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Chapter 11

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University 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.
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Chapter 13

Book VIII (continued)

Vol. VII
Chapter XII

Ravenna and Rome

Sources: —

Agnelli Liber Pontificalis (described in vol. I p472º (900);º Liber Pontificalis (Romae), ed. Duchesne.

Before we enter upon the memorable pontificate of Hadrian I, which lasted twenty-three years and witnessed great changes in the political aspect of Italy and the Papacy, it will be well to give a glance at the ecclesiastical relations existing between Rome and the dethroned capital of Ravenna. Our information on this subject is fragmentary, obscure and confusing; but, even in its confusion, it evidently reflects the troubled and uncertain state of men's minds whenever the relation of the two cities came under discussion.

The resurgent and the setting star. If we consider their previous history we shall see that there was sure to be some such trouble and uncertainty. Here was Rome on the one hand, which had first obtained her high ecclesiastical position as the political capital of the world, and had then languished for three centuries under the neglect of the great Imperial absentee, but was now virtually throwing off the yoke of Constantinople and winning for herself a new, a temporal, and an Italian dominion by her opportune alliance with the great Austrasian house. Ravenna, on the other hand, which had been  p330 the seat of the Imperial lieutenants for two centuries, had now lost all the pomp and splendour which they had conferred upon her. No more now would an Exarch fresh from Constantinople, surrounded by his life-guards and followed by his obsequious eunuchs and chamberlains, ride through the streets of Ravenna to hear mass sung in the basilica of St. Ursus or St. Vitalis. The Exarch gone, the Archbishop of Ravenna felt his own importance diminished and power slipping from his hands. Was Ravenna to be only one of the many cities of the Lombard kingdom? Or, yet worse, was it to be politically subject to the see of Rome; the Pope not merely an ecclesiastical superior whose claims to the Universal Patriarchate of the West might be decorously admitted in theory and on suitable occasions evaded in practice, but an actual sovereign, with power of life and death, able to enforce his edicts, and in the last resort judging all causes, civil as well as temporal, at Rome? Even in the days of the great Gregory, when the see of Ravenna was held by his own friend and disciple Marinianus, things had not always gone smoothly between the two pontiffs. Since then, apparently, the estrangement had increased rather than diminished; and now this claim on the part of the Roman Pope to rule Ravenna as a subject city was as much as possible waived aside, and always bitterly resented by the Archbishop and people of Ravenna.

Character of Agnellus' narrative. It is this contention which gives sharpness to the tone of the ecclesiastical historian of Ravenna whenever he has occasion to mention the see of Rome. Long ago​1 I ventured to bring before my readers  p331 some of the strange, often puerile legends which Agnellus, abbot of St. Mary's and St. Bartholomew's, told of the archbishops of Ravenna in that extraordinary book, his Liber Pontificalis. We have now come to a different portion of his history. Though still inaccurate and blundering, he has no longer so much need to draw upon his imagination for facts. As we are now within thirty-five years of his birth,​2 within seventy years of the composition of his history,​3 we may take his narrative as almost that of a contemporary, vouched for as it is by such notes of time as 'this man was my predecessor at four removes in the government of my monastery' and 'my grandfather was concerned in that rebellion.' Above all, the dislike of the Papal claims to sovereignty, which is shown in every page, is an important symptom of the times. We shall certainly follow the counsel of the good Benedictine Editor,​4 who tells us that all these calumnies against the Holy See are to be read with caution, but the existence of the antipathy which prompted the calumnies is itself a fact of which we are bound to take notice.

John VI, abbot of Ravenna. 716‑752 It was an archbishop John, sixth of that name, who occupied the see of Ravenna during the eventful renege of the Lombard Liutprand and for ten years after his death. Agnellus mentions the siege of the city by Liutprand and the act of treachery on the part of one of its citizens by which the Lombard king effected its  p332 capture. But he says nothing expressly as to its subsequent surrender to the Byzantines, though he implies it by his mention of the Exarch as again ruling in the city. Nor (which is more extraordinary and in fact inexcusable) does he make the slightest mention of the final capture of Ravenna by the Lombards under their king Aistulf in the year 751. To atone for his silence on these important events, he retails some of the ecclesiastical gossip of the city. Archbishop John having become unpopular with the citizens was banished to the Venetian territory for a year. Then Epiphanius the scriniarius, lamenting for the widowed condition of the Church of Ravenna, persuaded the Exarch to order his recall. On the archbishop's return Epiphanius suggested that he should offer a handsome present to the Exarch and prevail upon him to issue process against the enemies who had procured his banishment. 'If you will do this covertly,' said Epiphanius, 'I will conduct the suits, while you can preserve the pontifical character and appear to have no desire for the punishment of your foes.' It was done: the accusers were summoned before the judgment-seat, and to each one the scriniarius said with righteous indignation, 'What sort of a sheep wast thou who, when thy shepherd was leading thee through grassy meads, didst strike him with thy horn and prepare a bill of indictment against him?' Thus by the terrors of the law large sums of money were collected, the promised honorarium was paid to the Exarch; possibly something remained over for the ingenious scriniarius, and the archbishop was never again molested by his foes.

