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Transcultural Approaches to the Concept of Imperial Rule in the Middle Ages

Edited By Christian Scholl, Torben R. Gebhardt and Jan Clauß

During the Middle Ages, rulers from different regions aspired to an idea of imperial hegemony. On the other hand, there were rulers who deliberately refused to be «emperors», although their reign showed characteristics of imperial rule. The contributions in this volume ask for the reasons why some rulers such as Charlemagne strove for imperial titles, whereas others voluntarily shrank from them. They also look at the characteristics of and rituals connected to imperial rule as well as to the way Medieval empires saw themselves. Thus, the authors in this volume adopt a transcultural perspective, covering Western, Eastern, Northern and Southern Europe, Byzantium and the Middle East. Furthermore, they go beyond the borders of Christianity by including various caliphates and Islamic «hegemonic» rulers like Saladin.

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Barbarian Emperors? Aspects of the Byzantine Perception of the qaghan (chaganos) in the Earlier Middle Ages (Sebastian Kolditz)

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Sebastian Kolditz (Heidelberg)

Barbarian Emperors? Aspects of the Byzantine Perception of the qaghan (chaganos) in the Earlier Middle Ages

As direct heirs to the Roman imperial tradition, Byzantine emperors had a strong claim to universal rule over the oikoumenē1 and according to a well-established tradition, they only acknowledged one ruler equal to them: the Persian king of kings, whose place was later accorded to the Muslim caliph.2 In the second half of the 6th century, however, the Constantinopolitan court came into contact with another type of “imperial” monarchs: the qaghans (or khagans) of the Eurasian steppe zone. These partly close, partly remote encounters have left their traces in a number of early and middle Byzantine sources,3 so that the Byzantine modes of perception of the steppe rulers can be discussed.4 Although the Eurasian nomadic polities of the earlier Middle Ages still occupy a rather marginal position in Medieval Studies in general,5 their relevance to the Byzantine civilization as more←41 | 42→ or less permanent neighbours has long been recognized.6 Research in this field does not only concentrate on the interaction between the nomads and Byzantium,7 but also on their perception in the East Roman Empire.8 On the other hand there is a flourishing tradition of profound turkological, archaeological and historical research specifically dedicated to the steppe peoples and their polities.9 Scholars have not only introduced and discussed←42 | 43→ a wide range of sources, reaching from Chinese dynastic records and early Turkic...

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