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The Papal States

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As Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who allowed Christianity in the Roman Empire, allowed too the Church to hold and transmit property -hence the legend of the 'Donation of Constantine,' and as he was the first to present the Church with the Lateran palace, wealthy Christian families in the Roman empire did not keep donate properties and large estates to the Church until the year 600 A.D. Most of them were situated in Italy, as those located near Rome were the most numerous and those located in Sicily the most valuable and extensive. The latter however were confiscated in the 8th century by the Byzantine emperor Leo the Isaurian. The Pope however was still remaining the largest landowner in Italy at that time, this providing a basis to his political authority. The Pope, thus too, became the defensor of all those who, in Italy, did not want to submit to the Lombards nor the Byzantines. The turning years of the 7th and 8th century A.D. were filled with a struggle between the Popes and Byzantium, that leading to the fact that the Church definitively abandoned any Eastern perspective, and turned to the West and the kingdoms lying there. This precisely took the form of the alliance with the awakening dynasty of the Carolingians, as, along with the Byzantines retreating from their pretentions in Italy, the Lombardic menace was arising. The history of Italy, generally, since the fall of Rome, had unfolded. Odoacer, since 476, the king to the Herules who were Germans issued from Scandinavia, respected the Roman tradition as he seeked the support of the Roman elites and had good relations with the Church. Eastern emperor Zeno however wanted to settle the Ostrogoths in the Italian peninsula as their king, Theodoric, eventually won over Odoacer by 490. A Christian and largely romanized people, the settlement of Ostrogoths brought peace during 40 years. The Justinian reconquest of the West however, beginning by 535, brought decline, losses of population and epidemics even if the reign of Justinian also allowed a brief relief as the papacy took advantage of it to strengthen itself and built its theory of the temporal and spiritual power. Then, swiftly, as seeon as by 569, all that let room to the Lombards, a other German people which came from current Hungary. Their occupation occurred 'by pockets' (which reached, in southern Italy, down to Salerna, Benevento and Brindisi) as Pavia turned their capital city. The Mont Sant'Angelo, in the South of Italy, became their 'national' sanctuary. The Italy thus had turned divided between the Lombardic, papal and Byzantine (Ravenna, Puglia, Calabria) territories. After the Frankish intervention and the coronation of Charlemagne, Italy came back to a relatively similar development. The duchy of Benevento kept independent during three centuries until the Norman invasions of the 11th century A.D. as southern areas kept greek (like the 'capitanat of Italy" located in Bari, or the Calabria). A new actor, the Sarracens, irrupted by 827 A.D. in Sicily where they brought civilization back to where it had stook under the Byzantines. They were stopped more North, at the battle of Ostia in 846 and the Carolingian Louis II expelled them from, for example, Bari in 866 but he was eventually betrayed and imprisoned in Benevento. His endeavours benefited the Byzantines. They gathered under the command of Nicephorus Phocas a coalition of Lombards, Byzantines and militiae of southern Italy which managed to contain the Arabs. But as soon as by 917 A.D. the latters managed to make Calabria tributary to them. Even Illyrians were setting up raids against southern Italy

thumbnail to a view of the Pontifical States by the Carolingian eraclick to a view of the Pontifical States by the Carolingian era

The main reason of conflict between the Lombards and the Pope -along with the militias of the 'independent' people of Italy- resided into where the area of the former Byzantine exarchate of Ravenna connected to the Roman properties, strictly, of the Pope through the Apennines. That area, at the same time, was located between the main northern possessions of the Lombards and their duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. Thus the Popes were to confront the Lombards at the same time that the Byzantines were retreating. As the popes were able to defend their territories against such attacks by the years 715, it is in 739 A.D. that they turned to the Carolingians for the first time, among the German dominions of who St Boniface at the time was working to bring the faith. Pope Gregory III asked Charles Martel -it is likely that the Pope had the assent of the Roman representant of the Byzantine emperor- to help. The Lombards however, being the allies of Charles against the Arabs, this first call did not succeed. During twenty years the Pope managed to warrant his territories using the internal dissents among the Lombards. About 750, Aistulf, the new, radical Lombard king brought the threat to the Papal States to a level higher and the Pope had no other ressource than to call the Franks again. It might even that this would have been the result of the Byzantine advice to use their old tactics of using a German tribe against another, as Byzantium coud definitively offer no help at that time. The Byzantine emperors, in fact, through the pope, were trying to instrumentalize the Franks. Pope Zacharias, on the other hand, in 751 had legitimized the official access to the Frankish crown of Pepin. His successor, Pope Stephen II, trying to treat with Aistulf at the demand of the Byzantine emperor, eventually managed to cross the Alps through the Great St. Bernard pass, reaching the Frankish court. It is at that occasion that Pippin, his queen, and two sons, Carloman and Charles (who was to become Charles the Great), were anointed in St-Denis, near Paris and the Franks were bound, under the threat of excommunication, never to choose their kings in another family than the Carolingians. Pippin and his sons, further, were bestowed the title of 'Patrician of the Romans,' that title which formerly belonged to the exarchs, the highest-ranking Byzantine officials in Italy. The Frankish king thus was recognized now like the new protector of the Romans and the Pope! This might be ambiguous however as that act might have been approved by Byzantium...

