Romanides argues that the Franks decimated Roman urbanization & established feudalism in an effort to maintain a precarious grip on overextended power from their home bases:
“In the time of Pippin of Herestal (697-715) and Charles Martel (715-741), many of the Franks who replaced Roman bishops were military leaders who, according to Saint Boniface, “shed the blood of Christians like that of the pagans.” In order to defend itself against foreign interference and protect itself from the fate of conquered Romans elsewhere, the papacy promulgated electoral laws in 769, according to which candidates for the papal dignity had to be cardinal deacons or presbyters of the city of Rome, and Romans by birth. Only Roman nationals were allowed to participate in the elections. Thirteen Frankish bishops were in attendance when these decisions were made.[ 5 ]
Meanwhile, Roman revolutionary activity in Gaul had not yet been fully suppressed. Pippin III had died the year before and Charlemagne and his brother Carloman had taken over the rule of Austrasia and Neustria. Within the surprisingly short period of only twenty-two years, from 732 to 754, the Franks had defeated the Roman-Arab alliance, swamped all the provinces of Gaul, and had swept into Northern Italy. This was made possible by the new feudal order which was first established in Austrasia and Neustria. The Roman administrative units of the civitates were abolished and replaced by the military comitates. The former free Romans were transferred en masse from the cities and were established on the slave labor camps called villae and mansi, alongside the serfs. They were called villeins (villains), a term which, for understandable reasons, came to mean enemies of law and order.
The Visigoths in Spain were overthrown by the Romans, who opened their city gates to the Berbers and Arabs. The Franks reacted with determination to avoid the occurrence of the same in Francia (Land of the Franks) by abolishing Roman urban society.
By the middle of the eighth century, the Frankish armies of occupation were overextended far beyond Austrasia and Neustria, where the main body of their nation was established. They could not yet afford to take over the church administration of Papal Romania as they had done elsewhere. It was expedient to play the part of liberators for the time being. Therefore, they appointed the Roman pope as a vassal of Francia. The measure of freedom left to the Romans in Papal Romania depended on their right to have their own Roman pope, bishops, and clergy. To lose this right would have been tantamount to the same loss of freedom suffered by their compatriots in Northern Italy and Francia. Therefore, they had to be very careful not to incite the Franks.
The Romans had made alliances with the Arabs (and Jews) and succeeded in overthrowing Visigothic Spain. Romanides is clear what his argument is:
The church in Francia remained in the grip of a tyrannical Teutonic minority.
Strangely enough, Romanides admits that the Donation of Constantine was a deliberate forgery by the West Romans (done in Francia) which was a cloak-and-dagger effort to convince the Franks that there was imperial and religious sanction to Rome’s complete independence (from Charlemagne’s meddlings). This forgery (in Romanides’ work) is really not condemned, but rather exonerated. There is no doubt that Romanides is right that there was a struggle for power between the remnants of Romanity and the “free Franks”, or that the medieval Church was founded upon the French feudal structure which eventually triumphed in the Lombard struggle over the papacy. He even goes so far as to credit the French Revolution with restoring the balance against the invading, subjugating Franks, who had believed that God had given them the imperium by divine right of trial in battle (and here, Dugin’s emphasis on Chaos as salvific finds a benefactor and friend in Romanides).
There is no mention of Frankish loyalty to Rome during the invasion of the Huns under Attila. It is hard to see how Romanides can credibly call a province like Gaul legitimately “Roman”, given that Caesar had conquered the tribes there, & yet when similar foederati tribes had remained loyal to the Romans during the ensuing incursions, but had predominantly paid the price in blood and treasure by defeating Rome’s enemies on the battlefield, Romanides regards them as aliens. The fact that the Frankish tribes from the Harz regions finally made a political reality out of what had become a social reality (the death of Roman political structure in the West) seems more or less appropriate. Romanides here sees primarily an ethnic struggle, where it would (even in his own account) seem to have been one more of faction – Rome certainly wanted to remain within the sphere of Byzantium, bad enough to lie about it; but it also tried to reclaim its frontiers.
John Ruskin’s account of these doings seems far more sane and noble. Although admitting that the French people of 1789 were such that “no people had ever been so loyal in vain”, he nonetheless wrote a paean to the Frankish people and their Christianity in What Our Fathers Told Us: Bible of Amiens.
I return gladly to the dawn of chivalry, when, every hour and year, men were becoming more gentle and more wise; while, even through their worst cruelty and error (eg., the incident of the Vase of Soissons & Clovis), native qualities of noblest cast may be seen asserting themselves for primal motive, and submitting themselves for future training. Constantine’s victory only gave form and dying color to the falling walls of Rome, but the Frank and Gothic races, thus conquering and thus ruled, founded the arts and established the laws which gave to all Europe her virtue joy and virtue. And it is lovely to see how, even thus early, the Feudal chivalry depended for its life on the nobility of its women. There was no vision seen, or alledged, at Tolbiac. The King prayed simply to the God of Clothilde.
Ruskin has some other interesting passages on the college of Augurs begun by Numa, and the vestal virgins, and the supreme pontiff (who makes sacrifical offerings on behalf of the whole human race). Ruskin sees through the “stench of the barbarian tribes” into the soul of what gave the Gothic birth, as distinct either from Classical youth or Arabic cradle.
We are not to see in Frankish monarchies a dull literalism – surprisingly, the Franks did not always adhere to strict “monarchical” lines of succession. Adalberon (the same archbishop who exonerated Adalbero of Laon from charges of adultery with Emma of Italy, brought by fellow nobility), was a chancellor who decisively acted against the ruling dynasty in favor of Hugh Capet.
Crown the Duke. He is most illustrious by his exploits, his nobility, his forces. The throne is not acquired by hereditary right; no one should be raised to it unless distinguished not only for nobility of birth, but for the goodness of his soul.
Adalberon would later plot against Capet. Even the sins of medieval times tended to exonerate and recognize God. And here, I will end with the best defense possible against the modern accusation of “using God’s name” to do “Satan’s work” (leaving aside the rhetorical ellisions and fallacies which render this idea feasible to our minds); Edmund Burke:
The age of chivalry is gone. — That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold a generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, achieved defensive nations, the nurse of the manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage while it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness. . . .
This is what occured under Charlemagne, and more, if we can accept Ruskin’s account, which is by no means unsympathetic to ancient Rome. Why did Byzantium pursue a policy of attempting to subordinate the Western half of the imperium, when it was clear that the quarrel would end badly?