Liutprand of Cremona:

Report of his Mission to Constantinople


Introduction [From Henderson translation]


We first hear of Liutprand at the court of Berengar and Willa, who, in the middle of the tenth century, ruled over northern Italy. Becoming estranged from his royal patrons he wrote against them the Antapodosis, or book of retribution, which is one of our most valued historical sources for those times. In 963 Liutprand was envoy of Otto the Great to the shameless Pope John XII, and wrote the only connected account which we have of the latter's condemnation and deposition.

The journey to Constantinople took place in 968. Otto had, in his efforts to bring Italy into his power, come into collision with the Greeks, who regarded Benevento and Capua as belonging to the provinces of the Eastern Empire. Otto went so far as to occupy Apulia and to besiege the Greek town of Bari, but soon came to the conclusion that more was to be gained by negotiations than by war. Liutprand, now Bishop of Cremona, advised peace, and suggested that a Greek princess should be sought in marriage for the young emperor Otto II, who had commenced to reign, conjointly with his father. It was upon the princess Theophano that the hopes of the emperor were fixed, and it was thought that Nicephorus would give Apulia and Calabria as her dowry. It was to arrange this matter that Liutprand, accompanied by a large suite, went to Constantinople. The reception that he met with will be explained in his own words.


Liutprand bishop of the holy church of Cremona desires, wishes and prays that the Ottos, the unconquerable emperors of the Romans, and the most glorious Adelaide flourish, prosper and be triumphant.

1. Why it was that you did not receive my former letters or my envoy the following explanation will make clear. On the day before the Nones of June (June 4) we came to Constantinople, and there, as a mark of disrespect to yourselves, being shamefully received, we were harshly and shamefully treated. We were shut up in a palace large enough, indeed, but uncovered, neither keeping out the cold nor warding off the heat. Armed soldiers were made to stand guard who were to prevent all of my companions from going out and all others from coming in. This dwelling, into which we alone who were shut up could pass, was so far removed from the palace that our breath was taken away when we walked there--we did not ride. To add to our calamity the Greek wine, on account of being mixed with pitch, resin, and plaster was to us undrinkable. The house itself was without water, nor could we even for money buy water to still our thirst. To this great torment was added another torment--our warden namely, who cared for our daily support. If one were to look for his like, not earth. but perhaps hell, would furnish it; for he, like an inundating torrent, poured forth on us whatever calamity, whatever plunder, whatever expense, whatever torment, whatever misery he could invent.--Nor among a hundred and twenty days did a single one pass without bringing us groaning and grief.

2. On the day before the Nones of June (June 4), as stated above, we arrived at Constantinople before the Carian gate and waited with our horses, in no slight rain, until the eleventh hour. But at the eleventh hour, Nicephorus, not regarding us, who had been so distinguished by you as worthy to ride, ordered us to approach; and we were led to the aforesaid hated, waterless, open marble house. But on the eighth day before the Ides (June 6), on the Saturday before Pentecost, I was led into the presence of his brother Leo, the marshal of the court, and chancellor; and there we wearied ourselves out in a great discussion concerning your imperial title. For he called you not emperor, which is Basileus in his tongue, but, to insult you, Rex, which is king in ours. And when I told him that the thing signified was the same although the terms used to signify it, were different, he said that I had come not to make peace but to excite discord; and thus angrily rising he received your letters, truly insultingly, not in his own band, but through an interpreter. He was a man commanding enough in person but feigning humility; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand and pierce it..'

3. On the seventh day before the Ides (June 7), moreover, on the sacred day - of Pentecost itself, in the palace which is called the crown hall, I was led before Nicephorus--a monstrosity of a man, a pygmy, fat-headed and like a mole as to the smallness of his eyes; disgusting with his short, broad, thick, and half hoary beard; disgraced by a neck an inch long; very bristly through the length and thickness of his hair; in color an Ethiopian; one whom it would not be pleasant to meet in the middle of the night; with extensive belly, lean of loin, very long of hip considering his short stature, small of shank, proportionate as to his heels and feet; clad in a garment costly but too old, and foul-smelling and faded through age; shod with Sicyonian shoes; bold of tongue, a fox by nature, in perjury, and lying a Ulysses. Always my lords and august emperors you seemed to me shapely, how much more shapely after this! Always magnificent, how much more magnificent after this! Always powerful, how much more powerful after this! Always gentle, how much more gentle henceforth! Always full of virtues, how much fuller henceforth. At his left, not in a line but far below, sat two petty emperors, once his masters, now his subjects. His discourse began as follows:

