of the purple-born princess included architects, goldsmiths, painters, engravers, calligraphers, and all manner of other skilled artisans. It is impossible that these men simply did nothing, or were content to emulate the “native” art (which itself was already heavily influenced by Byzantine styles). Indeed, there are examples of “Italian” art of the late 10th century that are indistinguishable from Byzantine art of the same period, which may well be explained by the presence at Lucca of actual Byzantine craftsmen. The works they made surely influenced others, and it is very likely that the craftsmen of the imperial workshops of the early 11th century produced Byzantine-influenced works not simply because they admired them, but because they themselves had been taught by these exported masters.

Religious Architecture

The 17-year reign of Alberic (947-964) was not characterized by any great religious architectural achievement. Sustained peace was only achieved in the last six years of his rule, between the 958 amicitia with Otto and Alberic’s death, and even that was somewhat marred by the last of the Magyar raids in 960 and 962. Though a famed monastic patron, Alberic’s patronage seems to have taken the form of reform efforts and land bequests, not the construction of new facilities. There are a handful of churches and monasteries in Lombardy that are suspected to have been rebuilt in this period following the end of the Magyar raids (no major raid penetrated further west than Friuli after the Battle of Augusta in 953), but Lombardy was distant from Alberic’s rule and construction there was probably done without imperial aid or design. Correspondingly, these few examples do not differ markedly with earlier Carolingian and Lombard architecture.

It is generally agreed that a confluence of domestic peace, increased state revenues, the interest of Empress Agatha, and the presence or influence of Agatha’s “dowry artisans” was responsible for an increase in monumental religious construction during Octavian’s imperial reign (972-989). It is often assumed that the empress and her Greek architects and artists were the motive force behind this increase (to the point where architecture of this period, or architecture which resembles it, is called “Agathene”), but we must remember that construction, especially church-building, was not the sole province of the imperial government during this time. Throughout the 10th century, bishops and archbishops throughout Italy – and particularly in Lombardy, Friuli, and Romagna – enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and had their own revenues with which they financed the construction or renovation of religious and secular architecture in the great Italian cities. Only in a few cases can we claim with certainty that a new church or monastery was truly “imperial.”

The best-known imperial church of this period is the Basilica of Saint Michael in Lucca. The previous church dedicated to the Archangel Michael in Lucca was located on the grounds of the old Roman forum and dates back to at least the 8th century. In the 970s, the building was largely demolished and reconstructed in a new form under the guidance of the empress, who set out from the start to replicate the religious architecture that was then fashionable in the Byzantine Empire. Her model was likely the Nea Ekklesia (“New Church”), sometimes known as the “Macedonian Hagia Sophia,” which was built around 880 by Agatha’s great-grandfather and the founder of the Macedonian dynasty, Basil I. Constantine VII wrote approvingly of Basil’s church and its rich decoration with “beautiful images… costly marbles of many hues… gold and silver, precious stones, and pearls.” Agatha did not have the treasury of Constantinople, nor its skilled labor force, but she did have Greek architects and artisans who could establish for the empress her own outpost of Macedonian glory in the west.

The Nea Ekklesia is of the “cross-in-square” plan, a layout which it helped to popularize throughout the Byzantine Empire and its religious dependents (Bulgaria in the 10th century and Russia beginning in the 11th). Churches of this type are generally square, with four main columns dividing the naos, or nave, into nine square “bays” in a grid. The center bay was capped by a dome, and in many cases the four orthogonal or diagonal bays were also domed, creating either a cross-shaped or quincunx (X-shaped) pattern of domes. The Nea is of the latter, quincunx type, as is the Basilica of St. Michael in Lucca.

The central dome of the Basilica of St. Michael is the largest and rests on a fairly tall octagonal drum with a window set into each facet. The four outlying domes are smaller in diameter and rest on short, circular drums ringed by narrow, slit-like windows. The domes were probably tiled initially, but the tile was later replaced with lead sheeting. The non-domed bays, orthogonal to the center, are barrel-vaulted, and the north and south ends originally had a large window in each. To the west, the square plan was extended into a rectangle by the addition of a three-bay narthex with groin vaulting. To the east, the bema or sanctuary was extended by three semicircular apses projecting eastward. The exterior of the church was originally dominated by a simple blind arcade. The construction of the original basilica was in brick, though marble spolia, possibly from Rome, was used extensively, including the four central columns of the nave.

Built by a Greek princess and her Greek craftsmen, St. Michael might be characterized as being actually Byzantine, not merely Byzantine-influenced; the same might be said for a number of Basilican and mixed-rule monasteries in Latium and the southern Lombard vassal states, which also feature the cross-in-square plan. Yet the design very quickly diffused itself into monastic architecture of the period even in places like Tuscany, Emilia, and (in a few rare cases) Lombardy, in communities which were predominantly or entirely Latin-Benedictine. Aside from St. Michael itself, the plan remained foreign to non-monastic religious architecture of the period, which was recognizably “basilican” in character. Renovations made to the Basilica of St. Lawrence Outside the Walls and the Basilica of St. Mary, both in Rome and commissioned by Octavian, did not change the fundamental character of these churches; the style of vaulting suggests Greek influence, but there are plenty of other examples of “Greek influence” in architecture in Rome from long before Octavian’s reign.

Secular Architecture

Most non-religious architecture of the time was defensive in nature, and it is no wonder that little survives – most of it was not made of stone. We do not know the exact extent to which stone was used in defensive construction in Italy, but during the reign of Hugh less than a quarter of “fortresses” in Lombardy whose features are described are said to possess a “tower” or other element which was potentially (but not certainly) made of stone. Like the Ungarnwälle of Germany, the fortresses raised in northern Italy up to the 960s were composed primarily of wood and earth: palisades, ditches, ramparts, and obstacles in the form of thorny hedges or abatis. For the most part, the only significant stone defenses were city walls, which had of course been inherited from the Romans. These works were maintained by their 10th century inhabitants but not expanded or elaborated upon.

There is evidence that encastellation in stone in Lombardy began to increase during the reign of Octavian, which is unsurprising given his weak hold over that region. It should be remembered, however, that at this time the term castrum very often applied not to a stand-alone fortress in the countryside but a fortified village. The comital (and, on occasion, episcopal) fortifications of late 10th century Italy typically take the form of a fortified residence on a hill or otherwise in a geographically advantageous place. The structures of this kind which have been found are all rectilinear, and some were evidently built on preexisting foundations from Roman villae, temples, or even ruined churches.

The prime “imperial” example of purely defensive architecture in this period is Castrum Monterii. This citadel was built to control the critically important mining region of southern Tuscany, and later rulers remodeled and rebuilt it to the point where only a single wall and some foundational elements remain from the 10th century structure. This original fortress was a rectilinear tower-keep made of locally quarried limestone. While there are no clearly Greek-influenced architectural features which survive, the high quality ashlar masonry is unusual for the period and may suggest Greek or otherwise imported masons.

The only other clear example of secular architecture in Octavian’s reign is the Palace of Tusculum itself. Tusculum, a hilltop settlement in the Alban Hills overlooking Rome, has been inhabited since ancient times; Cicero wrote of the villas of the wealthy upon its slopes and owned a villa in the vicinity himself (though the notion that the Tusculani palace was built atop Cicero’s villa, once quite popular, has been thoroughly debunked). The town of Tusculum, both in ancient and medieval times, occupied an east-west ridge that rises on the east end to a tall rocky outcrop; this “acropolis” is easily accessible only from the ridge to the west. In the 10th century, the acropolis was the site of two buildings, a paleo-Christian stone church dedicated to Saint Michael and a rather crudely constructed smaller stone rectangular structure that was probably a watchtower or small keep built before the 10th century.

