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Chapter 14

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.
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book IX
Chapter 1

Vol. VII
Note E

The Alleged Donation of Territory in Italy
by Charles the Great to Pope Hadrian

Vita Hadriani, xli‑xliii. I. In the first place, let us have before us the actual words in which the Papal biographer records this memorable transaction:

'At vero quartâ feriâ, egressus praenominatus pontifex cum suis judicibus tam cleri quamque militiae in ecclesiâ beati Petri apostoli, pariterque cum eodem rege se loquendum conjungens, constanter eum deprecatus est atque ammonuit et paterno affectu adhortare studuit ut promissionem illam, quam ejus sanctae memoriae genitor Pippinus quondam rex et ipse praecellentissimus Carulus cum suo germano Carulomanno atque omnibus judicibus Francorum, fecerant beato Petro et ejus vicario sanctae memoriae domno Stephano juniori papae, quando Franciam perrexit, pro concedendis diversis civitatibus ac territoriis istius Italiae provinciae et contradendis beato Petro ejusque omnibus vicariis in perpetuum possidendis, adimpleret in omnibus. Cumque ipsam promissionem, quae Franciâ in loco qui vocatur Carisiaco facta est, sibi relegi fecisset, complacuerunt illi et ejus judicibus omnia quae ibidem erant adnexa. Et propriâ voluntate, bono ac libenti animo, aliam donationis promissionem ad instar anterioris ipse antedictus praecellentissimus et revera Christianissimus Carulus Francorum rex adscribi jussit per Etherium, religiosum ac prudentissimum capellanum et notarium suum: ubi concessit easdem civitates et territoria beato Petro easque praefato pontifici contradi spopondit per designatum confinium, sicut in eadem (sic) donationem continere monstratur, id est: A Lunis cum insulâ Corsicâ, deinde in Suriano, deinde in monte Bardone, id est in Verceto, deinde in Parmâ, deinde in Regio: et exinde in Mantuâ atque Monte Silicis, simulque et universum exarchatum Ravennantium sicut antiquitus erat, atque provincias Venetiarum et Istria: necnon et cunctum ducatum Spolitinum seu Beneventanum. Factâque eâdem donatione et propriâ suâ manu eam ipse Christianissimus Francorum rex eam conroborans, universos episcopos, abbates, duces etiam et grafiones in eâ  p388 adscribi fecit: quam prius super altare beati Petri et postmodum intus in sanctâ ejus confessione ponentes, tam ipse Francorum rex quamque ejus judices, beato Petro et ejus vicario sanctissimo Adriano papae sub terribile sacramento sese omnia conservaturos quae in eâdem donatione continentur promittentes tradiderunt. Apparem vero ipsius donationis eundem Etherium adscribi faciens ipse Christianissimus Francorum rex, intus super corpus beati Petri, subtus evangelia quae ibidem osculantur, pro firmissimâ cautelâ et aeternâ nominis sui ac regni Francorum memoriâ propriis suis manibus posuit. Aliaque ejusdem donationis exempla per scrinium hujus sanctae nostrae Romanae ecclesiae adscriptum ejus excellentia secum deportavit.'

II. As to the geographical import of the donation. The mention of Corsica is simple enough. That island at this time was possibly Lombard. At any rate it soon became part of the Frankish dominion.​1 On the mainland of Italy the boundary traced begins from the gulf of Spezzia,​2 and then runs nearly due north past Sarzana (Surianum), following upward the course of the river Magra till it strides across the Apennines at La Cisa (Mons Bardonis). Thence in a more north-easterly direction past Berceto (Vercetum) to Parma: along the Via Emilia for a short distance to Reggio, and thence at right angles to its former course till it reaches Mantua. From Mantua it goes nearly east till it reaches Monselice (Mons Silicis), about fifteen miles south of Padua. From thence we must draw some conjectural line to include the two provinces of Venetia and Istria, though the mention of Monselice makes it hard to draw the line so as not to exclude the westernmost part of Venetia. When we have traced this northern frontier our work is done; for the Exarchate of Ravenna as it was anciently held (of course including the Pentapolis) and the two great duchies of Spoleto and Benevento practically include all Italy south of this line, unless we ought to make a reservation for the fragments of southern Italy which still belonged to the Empire, and which  p389 probably at this time consisted only of the territory immediately surrounding Gaeta, Naples, and Amalfi, the district which now bears the name of Calabria, and so much of the south-east of Apulia as went with the possession of Otranto — a district perhaps equivalent to the modern province of Lecce. Instead, therefore, of enumerating the portions of Italy which were included in the alleged donation, it will be simpler to consider what portions were excluded from it. They were (in modern geographical terms) Piedmont, the Riviera di Ponente and the Riviera di Levante as far as Spezzia, the late duchy of Piacenza, Lombardy north of the Po, Verona and (probably) Vicenza; Naples, Calabria, and Otranto. About two‑thirds of Italy, as I have mentioned in the preceding chapter, were thus assigned to the vicars of St. Peter, and only one third was left for the Frankish King and the Empire to share between them.

