Rex Francorum - imperator Augustus - gratia Dei rex: The “language” of authority in the Carolingian world (751–877)

Ildar Garipzanov, Fordham University


My dissertation, “Rex Francorum—imperator Augustus—gratia Dei rex: The ‘Language’ of Authority in the Carolingian World (751–877),” results from interdisciplinary study of iconographic, diplomatic, liturgical, numismatic, and narrative evidence combined with methods of modern semiotics. While previous scholarship on rulership has been focused on personal interactions between the ruler and aristocracy or on different aspects of royal and imperial propaganda, I concentrate on the communication between the remote ruler and different layers of society, mediated through book miniatures, charters, letters, liturgical texts, seals, and coins. Such media enabled the monarch and most subjects of the Carolingian realm, in a greater or lesser degree, to communicate back and forth their views on rulership and royal authority. This study develops a new method, the semiotics of authority, for the study of the social, political, and cultural history of the Middle Ages and Carolingian period. The use of this method lets me trace three main communicative traditions or codes in the “language” of authority that existed under the Carolingians. The first code, rex Francorum, was based on the old Germanic tradition of royal authority derived from the ruler's people (gens). This “gentile” tradition dominated all means of communication in the reign of Charlemagne. The second code, imperator Augustus, appealed to the late Roman tradition of the universal authority of a Christian emperor, an earthly replica of Christ. This code was widespread in the circles close to Louis the Pious, but found a little response in the broad Frankish audience. The third code, gratia Dei rex, was developed by the Carolingian clergy in the mid-ninth century, especially in the kingdom of Charles the Bald, and later became prevailing in medieval Europe. The final code communicated the clerical vision of royal authority as depending on God's grace and established clergy as the main mediator between God and a ruler.

Subject Area

Middle Ages

Recommended Citation

Garipzanov, Ildar, "Rex Francorum - imperator Augustus - gratia Dei rex: The “language” of authority in the Carolingian world (751–877)" (2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3125013.