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On Christmas Day, 800, Pope Leo III crowned Charles as "Emperor of the Romans" in Rome in a ceremony presented as a surprise (Charlemagne did not wish to be indebted to the bishop of Rome), a further papal move in the series of symbolic gestures that had been defining the mutual roles of papal auctoritas and imperial potestas. Though Charlemagne preferred the title "Emperor, king of the Franks and Lombards", the ceremony formally acknowledged the ruler of the Franks as the Roman Emperor, triggering disputes with the Byzantine Empire, which had maintained the title since the division of the Roman Empire into East and West. The pope's right to proclaim successors was based on the Donation of Constantine, a forged Roman imperial decree. After an initial protest at the usurpation, the Byzantine Emperor Michael I Rhangabes acknowledged in 812 Charlemagne as co-emperor, according to some. According to others, Michael I reopened negotiations with the Franks in 812 and recognized Charlemagne as basileus (emperor), but not as emperor of the Romans. The coronation gave permanent legitimacy to Carolingian primacy among the Franks. The Ottonians later resurrected this connection in 962.

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