4. "It would have been right for us, nay, we had wished to receive you kindly and with honor; but the impiety of your master does not permit it since, invading it as an enemy, he has claimed for himself Rome; has taken away, from Berengar and Adalbert their kingdom, contrary to law and right; has slain some of the Romans by the sword, others by hanging, depriving some of their eyes, sending others into exile ; and has tried, moreover, to subject to himself by slaughter or by flame cities of our empire. And, because his wicked endeavour could not take effect, he now has sent you, the instigator and furtherer of this wickedness, to act as a spy upon us while simulating peace."

5. I answered him: "My master did not by force or tyrannically invade the city of Rome; but he freed it from a tyrant, nay, from the yoke of tyrants. Did not the slaves of women rule over it; or, which is worse and more disgraceful, harlots themselves? Your power, I fancy, or that of your predecessors, who in name alone are called emperors of the Romans and are it not in reality, was sleeping at that time. If they were powerful, if emperors of the Romans, why did they permit Rome to be in the hands of harlots? Were not some of them most holy popes banished, others so oppressed that they were not able to have their daily supplies or the means of giving alms? Did not Adalbert send scornful letters to the emperors Romanus and Constantine your predecessors? Did he not plunder the churches of the most holy apostles? What one of you emperors, led by zeal for God, took care to avenge so unworthy a crime and to bring back the holy church to its proper conditions You neglected it, my master did not neglect it. For, rising from the ends of the earth and coming to Rome, he removed the impious and gave back to the vicars of the holy apostles their power and all their honor, But afterwards those who had risen against him and the lord pope, according to the decrees of the Roman emperors Justinian, Valentinian, Theodosius and the others he slew, strangled, hung, and sent into exile as violators of their oath, as sacrilegious men, as torturers and plunderers of their lords the popes. Had he not done so he would have been impious, unjust, cruel a tyrant. It is well known that Berengar and Adalbert, becoming his vassals, had received the kingdom of Italy with a golden scepter from his hand, and that they, taking an oath, promised fealty in the presence of servants of yours who still live and are at present in this city. And because, at the devil's instigation they perfidously violated this promise, he justly deprived them as deserters and rebels against himself, of their kingdom. You yourself would do the same to those who had been your subjects, and who afterwards rebelled."

6. "But Adalbert's vassal," he said, "does not acknowledge this". I answered him: "If he denies it one of my suite shall, at your command, show by a duel tomorrow that it is so". "Well" he said, "he may, as you say, have done this justly. Explain now why with war and flame he attacked the boundaries of our empire. We were friends, and were expecting, by means of a marriage, to enter into an indissoluble union".

7. "The Land", I answered, "which you say belongs to your empire belongs, as the nationality and language of the people proves, to the kingdom of Italy. The Lombards held it in their power, and Louis, the emperor of the Lombards, or Franks, freed it from the hand of the Saracens, many of them being cut down. But also Landolph, prince of Benevento and Capua, subjugated and held it in his power for seven years. Nor would it until now have passed from the yoke of his servitude or that of his successors, had not the emperor Romanus, giving an immense sum of money, bought the friendship of our king Hugo. And it was for this reason that he joined in a marriage to his nephew and namesake the bastard daughter of this same king of ours, Hugo, And, as I see, you ascribe it not to kindness but to weakness that, after acquiring Italy and Rome, he left it to you for so many years. The bond of friendship, however, which you did wish, as you say, to form through marriage, we look on as a wile and a snare: you do demand a trace, which the condition of affairs neither compels you to demand nor us to grant. But, in order that now all deceit may be laid bare and the truth not be bidden, my master (Otto) has sent me to you, so that if you are willing to give the daughter of the emperor Romanus and of the empress Theophano to my master his son, Otto the august emperor, you may affirm this to me with an oath; whereupon I will affirm by an oath that, in return for such favors, he will observe and do to you this and this. But already my master his given to you, as to his brother, the best pledge of his friendship in restoring to you, by my intervention, at whose suggestion you declare this evil to have been done, all Apulia which was subject to his sway. Of which thing there are as many witnesses as there are inhabitants in all Apulia."