Frankish noblemen having given their assent, Pippin, after several embassies were unsuccessful at the court of the Lombards, entered in campaign. It is at this assembly of Quiercy on the Oise that the first written promise to give the Pope some territories was made. The army began marching to Italy, with Pippin and the Pope, in the summer of 754 A.D. It took one more move in 756 to really bring the deceitful Astulf to definitively surrender the territories he had taken from the Pope and the Italians. At both occasion, Pippin, made a written document recognizing the said territories as a gift to the Pope. Those documents are called the 'donation of 754' and the 'donation of 756.' Those donations are the acts which founded the Papal States! Pippin discarded the attempt of Byzantines to have the territories turned back to them, as he thus founded, through a temporal sovereignty of the Pope on the Papal States, the guarantee of the independence of the latter. This was marking too, the definitive end of the ties the Roman Pope might have still had with the East. 22 former Byzantine cities, the duchy of Rome, the Exarchate of Ravenna, and the Pentapolis (five cities located on the shores of the Adriatic Sea) were transfered to papacy. The creation of the Papal States did divide the Lombard territories between the Lombard kingdom proper, North, and the duchies of Spoleto and Benevento, South. Charles the Great, the successor to Pippin had to intervene again against the Lombards, ruler of who, at that time was King Desiderius. By the end of the campaign of 773-774, Charlemagne became king of the Lombards himself, as, in a new document, written in an agreement with Pope Adrian I, in 781, he accurately enumerated all the districts upon which the Pope was recognized the ruler. Donations by Charlemagne in 787 added to the territories. As made clear since the time of the struggles between the Pope and the Lombards, the Papal States were not a mere temporal group of territories. They were territories guaranteed by the protection of both the Princes of Apostles, St. Peter, and St. Paul. The Franks were thus the armed branch of the agreement... Thence, until 1870, this holy alliance between the Pope and the German empires of beyond the Alps, were to last, as without such a protection the Papal States likely might have been endangered. Of note it that the refoundation of the Papal States was seen by popes themselves like a true 'renovatio' of the papal power, and a renewal of the pope's dignity. The Lateran Palace thus, like other churches in Rome which were restored or built, was modified with luxury under pope Leo III as a triclinium was built which was reminiscent of that of the Palace of Constantinople and which held three absides in the Carolingian fashion, like those of the Aachen Palace's aula regia. In the triclinium's shell, as it had been built before the coronation of 800 A.D., St Peter was figured as he gave the pallium to pope Leo III and the Standard to Charlemagne. In that frame of the artistic renovation of the city of Rome in link with the restoration of the papal authority, it took place also a exaltation of Virgin Mary which was allowed in art a location usually reserved to Christ

thumbnail to a view of how Rome was looking like by the Carolingian timesclick to a view of how Rome was looking like by the Carolingian times

As far as the end of the Carolingian period is concerned, the Papal States were mostly threatened by the quarrels of the factions of the local nobility and patricians, a aim of who was the control too of the papal election. This was largely seen already during the events which brought to the coronation of Charles in 800 A.D. Charlemagne, by the agreement of 781, had promised to protect the freedom of the election of the Pope, as each new pope took a great attention to have this promise renewed by each emperor. As the reign of Louis the Pious reached the height of the imperial influence upon the papacy, with a kind of oath of allegiance of the new pope, the decline of the Carolingian empire and the agressivity of the Arabs in Italy since about 849, brought a larger independency of the Pope, the temporal ruler and defensor again of his States. During that time however, the papacy was taken into the struggle between the various branches of the Carolingians, beginning with the emperor Louis II, reigning mostly just in Italy, superintending the Pope since about 860, as that continued well until the beginning the 10th century, with the popes, the official dispensators of the imperial crown, taken as hostages. Rome, by 915 A.D., eventually saw the preponderance assumed by the family of the Counts of Tusculum. Their power was represented for a time by three women, Theodora, the wife of the past count, and her two daughters, Marozia and Theodora. Although allied in the fight against the Arabs, the papacy eventually fell entirely under the control of Marozia. She deposed Pope John X and had one of her sons placed upon the papal chair under the name of John XI. It was then, after 932, the development of the Ottonians in Germany, which brought to a new change of supremacy over Rome. Otto I, in 962, for example, renewed the previous written donations as he obtained the right to verify the canonicity of the election. Struggles and decline continued however during the last years of the Carolingian period. It kept further after that with the history of the papacy intricating into the one of the German empire until the Quarrel of the Investitures

By April 774 A.D. one thinks that pope Hadrian I -20 years thus after the unction to Pippin the Short in St-Denis- had, to settle once for all the question of the papal states, made write in the papal cancellery, the much famed forgery called the 'Donation of Constantine.' That was boding well further with how pope Stephen II, as he had come into Ponthion, by 754, to renew to Pippin the Short the unction of 751 given by St. Boniface, had willingly set the scene of his arrival in the royal palace akin to what had occurred when pope Sylvester had met emperor Constantine. Since 774, it is that forgery which kept showing how Constantine I, when he had left Rome to settle in Constantinople, not only had let Rome, as a city, to the pope but, further, the sovereignty of him over the Western Roman empire! The emperor Constantine, at the time, would have present the Latran palace, Rome 'and all the provinces, localities and cities of Italy, and the western regions' like a gift to the pope. The forgers of the document, moreover, had the emperor saying that he had chosen to settle in the new city of Constantinople 'because it is not just that the terrestrial emperor keeps the power there where the celestial emperor has establised the prince of the priests, and chief of the Christian religion!'

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 10/31/2016. contact us at
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