Santa Maria Antiqua, situated at the foot of the Palatine Hill in the Roman Forum, contains extensive frescoes, many including significant inscriptions in Latin and Greek. Sometimes both languages are present within the same decorative campaign, so that this church offers a unique opportunity to explore possible intentions behind image and language choice during this period.
There were multiple tensions between East and West between 600-725. The Byzantine Emperors seeking to impose their doctrinal opinions on the papacy, and the papacy, often aided by the 'Greek' monks, mounting spirited resistance that, for Pope Martin !. even extended to martyrdom.
However, by the end of the 670s imperial concerns changed and Constantine IV (668-685) asked Pope Agathon (678-681) for Greek-speaking monks to advise him before the Ecumenical Council of 680-1, which finally endorsed Pope Martin's position and declared Monothelitism heretical.
By the 690s it was Justinian II (685-695:705-711) who was pressurising Pope Sergius I (687 - 701) to endorse the proceedings of the Quinisext Council. Justinian's deposition in 695 provided a respite, but Justinian returned to the attach in 705. Now it is Pope John VII who is in the firing line. He appears to have skilfully finessed a solution, the nature of which is unclear. But John VII goes on to commission extensive frescoes in Santa Maria Antiqua which include references to some of these Councils. These frescoes and their inscriptions will be considered in the context of the relationship between the Emperor and Pope John, to try to understand what John was trying to convey to the Emperor.