8. "The second hour," said Nicephorus, is already past. The solemn procession to the church is about to take place. Let us now do what the hour demands. At a convenient time we will reply to what you have said."

9. May nothing keep me from describing this procession, and my masters from hearing about it! A numerous multitude of tradesmen and low-born persons, collected at this festival to receive and to do honor to Nicephorus, occupied both sides of the road from the palace to St. Sophia like walls, being disfigured by quite thin little shields and wretched spears. And it served to increase this disfigurement that the greater part of this same crowd in his (Nicephorus') honor, had marched with bare feet. I believe that they thought in this way better to adorn that holy procession. But also his nobles who passed with him through the plebeian and barefoot multitude were clad in tunics which were too large, and which were torn through too great age. It would have been much more suitable had they marched in their everyday clothes. There was no one whose grandfather had owned one of these garments when it was new. No one there was adorned with gold, no one with gems, save Nicephorus alone, whom the imperial adornments, bought and prepared for the persons of his ancestors, rendered still more disgusting. By, your salvation, which is dearer to me than my own, one precious garment of your nobles is worth a hundred of these, and more too. I was led to this church procession and was placed on a raised place next to the singers.

10. And as, like a creeping monster, he proceeded thither, the singers cried out in adulation: "Behold the morning star approaches Eos rises; he reflects in his glances the rays of the sun-he the pale death of the Saracens, Nicephorus the ruler." And accordingly they sang: "Long life to the ruler Nicephorus!" Adore him, you people, cherish him, bend the neck to him alone! How much more truly, might they have sung: "Come, you burnt-out coal, you fool; old woman in your walk, wood-devil in your look; you peasant, you frequenter of foul places, you goatfoot, you horn-head, you double-limbed one; bristly, -unruly, countrified, barbarian, harsh, hairy, a rebel, a Cappadocian!" And so, inflated by those lying fools, he enters St. Sophia, his masters the emperors following him ground. His armor-bearer, with an arrow for a pen, from afar, and, with the kiss of peace, adoring him to the places in the church the era which is in progress from the time when he began to reign, and thus those who did not then exist learn what the era is.

11. On this same day he ordered me to be his guest. Not; thinking me worthy, however, to be placed above any of his nobles, I sat in the fifteenth place from him, and without a tablecloth. Not only did no one of my suite sit at table, but not one of them saw even the house in which I was a guest. During which disgusting and foul meal, which was washed down with oil after the "manner of drunkards, and moistened also with a certain and other exceedingly bad fish liquor, he asked me many questions concerning your power, many concerning your dominions and your army. And when I had replied to him consequently and truly, "You lie," he said, "the soldiers of your master do not know how to ride, nor do they know how to fight on foot; the size of their shields, the weight of their breast-plates, the length of their swords, and the burden of their helms permits them to fight in neither one way nor the other." Then he added, smiling: "their gluttony also impedes them, for their God is their belly, their courage but wind, their bravery drunkenness. Their fasting means dissolution, their sobriety panic. Nor has your master a number of fleets on the sea. I alone have a force of navigators; I will attack him with my ships, I will overrun his maritime cities with war, and those which are near the rivers I will reduce to ashes. And how, I ask, can he even on land resist we with his scanty forces? His son was there, his wife was there, the Saxons, Swabians, Bavarians, were all with him: and if they did not know enough and were unable to take one little city that resisted them, how will they resist me when I come, I who am followed by as many troops as

"Gargara corn-ears have, or grape-shoots the island of Lesbos,
Stars in the sky are found, or waves in the billowy ocean."

When I wished to reply to him and to give forth an answer worthy of his boasting, he did not permit me; but added as if to scoff at me: "You are not Romans but Lombards." When he wished to speak further and was waving his hand to impose silence upon me, I said in anger: "History, teaches that the fratricide Romulus, from whom also the Romans are named, was born in adultery; and that he made an asylum for himself in which he received insolvent debtors, fugitive slaves, homicides, and those who were worthy of death for their deeds. And he called to himself a certain number of such and called them Romans. From such nobility those are descended whom you call world-rulers, that is, emperors; whom we, namely the Lombards, Saxons, Franks, Lotharingians, Bavarians, Swabians, Burgundians, so despise, that when angry, we can call our enemies nothing more scornful than Roman-comprehending in this one thing, that is in the name of the Romans, whatever there is of contemptibility, of timidity, of avarice, of luxury, of lying: in a word, of viciousness. But because you do maintain that we are unwarlike and ignorant of horsemanship, if the sins of the Christians shall merit that you shall remain in this hard-heartedness: the next battle will show what you are, and how warlike we."