III. Of this alleged donation, notwithstanding the statement by the biographer as to the copies deposited at Rome among the Frankish archives and elsewhere, no copy exists to‑day, nor do we, I believe, ever find in any historian the slightest allusion to the production of such a copy. It is never once alluded to in the copious correspondence between Charles and Hadrian which is contained in the Codex Carolinus. And to fit it in with the course of dealing between the two powers, Frankish and Papal, during the forty years that intervened between the conquest of Italy and the death of Charles, is a task so difficult as to be all but impossible.

IV. In this dilemma various theories have been suggested, the discussion of which has filled many volumes. Here of course the discussion can be but very briefly summarised. We may divide the theories into two classes, those which uphold and those which deny the authenticity of the document contained in chapters xli to xliii of the Vita Hadriani.

A. Upholders of the authenticity.

(1) Chief among these, and entitled to speak with pre‑eminent authority, must be named the Abbé L. Duchesne, the distinguished editor of the Liber Pontificalis. He firmly maintains​3 the authenticity and the contemporaneous character of the Vita  p390 Hadriani. The donation, wide as are its terms, is, he believes, a donation of territory, not a mere restoration of scattered 'patrimonies' violently abstracted by the Lombards. At the same time he admits, of course, that the Popes never really bore sway over the vast territories here conceded to them. He argues therefore that, after the conquest of Pavia, Charles changed his point of view. As he had now made himself king of the Lombards and was friendly to the Pope, there was no longer the same necessity for the Pope to be put in possession of such large domains in order that he might be protected against the malice of his enemies. Also Charles may have seen that now that the Lombard power was destroyed there was no longer, on the part of the Roman population, the old willingness to come under the Papal rule. These changes in his mental attitude were taking place between 774 and 781, the date of his third visit to Rome. The Pope had also been discovering that even in the Exarchate and Pentapolis he could barely hold his own against the ambitious archbishop of Ravenna. In 781 therefore (presumably) an arrangement was come to, whereby, in consideration of some material additions to the Ducatus Romae in Tuscany and Campania, the Pope abandoned his vast and shadowy claims under the Donation of 774, which thence forward passed out of notice.

The theory is ingenious and explains some of the facts. It is well argued for by Duchesne, but I find it difficult to believe that such an enormous abandonment of well-ascertained Papal rights would ever have been made, or being made would have left no trace in the Papal-Frankish correspondence.

(2) Another theory, which is advocated by Prof. Theodor Lindner4 with more elaboration but less lucidity than by Duchesne, is, virtually, that the document was not a donation of territory, but a restoration of 'patrimonies' within the limits described. Lindner's view is that both Pippin and Charles from the beginning had set before themselves no other object than the satisfaction of the just claims ('justitiae') of the successors of St. Peter. True it was that by a sort of legal fiction, according to which St. Peter represented the 'respublica Romana,'  p391 the territories of the Exarchate and the Pentapolis, lately torn from the Empire by Aistulf, were looked upon as a sort of 'jacens hereditas' to which St. Peter was entitled, and so far Pippin's action had the result of conferring territorial sovereignty on the Pope. True also that the Ducatus Romae had by the force of circumstances, by the absenteeism of the Emperors, and the ever-present activity of the Popes, become in fact purely Papal territory. But as to all the rest of the lands and cities comprised within the boundary which started 'a Lunis,' all that, according to Lindner's view, Charles promised to Hadrian was that those 'patrimonies' which had once belonged to St. Peter and had been wrested from him by the Lombards should, on production of the necessary evidences of title, be restored to the Holy See.

The theory is a plausible one. One may even go further and say that in all likelihood it represents with sufficient exactness what actually took place in St. Peter's on the 6th of April, 774. What Charles probably intended to do was to confirm in the fullest manner possible the Pope's sway (as ruler) over the Exarchate, the Pentapolis, and the Ducatus Romae, and to recover for him the possession (as landlord) of the estates in the rest of Italy of which he had been robbed by the ravaging Lombards. But the question now before us is not what Charles promised, but what the Papal biographer represents him as having promised. And here it seems to me that Lindner's contention fails. How can his statement of the character of the donation be got out of the words in the Vita Hadriani? Not a mention there of 'patrimonia': a large and unrestricted grant of 'civitates et territoria': no distinction drawn between the Exarchate or Pentapolis and other parts of Italy, for instance Tuscany, which had been Lombard for centuries: full words of grant of 'provincias Venetiarum et Istriae et cunctum ducatum Spolitinum, seu [= et] Beneventanum.' Lindner battles bravely with this obvious difficulty, but if words are to have any meaning at all, these words cannot be taken in the limited sense which he would impose upon them.

