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The expression Patrimonium Sancti Petri, or shorter Patrimonium Petri, meaning 'Patrimony of (Saint) Peter', originally designated the landed possessions and revenues of various kinds that belonged to the Church of St. Peter (i.e. the Pope) at Rome.
Patrimonial Possessions of the Church of Rome
The law of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great of AD 321, by which the Christian Church was declared qualified to hold and transmit property, first gave a legal basis to the possessions of the Church of Rome. Subsequently the possessions were rapidly augmented by donations.
Constantine himself set the example, the Lateran Palace in Rome itself being most probably presented by him. Constantine's gifts formed the historical nucleus, which the Sylvester Legend later surrounded with that network of myth, that gave rise to the forged document known as the "Donation of Constantine".
The example of Constantine was followed by wealthy families of the Roman nobility, whose memory frequently survived, after the families themselves had become extinct, in the names of the properties which they had once presented to the Roman See.
The donation of large estates ceased about 600. The Byzantine emperors -who preferred to favor the patriarchate of Constantinople, in their capital-subsequently were less liberal in their gifts; the wars with the Lombards likewise had an unfavourable effect, and there remained few families in a position to bequeath large estates. Apart from a number of scattered possessions in the Orient, Dalmatia, Gaul and Africa, the patrimonies were naturally for the most part situated in Italy and on the adjacent islands. The most valuable and most extensive possessions were those in Sicily, about Syracuse and Palermo. The revenues from the properties in Sicily and Lower Italy in the eighth century, when Byzantine Emperor Leo the Isaurian confiscated them, were estimated at three and one-half talents of gold.
But the patrimonies in the vicinity of Rome (the successors to the classical latifundia in the Ager Romanus), which had begun to form from the 7th century onwards, were the most numerous. After most of the remote patrimonies had been lost in the eighth century, the patrimonia around Rome began to be managed with especial care, headed up by deacons directly subordinate to the pope himself.
Other Italian patrimonies included the Neapolitan with the Island of Capri, that of Gaeta, the Tuscan, the Patrimonium Tiburtinum in the vicinity of Tivoli, estates about Otranto, Osimo, Ancona, Umana, estates near Ravenna and Genoa and lastly properties in Istria, Sardinia and Corsica.
With these landed possessions, scattered and varied as they were, the pope was the largest landowner in Italy. For this reason every ruler of Italy was compelled of necessity to reckon with him first of all; on the other hand he was also the first to feel the political and economical disturbances that distressed the country. A good insight into the problems that required the attention of the pope in the administration of his patrimonies can be obtained from the letters of Pope Gregory the Great (Monum. German. Epist., I).
The revenues from the patrimonies were employed for administrative purposes, for the maintenance and construction of church edifices, for the equipment of convents, for the papal household and the support of the clergy, but also to a great extent to relieve public and private want. Numerous poorhouses, hospitals, orphanages and hospices for pilgrims were maintained out of the revenues of the patrimonies, many individuals were supported directly or indirectly, and slaves were ransomed from the possession of Jews and heathens.
Above all, the popes relieved the emperors of the responsibility of providing Rome with food, and later also assumed the task of warding off the Lombards, an undertaking generally involving financial obligations.
Political Position of the Papacy
The pope thus became the champion of all the oppressed, the political champion of all those who were unwilling to submit to foreign domination, who were unwilling to become Lombards or yet wholly Byzantines, preferring to remain Romans.
This political aspect of the papacy became in time very prominent, as Rome, after the removal of the imperial residence to the East, was no longer the seat of any of the higher political officials. Even after the partition of the empire, the Western emperors preferred to make the better-protected Ravenna their residence. Here was the centre of Odoacer's power and of the Ostrogothic rule; here also, after the fall of the Ostrogoths, the 'viceroy' of the Byzantine emperor in Italy, the exarch, resided.
In Rome on the other hand, the pope appears with ever-increasing frequency as the advocate of the needy population; thus Pope Leo I intercedes with Attila the Hun king and Geiserich the Vandal king, and Pope Gelasius I with Theodoric the Ostrogothic king. Cassiodorus, as praefectus praetorio under the Ostrogothic supremacy, actually entrusted the care of the temporal affairs to Pope John II.
When Emperor Justinian issued the Pragmatic Sanction of 554, the pope and the Senate were entrusted with the control of weights and measures. Thenceforth for two centuries the popes were most loyal supporters of the Byzantine government against the encroachments of the Lombards, and were all the more indispensable, because after 603 the Senate disappeared.
