Zachary, St.

Zachary, St.
(d. 752)
   A central figure in the political revolution in the Frankish kingdom, Zachary, or Zacharias, was pope during an important period in the development of the papacy (r. 741-752). He was actively involved with diplomatic affairs during his reign, frequently attending to negotiations with representatives of the Byzantine Empire, the Franks, and the Lombards. He sought to limit Lombard aggression during his reign, but is remembered most for his relations with the powerful Carolingian family. Indeed, it was Zachary's response to a famous question from Pippin that provided the Carolingian with the justification to depose the last of the Merovingian kings. Zachary was also in close correspondence with the great Anglo-Saxon missionary St. Boniface and made an important translation into Greek of the Dialogues of Gregory the Great that was well known in the Byzantine Empire.
   Born to a Greek family living in Calabria, possibly in 679, Zachary was eventually ordained a deacon and priest and may have participated in an important church council in Rome in 732 held by his predecessor Gregory III. A portrait in Rome portrays him as a thin and small person, balding and with a reserved air. According to his official biographer, Zachary was "gentle and gracious, adorned with all kindness, a lover of the clergy and all the Roman people" (Davis 1992, 35). He was also "slow to anger and quick to have pity, repaying no one evil for evil, nor taking even merited vengeance, but dutiful and compassionate to everyone" (35). Clearly these virtues, even if they are only the standard traits attributed to all popes by their biographers, would serve the pope well in his often difficult relations with the Lombard rulers of Italy.
   Although no longer a threat to Rome because of their Arianism, the now Catholic Lombard kings in Italy still pursued the dream of unifying the peninsula under their authority. Zachary faced this problem almost immediately upon ascending the papal throne, but did not feel bound to follow the policies of Pope Gregory III, who sought an alliance with the Carolingian Franks, and instead found new solutions to the problem. Indeed, he sought to establish a policy of conciliation with King Liutprand (r. 712-744). Liutprand had advanced on the independent southern Lombard duchy of Spoleto. Zachary broke with the duke, who had refused to return Roman territory to the pope. Liutprand quickly brought the duke to heel, but he too was slow to return the territory to Rome. Zachary then went to the Lombard capital, Pavia, where he met the king and made his demands known. Liutprand was so taken by the courage and prestige of the pope that he returned several cities and other important territories to the papacy. He also provided an escort of his nobles to return Zachary to Rome. Although this worked out well for the pope, difficulties with Liutprand continued because the king did not feel bound to respect imperial territory in Italy. His attacks on Ravenna initiated a second papal visit, and again Liutprand made concessions to the pope.
   The policy of conciliation toward the Lombards seemed to have born fruit for the papacy, and Zachary was able to continue the policy during the reign of Liutprand's successor, Ratchis (r. 744-749). Indeed, so impressed was Ratchis with the pope that he abandoned efforts to bring all of Italy under his authority and then abdicated and retired to a monastery. Unfortunately, Ratchis's successor, Aistulf (r. 749-756), was perhaps the most bloodthirsty and expansionistic of all the Lombard kings and was less open to Zachary. The pope's death in 752, however, meant that a resolution of the Lombard question would have to wait until the time of his successor. Zachary's relationship with the Lombards did bring a period of peace and stability for Italy and, especially, papal territories on the peninsula.
   Zachary was also actively involved in affairs in the north, where important religious reforms and political change benefited from his rule. The great missionary, Boniface, was in frequent correspondence with Zachary, who guided and encouraged the missionary's activities in the Frankish kingdom and Saxony. Shortly after the pope ascended the throne, Boniface wrote Zachary professing his loyalty and submission to Rome. Boniface also organized the Frankish church and brought it more fully under the influence and authority of Rome. Zachary approved of Boniface's activities, confirmed three new bishoprics Boniface founded, and made Boniface the papal legate in the Frankish realm. The pope also adopted some of the reform initiatives of Boniface, and was in correspondence with the Carolingian mayors, Pippin and Carloman, concerning church councils and church reform in the kingdom.
   The correspondence with Boniface and the Carolingian leaders led to the most famous moment of Zachary's reign. Pippin and Carloman, mayors of the palace, were the real powers in the kingdom, and the Merovingian king, Childeric III, served mainly as a figurehead. In 747, Zachary welcomed Carloman to the monastery of Monte Cassino, just north of Rome, after the Carolingian mayor had abdicated and taken monastic vows. Three years later, Pippin, as the sole real power in the Frankish kingdom, sent two high-ranking representatives to the pope with an important message. As the Royal Frankish Annals note, Pippin asked the pope "whether it was good or not that the kings of the Franks should wield no power" (Scholz 1972, 39). The pope responded that "it was better to call him king who had royal power than the one who did not" (39), and ordered that Pippin be made king. Having gained the answer he desired, Pippin deposed the last of the Merovingian kings and assumed the throne as the first Carolingian king. Zachary had provided Pippin with the justification and higher sanction that he needed to usurp the throne, thus surely strengthening the Carolingian's support for the papacy.
   See also
 ♦ Christie, Neil. The Lombards. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998.
 ♦ Davis, Raymond, trans. The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes (Liber Pontificalis): The Ancient Biographies of Nine Popes from a.d. 715 to a.d. 817. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1992.
 ♦ Llewellyn, Peter. Rome in the Dark Ages. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1993.
 ♦ McKitterick, Rosamond. The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987. London: Longman, 1983.
 ♦ Noble, Thomas F. X. The Republic of St. Peter: The Birth of the Papal State, 680-825. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.
 ♦ Scholz, Bernhard Walter, trans. Carolingian Chronicles: Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard's History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1972.
 ♦ Ullmann, Walter. A Short History of the Papacy in the Middle Ages. London: Methuen, 1972.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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