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Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 6, by Edward Gibbon, [1788], at

Chapter LXIX: State Of Rome From The Twelfth Century. Part IV.

After his decease, the tedious and equal suspense of the conclave was fixed by the dexterity of the French faction. A specious offer was made and accepted, that, in the term of forty days, they would elect one of the three candidates who should be named by their opponents. The archbishop of Bourdeaux, a furious enemy of his king and country, was the first on the list; but his ambition was known; and his conscience obeyed the calls of fortune and the commands of a benefactor, who had been informed by a swift messenger that the choice of a pope was now in his hands. The terms were regulated in a private interview; and with such speed and secrecy was the business transacted, that the unanimous conclave applauded the elevation of Clement the Fifth.  79 The cardinals of both parties were soon astonished by a summons to attend him beyond the Alps; from whence, as they soon discovered, they must never hope to return. He was engaged, by promise and affection, to prefer the residence of France; and, after dragging his court through Poitou and Gascony, and devouring, by his expense, the cities and convents on the road, he finally reposed at Avignon,  80 which flourished above seventy years  81 the seat of the Roman pontiff and the metropolis of Christendom. By land, by sea, by the Rhone, the position of Avignon was on all sides accessible; the southern provinces of France do not yield to Italy itself; new palaces arose for the accommodation of the pope and cardinals; and the arts of luxury were soon attracted by the treasures of the church. They were already possessed of the adjacent territory, the Venaissin county,  82 a populous and fertile spot; and the sovereignty of Avignon was afterwards purchased from the youth and distress of Jane, the first queen of Naples and countess of Provence, for the inadequate price of fourscore thousand florins.  83 Under the shadow of a French monarchy, amidst an obedient people, the popes enjoyed an honorable and tranquil state, to which they long had been strangers: but Italy deplored their absence; and Rome, in solitude and poverty, might repent of the ungovernable freedom which had driven from the Vatican the successor of St. Peter. Her repentance was tardy and fruitless: after the death of the old members, the sacred college was filled with French cardinals,  84 who beheld Rome and Italy with abhorrence and contempt, and perpetuated a series of national, and even provincial, popes, attached by the most indissoluble ties to their native country.

The progress of industry had produced and enriched the Italian republics: the aera of their liberty is the most flourishing period of population and agriculture, of manufactures and commerce; and their mechanic labors were gradually refined into the arts of elegance and genius. But the position of Rome was less favorable, the territory less fruitful: the character of the inhabitants was debased by indolence and elated by pride; and they fondly conceived that the tribute of subjects must forever nourish the metropolis of the church and empire. This prejudice was encouraged in some degree by the resort of pilgrims to the shrines of the apostles; and the last legacy of the popes, the institution of the holy year,  85 was not less beneficial to the people than to the clergy. Since the loss of Palestine, the gift of plenary indulgences, which had been applied to the crusades, remained without an object; and the most valuable treasure of the church was sequestered above eight years from public circulation. A new channel was opened by the diligence of Boniface the Eighth, who reconciled the vices of ambition and avarice; and the pope had sufficient learning to recollect and revive the secular games which were celebrated in Rome at the conclusion of every century. To sound without danger the depth of popular credulity, a sermon was seasonably pronounced, a report was artfully scattered, some aged witnesses were produced; and on the first of January of the year thirteen hundred, the church of St. Peter was crowded with the faithful, who demanded the customary indulgence of the holy time. The pontiff, who watched and irritated their devout impatience, was soon persuaded by ancient testimony of the justice of their claim; and he proclaimed a plenary absolution to all Catholics who, in the course of that year, and at every similar period, should respectfully visit the apostolic churches of St. Peter and St. Paul. The welcome sound was propagated through Christendom; and at first from the nearest provinces of Italy, and at length from the remote kingdoms of Hungary and Britain, the highways were thronged with a swarm of pilgrims who sought to expiate their sins in a journey, however costly or laborious, which was exempt from the perils of military service. All exceptions of rank or sex, of age or infirmity, were forgotten in the common transport; and in the streets and churches many persons were trampled to death by the eagerness of devotion. The calculation of their numbers could not be easy nor accurate; and they have probably been magnified by a dexterous clergy, well apprised of the contagion of example: yet we are assured by a judicious historian, who assisted at the ceremony, that Rome was never replenished with less than two hundred thousand strangers; and another spectator has fixed at two millions the total concourse of the year. A trifling oblation from each individual would accumulate a royal treasure; and two priests stood night and day, with rakes in their hands, to collect, without counting, the heaps of gold and silver that were poured on the altar of St. Paul.  86 It was fortunately a season of peace and plenty; and if forage was scarce, if inns and lodgings were extravagantly dear, an inexhaustible supply of bread and wine, of meat and fish, was provided by the policy of Boniface and the venal hospitality of the Romans. From a city without trade or industry, all casual riches will speedily evaporate: but the avarice and envy of the next generation solicited Clement the Sixth  87 to anticipate the distant period of the century. The gracious pontiff complied with their wishes; afforded Rome this poor consolation for his loss; and justified the change by the name and practice of the Mosaic Jubilee.  88 His summons was obeyed; and the number, zeal, and liberality of the pilgrims did not yield to the primitive festival. But they encountered the triple scourge of war, pestilence, and famine: many wives and virgins were violated in the castles of Italy; and many strangers were pillaged or murdered by the savage Romans, no longer moderated by the presence of their bishops.  89 To the impatience of the popes we may ascribe the successive reduction to fifty, thirty-three, and twenty-five years; although the second of these terms is commensurate with the life of Christ. The profusion of indulgences, the revolt of the Protestants, and the decline of superstition, have much diminished the value of the jubilee; yet even the nineteenth and last festival was a year of pleasure and profit to the Romans; and a philosophic smile will not disturb the triumph of the priest or the happiness of the people.  90