12. Nicephorus, exasperated by these words, commanded silence with his hand, and bade that the long narrow table should be taken away, and that I should return to my hated habitation--or, to speak more truly, my prison. There after two days, as a result of vexation as well as of heat and thirst, I was taken with a severe illness. And, indeed, there was not one of my companions who, having drunk from the same cup of sorrow, did not fear that his last day was approaching. Why should they not sicken, I ask, whose drink instead of the best wine was brine; whose resting place was not bay, not straw, not even earth, but hard marble; whose pillow was a stone, whose open house kept off neither heat, nor showers, nor cold? Salvation itself, to use a common expression, if it had poured itself out upon them could not have saved them. Weakened therefore by my own tribulations and those of my companions, calling my warden, or rather my persecutor, I brought it about, not by prayers alone but through money, that he should carry my letter containing what follows, to the brother of Nicephorus:

13. "To the coropalate and logothete of the palace, Leo- Bishop Liutprand. If the most illustrious emperor thinks of granting the request on account of which I have come, the suffering which I here endure shall not exhaust my patience; only his lordship must be instructed by my letters and by an envoy that I will not remain here without reason. But if the contrary be the case, there is a transport ship of the Venetians here which is just about to start. Let him permit me who am ill to embark, so that, if the time of my dissolution be at hand, my native land may at least receive my corpse."

14. When he had read these lines he ordered me to come to him after four days. There sat with him, according to their tradition, to discuss your affair the wisest men, strong in Attic eloquence: Basilius the chief chamberlain, the chief state secretary, the chief master of the wardrobe and two other officials, They began their discourse as follows: " Tell us, brother, why you have taken the trouble to come hither." When I had told them that it was on account of the marriage which was to be the ground for a lasting peace, they said: "It is an unheard of thing that a daughter born in the purple of an emperor born in the purple should be joined in marriage with strange nations. But although you seek so high a favor, you shall receive -what you wish, if you give what is right: Ravenna, namely, and Rome with all the adjoining places which extend from thence to our possessions. But if you desire friendship without the marriage, let your master permit Rome to be free; but the princes, of Capua, namely, and Benevento, who were formerly slaves of our empire and now are rebels, let him give over to their former subjection."

15. I answered them: "You yourselves can not but know that my master rules over Slavonian princes who are mightier than Peter king of the Bulgarians who has wedded the daughter of the emperor Christophorus." "But Christophorus," they said, " was not born in the purple."

16. But Rome, "I said, " which, as you exclaim, you wish to have free, who does it serve, to whom does it pay tribute' ? Did it not formerly serve harlots? And, while you were sleeping, nay, powerless, did not my master the august emperor free it from so disgraceful a servitude? Constantine, the august emperor who founded this city and called it after his name, as world-ruler gave many gifts to the holy apostolic Roman church, not only in Italy but in almost all the western kingdoms; also in the eastern and southern-in Greece, namely, Judea, Persia, Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Egypt, Libya: as his own privileges witness, which are preserved in our land. Now whatever there is, in Italy and also in Saxony and Bavaria or in any, of the dominions of m master, that belongs to the church of the blessed apostles: he has conferred it on the vicar of those same most holy apostles. And may I deny God if my master has retained from all of these a city, an estate, a vassal or a serf - But why does your emperor not do the same? Why does he not restore to the church of the apostles what lies in his kingdom; so that he may make it, rich and free as it is by the labor and munificence of my master, still richer and more free?

17. "But this," said the first chamberlain Basilius, "he will do as soon as Rome and the Roman church shall be subordinated to his will." "A certain man," I said, "having suffered much injury from another, approached God with these words: `O Lord, avenge me upon my adversary!' To whom the Lord said, `I will do it at the day when I shall render unto each man according to his works!' `Alas,' said he, 'how late that will be!'"