As with Castrum Monterii, the Palace of Tusculum was renovated and expanded several times and only fragments of the 10th century structures remain. The acropolis was walled with stone, though the ancient Romans had also walled this perimeter and Octavian’s wall may have been an elaboration on or rebuilding of the ancient structure. The main palatial building – the aula palatina (“palace hall”) – was rectangular with a hemispherical apse on one end, quite similar to the aula regia of Charlemagne in Aachen or the Constantine Basilica of Trier. The best-known (and best-preserved) part of the structure is the floor, which is a mosaic of marble tiles of various shades formed into plant-like and geometric patterns. The tiles are fairly large and the artistry is not on the same level as many other 10th century Byzantine mosaics, but it should be remembered that while Tusculum was a royal residence it was not the royal residence. It was a country retreat on those rare occasions when the imperial court was in residence, and a fortified place from which to keep an eye on Rome when it was not. In addition to the aula and the old Church of St. Michael, two square towers (probably attached to the wall) exist which were likely defensive in nature. Is likely other buildings for habitation and storage were also on the premises, but they must have been torn down or replaced in one of the later renovations of Tusculum and no clear traces remain.


Samples of Carolingian (left) and Tusculan (right) script from around 1100

Art and Writing

Few examples of architectural artwork are extant from this period. The Basilica of Saint Michael in Lucca demonstrates that Octavian and Agatha had access to craftsmen capable of making high-quality Byzantine mosaics, but aside from the relatively simple floors at Tusculum these are not in evidence elsewhere until the 11th century.

No monumental sculpture exists from this period, but Italy appears to have shared in the fad of ivory-carving that took hold in Byzantium during the 10th and 11th centuries. Two ivory panels are known to exist which specifically portray Octavian and Agatha; one, dating from Alberic's reign, depicts their wedding, while a later panel made during Octavian's reign shows the imperial couple kneeling before Christ and presenting him with their child Constantine. The latter example is particularly exquisite and may represent a material way in which Octavian and Agatha attempted to legitimize their young son and sanctify his expected succession. Numerous other fine ivories from the period exist, including book covers, pyxes (containers for the consecrated Host), devotional triptychs, and a group of figurines from Gaeta believed to be a partial set of chessmen.[1] Ivory tends to survive better than precious metalwork because it cannot be melted down and sold or reworked like constructions of gold and gemstones, but even so the number of these artifacts suggests there was a definite surge in the popularity of ivory among the lay and ecclesiastical elite of late 10th century Italy. To what extent these carvings were Italian works, rather than Byzantine, is not altogether clear, but ivory carving is known to have been done in southern Italy around this time and it is not incredible that some (or even most) of these works may have been made locally.[2]

Enamel and metalwork were also produced in Italy. A set of bronze doors was commissioned in this period for St. Maria on the Aventine, the family palace which Alberic dedicated as a church, which bear sequential images of the life of Christ in relief; they can still be seen in Rome today. A larger set was made for a church in Spoleto around the same period, but these were unfortunately melted down and recast as cannons in the 17th century. Works in gold and silver are also well-represented, particularly those commissioned for various bishops and abbots during this period; examples include candelabras, ornate crosses, and a large array of reliquaries, though some of these may date to the early 11th century. A beautiful and quite large crux gemmata (bejeweled cross) made of gold and encrusted with gemstones and pearls dates from this period; it is generally agreed to have belonged to Abbess Theodora, the elder of Octavian’s two sisters, and was therefore made before the 11th century (though not necessarily before Octavian’s death, as Theodora outlived him).

Calligraphy flourished during Octavian’s reign, produced by both monks and Agatha’s clerks. Early Tusculani calligraphy is notable for the re-emergence of dyed parchments and metallic (i.e. gold or silver) inks, which were previously rare in Lombard Italy and the rest of the Latin west aside from Anglo-Saxon England; the finest and best known example is the marriage charter of Octavian and Agatha, and it seems likely that this was a deliberate adoption of eastern styles. Several examples of illustrated manuscripts date from this period, including the “Gospels of Mantua” which are believed, though without much evidence, to have been commissioned for Bishop Liutprand. This work is exceptionally rich, painted liberally in gold and originally having gem-encrusted golden treasure bindings (though these have since been lost; those on display today are later works). Several other illustrated or embellished Bibles exist from the period.

The most fascinating illustrated work in this period is an illustrated copy of the Chronographia of Theophanes the Confessor, a work of Byzantine history originally covering events from the accession of Diocletian in 284 to the rise of Leo the Armenian in 813. Notably, the work is in Latin, not Greek; while the Chronographia was translated into Latin by the Papal librarian around 875, the Tusculani-era copy includes a continuation of the history to 960 which had been undertaken by an anonymous writer during the reign of Agatha’s father, Constantine VII, which indicates a Latin translation of these later chapters was accomplished in Italy in the late 10th century. It has been suggested that the translation was the work of Agatha or her scribes. Alternately, it may be the work of John III of Naples (d. 969), the brother-in-law of Crescentius the Elder, who is known to have imported and translated a variety of Greek texts including the Chronographia, though it is uncertain if his translation included the later chapters. The illustrated Chronicle, however, is Roman rather than Neapolitan. It is most remarkable on account of its illustrations, which are wholly original – no prior illustrated copies of the Chronographia are known. The illustrators are known by name, Stephen and Aliprand, and while they demonstrate a complete ignorance of Byzantine costume their illustrations of vignettes of Byzantine history are skillful and rather imaginative.[3] It is generally believed the book was commissioned and/or intended for either a prelate of the Roman Curia or the Pope himself, either Sergius or Adeodatus.

The very writing of this period was also different than that which had preceded it. The lands of the former empire of Charlemagne were at this time dominated by the “Carolingian miniscule,” a reformed script designed for legibility which was popularized by the Frankish chancery under Charlemagne. In central and southern Italy, however, another miniscule script existed, the so-called Tusculan script. Despite this now-common name, the script did not originate with the Tusculani or even in the 10th century; it had been in use since the 8th century in the monasteries of southern Italy, including the famous abbeys of Monte Cassino and Subiaco.[A] Alberic, who had patronized and aided in the reform of these religious houses, subsequently drew his clerks from the very communities which used this script most. As a result the early Tusculani period is marked by a rapid transition from Carolingian to Tusculan script in royal documents, making late 10th century Italy perhaps the only place in Latin Christendom where a “local” Latin script was gaining rather than losing ground to the Carolingian standard. Compared to Carolingian script, Tusculan is difficult for modern eyes to decipher – the letters are often closely touching (some have compared the dense Tusculan writing to “embroidery”) and frequently contracted with unfamiliar ligatures, giving the script the overall impression of cursive. Some characters in Tusculan script display probable influence from Greek letters, but this predates its adoption by the Tusculani and cannot be credited to their influence.

Next: Magister Militum [B]

Endnotes (In Character)
[1] Chess is believed to have been introduced to Italy by the invading Saracens at some point in the 9th or 10th centuries. This may very well have been the first introduction of chess into Latin Europe, though the game was already known (as zatrikion) by the Greeks. The figurines in question are from Gaeta, which was nominally a Byzantine vassal but became effectively a vassal state of Italy in the Tusculani period. The Gaetan Chessmen, if they are indeed chessmen, may be the earliest known European set outside Byzantium.
[2] While early Tusculani ivories may have been made locally, they were obviously not sourced locally - all known examples are made of elephant ivory, which probably arrived in Italy by way of Amalfi or Venice (though whether Byzantine and Italian ivory of this period was ultimately of African or Indian origin is still debated today). The sole exception is a small ivory panel from Milan, probably originally an inlay, which ultraviolet analysis recently demonstrated to be walrus ivory. The source of that ivory is probably not Greenland, which was only first settled in the 980s, but rather Iceland or the shores of the White Sea, where walruses were once numerous. The piece confirms the existence of trade routes connecting Italy with the furthest northern reaches of Christendom, though the volume of such trade must have been exceedingly small and limited to a handful of luxury items like ivory.
[3] The “Illustrated Chronicle” is also notable for the truly bizarre illustration of the Siege of Nisbis in 350, in which Theophanes describes the Sassanids’ use of elephants who turned on their own men. Apparently Stephen and Aliprand could not resist attempting to illustrate the defeat and folly of the Saracens despite having no familiarity with an elephant. The result is a scene of generic 10th-century Saracens running in terror from a fearsome beast that looks like a massive grey boar with bristly fur, cloven hoofs, upright and pointed ears, and a wide, conical trunk that it appears to be raising in menace as if intending to wield it like a club.

