Though not a very popular pope, Leo III had the support of the powerful Frankish ruler Charlemagne. In A.D. 799, a group of armed men (probably hired by the pope's enemies) attacked Leo during a public appearance. After Pope Leo sought Charlemagne's protection in 800, Charlemagne came to Rome to help Leo win an acquittal from charges leveled against him by the church. In a historic move, Pope Leo crowned Charlemagne emperor on Christmas Day of that year. Whether the coronation was a surprise to Charlemagne or not has been debated by historians for years. What is clear, however, is that this event is recognized as the unofficial establishment of the Holy Roman Empire - a European territory in which the pope had the authority to grant or withhold an imperial title. In this unprecedented alliance, the Church granted the right to rule to Charlemagne in exchange for the protection of its clergy. The Holy Roman Empire itself lasted for over 1,000 years.
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