During the same pontificate, says Agnellus, an Imperial  p333 ministrategus came against Ravenna, thinking to ravage it. Story of the battle of the Campus Coriandri. And then follows the strange story about the battle in the Coriander-field between the 'Greeks' and the men of Ravenna which has been briefly given in a previous volume.​5 Have we in this wild and somewhat childish legend a remembrance, however distorted, of some genuine engagement between the men of Ravenna and the troops of the iconoclastic Emperor? Were Agnellus a more trustworthy historian, we might question whether after all Ravenna was wrested by the Lombards from the Empire, whether it had not succeeded in throwing off the yoke of Byzantium and was a small but independent state when Aistulf conquered it and annexed it to his kingdom.

Sergius archbishop, 752‑869. On the death of John VI (in 752) Sergius​6 was elected to the vacant see. The cause of the election of this young man, whom Agnellus describes as 'short of stature, with a smiling face, grey eyes and comely figure, and sprung from very noble ancestors,' is an unsolved enigma. For Sergius was a layman, who by reason of his youth can hardly have won the confidence of his fellow-citizens as did Ambrose of Milan and Stephen of Naples​7 when they were invited or constrained to exchange high office in the State for high office in the Church. Moreover, Sergius was married,  p334 and his wife Euphemia was still living, though now consecrated as a deaconess by the husband from whom she was thus strangely separated. The sole explanation that can be suggested for these irregular proceedings is that Ravenna was still in the throes of a revolution, only just annexed to the Lombard kingdom, suffering many vexations (as Agnellus tells us) from the Lombards and Venetians — this incidental notice of war with the maritime islanders is perhaps significant — and that there may have been some political reasons for placing the representative of one of the noblest families in Ravenna at the head of the Church, the only institution which seemed to have a chance of maintaining Ravenna's independence.

However, the expedient answered but poorly. Sergius had long disputes with his clergy, most of whom refused to communicate with him, whereupon he consecrated other priests in their places whose claims very nearly caused a schism in his Church. This dispute, however, was healed by smooth words from the young archbishop of the smiling countenance, and by some mutual concessions in the important matter of vestments.​8 His struggle with Rome, 755 (?). Then, however, came a struggle with Rome. Though Sergius had received consecration at the hands of the Pope he was summoned to Rome by Stephen II​9 on that pontiff's return from his memorable journey across the Alps. We are told that he had trusted in the King (doubtless King Aistulf), that he would lend him his  p335 aid, and being deceived by him was fraudulently led to Rome by some of his own fellow-citizens. Probably the meaning of all these obscure hints is that the semi-independence of the see of Ravenna was an obstacle to Pope Stephen's designs of obtaining temporal dominion over the Exarchate and Pentapolis, and that the irregularity of the election of Sergius, though condoned at the time, now furnished a useful pretext for beating down a dangerous rival.

The enquiry into the cause thus cited to Rome seems to have lingered, for Sergius is said to have been detained there for three years. At last a synod was assembled which was ready to cast him down from his 'pontifical' rank. The Pope (whom Agnellus calls the Apostolicus)10 thus addressed him: 'Thou art a neophyte; thou didst not belong to the fold, nor serve according to the canons in the Church of Ravenna, but didst creep in like a thief into the episcopal chair, and hast repelled the priests who were worthy to taste the honours of the Church, and by main force and the favour of secular persons thou has taken possession of the see.' To this Sergius answered: 'It was not by my presumption, but because the clergy and all the people elected me. Thou didst thyself put to me all the canonical questions, and I disclosed everything to thee; that I was a layman, that I had a wife, that I had [suddenly] come into the clerical status. All this I made known to thee, and thou saidst that there could be no obstacle [in the way of my consecration]. After thou hadst heard all these things  p336 concerning me, why then didst thou consecrate me?' After this defence the assembly was divided, but all — says Agnellus, probably untruly — asked with anxiety, 'How can we who are disciples judge him who [as archbishop] is our master?' Then the Pope in anger declared that he would on the morrow tear off the pallium​11 from the neck of Sergius.

