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Papal States

The Papal States (Gli Stati della Chiesa or Stati Pontificii, "States of the Church") was one of the historical states of Italy before its unity 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.



Originally the Bishop of Rome directly governed only those lands that made up the Patrimonium Sancti Petri (literally: St. Peter's patrimony), the private property of the Church. But from the collapse of imperial power in the west in the 5th century, civil control by the Bishop, now called "Pope" became more explicit, especially over the Duchy of Rome. After gaining territories and taking contested lands, the Church held them to avoid having to rely on external support that could limit the Pope's actions.

The Roman Catholic Church had been allowed to hold and transfer property only since 321. The private property grew greatly through the donations of the pious and the wealthy; the Lateran Palace was the first significant donation, a gift of Emperor Constantine I. Other donations soon followed, mainly in Italy around Syracuse, Palermo, Ravenna, and Genoa and also around Rome, but also on Sicily, in France, Africa, and in the East among other areas. Large gifts became less common after the 600s because economic and political conditions had changed. The Pope had become the largest landowner in Italy, a privilege that brought with it certain political issues and pressures.


The Papacy became a supporter of the Byzantine rulers over the Lombards, but also moved to protect the population of its territories, raising a Roman militia. The popular support for the Papacy in Italy enabled various Popes to defy the will of the emperor in Constantinople, marked in 715 by the election of Pope Gregory II. Nevertheless the Pope and the Exarch still strove to control the rising power of Lombardy in Italy, however the Papacy was taking an ever larger role in defending Rome, usually through diplomacy, threats and bribery. The Papacy's efforts served to focus Lombard aggrandizement on the Exarch and Ravenna.

Main article the Donation of Pippin.

When the Exarchate finally fell to the Lombards in 751, the Lombard threat to the Pope was neutralized by the support of Pepin the Short, who was actively encouraged by Pope Stephen II to lead a Frankish army into Italy in 754 and 756. Pepin won back the conquered territories but made a gift of the properties formerly of the Exarchate of Ravenna to the Pope, keeping Lombardy itself and other territories in his own gift. 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 etc. and a number of Italian cities. The security of the states was initially guaranteed by the Frankish empire, a condition that was sometimes exploited.

There were some cases when the Papal States ceased to exist and were then restored -- in 1434, due to insurgency, for instance. The last time the Papal States were lost and restored was in 1848, after which the Papal States were restored with the intervention of the French and Austrian governments.

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. Much of the territory was only nominally controlled by the Pope, and most of the papal states were 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, at which point the Pope's temporal power started to decline.

From 1305 to 1378, the Popes lived in Avignon, in France, and were under the influence of the French kings. During this Avignon Papacy, however, the Papal States in Italy remained formally under Papal suzerainty. 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 was 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 the 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, the Popes followed a harshly reactionary policy in the Papal States. This began to change in 1846 with the election of Pope Pius IX, who began to introduce liberal reforms.

Rome: From Papal States to Italian capital

The Papal states took a severe blow in the revolutions of 184849, in which Pope Pius IX was temporarily overthrown and a Roman Republic declared. Pius was eventually restored by French and Austrian troops, and, repenting of his previous liberal tendencies, pursued a harsh, conservative policy even more repressive than that of his predecessors.

Following the Austrian defeat in the War of 1859, much of the Papal States rose up in rebellion. In March of 1860, Sardinia annexed Bologna and Ferrara, and Umbria, the Marches, Benevento, and Pontecorvo were annexed in November of the same year, leaving the Pope with only Latium, the immediate neighborhood of Rome.

The final end did not come until their unilateral annexation (often described in Italian history books as a 'liberation') by Victor Emmanuel on September 20, 1870 (see Pope Pius IX). Early the following year the capital of Italy was moved from Florence to Rome. The Papacy did not accept the loss. 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.

See also

Last updated: 08-10-2005 17:15:24
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