History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Chapter III

Beginning of the greatness of the pontiffs in Italy — Abuse of censures and indulgences — The pope applies to Pepin, king of France, for assistance — Donation of Pepin to the pontiff — Charlemagne — End of the kingdom of the Lombards — The title of cardinal begins to be used — The empire passes to the Germans — Berengarius, duke of Fruili, created king of Italy — Pisa becomes great — Order and division of the states of Italy — Electors of the emperor created.

In these times the popes began to acquire greater temporal authority than they had previously possessed; although the immediate successors of St. Peter were more reverenced for the holiness of their lives, and the miracles which they performed; and their example so greatly extended the Christian religion, that princes of other states embraced it, in order to obviate the confusion which prevailed at that period. The emperor having become a Christian and returned to Constantinople, it followed, as was remarked at the commencement of the book, that the Roman empire was the more easily ruined, and the church more rapidly increased her authority. Nevertheless, the whole of Italy, being subject either to the emperors or the kings till the coming of the Lombards, the popes never acquired any greater authority than what reverence for their habits and doctrine gave them. In other respects they obeyed the emperors or kings; officiated for them in their affairs, as ministers or agents, and were even sometimes put to death by them. He who caused them to become of more importance in the affairs of Italy, was Theodoric, king of the Goths, when he established the seat of his empire at Ravenna; for, Rome being without a prince, the Romans found it necessary, for their safety, to yield obedience to the pope; his authority, however, was not greatly increased thereby, the only advantage being, that the church of Rome was allowed to take precedence of that of Ravenna. But the Lombards having taken possession, and Italy being divided into many parts, the pope had an opportunity of greater exertion. Being as it were the head of Rome, both the emperor of Constantinople and the Lombards respected him; so that the Romans, by his means, entered into league with the Lombards, and with Longinus, not as subjects, but as equals. Thus the popes, at one time friends of the Greeks, and at another of the Lombards, increased their own power; but upon the ruin of the eastern empire, which occurred during the time of Heraclius, their influence was reduced; for the Sclavi, of whom we spoke before, again assailed Illyria, and having occupied the country, named it Sclavonia, after themselves; and the other parts were attacked by the Persians, then by the Saracens under Mohammed, and lastly by the Turks, who took Syria, Africa, and Egypt. These causes induced the reigning pope, in his distress, to seek new friends, and he applied to the king of France. Nearly all the wars which the northern barbarians carried on in Italy, it may be here remarked, were occasioned by the pontiffs; and the hordes, with which the country was inundated, were generally called in by them. The same mode of proceeding still continued, and kept Italy weak and unsettled. And, therefore, in relating the events which have taken place from those times to the present, the ruin of the empire will be no longer illustrated, but only the increase of the pontificate and of the other principalities which ruled Italy till the coming of Charles VIII. It will be seen how the popes, first with censures, and afterward with these and arms, mingled with indulgences, became both terrible and venerable; and how, from having abused both, they ceased to possess any influence, and were wholly dependent on the will of others for assistance in their wars.

But to return to the order of our narration. Gregory III. occupied the papacy, and the kingdom of the Lombards was held by Astolphus, who, contrary to agreement, seized Ravenna, and made war upon the pope. On this account, Gregory no longer relying upon the emperor of Constantinople, since he, for the reasons above given, was unable to assist him, and unwilling to trust the Lombards, for they had frequently broken their faith, had recourse to Pepin II., who, from being lord of Austria and Brabant, had become king of France; not so much by his own valor as by that of Charles Martel, his father, and Pepin his grandfather; for Charles Martel, being governor of the kingdom, effected the memorable defeat of the Saracens near Tours, upon the Loire, in which two hundred thousand of them are said to have been left dead upon the field of battle. Hence, Pepin, by his father’s reputation and his own abilities, became afterward king of France. To him Pope Gregory, as we have said, applied for assistance against the Lombards, which Pepin promised to grant, but desired first to see him and be honored with his presence. Gregory accordingly went to France, passing uninjured through the country of his enemies, so great was the respect they had for religion, and was treated honorably by Pepin, who sent an army into Italy, and besieged the Lombards in Pavia. King Astolphus, compelled by necessity, made proposals of peace to the French, who agreed to them at the entreaty of the pope — for he did not desire the death of his enemy, but that he should be converted and live. In this treaty, Astolphus promised to give to the church all the places he had taken from her; but the king’s forces having returned to France, he did not fulfill the agreement, and the pope again had recourse to Pepin, who sent another army, conquered the Lombards, took Ravenna, and, contrary to the wishes of the Greek emperor, gave it to the pope, with all the places that belonged to the exarchate, and added to them Urbino and the Marca. But Astolphus, while fulfilling the terms of his agreement, died, and Desiderius, a Lombard, who was duke of Tuscany, took up arms to occupy the kingdom, and demanded assistance of the pope, promising him his friendship. The pope acceding to his request, the other princes assented. Desiderius kept faith at first, and proceeded to resign the districts to the pope, according to the agreement made with Pepin, so that an exarch was no longer sent from Constantinople to Ravenna, but it was governed according to the will of the pope. Pepin soon after died, and was succeeded by his son Charles, the same who, on account of the magnitude and success of his enterprises, was called Charlemagne, or Charles the Great. Theodore I. now succeeded to the papacy, and discord arising between him and Desiderius, the latter besieged him in Rome. The pope requested assistance of Charles, who, having crossed the Alps, besieged Desiderius in Pavai, where he took both him and his children, and sent them prisoners to France. He then went to visit the pontiff at Rome, where he declared, THAT THE POPE, BEING VICAR OF GOD, COULD NOT BE JUDGED BY MEN. The pope and the people of Rome made him emperor; and thus Rome began to have an emperor of the west. And whereas the popes used to be established by the emperors, the latter now began to have need of the popes at their elections; the empire continued to lose its powers, while the church acquired them; and, by these means, she constantly extended her authority over temporal princes.