In the beginning of the eleventh century, Italy was exposed to the feudal tyranny, alike oppressive to the sovereign and the people. The rights of human nature were vindicated by her numerous republics, who soon extended their liberty and dominion from the city to the adjacent country. The sword of the nobles was broken; their slaves were enfranchised; their castles were demolished; they assumed the habits of society and obedience; their ambition was confined to municipal honors, and in the proudest aristocracy of Venice on Genoa, each patrician was subject to the laws.  91 But the feeble and disorderly government of Rome was unequal to the task of curbing her rebellious sons, who scorned the authority of the magistrate within and without the walls. It was no longer a civil contention between the nobles and plebeians for the government of the state: the barons asserted in arms their personal independence; their palaces and castles were fortified against a siege; and their private quarrels were maintained by the numbers of their vassals and retainers. In origin and affection, they were aliens to their country:  92 and a genuine Roman, could such have been produced, might have renounced these haughty strangers, who disdained the appellation of citizens, and proudly styled themselves the princes, of Rome.  93 After a dark series of revolutions, all records of pedigree were lost; the distinction of surnames was abolished; the blood of the nations was mingled in a thousand channels; and the Goths and Lombards, the Greeks and Franks, the Germans and Normans, had obtained the fairest possessions by royal bounty, or the prerogative of valor. These examples might be readily presumed; but the elevation of a Hebrew race to the rank of senators and consuls is an event without a parallel in the long captivity of these miserable exiles.  94 In the time of Leo the Ninth, a wealthy and learned Jew was converted to Christianity, and honored at his baptism with the name of his godfather, the reigning Pope. The zeal and courage of Peter the son of Leo were signalized in the cause of Gregory the Seventh, who intrusted his faithful adherent with the government of Adrian's mole, the tower of Crescentius, or, as it is now called, the castle of St. Angelo. Both the father and the son were the parents of a numerous progeny: their riches, the fruits of usury, were shared with the noblest families of the city; and so extensive was their alliance, that the grandson of the proselyte was exalted by the weight of his kindred to the throne of St. Peter. A majority of the clergy and people supported his cause: he reigned several years in the Vatican; and it is only the eloquence of St. Bernard, and the final triumph of Innocence the Second, that has branded Anacletus with the epithet of antipope. After his defeat and death, the posterity of Leo is no longer conspicuous; and none will be found of the modern nobles ambitious of descending from a Jewish stock. It is not my design to enumerate the Roman families which have failed at different periods, or those which are continued in different degrees of splendor to the present time.  95 The old consular line of the Frangipani discover their name in the generous act of breaking or dividing bread in a time of famine; and such benevolence is more truly glorious than to have enclosed, with their allies the Corsi, a spacious quarter of the city in the chains of their fortifications; the Savelli, as it should seem a Sabine race, have maintained their original dignity; the obsolete surname of the Capizucchi is inscribed on the coins of the first senators; the Conti preserve the honor, without the estate, of the counts of Signia; and the Annibaldi must have been very ignorant, or very modest, if they had not descended from the Carthaginian hero.  96

