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Hincmar and Anastasius: Lying, Treacherous Villains
Paper by Shane Bobrycki, Harvard University
Given at the 2011 Haskins Society Conference, Boston College
Bobrycki examines an episode from the year 868, in which the Annals of St Bertin records that the wife and daughter of Pope Adrian II were kidnapped by Eleutherius, with the support of his brother Anastasius Bibliothecarius, who was the head of the Papal archives during this time. The two women were killed by Eleutherius, who later himself was executed, while Anastasius was punished by excommunication and deposition.
This story is only found in the Annals of St Bertin, and many scholars have doubts if it is true. The author of this section is Archbishop Hicnmar of Reims, who was reviled as a prominent forger of documents and for blinding his own nephew – Bobrycki calls him the “Rupert Murdoch of his times.”
Furthermore, Hicnmar of Reims had motive to write disparagingly of Anastasius – the latter had in previous years written letters criticizing the archbishop. So it remains a strong possibility that Hincmar was libelling Anastasius, or making use of flimsy evidence against him.
But Bobrycki points out another possibility – that Anastasius had not only took part in this murder, but had later covered up his actions and made sure that, with the exception of Hincmar’s report, that the written documentation of his acts were repressed.
While Anastasius was known as an important writer in his own period, he was also regarded as power-hungry – he was excommunicated at least three times, including for his attempt to be elected the Papal Throne after the death of Pope Leo IV in 855 – he was quickly deposed and is considered by historians to be an anti-Pope.
If Anastasius did assist in the kidnapping and murder of Pope Adrian’s wife and daugther, he certainly did not suffer any punishment for long, as he was seen again serving in high position within the Papacy in 869. His role in Papal archives would have allowed him to control much of the correspondence and historical records that were coming out, giving him the opportunity to rewrite history and obscure his role.
Either version of events related by Bobrycki has profound effect on our kno was historiography of that period so easy to lie in, or was the politics of Rome so corrupt that it allowed Anastasius to commit his crimes and get back into power within a year?