Charlemagne's Elephant

The Desire of an Emperor

In the year 802 a most remarkable gift for Emperor Charlemagne was delivered to Aachen: an elephant! Named Abul-Abbas, it had been sent by the Caliph of Baghdad, Harun al-Rashid, in order to fulfil a request that Charlemagne himself had made a few years earlier. But why did Charlemagne express this unusual desire? And what meaning should be given to the exchange of gifts between the emperor and the caliph? The story of Charlemagne’s elephant may appear to be an oddity, a somewhat sad tale of a poor animal that died after a few years spent in the cold Germanic climate. Actually, a careful investigation of the whole affair reveals much about the diplomatic relations of that era, the politics of gifts, the political meaning of owning an elephant as an attribute of royalty, and Christian Europe’s perception of the world.

Giuseppe Albertoni teaches Medieval History at the University of Trento.

I. Un elefante arriva ad Aquisgrana
1. 802: l’anno dell’elefante
2. La trama del racconto
3. 801: dall’Africa all’Italia
4. 797: da Aquisgrana a Baghdad
II. Doni da re in un mondo quadripolare
1. Due imperi romani?
2. Un califfato abbaside, un emirato omayyade
3. Comunicazione politica attraverso i doni
4. Rapporti diplomatici in un mondo quadripolare
III. Il mondo visto da Aquisgrana
1. Guardare il mondo attraverso occhi antichi
2. Rappresentare il mondo
3. Girare e raccontare il mondo
4. Uno sguardo eurocentrico
IV. Carlo Magno, un re leone che desidera un elefante
1. Comunicare attraverso gli animali
2. L’elefante, un animale che adora i re
3. L’elefante cristologico e l’elefante penitente
4. Un paradiso terrestre ad Aquisgrana?
V. L’elefante se ne va
1. La morte di Abul Abbas
2. Ciò che resta di un elefante
3. Ricordare Abul Abbas
4. Elefanti donati, un solo elefante desiderato
Indice dei nomi
series "Saggi"
pp. 184, 978-88-15-28744-1
publication year 2020