Timeline Notes (Out of Character)
[A] In OTL, this script is known as “Beneventan” script. It lasted longer than most other regional Latin scripts, lingering on in the monasteries of southern Italy (particularly in Benevento and Bari), but it too was eventually subsumed by Carolingian script in the 13th century. ITTL, the Roman – rather than Frankish – heritage of the Tusculani, as well as their favor of southern Lombard and Greek monks, catapults “Beneventan” from a fairly obscure script used in a backwater of the Latin world to the principal (at least for now) formal script of the imperial chancery.
[B] The intermission is over! The next update will return us to our normal programming.
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XXII. Magister Militum
XXII. Magister Militum


Antichrist seated atop the Leviathan, 12th c. illustration
The Feast of Verona

The death of Emperor Octavian in 989 left a boy just shy of eleven on the imperial throne, his only legitimate son Constantine. Agatha Porphyrogenita, now the dowager empress, easily assumed control of the imperial court and administration, which she had in large part been running already throughout her husband’s reign. Power in Italy, however, was not vested in the court or chancery, but in land, and in Lombardy many of the landowning nobility were deeply dissatisfied with the prospect of an Agathene regency.

Nevertheless, a rebellion was not immediately in the offing. The most likely competitor for the throne, Sergius of Pavia – Octavian’s eldest bastard son and the Margrave of Carniola – had been distanced from Lombardy and the imperial court by his frontier appointment. Once Octavian was dead, Sergius appeared in Lombardy once more, but by April he had returned to Carniola. Constantine was not quite as precarious as he appeared – that Octavian, a popular and (mostly) victorious emperor had secured his son’s election and that Constantine had been crowned by the Pope (even if that pope was Constantine’s uncle) evidently counted for something. The Lombard nobility may even have been favorable to the idea of a regency, as a child emperor could hardly move to curtail the privileges they had amassed under Octavian.

While the Lombard nobility offered its tacit consent through its silence, the empress too held back from any overt act to consolidate power in Lombardy, and for nearly four months the kingdom was placid. The peace began to collapse only in the first week of July, a few days after the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul on June 29th. Margrave Sergius had come west to Verona to celebrate the feast, where he was hosted by a certain Count Otharius.[1] The principal Pro-Agatha chroniclers of the 11th century, Alcerius Aventinus and Arnulf of Milan, tell similar stories of the infamous “Feast of Verona” and its aftermath: that Otharius received the margrave in a “royal fashion,” demonstrating his pride and ambition, and that Sergius regaled the guests with stories of Agatha’s trickery and vice and suggested that Constantine himself was a bastard, a peasant’s child produced by Agatha (after, presumably, a faked pregnancy) as a grand scheme to retain the throne despite her barrenness. Even then, they claim, Agatha refused to act until it was revealed that Sergius was gathering men and arms to launch his own bid for the throne, at which point the empress demanded his submission. Sergius fled to his own principality, where he rallied his own forces and launched a war against his half-brother.

This is unlikely to be the unvarnished truth. In the first place, the story of the faked pregnancy and the peasant-child posing as heir is lifted almost verbatim from the account of Liutprand, in whose history it is Emperor Hugh who makes that allegation against his late mother, Bertha, in order to disown his half-brother Lambert of Tuscany that he might wed Marozia. While it is possible Sergius and his supporters may have cast aspersions on Constantine’s legitimacy, they are not known from other sources, and it seems unlikely that Sergius would have copied the same tale in full. The remainder of the story seems constructed to present Sergius as the perfect villain, prideful and rebellious yet also cowardly with his flight back to Carniola. It may well be that it was Agatha who made the first step towards civil war, misunderstanding the peace of Lombardy over the past few months to be a signal that she had a free hand to do with Sergius as she pleased. That Sergius fled to Carniola may be no more than his attempt to evade capture or worse after refusing a demand to give up his title.

The Nobles’ King

Whatever the truth of the matter, Agatha’s decision to depose Sergius was a serious blunder. The Lombard nobility had so far been content to allow her to run things her way in Tuscany as long as they continued in their independence, but the willingness of the empress to arbitrarily remove Sergius from power confirmed latent fears of her “Greek tyranny.” Even then, however, war was not as immediate as Alcerius and Arnulf claim. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Otherius attempted to present himself to the royal court, then in Pavia, to reconcile and negotiate on behalf of his recent guest and friend, but this mission seems to have come to nothing. Thereafter a larger group of northern counts sought an audience with Constantine – this was apparently in August, more than a month after the Feast of Verona – to advance their own agenda. While Alcerius claims that they were partisans of Sergius, the “Burgundinian Chronicle” of Aymon of Valence suggests that they were attempting to broker peace in Lombardy by asking for the recognition of various privileges, including imperial assent to the hereditary inheritance of landed titles, which had been de facto the case for decades but which no king or emperor, even the most beleaguered of the reguli, had explicitly acknowledged. If accurate, Aymon’s account suggests that these men were not so much boosters for Sergius as opportunists who were more than willing to leave the bastard to Agatha’s tender mercies in exchange for a solidification of their own positions. But Agatha, fearing a coup, absconded from Pavia with her son before the nobles could have their audience.

Agatha’s flight left a vacuum in Lombardy which Sergius was quick to fill. While this may have been the planned “invasion” that the Agathene chroniclers describe him preparing in Carniola, it is perhaps more likely – if the Burgundinian Chronicle can be believed – that Sergius simply saw an opportunity to take command over the dissatisfied noble faction that the dowager empress had left in the lurch. Even once in Pavia, surrounded by sympathetic counts, Sergius did not avail himself of the Iron Crown. Instead another delegation was sent to the imperial court, now in Lucca, and possibly another delegation thereafter to Rome to seek the intervention of Pope Adeodatus III. Agatha, however, would not consider any demands dictated to her – as she thought – by the veiled threat of rebellion, and Adeodatus seems to have deferred to the empress (if indeed he was consulted). While the sources disagree on who took up arms first – Arnulf and Alcerius maintain that Sergius came to Pavia with an army – all agree that in September, Agatha dispatched an army under Siconus, a Tuscan nobleman, to bring Lombardy to obedience.[2]

Siconus failed miserably. First his army was struck by disease, and then after laying siege to Pavia a party of Lombard milites swept down upon his camp, taking the general prisoner and scattering his army. Some of the soldiers evidently switched sides. Casualties were at this point still light, but by dispatching an army Agatha had crossed the Rubicon. A number of northern nobility who had been on the fence, including men with Roman heritage like Count Leo of Como, joined the anti-Agathene cause. At first their aim was probably only to remove Agatha from power, not to depose Constantine, but Sergius found the nobles were coming around to the idea of alternative leadership and managed to effect a change of heart within several weeks of the military debacle. On October 4th the assembled Lombard nobles elected Sergius as King of Italy in the city of his birth.