All that night the exiled archbishop passed in prayer, with floods of tears, at the altar of St. Nicholas. In the morning all Rome knew that Pope Stephen II had died suddenly and peacefully in his bed; 'by the judgment of God' says the apologist of the pontiffs of Ravenna. At dawn, Paul,​12 the brother of the deceased Pope and his destined successor, entered the cell of Sergius, and said to him, 'What wilt thou give me for leave to return in peace and with augmented honour to thy home?' Delighted at the prospect of being thus liberated from captivity, the archbishop said, 'No small rewards will I give thee. Come to the archbishop's palace at Ravenna and examine the treasures stored up there — gold, silver, vessels of price, hoards of money. All shall be given thee; only whatsoever thou likest to leave me as a benedictio, thou canst leave.' To this compact they both swore. On that very day the late Pope's brother was raised to the papacy, and celebrated his accession by releasing all captives [Sergius among them] and pardoning all criminals. He sent for Sergius and received him with all honour. When the archbishop of Ravenna fell prostrate on the ground before him — it is a marvel to find Agnellus admitting even that confession of inferiority — Paul raised him therefrom, fell on his neck and gave him the kiss of  p337 peace, and ordered his seat to be placed next his own in the hall of audience.

Sergius' return to Ravenna, 757 (?). After receiving from the new Pope words of peace and comfort, Sergius returned to his own see in the third year after he had quitted it. He was received with moderate congratulations by his flock, and moderate peace reigned in the City. Possibly this lukewarm reception was the cause why the returning exile proceeded to the church of St. Mary in Cosmedin and after singing mass prostrated himself before the altar of his patron, St. Nicholas, where he prayed for a very long time, and shed tears, 'which,' says Agnellus, 'are preserved unto the present day,' that is to the eighty-fourth year after their first effluxion.

The Pope at Ravenna seeking treasure. In course of time the Pope appeared at Ravenna to claim the fulfilment of the archbishop's compact.​13 The ecclesiastics of the city, knowing that he was coming to rifle their treasury, took counsel together. Some said, 'Let us suffocate him.' Leo the deacon, state-stroke of the archbishop, said, 'Not so; let us beckon him away to yonder cistern, as if we were about to show him some more treasures, and then push him in, so that he may appear no more among men.' At this moment Wiliaris, archdeacon and abbot of St. Bartholomew (Agnellus' predecessor at the fourth remove), came up, saw their plotting, and heard their diverse voices. Thereat he cried out, 'O my brethren, what are you planning? To slay the Pope? God  p338 forbid! Nay, but when night covers the sky, and the Romans, weary of eating and drinking, are stretched in slumber, then let us extinguish the lights, and stow away all the treasures of the church, or as many as we may be able to hide, without the archbishop's knowledge.' So said; so done; but ere they had finished their task, the Pope at dead of night appeared upon the scene, ordered the keys to be brought to him by the vestiarii (vergers), and opened all the doors of the church. He carried off the relics, which they had not been able to hide,​a and many precious vessels of gold and silver​14 to Rome. The citizens of Ravenna, when they heard of the robbery of their church, set off in pursuit of the waggon that bore the precious vessels, but the charioteers, alarmed, turned into Rimini for shelter, whereupon the men of Ravenna returned home disconsolate.

After his return to Rome the Pope sent letters couched in flattering terms to the archbishop and nobles of Ravenna, praying for the surrender of the men who had plotted against his life. This was granted; the men were all sent to Rome (the grandfather of Agnellus being one of them), and remained there in prison till they died.

Sergius rules like an Exarch. 'Now Sergius,' says Agnellus, 'judged all the Pentapolis from Pertica​15 as far as Tuscany and the table of Walanus​16 just like an Exarch, and arranged all things as the Romans of old had done. He made a league with the Venetians, because he misliked the king of the Lombards and feared that evil might befall him  p339 from that quarter. In order to carry through this negotiation he gave seven purses​17 of money apiece to each of the chief nobles among them.

Death of Sergius, 769. On the death of Sergius, which occurred on the 23rd of August, 769, there was a dispute as to the succession to the see of Ravenna, of which Agnellus tells us nothing, but the Roman Liber Pontificalis makes it one of the articles of accusation against Desiderius and the Lombards. There was apparently an attempt to turn the election of Sergius into a precedent, and once more to seat a layman in the archiepiscopal palace of Ravenna. Michael, the Lombard candidate for the see. Michael, a scriniarius or registrar of the church, a man with no sacerdotal rank, obtained the help of Maurice, the duke of Rimini, who in his turn leant upon the aid of Desiderius, and this coalition succeeded by main force in installing Michael as archbishop of Ravenna, instead of Leo the archdeacon of the church, upon whom the election would otherwise have fallen. As Maurice, the duke of Rimini, by whom this state-stroke was accomplished, is characterised by the papal biographer as 'unspeakable,' and as he acted in co‑operation with Desiderius, he was probably a Lombard; and in any case his attitude appears to have been one of entire independence of Rome and even of actual opposition to the Holy See. Yet Rimini was one of the places which thirteen years before had been solemnly surrendered to Abbot Fulrad, and by him handed over to the Stephen II. Thus we have in this event one proof the more how precarious and shadowy were the rights secured to the Pope by the great Donation of Pippin.

