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A Place to Rest for German Kings

DW staff (jam)February 21, 2005

When an engraved stone was dug up nearly a century ago on a building site, it didn't excite many. But now an archeologist has determined that it's actually part of Germany's oldest throne, sat in by Emperor Charlemagne.

Mainz's throne may be older, but Aachen's (pictured) is still completeImage: Domkapitel Aachen, Foto: Arnold

Usually the western city of Aachen gets all the press -- at least when it comes to Charlemagne. It was the favorite residence of the emperor and served as the principal coronation site of Holy Roman emperors and German kings from the Middle Ages to the Reformation.

But now Aachen's been upstaged somewhat since an archeologist at the Roman-Germanic Museum in Mainz has uncovered part of an armrest that supported Charlemagne's royal left arm when he was visiting the city of Mainz.

The piece was actually discovered in 1911 when it was dug up while a clothing store was being constructed. It was handed over to museum officials, who apparently were not that impressed. It was catalogued, briefly described and promptly put away to gather dust in a museum storeroom.

Karl der Große - Karlsreliquie in Osnabrück
Charlemagne, in stoneImage: dpa

Decades later, the piece was pulled out of cold storage because a museum archeologist, Mechthild Schulze-Dörrlamm, was researching stone monuments from the Carolingian period. After seeing the engravings on the piece, she realized she had more than a medieval signpost on her hands.

Further research and comparisons with other royal artifacts showed that the object supported the royal arm in the year 790 at the latest, making it older than the marble throne in Aachen which dates from around 800. That royal chair previously held the record for the oldest extant throne, but has now been knocked off its perch.