The White Rebellion

Agatha’s mishandling of the situation had destroyed the fragile modus vivendi between her and the Lombard nobles, and she seems to have been left with no significant support north of the Apennines. Tuscany was still hers, but it was Lombardy which fielded the greater military force, and she had already lost one army under Siconus. The strategy of Sergius was thus both straightforward and reasonably sound – to march on Lucca directly, forcing the dowager empress and her son to either capitulate or flee. Agatha had, after all, already fled Pavia when faced merely with a noble delegation.

Sergius was to be disappointed. While the Lombard army met no resistance in the field, Agatha held the walls of Lucca against them, and the city’s defenses were formidable. The prospect of a siege was not cherished by the Lombard noble party – it would certainly be a long and costly affair, both in blood and treasure. The idea of a negotiated end to the crisis must have been an attractive one to many in the besieging camp, and Sergius had to struggle to keep his coalition from fraying. His best ally was, paradoxically, Agatha, who even while huddling behind the walls of Lucca met their suggestions of negotiation with outrage and defiance.

The dowager empress had some reason for confidence. Realizing the hopelessness of her military situation but unwilling to meet the demands of the Lombards, she had instead sought the aid of John Crescentius, the Duke of Spoleto, who thus far seems to have sat on the sidelines of this unfolding drama. While John had little sway in Lombardy, he controlled a large part of the country (Spoleto as its Duke, Capua-Benevento as effective regent, and Rome as the father-in-law of the praefectus urbi Benedict of Sabina) and was the only great magnate with the power to intervene decisively in Agatha’s favor.

We have no reason to suspect that John and Agatha were close, but it can be surmised that John saw the crisis as a marvelous opportunity to make himself the effective master of Italy. John had installed himself as regent for his young nephew Atenulf of Capua after the Battle of Salerno, and though Atenulf had since grown to manhood John had maintained the reigns of government firmly in his own hands. To legitimate this control, he had transitioned from the temporary designation of regent to the perpetual office of magister militum (“master of the soldiers”), a title of ancient Roman lineage which had endured in central Italy up to the 10th century. It seems likely that John presumed he could be to Constantine what he had been (and still was) to Atenulf, the true power behind the throne - and Constantine’s throne was a good deal more grand than Atenulf’s.

Duke John entered Tuscany with his own army in late October or early November, making a show of force but not yet seeking a battle. He offered generous terms to the rebels, offering general amnesty and proposing to ratify many of their privileges, but there was one sticking point – Sergius. Had the bastard been content with merely Carniola, he argued (according to Alcerius), he could have enjoyed the same amnesty as the rest; but having claimed the title of king, he ceased to be an ordinary rebel and became a usurper. The Lombard nobility liked Sergius, but they did not relish a battle with John’s evidently formidable force any more than a long siege of Lucca, and by offering to fulfill many of their original demands John had deftly undercut the usurper-king’s support. Sergius, sensing that his moment was slipping away, exhorted the Lombards to battle, but his followers apparently preferred John’s conciliation to Sergius’s warmongering. John offered to be merciful to Sergius if he were to come over voluntarily, beg forgiveness, and accept the loss of Carniola, but Sergius had no faith that John (or, perhaps more importantly, Agatha) would keep that promise. Instead, he fled the camp before someone could hand him over to his enemies. His flight destroyed whatever remaining support he had among the Lombards, and an unnamed Lombard miles apprehended him as he fled and handed him over to John in exchange for “a measure of silver coins.” The whole rebellion was thus wrapped up with hardly any bloodshed at all, though the resulting moniker of “the White Rebellion” is a post-Medieval invention. Even Sergius managed to survive, though he was made a prisoner and dispossessed of his lands. He was fortunate to be John's prisoner rather than Agatha's.

Magister Militum

Agatha’s victory was a pyrrhic one. She had called upon John in order to avoid having to make the very same concessions which he had thereafter given the Lombard counts anyway. More seriously, John had no intention of swooping in to her rescue and then returning quietly to Spoleto. She was soon to learn the lesson that a powerful strongman, once invited in as a savior, all too often becomes the true master. Leaving Spoleto to his son, also named John,[3] John Crescentius relocated to Lucca. That city, however, remained Agatha’s stronghold, and to curb her power it was necessary for emperor Constantine to be relocated to the old capital of Pavia. Agatha was apparently unable to prevent this, and was compelled to choose between abandoning her son to John or abandoning her secure base in Tuscany. Unwilling to leave the court, she chose the latter.

Having isolated Agatha, John then rapidly consolidated his control throughout the rest of the country. His brother Crescentius the Younger, ransomed from Saracen captivity some years before, took control over Capua-Benevento. John appointed Azus,[4] the brother-in-law of his nephew (that is, the brother of the wife of Crescentius’s son, Crescentius III), as Margrave of Carniola to replace Sergius. In 990 he married his daughter Rogata to Leo of Como in an effort to enter himself into the elite society of Lombardy. In that same year he secured from Constantine the same title of magister militum which he had enjoyed from Atenulf, which made his intentions clear. In a likely effort to further sideline Agatha, John appointed Thrasonus, Bishop of Ancona, as his new archicancellarius, the supreme administrative post which had been vacant (but de facto held by Agatha) since Liutprand’s death.

John had succeeded in bringing peace to the empire and may well have saved Constantine’s rule, even if it was as yet a rule in name only. A formidable internal enemy, however, would soon emerge. In late 990, Benedict of Sabina died, leaving John bereft of a strong ally in Rome. His replacement was his son by his first marriage, Benedict II, but by now a far more formidable man was making waves in the eternal city. The man in question was Gratian of Praeneste, a clergyman of noble Roman blood and the bishop cardinalis of Praeneste.[5] Pope Adeodatus III had appointed him as the chancellor of the Papal Curia after hearing of his erudition and diligence. The curia was hardly a powerful political force in Italy, but if any man had the will to make it so it was Gratian, and his master was increasingly interested in letting him try.


The “long-haired star” of 1145 illustrated by Eadwine, an English monk, c. 1160.
The same comet had appeared for several weeks in the autumn of 989.

The Coming Apocalypse

By the time of Octavian’s death, Adeodatus had seized upon the notion that the end of the first millennium, now fast approaching, would herald the Second Coming of Christ or possibly some other apocalyptic event. It should be noted that the question of whether there was any widespread connection made in medieval Europe between the end of the millennium and a possible apocalypse is still hotly debated. It is unquestioned, however, that as the millennial year approached, the Bishop of Rome was a believer.

In fact the position of the Church, based on the letter of Paul to the Thessalonians - “concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” - was that it was both impossible and inappropriate to prognosticate as to the day of judgment. Nevertheless, Adeodatus seems to have found the writings of “certain monks” persuasive. Though not mentioned by name, it is very likely that one of these monks was his contemporary Adso, abbot of Monteir-en-Der (d. 992), whose work De Antichristo was a medieval favorite. Written for Gerberga, wife of King Louis IV, that work had professed the existence of the Carolingian monarchy as the bulwark against not only political chaos but the actual coming of the Antichrist:

“Therefore, the Apostle Paul says that Antichrist will not come into the world unless the apostasy comes first, that is, unless first all the kingdoms which long ago were subject to the Roman Empire secede from it. This time, however, is not yet come, because, even though we see that the Empire of the Romans is for the most part destroyed, nevertheless, as long as the kings of the Franks, who possess the Roman Empire by right, survive, the dignity of the Roman Empire will not perish altogether, because it will endure in the French kings.”

While Adso had the Franks and the line of Charlemagne in mind as the heirs of the Roman Empire “by right” – he was, after all, writing his treatise to the Queen of France – Adeodatus was naturally inclined to see his own family as having shouldered that burden.