For a little time the intrusive archbishop seemed  p340 likely to establish himself in the see. Leo was shut up in prison, and a deputation was sent from Duke Maurice and the civil rulers​18 of Ravenna to the Pope, praying him to consecrate Michael archbishop, and offering costly gifts to secure his compliance. Weak as he was, however, Stephen III utterly refused to take part in a ceremony which would have entirely stultified his protest and that of his brother ecclesiastics against the election of Constantine. The Church's treasures​19 went to the Lombard at Pavia instead of to Stephen at Rome, and for a year the help of Desiderius thus purchased succeeded in keeping Michael on his archiepiscopal throne. Then the stubborn refusal of the Pope to consecrate and the terror inspired by a peremptory message from the Frankish king Charles, won the day. Michael deposed; Leo archbishop, 770. There was a popular insurrection at Ravenna. Michael was sent bound to Rome for judgment, Leo was liberated and elected archbishop. He hastened to Rome with a long train of nobles and ecclesiastics, and was solemnly consecrated archbishop towards the end of 770, a little more than a year before the death of his champion Stephen III. Though he owed so much to Rome, his attitude during the eight years of his pontificate was generally one of stubborn opposition to the Papal claims.

The relations of the two Churches of Rome and Ravenna during the middle of the eighth century, which have been here briefly reviewed, vividly exhibit the uncertain nature of the Papal sovereignty over  p341 the Exarchate and the Pentapolis. It was one thing to get a 'page of donation,'​20 conferring wide-spread territories on the vicar of St. Peter; it was quite another thing to establish what modern diplomatists call 'effective occupation' of those territories. With such a royal or imperial mandate and with a full treasury, a Pope of the fifteenth century would probably have had but little difficulty in hiring a condottiere captain who would have made his claim effective. But though she had within her abundant elements of disorder, Italy was not cursed with condottieri in the eighth century.

The Author's Notes:

1 See vol. I pp472‑495 (900‑916, 2nd ed.).

2 805.

3 840.

4 Bacchini. He says in his comment on the life of Sergius (p172 ed. Muratori), 'Agnellum etiam habes, qui vindictae stimulis actus indigna de Romano pontifice narrat. Fidem proinde nullam in his meretur Auctor, qui et in historiae veritate foedè labitur.' At the close of Agnellus' life of Sergius he discreetly writes 'Omnia cautè legenda.'

5 See vol. VI p453, n. 3.

6 Not of course the same person as the Sergius, son of Christopher, whose share in the struggles for the Roman pontificate was related in the preceding chapter. In the edition of Agnellus in Muratori's Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, vol. II (p174), there is copied a long marginal note relating chiefly to that Sergius, the Roman secundicerius, without any warning to the reader as to its complete irrelevance to the history of the archbishop of Ravenna.

7 See p308.

8 Apparently the newly consecrated deacons [and priests?] of Archbishop Sergius were not to be allowed to wear the Dalmatic, which was a privilege possessed by the clergy of Ravenna as a great Metropolitan Church, but were to content themselves with a Superhumerale after the manner of the Greeks.

9 Not Paul, as stated by Agnellus.

10 Reminding us of the phrase 'le Apostoli' by which Innocent III is always denoted in William of Tudela's poem on the Albigensian crusade.

11 'Orarium.'

12 Miscalled Stephen by Agnellus.

13 Agnellus, who calls this Pope Stephen, connects his story with Stephen II's journey to the Frankish court, but this is of course impossible. It is possible, however, that Paul might have paid some unrecorded visit to Ravenna in prosecution of his claims to the Exarchate.

14 'Cochlearia, tractoria, quaternaria.'

15 Near Modena.

16 'Mensam (?) Walani.' The text is probably corrupt. The allusion appears to be Volano at the mouth of the Po.

Thayer's Note: The crux is the subject of a paper by Nereo Alfieri, "Appunti di topografia altomediovale: 'usque ad mensam Walani' (Agn. rav. 159)", in Atti della Accademia delle Scienze dell' Istituto di Bologna, Classe di Scienze Morali LXII.2, 1973-1974, pp5‑23.

17 'Balantias.'

18 'Judices.'

19 Which the Liber Pontificalis calls quimilia; a barbarous rendering of κειμήλια.

20 'Donationis pagina,' the often-recurring expression in the Papal correspondence.

Thayer's Note:

a Or "the relics which they had not been able to hide" (no comma); impossible to tell which is meant in the original text.

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