Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Did A Pope And An Emperor Team Up To Erase 300 Years Of History?

Did A Pope And An Emperor Team Up To Erase 300 Years Of History?

Pope Sylvester II and Holy Roman Emperor Otto III were two powerful men and two ambitious friends. Just how ambitious? There is a (very controversial) theory that between them, they forcibly ushered in a new millennium... 300 years early.

Holy Roman Emperor Otto III was a man with a lot of power and a flair for self-aggrandizement. He had quite a bit to work with; the Holy Roman Empire was a huge amalgamation of what is now Germany, much of eastern Europe, northern Italy, and eastern France, and he was put in charge of it when he was three years old. He was crowned, famously, on Christmas day — the same day the original Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne was crowned. (More on that later.)

Like another famous person whose reign was ushered in on Christmas day, Otto was threatened by a mad king, his uncle, who coveted his power. The young boy emerged unscathed after some military maneuvers, and was returned to his mother, a Byzantine princess. She brought him up with the idea that he would civilize the barbarous kingdom she had married into.

Otto III's main goal has been shared by many leaders throughout history: to usher in a new Rome. He funded scholars and artists and he sought to expand his kingdom. He also sought to cast himself, if not as a god or as the messiah, then as some kind of predestined savior. He wanted his reign to be portentous.


He was helped in this by his mentor, Gerbert of Aurillac. While Otto was born to the most powerful couple in the western world, Gerbert came from nowhere. His parents and the circumstances of his childhood are unknown, which means they were humble enough that no one cared to record them and Gerbert probably did not advertise them. The "of Aurillac" part of his name is known because, while quite young, he travelled to and entered the monastery of Aurillac. For much of the first and second millennia, the church was the only way for the relatively poor to ascend to wealth and power, and Gerbert took full advantage of it. He traveled and studied, using Arabic numerals to make calculations in his head that, up until then, people had thought impossible. He put his knowledge to work, designing an organ that harmonized more perfectly than any other yet made. There is a legend that has Gerbert doing calculations that had never been done before by converting an entire church floor into an abacus. He had giant disks made, and recruited students to move them. He stood high up in the church, taking in the view and ordering his assistants to move the disks around as he made calculations.

For the rest of the story: http://io9.com/did-a-pope-and-an-emperor-team-up-to-erase-300-years-of-1651594813?utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

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