Also popular at this time were the prophecies of the 4th century “Tiburtine Sibyl,” which held that a final emperor would come to unite Christendom, destroy the heathens, and trigger the beginning of the last days and eventual confrontation between Christ and Antichrist. The Sibyl had given the name of this final emperor as Constans. In the Frankish world it had been common to identify this man with Charlemagne, who some believed would return in the last days to fulfill this prophetic role. Adeodatus, however, was inclined to take another view, perhaps because the similarity of Constans and Constantine was not lost on him. Just in case this was not enough, in the autumn of 989, as civil war seemed to threaten in Lombardy, a brilliant comet lit up the night sky for weeks, and shortly thereafter an earthquake was felt in the vicinity of Capua.[A] Clearly the Apocalypse was near at hand, and clearly the fate of the Tusculani monarchy would play a central part in the contest between good and evil.

This conclusion seems to have made Adeodatus a bit unhinged. Alcerius writes (not entirely approvingly) that Adeodatus consulted astrologers to glean further hints from the heavens. He took to wearing a hair-shirt and otherwise leading a life that was alarmingly ascetic for a 10th century pope. He directed his chancery to begin many of his letters and official charters with Appropinquante finem mundi (“Approaching the end of the world…”). The Romans expected their bishop to be at least minimally religious, but he was also supposed to be a civic leader, a political figure, and a man of pomp and dignity. They did not seem to know quite what to make of this man, who was the brother and uncle of emperors but buried his nose in astronomical texts, muttered about the end of the world, and on occasion had to be nursed back to health after carrying his fasting too far.

We do not know to what extent Chancellor Gratian agreed with the pope’s dire forecast, but he was too sober a man to be as consumed by prophecy as Adeodatus. Even if he was skeptical, however, his own political program dovetailed nicely with the pope’s millenarian apprehensions. Gratian’s aim was to empower the Papacy, and the first step to doing that was to overthrow its most proximate enemy, the prefect. That, in turn, meant the overthrow of John, the prefect’s master. It has been alleged by modern scholars that Gratian cynically used the millenarianism of Adeodatus to gain his support, perhaps suggesting to him that John intended to overthrow Constantine and thereby bring ruin to the empire and to Christendom. Yet it is not impossible that Adeodatus was just as conscious of the political situation as Gratian, and had both worldly and otherworldly motives for permitting his chancellor to take on the most powerful man in Italy.

The Petrine Crisis

Gratian’s initial challenge concerned the all-important matter of investiture. The Italian kings up to this point had appointed bishops at their whim; Papal approval for high positions was requested pro forma by the kings of Christendom, including the King of Italy, but this was a request that was rarely denied. John, acting as the emperor’s regent, had usurped this power for himself and had begun introducing his own Spoletan and southern Lombard candidates into vacant sees. In February of 991, Gratian arranged the rejection of John’s candidate for the see of Forli, a certain Peter, accusing him of pluralism as he enjoyed some other benefice at the time. John was probably not overly concerned by this, for he did nothing; he presumably expected the prefect to handle the matter for him. Gratian, however, refused to meet with the prefect. Benedict rashly attempted to seize the Lateran by force of arms, which was militarily speaking a trivial matter, but Gratian had seen to this already and stirred up a howling mob of Romans against him. By the time Benedict had regained control of the situation, Adeodatus and Gratian had fled to Tusculum, where they were received by Landus, the castaldus aulae.

The “gastald of the [royal] hall” had been charged with maintaining the emperor’s palace at Tusculum, but also to act as a counterbalance to the prefect. That “balance” was nevertheless highly unequal: Tusculum was a bucolic hilltop retreat, while Rome was a major city with the head of the whole Latin Church ensconced therein. Landus was no doubt aware of the power disparity, but he clearly also knew who his own people were. The castaldus aulae was a Tuscan Lombard of relatively humble origins; we are told that his father was a miles (possibly one of the sodales) and that he himself was an “official,” possibly a steward or notarius. In any case he owed his rise to power to Agatha, not John Crescentius, and when Adeodatus and Gratian came to his door he welcomed them.

The whole affair was an embarrassing debacle for John and Benedict. The prefect seems to have thought to end the deadlock with a quick and bloodless coup de main but was now faced with the prospect of besieging an imperial stronghold. John, for his part, had no intention of starting a war – with the pope no less – over the appointment of the Bishop of Forli. When word reached him of the situation, he attempted to defuse it, ordering the prefect to do nothing further to antagonize Adeodatus. Ultimately when the pope triumphantly returned to Rome upon his horse, he was welcomed by the prefect on foot, who made a display of his penitence and submission before the people. Peter ultimately did become Bishop of Forli, but Gratian had achieved his aims – a demonstration to the kingdom that the Papacy was willing to exercise its veto power even in the face of the most powerful man in Italy, and a demonstration to Rome that the city’s true master was the pope, not the prefect.

Gratian did not engage in such brinksmanship constantly – having won his victory, he was content to turn his attention to local matters, expanding the revenues and patronage networks of the Papal Curia in opposition to the rather impotent Prefect Benedict. Yet he had not lost sight of his larger goal, and reached out to the seemingly powerless dowager empress to secure her as an ally. The loyalty of Landus had demonstrated that Agatha’s faction was not totally moribund, and Agatha was even more motivated than Gratian to remove the magister militum from power. In fact, Agatha’s power was on the rise, for Constantine was by now in his teenage years and was more capable of asserting himself with each passing year. As it turned out, he was very much his mother’s son, and it seemed unlikely that John would be able to control him well into adulthood as he had done with Atenulf, particularly when Agatha remained by his side to encourage his independence.

The New Regency

If Gratian intended further grandstanding against John, he would not get the opportunity. In the winter of 992/3, just over three years after he assumed power, John Crescentius fell ill and died at the age of 52. Many later histories maintain that he was poisoned by Agatha. The only contemporary source which makes this claim is the Burgundinian Chronicle, which is generally hostile to Agatha and Constantine. The idea that Agatha would seek to kill the man who had usurped her regency is not completely implausible, but it should be remembered that the Burgundinian Chronicle also gives significant attention to the supposed poisoning of Emperor Hugh by Marozia, and its author was clearly attempting to further a narrative in which the Tusculani were dominated through the generations by dangerous and perfidious women. It is also unclear why Agatha would choose that particular time to kill John, more than three years after his rise; the chronicle explains that it was because John was planning to crown himself emperor, but given the antagonism between John and the Papacy at this time it seems unlikely that John could have managed this.

The years of John’s regency are frequently passed over by historical writers, considered merely a brief and undistinguished interlude between the death of Octavian and the civil war that followed John's own death. His accomplishments may be unsung, but they are not negligible. For over three years he kept the empire whole and at peace despite considerable internal schisms. We know very little of his “foreign policy” – the Italian monarchy seems to have turned inwards during this time and made little impact on the affairs of Europe – but no foreign power seriously challenged the empire’s integrity or attempted to seize the throne while he ruled. The only external threat seems to have been Saracen raids in the south, which had grown in range and frequency following the Battle of Salerno and the establishment of footholds in former Byzantine and Salernitan territory. Three years does not seem like an exceedingly long time, but the difference between an emperor of 11 and an emperor of 14 was not inconsiderable. The moment of tranquility he secured meant that Constantine, though still not fully a man, would not be a mere pawn in the contest to come.

Crescentii family members or in-laws still ruled in Spoleto, Capua-Benevento, Rome, Carniola, and Como, but these rulers – John II, Crescentius the Younger, Benedict II of Sabina, Azus, and Leo of Como, respectively[6] – do not seem to have been able to coalesce around a single leader. John Crescentius had been a uniquely dominant figure, and no single man among his familial successors had the power, territory, or influence to take up the reigns of the government following his death. The result was the reversion of the regency to Agatha, who immediately fired John’s archchancellor Thrasonus and otherwise purged the administration of Crescentii loyalists.