The popes were now the only court of judicature at which the Roman city population, exposed to the extortion of the Byzantine functionaries and officers, could find protection and defence (a task more often entrusted to bishops as Defensor populi). No wonder then that at scarcely any other time was the papacy so popular in Central Italy, and there was no cause which the native population, who had again begun to organise themselves into bodies of militia, espoused with greater zeal then the freedom and independence of the Roman See. And naturally so, for they took part in the election of the pope as a separate electoral body.
When the Byzantine emperors, with cæsaro-papist tendencies, attempted to crush the papacy also, they found in the Roman militia an opposition against which they were able to accomplish nothing. The particularism of Italy awoke and concentrated itself about the pope. When Emperor Justinian II in 692 attempted to have Pope Sergius II (as formerly the unfortunate pope Martin I) forcibly conveyed to Constantinople to extract from him his assent to the canons of the Trullan Council, convoked by the emperor, the militia of Ravenna and of the Duchy of Pentapolis lying immediately to the south assembled, marched into Rome, and compelled the departure of the emperor's plenipotentiary. Such occurrences were repeated and acquired significance as indicating the popular feeling.
When Pope Constantine, the last pope to go to Constantinople (710), rejected the confession of faith of the new emperor, Bardanas, the Romans protested, and refused to acknowledge the emperor or the dux (military commander and virtual governor) sent by him. Only after the heretical emperor had been replaced by one of the true Faith was the dux allowed to assume his office, in 713.
In AD 715 the papal chair, which had last been occupied by seven Oriental popes, was filled by a Roman, Pope Gregory II, who was destined to oppose Leo III the Isaurian in the Iconoclastic conflict. The time was ripening for Rome to abandon the East, turn toward the West, and enter into that alliance with the Germano-Romanic nations, on which is based our Western civilization, of which one consequence was the formation of the States of the Church. It would have been easy for the popes to throw off the Byzantine yoke in Central Italy as early as the time of Iconoclasm, but waited wisely until it was clearly establish that the Byzantines could no longer protect the pope and the Romans against the Lombards, and they founnd another power that could protect them, the Frankish kingdom, in the middle of the eighth century.
Collapse of Byzantine power in central Italy
The strange shape which the States of the Church assumed from the beginning is explained by the fact that these were the districts in which the population of central Italy had defended itself to the very last against the Lombards.
In 751 Aistulf conquered Ravenna, and thereby decided the long delayed fate of the exarchate and the Pentapolis. And when Aistulf, who held Spoleto also under his immediate sway, directed all his might against the Duchy of Rome, it seemed that this too could no longer be held. Byzantium could send no troops, and Emperor Constantine V Copronymus, in answer to the repeated requests for help of the new pope, Stephen II, could only offer him the advice to act in accordance with the ancient policy of Byzantium, to pit some other Germanic tribe against the Lombards. The Franks alone were powerful enough to compel the Lombards to maintain peace, and they alone stood in close relationship with the pope. Charles Martel had on a former occasion failed to respond to the entreaties of Gregory III, but meanwhile the relations between the Frankish rulers and the popes had become more intimate. Pope Zachary had only recently (751), at Pepin's accession to the Merovingian throne, spoken the word that removed all doubts in favour of the Carlovingian mayor of the palace. It was not unreasonable, therefore, to expect an active show of gratitude in return, when Rome was most grievously pressed by Aistulf. Accordingly Stephen II secretly sent a letter to king Pepin by pilgrims, soliciting his aid against Aistulf and asking for a conference. Pepin in turn sent Abbot Droctegang of Jumièges to confer with the pope, and a little later dispatched Duke Autchar and Bishop Chrodengang of Metz to conduct the pope to the Frankish realm. Never before had a pope crossed the Alps. While Pope Stephen was preparing for the journey, a messenger arrived from Constantinople, bringing to the pope the imperial mandate to treat once more with Aistulf for the purpose of persuading him to surrender his conquests. Stephen took with him the imperial messenger and several dignitaries of the Roman Church, as well, as members of the aristocracy belonging to the Roman militia, and proceeded first of all to Aistulf. In 753 the pope left Rome. Aistulf, when the pope met him at Pavia, refused to enter into negotiations or to hear of a restoration of his conquests. Only with difficulty did Stephen finally prevail upon the Lombard king not to hinder him in his journey to the Frankish kingdom.
Intervention of the Franks. Formation of the States of the Church
The pope thereupon crossed the Great St. Bernard into the Frankish kingdom. Pepin received his guest at Ponthion, and there promised him orally to do all in his power to recover the Exarchate of Ravenna and the other districts seized by Aistulf.
