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Bill Thayer

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Book VII
Note E

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book VII
Chapter 13

Vol. IV
Note F

Correspondence of Pope Gregory III
with the Venetians as to the recovery of Ravenna

We must now consider the somewhat different questions raised by the correspondence of the third Gregory with the Venetians.

The letters in question are: —

1. A letter from a Pope named Gregory to Antoninus, Patriarch  p506 of Grado, exhorting him to stir up the Venetians to the recovery of Ravenna from the Lombards. This letter has been translated in full at p489. It is vouched for by the ancient chronicle of Venice, which is by general consent referred to Joannes Diaconus, chaplain of the Doge Orseolo II (991‑1008).

2. A letter written in almost precisely the same terms, addressed also by a Pope named Gregory to Ursus, duke of Venice. This letter is vouched for by Andrea Dandolo, who was himself Doge of Venice from 1343 to 1354. It is quoted in the third chapter of the seventh book of his Chronicon, and is by him attributed to Gregory II.

We will first take the letter to the Patriarch Antoninus. Is it genuine? Apparently there is no trace of its existence in the Papal Chancery, but this is not such a strong argument as might be supposed against its authenticity, as the collection of Papal letters for the eighth century is obviously very defective.1

The writer who vouches for the letter would be an excellent authority were he not separated by 250 years from the time of its alleged composition. Joannes Diaconus, who flourished at the end of the tenth century, was, as has been said, chaplain and perhaps kinsman of the great Doge Orseolo II (the first Doge of Venice and Dalmatia), who employed him in several negotiations of importance with the Emperor Otho III, and these negotiations, it is important to observe, made it necessary for him to pay at least three visits to Ravenna, while the subject-matter of one of them (the encroachments of the Bishop of Belluno on the territory of Venice) probably necessitated much and diligent search among the archives, such as they were, of the Venetian state. Altogether, if any such letter of the Pope to the Patriarch of Grado were in existence in the year 1000, Joannes Diaconus was a very likely person to get hold of it.

The style and contents of the letter are all in its favour. It is short and business-like. It has the preamble and conclusion which, as we know from the Liber Diurnus, were befitting to such a case (differing herein from the bald opening and ending of the alleged letters of Gregory II to Leo III): and the very fact that it is addressed to the Patriarch, not to the civil ruler of Venice, whether Duke or Master of the Soldiery, is in its favour,  p507 as corresponding so much more with the political ideas of the eighth century than with those of the tenth, in the cities of the lagunes. The fact that the Pope still calls the Lombards 'gens nec dicenda,' and seeks to win back Ravenna 'imperiali servicio dominorum filiorumque nostrorum Leonis et Constantini,' will not perplex any one who has watched the course of the Papal policy as set forth in the preceding chapters, and is a strong argument in favour of the genuineness of the letter. After the Iconoclastic Controversy had been embittered by the ferocity of Constantine Copronymus, and after the Popes had definitely severed their connexion with Constantinople, such a document would hardly have been invented.

Now, as to the letter addressed to Duke Ursus which we find in the pages of Dandolo.

Here too the personal character of the producer of the document is eminently good, and his opportunities for obtaining information are first-rate. The only objection, and it is a serious one, arises from his distance in time from the events related. Andrea Dandolo, a descendant of the glorious Enrico Dandolo, of the Fourth Crusade, was one of the 'wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best'​a of the Doges of Venice. Of course all the archives of the state were at his disposal, and he evidently used them conscientiously and industriously in the composition of his great Chronicon. Only, while even Joannes Diaconus lived 250 years after the death of Pope Gregory II, Dandolo's dogeship was more than 600 years after that event.

Further, it is now pretty generally admitted, even by the upholders of Dandolo's letter, that he is wrong in attributing it to Gregory II, and that Gregory III must have been the author. (This on account of the difficulty of introducing a capture of Ravenna before 731, the date of Gregory the Second's death.)

We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that there is a real conflict between Joannes Diaconus and Dandolo as to the date of the events in question. If Joannes is right, they took place under the fourth Magister Militum, or (according to the received chronology) in 740. If Dandolo is right, the Pope's letter (or one of the Pope's letters) was addressed to Duke Ursus, and the recapture of Ravenna took place during his tenure of office (726‑737). Both cannot be right, and we must choose between them.  p508 Professor Monticolo, the advocate of Dandolo, urges with much force the necessity of placing the siege and recovery of Ravenna before 735, because that was the year in which Hildeprand was associated with his uncle as king, whereas Paulus (H. L. VI.54) in his account of the capture calls Hildeprand only 'the king's nephew,' not his colleague. The objection is certainly of some weight, but considering the loose way in which Paulus has written this paragraph of his history, making for instance Peredeo to 'fall fighting bravely' in one sentence, and in the next to resist an attack of the Romans on Bologna, I do not think we need consider it fatal.

On the other hand, Pinton, the advocate of Joannes Diaconus, points out that his version of the matter explains the otherwise mysterious title of Hypatus (Consul) borne by the Master of the Soldiery, Jovianus, a title which we may suppose to have been bestowed upon him either by the Exarch or the Emperor, grateful for his assistance in the recovery of Ravenna. This also is deserving of consideration.

On the whole, though the scales are very evenly poised, I am disposed to prefer the earlier authority, Joannes Diaconus, to the later one, Dandolo, and therefore to place the Venetian reconquest of Ravenna about the year 740. But I feel that a very small matter, the discovery of a single date in a deed or an unnoticed allusion in a historian, might make it necessary to reconsider this decision, and to assign an earlier date to the re‑capture.

A full and exhaustive discussion of the question will be found in the two following articles: —

By Professor Pinton, 'Veneziani e Langobardi a Ravenna,' in the Archivio Veneto for 1889 (368‑384), and by Professor Monticolo, 'Le Spedizioni di Liutprando nell' Esarcato e la Lettera di Gregorio III al Doge Orso,' in the Archivio della R. Società Romana di Storia Patria for 1892 (321‑365).

The Author's Note:

1 Of course this remark applies equally to the letters discussed in the preceding Note.

Thayer's Note:

a The tag is from Milton's Paradise Lost (VIII.550), where Adam says it of Eve — a quirky bit of irrelevance. Such unexpected cultural byways, often very English, are among the things that has made Hodgkin, for me, a delight to read.

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