But among, perhaps above, the peers and princes of the city, I distinguish the rival houses of Colonna and Ursini, whose private story is an essential part of the annals of modern Rome. I. The name and arms of Colonna  97 have been the theme of much doubtful etymology; nor have the orators and antiquarians overlooked either Trajan's pillar, or the columns of Hercules, or the pillar of Christ's flagellation, or the luminous column that guided the Israelites in the desert. Their first historical appearance in the year eleven hundred and four attests the power and antiquity, while it explains the simple meaning, of the name. By the usurpation of Cavae, the Colonna provoked the arms of Paschal the Second; but they lawfully held in the Campagna of Rome the hereditary fiefs of Zagarola and Colonna; and the latter of these towns was probably adorned with some lofty pillar, the relic of a villa or temple.  98 They likewise possessed one moiety of the neighboring city of Tusculum, a strong presumption of their descent from the counts of Tusculum, who in the tenth century were the tyrants of the apostolic see. According to their own and the public opinion, the primitive and remote source was derived from the banks of the Rhine;  99 and the sovereigns of Germany were not ashamed of a real or fabulous affinity with a noble race, which in the revolutions of seven hundred years has been often illustrated by merit and always by fortune.  100 About the end of the thirteenth century, the most powerful branch was composed of an uncle and six bothers, all conspicuous in arms, or in the honors of the church. Of these, Peter was elected senator of Rome, introduced to the Capitol in a triumphal car, and hailed in some vain acclamations with the title of Caesar; while John and Stephen were declared marquis of Ancona and count of Romagna, by Nicholas the Fourth, a patron so partial to their family, that he has been delineated in satirical portraits, imprisoned as it were in a hollow pillar.  101 After his decease their haughty behavior provoked the displeasure of the most implacable of mankind. The two cardinals, the uncle and the nephew, denied the election of Boniface the Eighth; and the Colonna were oppressed for a moment by his temporal and spiritual arms.  102 He proclaimed a crusade against his personal enemies; their estates were confiscated; their fortresses on either side of the Tyber were besieged by the troops of St. Peter and those of the rival nobles; and after the ruin of Palestrina or Praeneste, their principal seat, the ground was marked with a ploughshare, the emblem of perpetual desolation. Degraded, banished, proscribed, the six brothers, in disguise and danger, wandered over Europe without renouncing the hope of deliverance and revenge. In this double hope, the French court was their surest asylum; they prompted and directed the enterprise of Philip; and I should praise their magnanimity, had they respected the misfortune and courage of the captive tyrant. His civil acts were annulled by the Roman people, who restored the honors and possessions of the Colonna; and some estimate may be formed of their wealth by their losses, of their losses by the damages of one hundred thousand gold florins which were granted them against the accomplices and heirs of the deceased pope. All the spiritual censures and disqualifications were abolished  103 by his prudent successors; and the fortune of the house was more firmly established by this transient hurricane. The boldness of Sciarra Colonna was signalized in the captivity of Boniface, and long afterwards in the coronation of Lewis of Bavaria; and by the gratitude of the emperor, the pillar in their arms was encircled with a royal crown. But the first of the family in fame and merit was the elder Stephen, whom Petrarch loved and esteemed as a hero superior to his own times, and not unworthy of ancient Rome. Persecution and exile displayed to the nations his abilities in peace and war; in his distress he was an object, not of pity, but of reverence; the aspect of danger provoked him to avow his name and country; and when he was asked, "Where is now your fortress?" he laid his hand on his heart, and answered, "Here." He supported with the same virtue the return of prosperity; and, till the ruin of his declining age, the ancestors, the character, and the children of Stephen Colonna, exalted his dignity in the Roman republic, and at the court of Avignon. II. The Ursini migrated from Spoleto;  104 the sons of Ursus, as they are styled in the twelfth century, from some eminent person, who is only known as the father of their race. But they were soon distinguished among the nobles of Rome, by the number and bravery of their kinsmen, the strength of their towers, the honors of the senate and sacred college, and the elevation of two popes, Celestin the Third and Nicholas the Third, of their name and lineage.  105 Their riches may be accused as an early abuse of nepotism: the estates of St. Peter were alienated in their favor by the liberal Celestin;  106 and Nicholas was ambitious for their sake to solicit the alliance of monarchs; to found new kingdoms in Lombardy and Tuscany; and to invest them with the perpetual office of senators of Rome. All that has been observed of the greatness of the Colonna will likewise redeemed to the glory of the Ursini, their constant and equal antagonists in the long hereditary feud, which distracted above two hundred and fifty years the ecclesiastical state. The jealously of preeminence and power was the true ground of their quarrel; but as a specious badge of distinction, the Colonna embraced the name of Ghibelines and the party of the empire; the Ursini espoused the title of Guelphs and the cause of the church. The eagle and the keys were displayed in their adverse banners; and the two factions of Italy most furiously raged when the origin and nature of the dispute were long since forgotten.  107 After the retreat of the popes to Avignon they disputed in arms the vacant republic; and the mischiefs of discord were perpetuated by the wretched compromise of electing each year two rival senators. By their private hostilities the city and country were desolated, and the fluctuating balance inclined with their alternate success. But none of either family had fallen by the sword, till the most renowned champion of the Ursini was surprised and slain by the younger Stephen Colonna.  108 His triumph is stained with the reproach of violating the truce; their defeat was basely avenged by the assassination, before the church door, of an innocent boy and his two servants. Yet the victorious Colonna, with an annual colleague, was declared senator of Rome during the term of five years. And the muse of Petrarch inspired a wish, a hope, a prediction, that the generous youth, the son of his venerable hero, would restore Rome and Italy to their pristine glory; that his justice would extirpate the wolves and lions, the serpents and bears, who labored to subvert the eternal basis of the marble column.  109


