BBC - A History of the World - Object : Lothair Crystal

Lothair Crystal

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This crystal was made for Lothair II, king of the Franks. It depicts the biblical story of Susanna and the elders, in which Susanna is accused of adultery before being proved innocent by the Prophet Daniel. The subject matter may reflect Lothair's own marital problems. He attempted to divorce his wife, accusing her of incest. After the pope refused the divorce, Lothair forgave his wife and this crystal may have been made to reflect his acceptance of his wife's innocence.

Why did Lothair really want a divorce?

Lothair's great grandfather Charlemagne created the largest state in Europe since the Roman Empire. Charlemagne's sons divided this empire into France, Germany and Lothair's middle kingdom ? Lorraine. Lothair was desperate for a divorce because his wife could not provide him with an heir. This failure to produce a son led to Lothair's kingdom being divided between his uncles. If he had produced an heir Lorraine might now rank with France and Germany, as one of the great states of Europe.

Lothair's queen was forced, possibly through torture, to confess to incest with her brother by the bishops of Cologne and Trier

Lothair and his kingdom

Lothair II (855-869), was the son of the Carolingian Emperor Lothair I and king of Lotharingia, an artificial kingdom which lay between Saxony and France with its capital at Aachen in modern Germany.

The Carolingians were the second ruling dynasty of the Franksand their name derives from that of Charlemagne, the great king (reigned 768-814) who established an empire in Western Europe reaching from northern Spain and France to northern Germany, Austria and northern Italy.

In 800 Charlemagne was crowned Emperor by the Pope at Rome. Under the tutelage of men of learning such as Alcuin of York and Paul the Deacon, he also initiated a great renaissance of art, architecture and learning, drawing on both the Antique culture of the Mediterranean world and Christian scholarship for inspiration. Aachen became the capital of the empire, where Charlemagne had a grand palace built.

The Carolingian rulers subdivided the realm between their heirs, which frequently led to civil war in a bid for power. Also, local officials and aristocrats took advantage of such events to assert semi-independent local rule in some regions.

To avoid dying without an heir, which would have meant his kingdom would be divided between its neighbours, Lothair II attempted to divorce his barren wife Theutberga and marry his mistress Waldrada, who had given him a son. Pope Nicholas intervened, compelling him to take back Theutberga or face attack from his uncles, who wished to share his kingdom between them.

On Lothair’s death, the inevitable happened: Charles the Bald and Louis the German seized his lands by the Partition of Mersen (870). In 888 the realm was partitioned into the kingdoms of France, Germany, Italy, Provence and Burgundy, and the Carolingian empire finally came to an end in 987, but the name of his kingdom survives even today in that of the rather smaller region of Lorraine in eastern France.

Barry Ager, curator, British Museum

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  • 1. At 20:00 on 16 June 2010, pan shoshana wrote:

    There is no account of the featured story in the Bible. The only Susanna in scripture is in Luke 8, and nothing is mentioned in Daniel - it would have been fitting to refer to the Apocrypha as source of this story, if that's where it's from, as it indicates a particular standpoint in respect of belief.

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  • 2. At 21:18 on 16 June 2010, Peter Bolt wrote:

    Dear pan shoshana:
    You are (slightly) wrong as well as being absolutely right. The story depicted is indeed in the Apocrypha. According to the King James Authorised Version it is " The History of Susanna : set apart from the beginning of Daniel because it is not in Hebrew, as neither the narrationn of Bel and The Dragon"
    Nonetheless at the time of this particular object there was only one recognised Bible in Europe and that was the Bible authorised by Rome.
    I blame the invention of the Printing Press for all the trouble that followed.

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  • 3. At 14:59 on 18 June 2010, bmager wrote:

    Dear Pan Shoshana,
    Thank you for your comment. You are quite right that the Apocrypha is the source of the story and this is made clear on the museum's website and gallery label. It would have been fitting on the broadcast, too, I agree. But time constraints imposed a tight restriction on detailed information regarding a complex issue, allowing the programme to concentrate on the fascinating stories told by the crystal, which I hope you nevertheless enjoyed.

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  • 4. At 10:41 on 24 June 2010, J D Hill wrote:

    Pan Shoshana, peterbolt - further to bmager?s comment, the story forms chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel in the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Old Testament, and the source text from which the Old Testament was quoted in the New Testament, although it is not found in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.

    It is accepted as canonical by the Catholic, Orthodox and Eastern churches (sometimes under the term deutero-canonical, meaning precisely the chapters in the Septuagint that are not in the Hebrew text).

    Protestant churches do not accept it as canonical - the Church of England regards it as part of the Apocrypha and it was included as such in the 1611 King James Bible. Though not accepted as canonical, these texts are sometimes included in Protestant Bibles as useful, exemplary stories.

    At the time of the subject of the programme, the Lothair Crystal, the Susanna story was accepted as part of the canon of scriptural writing.

    The story of these deutero-canonical and apocryphal texts is fascinating but could not be covered in a relatively short programme, which had to focus on the purpose and place of the object at the time of its making.

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Probably Germany


AD 855 - 869


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