Papal States

From Academic Kids

The Papal States (Gli Stati della Chiesa or Stati Pontificii, "States of the Church") was one of the historical states of Italy before the peninsula was unified under the crown of Savoy. The Papal States comprised those territories over which the Pope was the ruler in a civil as well as a spiritual sense before 1870. This governing power is commonly called the temporal power of the Pope.



The Roman Catholic Church spent its first three centuries as an outlawed organization and was thus unable to hold or transfer property. After the ban was lifted by the Emperor Constantine I, the church's private property grew quickly through the donations of the pious and the wealthy; the Lateran Palace was the first significant donation, a gift of Constantine himself. Other donations soon followed, mainly in mainland Italy but also in the provinces. However, the Church held all of these lands as a private landowner, not as a sovereign entity. When in the fifth century the Italian peninsula passed under the control of first Odoacer and then the Ostrogoths, the church organization in Italy, and the bishop of Rome as its head, submitted to their sovereign authority while beginning to assert spiritual supremacy.

The seeds of the Papal States as a sovereign political entity were planted in the sixth century. The Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) government in Constantinople launched a reconquest of Italy that took decades and devastated the country's political and economic structures; just as those wars wound down, the Lombards entered the peninsula from the north and conquered much of the countryside. By the seventh century, Byzantine authority was largely limited to a diagonal band running roughly from Ravenna, where Emperor's representative, or Exarch, was located, to Rome. With Byzantine power weighted at the northeast end of this territory, the Bishop of Rome, as the largest landowner and most prestigious figure in Italy, began by default to take on much of the ruling authority that Byzantines were unable to project to the area around the city of Rome. While the Bishops of Rome–now beginning to be referred to as the Popes–remained de jure Byzantine subjects, in practice the Duchy of Rome, an area roughly equivalent modern-day Latium, became an independent state ruled by the Church.

The Church's relative independence, combined with popular support for the Papacy in Italy, enabled various Popes to defy the will of the Byzantine emperor; Pope Gregory II even excommunicated emperor Leo III. Nevertheless the Pope and the Exarch still worked together to control the rising power of the Lombards in Italy. As Byzantine power weakened, though, the Papacy took an ever larger role in defending Rome from the Lombards, usually through diplomacy, threats, and bribery. In practice, the Papacy's efforts served to focus Lombard aggrandizement on the Exarch and Ravenna.

The Donation of Pepin and the Holy Roman Empire

When the Exarchate finally fell to the Lombards in 751, the Duchy of Rome was completely cut off from the Byzantine Empire, of which it was theoretically still a part. Pope Stephen III acted to neutralize the Lombard threat by courting the de facto Frankish ruler, Pepin the Short. Stephen gave church sanction to Pepin's desire to depose the Merovingian figurehead Childeric III and take the throne himself; he also granted Pepin the title Patrician of the Romans. In return, Pepin led a Frankish army into Italy in 754 and 756. Pepin conquered much of northern Italy and made a gift (called the Donation of Pepin) of the properties formerly constituting the Exarchate of Ravenna to the Pope. In 781, Charlemagne codified the regions over which the Pope would be temporal sovereign: the Duchy of Rome was key, but the territory was expanded to include Ravenna, the Pentapolis, parts of the Duchy of Benevento, Tuscany, Corsica, Lombardy, along with a number of Italian cities. The cooperation between the Papacy and the Carolingian dynasty climaxed in 800, when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne "Emperor of the Romans" ('Augustus Romanorum').

However, the precise nature of the relationship between the Popes and Emperors–and between the Papal States and the Empire–was not clear. Was the Pope a sovereign ruler of a separate realm in central Italy? Or were the Papal States just a part of the Frankish Empire over which the Popes had administrative control? Events in the ninth century postponed the conflict: the Frankish Empire collapsed as it was subdivided among Charlemagne's grandchildren, and the papacy's prestige declined into the condition later dubbed the pornocracy. In practice, the Popes were unable to exercise effective sovereignty over the extensive and mountainous territories of the Papal States, and the region preserved its old Lombard system of government, with many small counties and marquisates, each centered upon a fortified rocca.

Over several campaigns in the mid-tenth century, the German ruler Otto I conquered northern Italy; Pope John XII crowned him emperor (the first so crowned in more than forty years), and the two of them ratified the Diploma Ottonianum, which guaranteed the independence of the Papal States. However, over the next two centuries, Popes and Emperors squabbled over a variety of issues, and the German rulers routinely treated the Papal States as part of their realms on those occasions when they projected power into Italy. But after the end of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, the German emperors rarely interfered in Italian affairs, and by 1300, the Papal States, along with the rest of the Italian principalities, were effectively independent.

The Renaissance

During the Renaissance, the papal territory expanded greatly, notably under Pope Alexander VI and Pope Julius II. The Pope became one of Italy's most important secular rulers as well as the head of the Church, signing treaties with other sovereigns and fighting wars. In practice, though, most of the Papal States was still only nominally controlled by the Pope, and much of the territory was ruled by minor princes. Control was always contested; indeed it took until the 16th century for the Pope to have any genuine control over all his territories.