79 See, in the Chronicle of Giovanni Villani, (l. viii. c. 63, 64, 80, in Muratori, tom. xiii.,) the imprisonment of Boniface VIII., and the election of Clement V., the last of which, like most anecdotes, is embarrassed with some difficulties.

80 The original lives of the eight popes of Avignon, Clement V., John XXII., Benedict XI., Clement VI., Innocent VI., Urban V., Gregory XI., and Clement VII., are published by Stephen Baluze, (Vitae Paparum Avenionensium; Paris, 1693, 2 vols. in 4to.,) with copious and elaborate notes, and a second volume of acts and documents. With the true zeal of an editor and a patriot, he devoutly justifies or excuses the characters of his countrymen.

81 The exile of Avignon is compared by the Italians with Babylon, and the Babylonish captivity. Such furious metaphors, more suitable to the ardor of Petrarch than to the judgment of Muratori, are gravely refuted in Baluze's preface. The abbe de Sade is distracted between the love of Petrarch and of his country. Yet he modestly pleads, that many of the local inconveniences of Avignon are now removed; and many of the vices against which the poet declaims, had been imported with the Roman court by the strangers of Italy, (tom. i. p. 23 - 28.)

82 The comtat Venaissin was ceded to the popes in 1273 by Philip III. king of France, after he had inherited the dominions of the count of Thoulouse. Forty years before, the heresy of Count Raymond had given them a pretence of seizure, and they derived some obscure claim from the xith century to some lands citra Rhodanum, (Valesii Notitia Galliarum, p. 495, 610. Longuerue, Description de la France, tom. i. p. 376 - 381.)

83 If a possession of four centuries were not itself a title, such objections might annul the bargain; but the purchase money must be refunded, for indeed it was paid. Civitatem Avenionem emit . . . per ejusmodi venditionem pecunia redundates, &c., (iida Vita Clement. VI. in Baluz. tom. i. p. 272. Muratori, Script. tom. iii. P. ii. p. 565.) The only temptation for Jane and her second husband was ready money, and without it they could not have returned to the throne of Naples.

84 Clement V immediately promoted ten cardinals, nine French and one English, (Vita ivta, p. 63, et Baluz. p. 625, &c.) In 1331, the pope refused two candidates recommended by the king of France, quod xx. Cardinales, de quibus xvii. de regno Fraciae originem traxisse noscuntur in memorato collegio existant, (Thomassin, Discipline de l'Eglise, tom. i. p. 1281.)

