Twenty-five years after that great Easter in Rome, pope Leo, who succeeded Hadrian, whose long pontificate lasted for twenty-three years, was attacked in the streets of Rome and thrown to the ground in the Corso by two nephews of Hadrian’s. Exactly what was the nature of their quarrel with Leo we do not know, but they managed to imprison the pope, who presently escaped and, assisted by Winichis, duke of Spoleto, made his way to the court of Charles. During the summer of 799 the pope remained in France, and probably in October returned to Rome with a Frankish guard of honour. In the following autumn Charles set out on his fourth journey to Rome. It was now that he visited Ravenna, as he had already done in 787, and remained for seven days. On the 24th November he arrived in Rome. A month later upon Christmas Day the great king, attended by his nobles, amid a vast multitude, went to S. Peter’s to hear Mass. It was there in the midst of that great basilica, before the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, that upon the birthday of Christ the empire re-arose; the pope placed upon the head of Charlemagne the golden diadem and the Roman people cried aloud, “Carolo Piissimo Augusta Deo, Coronato Magno a Pacifico Imperatori Vita et Victoria,” Three times that great acclamation echoed over the tomb of the Fisherman. Once more there was an emperor in the West, a champion of the Faith and defender of the Holy See.
It has been asserted, and is still I believe maintained, that that coronation was a surprise to Charles. But such things do not come unforeseen, nor was Charlemagne the man to permit or to tolerate so amazing an astonishment. All Rome knew what was about to be accomplished and had gathered in the ancient basilica to await it and complete it.
Such a question, however, concerns us but little. For us it remains to note that with the re-creation of the empire, and the appearance of the Holy See as a great temporal sovereignty in Italy, the historical importance of Ravenna comes to an end. We have seen that in the autumn of the most famous year save that of the birth of Our Lord, Charlemagne had visited Ravenna and had spent seven days in the city. Once more he was to visit it, and that upon his return journey northward in May 801. From this time Ravenna ceases to be of any significance in the history of Europe. The pass it held was no longer of importance, for the barbarian invasions were at an end, and a new road into Italy over the Apennines was coming into use, the Via Francigena, the way of the Franks. As the port upon the sea which was the fault between East and West it, too, ceased to exist; for East and West were no longer of any real importance the one to the other, and already the alteration of the coast line, which was one day to leave the old seaport some miles from the shore, had begun.