The pope then went to St-Denis near Paris, where he concluded a firm alliance of friendship with the first Carlovingian king, probably in January, 754. He anointed King Pepin, his wife and sons, and bound the Franks under the threat of excommunication, never thereafter to choose their kings from any other family than the Carlovingian. At the same time he bestowed on Pepin and his sons the title of "Patrician of the Romans", which title the Exarchs, the highest Byzantine officials in Italy, had borne; in their stead now the King of the Franks was to be the protector of the Romans and their Bishop. The pope in bestowing this title probably acted also in conformity with authority conferred on him by the Byzantine emperor. In order, however, to fulfil the wishes of the pope, Pepin had eventually to obtain the consent of his nobles to a campaign into Italy. This was rendered imperative, when several embassies, which attempted by peaceful means to induce the Lombard king to give up his conquests, returned without accomplishing their mission.
At Quiercy on the Oise, the Frankish nobles finally gave their consent. There Pepin executed in writing a promise to give to the Church certain territories, the first documentary record for the States of the Church. This document, it is true, has not been preserved in the authentic version, but a number of citations, quoted from it during the decades immediately following, indicate its contents, and it is likely that it was the source of the much interpolated "Fragmentum Fantuzzianum", which probably dates from 778-80. In the original document of Quiercy Pepin promised the pope the restoration of the lands of Central Italy, which had been last conquered by Aistulf, especially in the exarchate and in the Roman Duchy, and of a number of more or less clearly defined patrimonies in the Lombard Kingdom and in the Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. The lands were still to be conquered by Pepin, and his gift was conditioned by this event.
In the summer of 754 Pepin with his army and the pope began their march into Italy, and forced King Aistulf, who had shut himself up in his capital, to sue for peace. The Lombard promised to give up the cities of the exarchate and of the Pentapolis, which had been last conquered, to make no further attacks upon or to evacuate the Duchy of Rome and the northwest Italian districts of Venetia and Istria, and acknowledged the sovereignty of the Franks. For the cities in the exarchate and in the Pentapolis, which Aistulf promised to return, Pepin executed a separate deed for the pope. This is the first actual "Donation of 754".
But Pepin had hardly recrossed the Alps on his return home, when Aistulf not only failed to make preparations for the return of the promised cities, but again advanced against Rome, which had to endure a severe siege. The pope sent a messenger by sea, summoning Pepin to fulfil anew his pledge of loyalty. In 756 Pepin again set out with an army against Aistulf and a second time hemmed him in at Pavia. Aistulf was again compelled to promise to deliver to the pope the cities granted him after the first war and, in addition, Commachio at the mouth of the Po. But this time the mere promise was not considered sufficient. Messengers of Pepin visited the various cities of the exarchate and of the Pentapolis, demanded and received the keys to them, and brought the highest magistrates and most distinguished magnates of these cities to Rome. Pepin executed a new deed of gift for the cities thus surrendered to the pope, which together with the keys of the cities were deposited on the grave of St. Peter (Second Donation of 756).
The Byzantine Government naturally did not approve of this result of the intervention of the Franks. It had hoped through the instrumentality of the Franks to regain possession of the districts that had been wrested from it by the Lombards. But Pepin took up arms, not to render a service to the Byzantine emperor, but for the sake of St. Peter alone, from whose protection he expected earthly happiness and everlasting salvation. Just as kings at that time founded monasteries and endowed them with landed properties, that prayers might be offered for them there, so Pepin wished to provide the pope with temporal territories, that he might be certain of the prayers of the pope. Therefore Pepin answered the Byzantine ambassadors, who came to him before the second expedition of 756 and asked him to return to the emperor the cities to be taken from the Lombards, that he had undertaken the expedition for St. Peter alone and not for the emperor; that to St. Peter alone would he restore the cities. Thus did Pepin found the States of the Church. The Byzantines undoubtedly had the formal right to the sovereignty, but as they had failed to meet the obligation of sovereignty to give protection against foreign enemies, their rights became illusory. If the Franks had not interfered, the territory would by right of conquest have fallen to the Lombards; Pepin by his intervention prevented Rome with the native population from falling into the hands of the foreign conquerors.