85 Our primitive account is from Cardinal James Caietan, (Maxima Bibliot. Patrum, tom. xxv.;) and I am at a loss to determine whether the nephew of Boniface VIII. be a fool or a knave: the uncle is a much clearer character.

86 See John Villani (l. viii. c. 36) in the xiith, and the Chronicon Astense, in the xith volume (p. 191, 192) of Muratori's Collection Papa innumerabilem pecuniam abeisdem accepit, nam duo clerici, cum rastris, &c.

87 The two bulls of Boniface VIII. and Clement VI. are inserted on the Corpus Juris Canonici, Extravagant. Commun. l. v. tit. ix c 1, 2.)

88 The sabbatic years and jubilees of the Mosaic law, (Car. Sigon. de Republica Hebraeorum, Opp. tom. iv. l. iii. c. 14, 14, p. 151, 152,) the suspension of all care and labor, the periodical release of lands, debts, servitude, &c., may seem a noble idea, but the execution would be impracticable in a profane republic; and I should be glad to learn that this ruinous festival was observed by the Jewish people.

89 See the Chronicle of Matteo Villani, (l. i. c. 56,) in the xivth vol. of Muratori, and the Memoires sur la Vie de Petrarque, tom. iii. p. 75 - 89.

90 The subject is exhausted by M. Chais, a French minister at the Hague, in his Lettres Historiques et Dogmatiques, sur les Jubiles et es Indulgences; la Haye, 1751, 3 vols. in 12mo.; an elaborate and pleasing work, had not the author preferred the character of a polemic to that of a philosopher.

91 Muratori (Dissert. xlvii.) alleges the Annals of Florence, Padua, Genoa, &c., the analogy of the rest, the evidence of Otho of Frisingen, (de Gest. Fred. I. l. ii. c. 13,) and the submission of the marouis of Este.

92 As early as the year 824, the emperor Lothaire I. found it expedient to interrogate the Roman people, to learn from each individual by what national law he chose to be governed. (Muratori, Dissertat xxii.)

93 Petrarch attacks these foreigners, the tyrants of Rome, in a declamation or epistle, full of bold truths and absurd pedantry, in which he applies the maxims, and even prejudices, of the old republic to the state of the xivth century, (Memoires, tom. iii. p. 157 - 169.)

94 The origin and adventures of the Jewish family are noticed by Pagi, (Critica, tom. iv. p. 435, A.D. 1124, No. 3, 4,) who draws his information from the Chronographus Maurigniacensis, and Arnulphus Sagiensis de Schismate, (in Muratori, Script. Ital. tom. iii. P. i. p. 423 - 432.) The fact must in some degree be true; yet I could wish that it had been coolly related, before it was turned into a reproach against the antipope.

95 Muratori has given two dissertations (xli. and xlii.) to the names, surnames, and families of Italy. Some nobles, who glory in their domestic fables, may be offended with his firm and temperate criticism; yet surely some ounces of pure gold are of more value than many pounds of base metal.

96 The cardinal of St. George, in his poetical, or rather metrical history of the election and coronation of Boniface VIII., (Muratori Script. Ital. tom. iii. P. i. p. 641, &c.,) describes the state and families of Rome at the coronation of Boniface VIII., (A.D. 1295.)

Interea titulis redimiti sanguine et armis Illustresque viri Romana a stirpe trahentes Nomen in emeritos tantae virtutis honores Insulerant sese medios festumque colebant Aurata fulgente toga, sociante caterva. Ex ipsis devota domus praestantis ab Ursa Ecclesiae, vultumque gerens demissius altum Festa Columna jocis, necnon Sabellia mitis; Stephanides senior, Comites Annibalica proles, Praefectusque urbis magnum sine viribus nomen.

(l. ii. c. 5, 100, p. 647, 648.)

The ancient statutes of Rome (l. iii. c. 59, p. 174, 175) distinguish eleven families of barons, who are obliged to swear in concilio communi, before the senator, that they would not harbor or protect any malefactors, outlaws, &c. - a feeble security!