The intervening years of John’s regency had not made the relationship between Agatha and the Lombard nobility any closer, and nobody was keener on exploiting that divide than Sergius of Pavia. Around the time of John's death he was imprisoned a monastery in Cecina on the Tuscan coast, but he soon gained his freedom by some means and made his way back into Lombardy. He succeeded in sparking a rebellion, but his move was premature – before word of his uprising could spread far, he was cornered along with a small force near Piacenza by Agatha’s loyalists, defeated, and recaptured. Agatha was not as lenient as John, and in true Byzantine fashion she had him tonsured, castrated, and shipped off to Capraia.[7]

That shocking act neutralized Agatha’s foremost domestic nemesis, but Sergius was a figurehead, not the motive force behind the anti-Agathene movement, and his mutilation only made the Lombard aristocracy revile the dowager empress all the more. Shortly after the disgrace and exile of Sergius, a party of noblemen crossed over the mountains, arrived at the court of Hugh II, the king of Provence, and implored him to take the crown of Italy from the boy-emperor and his tyrannical mother.

Next Time: Hugh's Ambition

Endnotes (In Character)
[1] “Otharius” is certainly a version of Authari, the name of a 6th century Lombard king. The name suggests this count was a Lombard but nothing else about him is known.
[2] “Siconus,” sometimes rendered “Siconius,” is likely a Latinization of Siconulf, suggesting central/southern Lombard heritage. It is unclear why Siconus, who is not mentioned before Octavian’s death, came so soon into such a position of prominence as to lead Agatha’s forces. One suspects that he was chosen for his loyalty to Agatha rather than his martial skill or experience.
[3] Sometimes known as John II Crescentius or John the Younger.
[4] Sometimes rendered as Atto, Azzo, Azzus, or Azolenus.
[5] A distinguished Roman name from ancient times, the name of Gratianus was still in regular (though not exactly common) use in 10th century Rome. Some scholars have suggested that Alberic’s naming of his son Octavian started something of a trend of antique Roman names among the aristocracy of 10th century Rome, but evidence for this is thin. Latinized Greek, Lombard, and various Biblical names remained popular.
[6] Strictly speaking, Benedict II of Sabina was neither one of the Crescentii nor one of their in-laws; he was the elder Benedict’s son by his adulterous first wife. John’s daughter Theoderanda was merely his stepmother, and she was probably only a few years older than Benedict II (if that). Nevertheless, he seems to have been adopted into the family and is referred to as a nepos (nephew/cousin) of John Crescentius even before the death of the elder Benedict.
[7] As has been mentioned, Capraia – a Tyrrhenian island halfway between Italy and Corsica, at that time home to a handful of lonely monasteries – had by this time become the favorite long-term prison of the Tusculani, serving the same purpose as some of the more barren Aegean Islands did for Byzantine undesirables in the east. Agatha’s “innovation” was not shipping Sergius there, but castrating him, which was exceedingly rare in the west even as a punishment.

Timeline Notes (Out of Character)
[A] This is Halley’s Comet, which indeed appeared in the autumn of 989. Of course, in this timeline it’s rather unlikely that it would still be named “Halley’s Comet.” This was an unplanned coincidence on my part but I think it works out rather well to help explain why Adeodatus rather abruptly goes off the deep end. The earthquake happening in Capua-Benevento soon after is also historically attested.
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Lot to unpack there. The original millennarianism is, of course, always a point of interest and general medieval quirkiness -- that it coincides with Tusculani tumult is even better.

John Crescentius, clearly someone in the Great Man/indispensable actor school of historical statesmanship... looks like our prior augurings of a Crescentian usurpation were a bit premature.

Agatha is coming off as very stubborn, very proud. Her constant alienation of the Lombards -- and the coming of yet another Provencal Hugh -- are not good for young Constantine....
Great work on the artistic influences of Tusculan Italy. It certainly gives a better idea of the differences with Northern Europe.

Regarding the succession crisis, I'm looking forward to see how will be the character of Constantine, growing under the influence of Agatha and suffering all these threats to his rule.
Though it appears that Constantine will win in the end with all the hinting from the narrator with the fact we know that Agatha has a high position to the next century and that they seem to be considered the heroes outside of the "Burgundian Chronicles" which if my position is accurate would be against them for bitterness at the lost of their side and being able to get away with it by being a foreign monarch. Also we know that that this is far from the end of the Tusculum dynasty from all the building about the house. Also the story it self from the narrator is giving Constantine pretty good viewpoint on him and stated that he was now old enough to be an independent actor.

My guess is that he'll win by the end and hopefully also do much to strengthen the hand of the Monarchy against the aristocracy. Which I'm good with, because fuck the aristocracy, always require at least some breaking so they aren't completely useless to the running of the state. Especially aristocracy that is used to holding a barrel over the actual state like the Italian aristocracy in this period and in later centuries the Polish and German aristocracies.
Wow what a fantastic update Carp, I thought for sure that John Crescentius was going to exert more influence and control on Constantine or at least secure his family as almost junior partners of the Emperor but bravo on that simply but believable twist. Also I would love to see the impact of Gratian Papacy but I doubt that's in the works.
XXIII. Hugh's Ambition
XXIII. Hugh’s Ambition


Two cavalrymen face each other, Italo-Byzantine Ivory casket, c. 1000 AD

Hugh the Second

History repeated itself in the summer of 993, when Hugh II of Provence crossed the Alps with an army to receive the Iron Crown just as his grandfather had 67 years before. Hugh’s qualifications for the office were impressive: he was the grandson of Emperor Hugh, and the son of King Lothair of Provence and Princess Adelaide of Burgundy (who still lived in 993 and may have counseled Hugh to invade). His own kingdom, while much smaller than Italy, was both prosperous and stable. He himself was a man in his prime, in his mid-30s at the time of his invitation, although he does not seem to have had much of a military career before this point. Being a Burgundinian of Frankish descent, he was culturally a better fit for the lion’s share of the disaffected Lombard nobility. By 993 there was probably no lord remaining in Lombardy old enough to remember the rule of the first Hugh more than half a century prior, and any collective memory of Hugh’s “tyranny” which had prompted his overthrow in favor of Anscar seems to have been lost, or at least not held against his grandson.

Bereft of its strongman, the late John Crescentius, Italy seemed ripe for conquest. Emperor Constantine was still a boy, and his regent, the dowager empress Agatha Porphyrogenita, was widely despised by the northern nobility who represented the largest and most powerful aristocratic faction in the empire. After John’s death – which some whispered was Agatha’s doing - the unity of the Tusculani clan was itself in question. Nevertheless, obstacles remained to Hugh’s ambitions both within Italy and without.

To make any progress at all, it was first necessary for Hugh to deal with the magnate who controlled the Italian side of the principal passes between Provence and Italy. That was Count-Patrician Manfred of Auriate, the husband of Octavian’s cousin Orania. His family had fared well under the Tusculani despite their own Frankish origin, and although his relations with Hugh and the Provencals had been cordial over the years he refused to play the role of traitor. Rather than attempt to force an entrance at Susa, Hugh took advantage of his relationship with King Conrad of Burgundy, his uncle, who allowed him to travel through Upper Burgundy and enter Lombardy in the north, where the local nobility was friendlier to Hugh’s cause. Manfred was outflanked, and by July the King of Provence had reached Ivrea.