From 1305 to 1378, the Popes lived in Avignon, in what is now France, and were under the influence of the French kings. During this Avignon Papacy, however, the Papal States in Italy remained formally under Papal control. During this period the city of Avignon itself was added to the Papal States; it remained a Papal possession even after the Popes returned to Rome, only passing back to France during the French Revolution.

At its greatest extent in the 18th century, the Papal States included most of Central Italy–Latium, Umbria, Marche, and the Legations of Ravenna, Ferrara, and Bologna extending north into the Romagna. It also included the small enclaves of Benevento and Pontecorvo in southern Italy, and the larger Comtat Venaissin around Avignon in southern France.

The era of the French Revolution and Napoleon

The French Revolution proved as disastrous for the temporal territories of the Papacy as it was for the Catholic Church in general. In 1791 the Comtat Venaissin and Avignon were annexed by France. Later, with the French invasion of Italy in 1796, the Legations were seized and became part of the Cisalpine Republic. Two years later, the Papal States as a whole were invaded by French forces, who declared a Roman Republic. Pope Pius VI died in exile in France in 1799. The Papal States were restored in June of 1800, and Pope Pius VII returned, but the French again invaded in 1808, and this time the remainder of the States of the Church were annexed to France, forming the départements of Tibre and Trasimène.

With the fall of the Napoleonic system in 1814, the Papal States were restored. From 1814 until the death of Pope Gregory XVI in 1846, the Popes followed a harshly reactionary policy in the Papal States. For instance, the city of Rome maintained the last Jewish ghetto in Western Europe. There were hopes that this would change when Pope Pius IX was elected to succeed Gregory and began to introduce liberal reforms.

Italian nationalism and the end of the Papal States

Italian nationalism had been stoked during the Napoleonic period but dashed by the settlement of the Congress of Vienna, which left Italy divided and largely under Austrian domination. In 1848, nationalist and liberal revolutions began to break out across Europe; in 1849, a Roman Republic was declared and the pope fled the city. Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, recently elected president of the newly declared French Second Republic, saw an opportunity to assuage conservative Catholic opinion in France, and in cooperation with Austria sent troops to restore Papal rule in Rome. After some hard fighting (in which Giuseppe Garibaldi distinguished himself on the Italian side), Pius was returned to Rome, and, repenting of his previous liberal tendencies, pursued a harsh, conservative policy even more repressive than that of his predecessors.

In the years that followed, Italian nationalists–both those who wished to unify the country under the Kingdom of Sardinia and its ruling House of Savoy and those who favored a republican solution–saw the Papal States as the chief obstacle to Italian unity. Louis Napoleon, who had now seized control of France as Emperor Napoleon III, tried to play a double game, simultaneously forming an alliance with Sardinia and playing on his famous uncle's nationalist credentials on the one hand and maintaining French troops in Rome to protect the Pope's rights on the other.

After the Austro-Sardinian War, much of northern Italy was unified under the House of Savoy's government; in the aftermath, Garibaldi led a revolution that overthrow the Bourbon monarchy in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Afraid that Garibaldi would set up a republican government in the south, the Sardinians petitioned Napoleon for permission to send troops through the Papal States to gain control of the Two Sicilies, which was granted on the condition that Rome was left undisturbed. In 1860, with much of the region already in rebellion against Papal rule, Sardinia conquered the eastern two-thirds of the Papal States and cemented its hold on the south. Bologna, Ferrara, Umbria, the Marches, Benevento, and Pontecorvo were all formally annexed by November of the same year, and a unified Kingdom of Italy was declared. The Papal States were reduced to Latium, the immediate neighborhood of Rome.

Many Italians still believed that Rome ought by right to be the capital of the new state. The opportunity to eliminate the last vestige of the Papal States came at the beginning of September 1870, when, in the aftermath of France's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Sedan, the French garrison in Rome was withdrawn to defend France against the Prussians. On September 10, Italy declared war on the Papal States, and on September 20, Italian forces reached Rome. Though everyone involved knew that the Pope's tiny army was incapable of defending the city, Pius ordered it to put up at least a token resistance to emphasize that Italy was acquiring Rome by force and not consent. After a cannonade of three hours, the Italians entered Rome and the Papal States ceased to exist.

This event, described in Italian history books as a liberation, was taken very bitterly by the Pope. The Italian government had offered to allow the Pope to retain control of the Leonine City on the west bank of the Tiber, but Pius rejected the overture. Early the following year, the capital of Italy was moved from Florence to Rome. The Pope, whose previous residence, the Quirinal Palace, had become the royal palace of the Kings of Italy, withdrew in protest into the Vatican, where he lived as a self-proclaimed "prisoner", refusing to leave or to set foot in St. Peter's Square, and ordering Catholics on pain of excommunication not to participate in elections in the new Italian state.

However the new Italian control of Rome did not wither, nor did the Catholic world come to the Pope's aid, as Pius IX expected. In the 1920s, the papacy abandoned its demand for a return of the Papal States and signed the Lateran Treaty (or Concordat with Rome) of 1929, which created the State of the Vatican City, forming the secular territory of the Holy See. Vatican City can be seen as the modern descendent of the Papal States.

See also

es:Estados Pontificios fr:États pontificaux it:Stato Pontificio nl:Kerkelijke Staat ja:教皇領 no:Kirkestaten pl:Państwo Kościelne fi:Kirkkovaltio


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