The States of the Church were in a certain sense the only remnant of the Roman Empire in the West which escaped foreign conquerors. Gratefully did the Roman population acknowledge that they had escaped subjection to the Lombards only through the mediation of the pope, for it was only for the pope's sake that Pepin had resolved to interfere. The results were important, chiefly because his temporal sovereignty guaranteed the popes independence, was freed from the fetters of a temporal power, and obtained that freedom from interference which is necessary for the conduct of his high office; because the papacy threw off the political ties that bound it to the East and entered into new relations with the West, which made possible the development of the new Western civilization. The latter was destined to become especially prominent under Pepin's son, Charlemagne.
Under Charlemagne the relations with the Lombards soon became strained again. Adrian I complained that the Lombard king Desiderius had invaded the territories of the States of the Church, and reminded Charlemagne of the promise made at Quiercy. As Desiderius also championed the claims of Charlemagne's nephews, he endangered the unity of the Frankish kingdom, and Charlemagne's own interests therefore bade him to oppose Desiderius. In the autumn of 773 Charlemagne entered Italy and besieged Desiderius at Pavia. While the siege was in progress, Charlemagne went to Rome at Easter, 774, and at the request of the pope renewed the promises made at Quiercy.
Soon after this Desiderius was forced to capitulate, and Charlemagne had himself proclaimed King of the Lombards in his place. Charlemagne's attitude toward the States of the Church now underwent a change. With the title of King of the Lombards he also assumed the title as "Patricius Romanorum", which his father had never used, and read into this title rights which under Pepin had never been associated with it. Moreover, differences of opinion arose between Adrian and Charlemagne concerning the obligations which had been assumed by Pepin and Charlemagne in the document of Quiercy. Adrian construed it to mean that Charlemagne should take an elastic concept of the "res publica Romana" to the extent of giving up not only the conquests of Aistulf in the exarchate and in the Pentapolis, but also earlier conquests of the Lombards in Central Italy, Spoleto and Benevento. But Charles would not listen to any such interpretation of the document. As both parties were anxious to come to an understanding, an agreement was reached in 781. Charlemagne acknowledged the sovereignty of Adrian in the Duchy of Rome and in the States of the Church founded by Pepin's donations of 754-756. He now executed a new document in which were enumerated all the districts in which the pope was recognized as ruler. The Duchy of Rome (which had not been mentioned in the earlier documents) heads the list, followed by the exarchate and the Pentapolis, augmented by the cities which Desiderius had agreed to surrender at the beginning of his reign (Imola, Bologna, Faenza, Ferrara, Ancona, Osimo and Umana); next the patrimonies were specified in various groups: in the Sabine, in the Spoletan and Beneventan districts, in Calabria, in Tuscany and in Corsica. Charlemagne, however, in his quality of "Patricius", wanted to be considered as the highest court of appeal in criminal cases in the States of the Church. He promised on the other hand to protect freedom of choice in the election of the pope, and renewed the alliance of friendship that had been previously made between Pepin and Stephen II.
The agreement between Charlemagne and Adrian remained undisturbed. In 787 Charlemagne still further enlarged the States of the Church by new donations: Capua and a few other frontier cities of the Duchy of Benevento, besides several cities in Lombardy, Tuscany, Populonia, Roselle, Sovana, Toscanella, Viterbo, Bagnorea,Orvieto, Ferento, Orchia, Marta and lastly Città di Castello appear to have been added at that time. All of this, of course, is based upon painstaking deductions, since no document has come down to us either from the time of Charlemagne or from that of Pepin. Adrian in these negotiations proved himself no mean politician, and is justly ranked with Stephen II as the second founder of the States of the Church. His arrangements with Charlemagne remained authoritative for the relations of the later popes with the Carlovingians and the German emperors. These relations were given a brilliant outward expression by Charlemagne's coronation as emperor in 800.
- For the further history, see Papal States
List of papal patrimonia
Each patrimonium was not necessarily a single unit, but could consist of other lands not joined to the central nucleus (ex corpore patrimoniae).
- Patrimonium Tusciae (bounded by the Via Aurelia and the Via Flaminia, in the northern quadrant of the Agro Romano);
- Patrimonium Tuscie Suburbanum (around Basilica di San Pietro in Vaticano);
- Patrimonium Sabinense or Carseolanum (on the Via Salaria, ending at Farfa Abbey);
- Patrimonium Tiburtinum (bounded by the Via Nomentana and the Via Tiburtina);
- Patrimonium Labicanum (on the Via Labicana, ending at the valley of Aniene);
- Patrimonium Appiae (on the Via Appia, ending at Albano);
- Patrimonium Appiae Suburbanum (around the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano);
- Patrimonium Caietanum (around Gaeta);
- Patrimonium Traiectum (on the River Garigliano).