The War in Lombardy

Hugh’s opening move was to secure his flank with a campaign against Count Manfred in southwestern Lombardy. An imperial army under Count Severus of Ravenna, a grand-nephew of Alberic, marched west to support Manfred and drive out Hugh, but the Provencals surprised Severus west of Vercelli and decisively defeated him despite Hugh’s smaller army. Manfred was compelled to withdraw from his lands into Liguria. This victory instigated the Lombard uprising Hugh had been counting on, and the aristocracy which had once risen up with Sergius now rushed to Hugh’s side. In central Lombardy, only Pavia – where Constantine now reigned – seems to have remained neutral, and after Duke Leo of Como (the son-in-law of the late John Crescentius) defected to Hugh the capital became far too exposed for Constantine to remain. The emperor and the remnants of the imperial army withdrew to Piacenza, allowing Hugh to enter Pavia and arrange his election as King of Italy by his supporters. As word of Pavia’s fall and Hugh’s election spread, other lords jumped ship, including Margrave Azus of Carniola and Count Marinus of Clavenna.

The most catastrophic defection was that of John II Crescentius, Duke of Spoleto and son of the late magister militum. Up to this point Hugh’s supporters had been contained in the north, but Duke John opened up a whole new front against the emperor’s forces. John was less interested in aiding Hugh, however, than in reprising the role of Alberic by establishing his own dominance over central Italy. To that end, his first move was against Rome, where Pope Adeodatus III had been rather ineffectually giving aid to the imperial party by writing letters urging bishops to remain loyal. The Papal Curia fled in advance of John’s arrival, and the duke was welcomed into the city by his adoptive nephew Benedict II of Sabina, the urban prefect. Tusculum seemed to close and too precarious for a refuge, an estimation which was borne out when John subsequently overran the hilltop town and sacked the imperial palace. Adeodatus instead relocated to Anagni in the Latina Valley.

For the purposes of Gratian of Praeneste, the Chancellor of the Roman Church, Hugh was probably just as acceptable a king as Constantine. He might even have been preferable, if his Provencal power base meant that Hugh would be even further removed from Roman affairs, allowing the Papacy to reassert control over the city and ultimately the Roman Campagna. But Pope Adeodatus was never going to allow his chancellor to support the overthrow of his imperial nephew, and if Gratian harbored any notion of supporting Hugh it was dashed when John, Hugh’s notional ally, stormed into Rome and declared himself Princeps Romanorum. From their refuge in Anagni, Adeodatus and Gratian promulgated an excommunication of both John and Hugh. Hugh, of course, had neither ordered nor condoned John’s actions, but the fact that John gave lip service to Hugh’s royal title was reason (or pretext) enough for Adeodatus. The excommunication was followed closely by an encyclical to the imperial episcopate, threatening Italy’s bishops with excommunication themselves if they so much as celebrated mass with Hugh’s soldiers.

While Adeodatus and Gratian acted boldly in the chancery, their cause was championed in the field by an unlikely commander: the 21-year-old John Aureus, Octavian’s second bastard son. One could be forgiven for assuming that John Aureus would side against Constantine given the fate of Sergius of Pavia, who had been castrated and exiled on Agatha's orders, but the young man remained loyal. His loyalty may have been personal – whereas Sergius had been 15 years older than John and 21 years older than Constantine, John was only six or seven years older than the emperor and the two had known each other throughout childhood. It is also possible that John’s loyalty was not so much to Constantine as to Adeodatus, as John had spent much more time in Rome than either Constantine or Agatha and was favored by his papal uncle. Finally, some have suggested that John’s allegiance was more calculated – as the bastard son of a Tusculani emperor, he may have decided that his survival would be even less secure under Hugh than under Constantine. Either way he was a potential pretender, but at least with Constantine he was also family.

John Aureus had neither led an army nor fought in a battle before, but he had many friends among the Roman nobility. He could win support amongst the local counts and milites whom the ascetic, bookish Adeodatus and the obdurate, hard-nosed Gratian would never be able to convince to fight for a cause that seemed far from a sure bet. After fleeing to Anagni along with the Papal court, John traveled around the Campagna to rally opposition to “Prince” John Crescentius, who he warned would deliver the Romans into the hands of a foreign tyrant. In short order he was at the head of a small but growing league of Campagnan nobility, which was eventually joined by Gaetan milites under the brother-dukes John III of Gaeta and Marinus of Fondi. The Papal forces got off to a rough start when an ill-conceived attack by the inexperienced John suffered a serious defeat by the Spoletans near Palestrina. The Spoletans did not follow up their victory quickly enough, however, and John Aureus was able to withdraw to Castrum Lateranensis, just a few miles west of Anagni, and subsequently repulse a Spoletan assault against him there.

The Burgundinian Contest

In the autumn of 993, Hugh attempted to end the war in one stroke by the capture of Piacenza. Emperor Constantine got his first taste of battle in an attempt to ambush Hugh’s vanguard as the army crossed the Trebia River. It was, coincidentally, in roughly the same location where Hannibal had achieved a masterful victory over the Romans in 218 BC, but Constantine was not destined to avenge that millennium-old humiliation. Though Constantine succeeded in catching Hugh’s scouts unawares, he struck too early and succeeded only in besting a fairly inconsequential advance guard. The rest of the Provencal-Lombard army surged across and beat back Constantine’s forces easily.

The emperor had more luck defending Piacenza. Hugh surrounded the city on land, but could not prevent its resupply by way of the Po River. The attempts by the Provencals to take control of the waterway were poorly executed and easily deflected. The most ambitious was an attempt to build a “bridge of boats” to reach the city’s riverward side, but this ended in bitter failure when the bridge foundered under the weight of soldiers, allegedly drowning two hundred men. Hugh subsequently abandoned the attempt to capture the city and instead prepared a campaign into Tuscany, which would force Constantine to either come fight him or see the stronghold of Tusculani power in central Italy ruined. The conquest of Tuscany would also link up Lombardy with Duke John’s territories in the south. In November, however, these plans were scuttled by the death of Conrad, King of Burgundy.

For nearly all of his impressive 56-year reign, Conrad had been a nominal German client. Soon after Conrad inherited the throne from his father Rudolph II, Otto the Great had made a speedy entrance to oversee his consecration. While the addition of Burgundy to the German orbit was no doubt desirable in itself, Otto’s primary concern had been Emperor Hugh, who coveted the Burgundinian kingdom and had been on the verge of an invasion until Otto’s assertion of suzerainty dissuaded him. Now, as the winter of 993 drew near, the grandsons of Otto and Hugh – also named Otto and Hugh – found themselves in a similar position. As Conrad’s nephew, Hugh II had his own familial claim to the throne, and he and his father Lothair had spent years cultivating support from Burgundinian feudatories in apparent preparation for Conrad’s death.

For King Otto II of Germany, a Burgundinian intervention was an obvious necessity. Hugh was King of Provence already, seemed to be on the verge of winning Italy, and now had the opportunity to assert himself in Burgundy. There was a very real possibility that if he were unopposed he might succeed in placing the crowns of all three of these kingdoms (not to mention the imperial crown) upon his own head, and the formation of such a state was clearly not in German interests. Also worrying was the fact that Hugh was also the first cousin of Bruno, the son of Otto the Great and Hugh’s aunt Alda, who had fought with Otto for the crown of Germany. Bruno still lived, and was a guest of his cousin in Provence. From Otto’s viewpoint, the only thing worse than the prospect of a new Italo-Burgundinian empire was an Italo-Burgundinian empire capable of throwing its support behind a German anti-king.

Otto also had familial pressure upon him to intervene. He had no love for the late Octavian and had never met Constantine, but his wife was Helena, Constantine’s older sister. Helena and her mother had always been close, and the German Queen had clearly inherited much of Agatha’s intelligence and will. It is impossible to say how great a factor her influence was in her husband’s decision – as we have mentioned, Otto had perfectly good reasons of his own for action – but undoubtedly Helena made every exertion to ensure her husband would move against Hugh.