97 It is pity that the Colonna themselves have not favored the world with a complete and critical history of their illustrious house. I adhere to Muratori, (Dissert. xlii. tom. iii. p. 647, 648.)

98 Pandulph. Pisan. in Vit. Paschal. II. in Muratori, Script. Ital. tom. iii. P. i. p. 335. The family has still great possessions in the Campagna of Rome; but they have alienated to the Rospigliosi this original fief of Colonna, Eschinard, p. 258, 259.)

99 Te longinqua dedit tellus et pascua Rheni, says Petrarch; and, in 1417, a duke of Guelders and Juliers acknowledges (Lenfant, Hist. du Concile de Constance, tom. ii. p. 539) his descent from the ancestors of Martin V., (Otho Colonna:) but the royal author of the Memoirs of Brandenburg observes, that the sceptre in his arms has been confounded with the column. To maintain the Roman origin of the Colonna, it was ingeniously supposed (Diario di Monaldeschi, in the Script. Ital. tom. xii. p. 533) that a cousin of the emperor Nero escaped from the city, and founded Mentz in Germany

100 I cannot overlook the Roman triumph of ovation on Marce Antonio Colonna, who had commanded the pope's galleys at the naval victory of Lepanto, (Thuan. Hist. l. 7, tom. iii. p. 55, 56. Muret. Oratio x. Opp. tom. i. p. 180 - 190.)

101 Muratori, Annali d'Italia, tom. x. p. 216, 220.

102 Petrarch's attachment to the Colonna has authorized the abbe de Sade to expatiate on the state of the family in the fourteenth century, the persecution of Boniface VIII., the character of Stephen and his sons, their quarrels with the Ursini, &c., (Memoires sur Petrarque, tom. i. p. 98 - 110, 146 - 148, 174 - 176, 222 - 230, 275 - 280.) His criticism often rectifies the hearsay stories of Villani, and the errors of the less diligent moderns. I understand the branch of Stephen to be now extinct.

103 Alexander III. had declared the Colonna who adhered to the emperor Frederic I. incapable of holding any ecclesiastical benefice, (Villani, l. v. c. 1;) and the last stains of annual excommunication were purified by Sixtus V., (Vita di Sisto V. tom. iii. p. 416.) Treason, sacrilege, and proscription are often the best titles of ancient nobility.

104 - Vallis te proxima misit, Appenninigenae qua prata virentia sylvae Spoletana metunt armenta gregesque protervi. Monaldeschi (tom. xii. Script. Ital. p. 533) gives the Ursini a French origin, which may be remotely true.

105 In the metrical life of Celestine V. by the cardinal of St. George (Muratori, tom. iii. P. i. p. 613, &c.,) we find a luminous, and not inelegant, passage, (l. i. c. 3, p. 203 &c.:) -

- genuit quem nobilis Ursae (Ursi?) Progenies, Romana domus, veterataque magnis Fascibus in clero, pompasque experta senatus, Bellorumque manu grandi stipata parentum Cardineos apices necnon fastigia dudum Papatus iterata tenens.

Muratori (Dissert. xlii. tom. iii.) observes, that the first Ursini pontificate of Celestine III. was unknown: he is inclined to read Ursi progenies.

106 Filii Ursi, quondam Coelestini papae nepotes, de bonis ecclesiae Romanae ditati, (Vit. Innocent. III. in Muratori, Script. tom. iii. P. i.) The partial prodigality of Nicholas III. is more conspicuous in Villani and Muratori. Yet the Ursini would disdain the nephews of a modern pope.

107 In his fifty-first Dissertation on the Italian Antiquities, Muratori explains the factions of the Guelphs and Ghibelines.

108 Petrarch (tom. i. p. 222 - 230) has celebrated this victory according to the Colonna; but two contemporaries, a Florentine (Giovanni Villani, l. x. c. 220) and a Roman, (Ludovico Monaldeschi, p. 532 - 534,) are less favorable to their arms.

109 The abbe de Sade (tom. i. Notes, p. 61 - 66) has applied the vith Canzone of Petrarch, Spirto Gentil, &c., to Stephen Colonna the younger: Orsi, lupi, leoni, aquile e serpi Al una gran marmorea colonna Fanno noja sovente e a se danno

Next: Chapter LXX: Final Settlement Of The Ecclesiastical State. Part I.