The Lombards, having now been two hundred and thirty-two years in the country, were strangers only in name, and Charles, wishing to reorganize the states of Italy, consented that they should occupy the places in which they had been brought up, and call the province after their own name, Lombardy. That they might be led to respect the Roman name, he ordered all that part of Italy adjoining to them, which had been under the exarchate of Ravenna, to be called Romagna. Besides this, he created his son Pepin, king of Italy, whose dominion extended to Benevento; all the rest being possessed by the Greek emperor, with whom Charles was in league. About this time Pascal I. occupied the pontificate, and the priests of the churches of Rome, from being near to the pope, and attending the elections of the pontiff, began to dignify their own power with a title, by calling themselves cardinals, and arrogated so great authority, that having excluded the people of Rome from the election of pontiff, the appointment of a new pope was scarcely ever made except from one of their own number: thus on the death of Pascal, the cardinal of St. Sabina was created pope by the title of Eugenius II. Italy having come into the hands of the French, a change of form and order took place, the popes acquiring greater temporal power, and the new authorities adopting the titles of count and marquis, as that of duke had been introduced by Longinus, exarch of Ravenna. After the deaths of some pontiffs, Osporco, a Roman, succeeded to the papacy; but on account of his unseemly appellation, he took the name of Sergius, and this was the origin of that change of names which the popes adopt upon their election to the pontificate.

In the meantime, the Emperor Charles died and was succeeded by Lewis (the Pious, after whose death so many disputes arose among his sons, that at the time of his grandchildren, the house of France lost the empire, which then came to the Germans; the first German emperor being called Arnolfus. Nor did the Carlovingian family lose the empire only; their discords also occasioned them the loss of Italy; for the Lombards, gathering strength, offended the pope and the Romans, and Arnolfo, not knowing where to seek relief, was compelled to create Berengarius, duke of Fruili, king of Italy. These events induced the Huns, who occupied Pannonia, to assail Italy; but, in an engagement with Berengarius, they were compelled to return to Pannonia, which had from them been named Hungary.

Romano was at this time emperor of Greece, having, while prefect of the army, dethroned Constantine; and as Puglia and Calabria, which, as before observed, were parts of the Greek empire, had revolted, he gave permission to the Saracans to occupy them; and they having taken possession of these provinces, besieged Rome. The Romans, Berengarius being then engaged in defending himself against the Huns, appointed Alberic, duke of Tuscany, their leader. By his valor Rome was saved from the Saracens, who, withdrawing from the siege, erected a fortress upon Mount Gargano, by means of which they governed Puglia and Calabria, and harassed the whole country. Thus Italy was in those times very grievously afflicted, being in constant warfare with the Huns in the direction of the Alps, and, on the Neapolitan side, suffering from the inroads of the Saracens. This state of things continued many years, occupying the reigns of three Berengarii, who succeeded each other; and during this time the pope and the church were greatly disturbed; the impotence of the eastern, and the disunion which prevailed among the western princes, leaving them without defense. The city of Genoa, with all her territory upon the rivers, having been overrun by the Saracens, an impulse was thus given to the rising greatness of Pisa, in which city multitudes took refuge who had been driven out of their own country. These events occurred in the year 931, when Otho, duke of Saxony, the son of Henry and Matilda, a man of great prudence and reputation, being made emperor, the pope Agapito, begged that he would come into Italy and relieve him from the tyranny of the Berengarii.

The States of Italy were governed in this manner: Lombardy was under Berengarius III. and Alfred his son; Tuscany and Romagna were governed by a deputy of the western emperor; Puglia and Calabria were partly under the Greek emperor, and partly under the Saracens; in Rome two consuls were annually chosen from the nobility, who governed her according to ancient custom; to these was added a prefect, who dispensed justice among the people; and there was a council of twelve, who each year appointed rectors for the places subject to them. The popes had more or less authority in Rome and the rest of Italy, in proportion as they were favorites of the emperor or of the most powerful states. The Emperor Otho came into Italy, took the kingdom from the Berengarii, in which they had reigned fifty-five years, and reinstated the pontiff in his dignity. He had a son and a nephew, each named Otho, who, one after the other, succeeded to the empire. In the reign of Otho III., Pope Gregory V. was expelled by the Romans; whereupon the emperor came into Italy and replaced him; and the pope, to revenge himself on the Romans, took from them the right to create an emperor, and gave it to three princes and three bishops of Germany; the princes of Brandenburg, Palatine, and Saxony, and the bishops of Magonza, Treveri, and Colonia. This occurred in the year 1002. After the death of Otho III. the electors created Henry, duke of Bavaria, emperor, who at the end of twelve years was crowned by Pope Stephen VIII. Henry and his wife Simeonda were persons of very holy life, as is seen by the many temples built and endowed by them, of which the church of St. Miniato, near Florence, is one. Henry died in 1024, and was succeeded by Conrad of Suabia; and the latter by Henry II., who came to Rome; and as there was a schism in the church of three popes, he set them all aside, and caused the election of Clement II., by whom he was crowned emperor.

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