In an unenviable position between these two kings was the actual ruler of Burgundy, Rudolph III, Conrad’s only legitimate son.[1] The 22-year old Rudolph had little experience with governance and none with warfare. He is described in the chronicles as dull and indolent, and certainly did not exhibit many remarkable virtues, but his unflattering portrait may have more to do with his helplessness in the face of his powerful neighbors than any outrageous defects in his character. Had been possessed of all the boldness of Otto the Great and all the prudence of Alberic, he may still have been consigned to the role of a pawn in the hands of mightier kings.

Wartime Betrothal

Dowager-empress Agatha had not remained with her son for long after their flight from Pavia. Although reluctant to leave the boy’s side, the loss of Lombardy and the betrayal of Duke John convinced her that drastic action was necessary to save her son’s reign, and the mission she devised could not be entrusted to another. Her aim was to gain the support of an ally of the Tusculani who had as yet made no appearance in the conflict – Géza,the Grand Prince of the Magyars.

In October, Agatha sailed from Ravenna to Trieste, which was ruled by Count Domenic Candianus, Octavian’s nephew and the Count of Istria. Domenic had remained loyal to his family, though his only role in the war seems to have been inconsequential skirmishing with the pro-Provencal Margrave Azus of Carniola. To reach Pannonia from Domenic’s territory, the dowager empress had to be smuggled first through Friuli and into Bavarian Carinthia, allegedly disguised as a nun.

Géza received the empress at his western capital of Pozsony alongside his son Vajk, then around 18-19 years old. The “embassy” of Agatha was far from impressive – forced to travel incognito, she bore none of the gifts which might have been expected from a purple-born empress asking for aid.[2] We are told that Agatha’s appeal was personal – as Octavian had fought alongside Géza to defend his people and his family, it was now time for Géza to pay his debt and demonstrate his honor by fighting in defense of Octavian’s people and Octavian’s family.

As with Gratian, it is reasonable to assume that Géza’s strategic interest would have been served just as well by a Bosonid emperor as a Tusculani one. As long as Italy was strong and independent of Germany, Géza had a resource against the prospect of German dominion. Géza may have felt some personal loyalty to the Tusculani clan given his productive alliance with Octavian, but this loyalty was apparently not enough to interest him in intervention when Hugh’s invasion first began. As far as we can tell, until that point the Magyars had remained scrupulously neutral. (This was certainly a break from their past, as a few decades earlier it would have been de rigueur for them to have taken advantage of the disorder to plunder Italy.) For whatever reason, Géza did eventually come around to Agatha’s entreaties, but he demanded a price – an imperial bride for his son and heir.

Agatha, of course, only had one daughter, and she was the Queen of Germany. Constantine was still a boy himself and had no children. Nevertheless, Agatha agreed to his terms, and she had just the girl in mind. Octavian, after all, did have at least one unmarried daughter – Alcinda, allegedly born to Octavian by a Mantovi mistress who we know nothing about, not even her name. By this time Alcinda was around 16 years of age and had been raised for a church career, as Agatha thought a convent to be the best place for another one of Octavian’s bastards.

Her illegitimacy does not seem to have been an issue at the time. It may be that among the Magyars, for whom Christianity was as yet a thin veneer over a deeply pagan population, the children of a ruler by his concubine were not held in such low esteem as they were in the west. Alternatively, some have argued that Agatha simply did not tell Géza of Alcinda’s illegitimate birth, and the grand prince was at that point in no position to know otherwise. The matter would only become an issue in later centuries, when Hungarian chroniclers decided it was necessary to shore up the pedigree of the Arpad dynasty by inventing the name of “Hildegard” for Alcinda’s unknown mother and forging a lineage for her that made her a direct descendent of the last Lombard kings.[3]

Satisfied with Agatha’s proffered betrothal, Géza bade her to return to her home country in the company of a host of Magyar horsemen.[4] The force thus dispatched had two aims: to support the grand prince’s ally, and to retrieve Vajk’s thoroughly unsuspecting fiancée from a convent in Siena.

Approximate extent of Provencal and Imperial control in Italy in November 993 (Click for big)

Next Time: Four Kings’ War

Endnotes (In Character)
[1] But not his only son: Conrad also had an illegitimate son, Burchard, who entered an ecclesiastical career at an early age and became Archbishop of Lyon in 978.
[2] The image of Agatha appearing before Géza in the simple robes of a nun was immortalized in a painting by the 16th century Italian master Ptolemaeus of Luna, but while Agatha was alleged to have traveled in the guise of a nun it is very unlikely that she would have worn a habit for the princely audience (to say nothing of the fact that Agatha’s habit, like the clothing of everyone in the painting, is terribly anachronistic). Nevertheless, the image of the humbly clad empress shedding her black cowl to reveal a golden tiara has proved an enduring one.
[3] “Hildegard” is, of course, a Frankish name rather than a Lombard one. Presumably the Hungarian chroniclers who invented her considered Hildegard, being the name of Charlemagne’s (second) wife, to be suitably evocative of ancient royalty and paid little attention to its onomastic suitability for a 10th century lady of Mantua descended from Lombard kings.
[4] Thietmar claims the Magyar force was five thousand strong. This seems unlikely; five thousand is alleged to have been the full strength of the army that crushed Berengar and the assembled forces of Italy at the Battle of the Brenta in 899, and the force sent with Agatha was probably not so formidable. Alcindus gives the more credible figure of two thousand, though figures as low as five hundred have been proposed by modern historians.
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I hope names aren't getting too difficult, as there's a lot of repetition - John II Crescentius, son of John Crescentius, who is fighting against John Aureus, and so on. The next chapter will introduce a relative of King Hugh who is also named Hugh, and a German in-law of the late King Conrad who is also named Conrad. Unfortunately that seems to have been the standard for the time, and the Crescentii are especially bad for naming virtually every male member of their house either John or Crescentius. (For that reason alone, it's probably for the best that ITTL John Crescentius didn't usher in an era of Crescentii supremacy... ;) )

Speaking of names, as we transition from a mix of historical and fictional characters to an all-fictional cast, I have to make some decisions about naming patterns in the 11th century. I've been foreshadowing my plans a bit by the introduction of more Latinized Lombard names in the north (Pandus, Landus, Azus). I'm not entirely sure how much of a "classical name renaissance" there's going to be - Gratian[us] and Severus (and, of course, Octavian[us]) were real names used by central Italian people during this period, and might well have been more common under a theoretical Tusculani monarchy, but I feel like those names are unlikely to take the country by storm in a few generations, particularly given the widespread Lombard heritage in Italy. Latinized Greek names are also going to increase somewhat in popularity, although a number of popular (Italo-)Greek names are already in use in late 10th century central Italy (e.g. Theodorus, Marinus, Sergius).

Edit: Would a condensed timeline of what's happened so far be a worthwhile thing to make at this point?
Edit: Would a condensed timeline of what's happened so far be a worthwhile thing to make at this point?

I think that isn't hard to keep up with the story, but if you feel it might make things easier to the readers it could be a good idea.


Finally re-read through this thread, haven't seen it in months. This is excellent so far, and I continue to enjoy it.

And of course, it inspires me to work on my own long-dormant thread.

EDIT: The names aren't too hard, though I sometimes have to look twice to see who is being talked about. And I face the same problem with Norman names: so many Rogers, Roberts, Williams, Simons, and Tancreds....
Your identifying who each one is helps with the names though a mini cast list might help put them in a wider context.

As to naming patterns, keeping to your Romanised Lombard with speckles of Latin and Greek seems the way to go for now, bearing in mind that versions of royal names will increase in popularity a generation after there's one on the throne (ie people naming their kids after kings) regardless of their popularity and that royals tend to go for family names.