18. At which all except the emperor's brother shook with laughter. They then ended the interview and ordered me to be led back to my hated abode, and to be guarded with great care until the day, honored by all religious persons, of the holy apostles. On this festal occasion the emperor commanded me--I was very ill at the time--and also the Bulgarian envoys who had arrived the day before, to meet him at the church of the holy apostles. And when after the garrulous songs of praise (to Nicephorus) and the celebration of the mass we were invited to table, he placed above me on our side of the table, which was long and narrow, the envoy of the Bulgarians who was shorn in Hungarian fashion, girt with a brazen chain, and as it seemed to me, a catechumen; plainly in scorn of yourselves my august masters. On your behalf I was despised, rejected and scorned. But I thank the Lord Jesus Christ whom you serve with your whole soul that I have been considered worthy to suffer contumely for your sakes. However, my masters, not considering myself but yourselves to be insulted, I left the table. And as I was about indignantly to go away, Leo the marshal of the court and brother of the emperor, and Simeon the chief state secretary came up to me from behind, barking out at me this: "When Peter the king of the Bulgarians married the daughter of Christophorus articles were mutually drawn up and confirmed with an oath to the effect that with us the envoys of the Bulgarians should be preferred, honored and cherished above the envoys of all other nations. That envoy of the Bulgarians although, as you say and as is true, he is shorn, unwashed and girt with a brazen chain, is nevertheless a patrician; and we decree and judge that it would not be right to give a bishop, especially a Frankish one, the, preference over him. And since we know that you do consider this unseemly, we will not now, as you do expect, allow you to return to your quarters, but shall oblige you to take food in a separate apartment with the servants of the emperor.

19. On account of the incomparable grief in my heart I made no reply to them, but did what they had ordered; judging that table not a suitable place where--I will not say to me, that is, the bishop Liutprand, but to your envoy--an envoy of the Bulgarians is preferred. But the sacred emperor soothed my grief through a great gift, sending to me from among his most delicate dishes a fat goat, of which he himself had partaken, deliciously (?) stuffed with garlic, onions and leeks; steeped in fish sauce: a dish which I could have wished just then to be upon your table, so that you who do not believe the delicacies of the sacred emperor to be desirable, should at length become believers at this sight!

20. When eight days had passed and the Bulgarians had already departed, thinking that I thought very highly of his table he compelled me, ill as I was, to dine with him in the same place. There was present also, with many bishops, the patriarch; in whose presence he asked me many questions concerning the Holy Scriptures; which, the divine Spirit inspiring me, I expounded with elegance, And at last, in order to make merry over you, he asked me what synods we recognized. When I bad mentioned to him Nicea, Chalcedon, Ephesus, Carthage, Ancyra, Constantinople, -"Ha, Ha, Ha," said he, "you have forgotten to mention Saxony, and, if you ask us why our books do not contain it, I answer that your beliefs are too young and have not you been able to reach us."

21. I answered: "That member of the body where the infirmity has its seat must be burned with the burning iron. All heresies have emanated from you, have flourished among you; by us, that is by the western nations they have been here strangled, here put an end to. A Roman or a Pavian synod, although they often took place, I do not count them. A Roman clerk, indeed, afterwards the universal pope Gregory who is called by you Dialogus, freed Eutychius the heretical patriarch of Constantinople from his heresy. This same Eutychius said, nor did he only say but taught, proclaimed and kept writing, that we would assume at the Resurrection not the true flesh which we have here, but a certain fantastic flesh. The book containing this error was, in an orthodox manner, burned by Gregory. Ennodius, moreover, bishop of Pavia, was, on account of a certain other heresy, sent here, that is to Constantinople, by the Roman patriarch. He repressed it, and restored the orthodox catholic teaching.-The race of the Saxons, from the time when it received the holy baptism and the knowledge of God, has been spotted by no heresy which would have rendered a synod necessary of an error which did not exist. Since for the correction of an error which did not exist. Since you declare the faith of the Saxons to be young, I am willing also to affirm the same; for always the faith of Christ is young and not if with those, those whose works second their faith. Faith is there not young but old where works do not accompany it; but faith is scorned, as it were, for its age, like a worn out garment. But I knew for certain of one synod that was held in Saxony in which it was decreed and confirmed that it was more fitting to fight with the sword than with the open, and better to submit to death than to turn one's back to the enemy. Your own arm has experienced the truth of this," in my heart I said "And may they (the Saxons) soon have occasion to show how warlike they are!"