It may be noted in passing that Abbé Duchesne, though fighting on the same side as Lindner in defence of the genuineness of the passage in question, entirely rejects the 'patrimonial' theory. He says 'Et ici je dois écarter l'idée que les régions  p392 limitées par la frontière a Lunis — Monte Silicis soient indiquées, non comme concédées dans leur entier et avec les droits de souveraineté, mais comme contenant des patrimoines revendiqués par l'Église Romaine.'​5 But this often happens in this strange discussion. The champions on the same side destroy one another's arguments. As Faulconbridge says in 'King John,'

'Austria and France shoot in each other's mouth.'

It may also be observed that Charles's promise, on Lindner's theory, would fall short of that which Hadrian had a right to expect. There was at least one large and important patrimony, that of the 'Alpes Cottiae,' situated north-west of the line traced by the donation.​6 If it were merely a question of the restitution of plundered estates, why should that not have been restored along with the others?

Let us pass to the some of the arguments advanced by

B. The opposers of the genuineness of the donation.

(1) In the first place, we ought to notice the possibility that the donation, though literally genuine, was in fact a forgery, having been obtained from Charles by some trick such as a skilful notary might practise on an unlettered sovereign. This is certainly not impossible. The Roman Court would contain at that time some of the most practised scribes in Europe, whereas Charles, as we are told by Einhard,​7 though he tried hard to learn the art of art of writing, never succeeded in doing so, having begun too late in life. And though we know that he was not altogether illiterate, but greatly delighted in such a book as St. Augustine's 'De Civitate Dei,' yet even this seems, from Einhard's account, to have been read to him at his meals, rather than by him in his library. But then Charles was not alone on this occasion, but was accompanied by all the great ecclesiastics as well as nobles of his realm, and it seems reasonable to suppose that among all of these there would be at any rate some one able and willing to detect any gross literary fraud practised upon his master.

Considerable stress has been laid on the mention of the name of Etherius, 'religiosus ac prudentissimus capellanus et notarius Caroli.' This is no doubt the same person as Itherius, abbot of St. Martin at Tours, who was sent in 770 to claim from  p393 Desiderius the return of the Papal patrimonies in Benevento on which he had laid hands,​8 but all the theories founded on the personality of this man (some of them not very favourable to his loyalty to Charles) are mere baseless conjectures.

(2) It is suggested that the three chapters in the Vita Hadriani which record the donation are an interpolation of a later date into an authentic and contemporary document. We may take Dr. Martens as the advocate of this theory, which he has maintained with much earnestness and diligence in his monographs 'Die Römische Frage' (1881) and 'Beleuchtung der neuesten Controversen über die Römische Frage' (1898).

Dr. Martens assigns the forgery of all three documents, the Donation of Constantine, the Fragmentum Fantuzzianum, and the three chapters in the Vita Hadriani, to about the same time, somewhere in the pontificate of Hadrian. All the rest of the Vita he looks upon as genuine and trustworthy, nor does he attribute to the Pope any complicity with this fabrication, but he thinks that it was probably imagined by some Roman ecclesiastic during Hadrian's lifetime — perhaps about 780 or 781 — and then after his death was tacked on by him to the genuine Life (of which I suppose Martens considers the later chapters to have been at the same time suppressed). He thinks that this forger used for his purpose the slightly earlier Fragmentum Fantuzzianum, and built his romance upon it. His secret intention was to express his disappointment that Charles had so meagrely fulfilled the hopes of a great extension of the Papal dominion which had been founded on his anticipated victory over the Lombards. For this purpose, with malicious subtlety the author sketches the Frankish king in that attitude which the Roman clergy would liked him to assume in 774, knowing all the while that in actual fact things turned out very differently. Charles really played his part as 'Defensor Ecclesiae' very coldly, only granting that which was of most urgent need and which it was scarce possible to withhold. The Vita, on the other hand, offers us the lying statement that Charles 'propriâ voluntate, bono ac libenti animo' bound himself by an utterly exorbitant promise, and swore a fearful oath for its fulfilment. As neither the Life of Hadrian I nor that of Leo III contains any account of the redemption of this promise,  p394 the king of the Franks stands before us in the pages of the Liber Pontificalis as a confessed oath-breaker. Thus to compromise the character of the great prince was the main object of the forger, but he may also have nourished a secret hope that some successor of Charles would deem himself bound to fulfil in its integrity the promise which here stood charged to the account of his ancestor.

(3) Such is the theory of Dr. Martens. Accepting, as I do, many of his arguments, I venture to go a little further and to suggest that the whole Life, as we have it, is the product of a slightly later age, and was composed in the hope, perhaps not a very confident hope, that the weak monarch who bore, not for nought, the title Louis the Pious, might be induced to acquiesce in its extravagant pretensions.

In this connection it seems to me an important fact that three times in the Vita Hadriani​9 (though not in the now disputed chapters), Charles's name is mentioned with the addition Magnus, which he did not usually bear in his lifetime, but which was generally used soon after his death.10

On the other side, in favour of the contemporaneous character of the Vita Hadriani, may be quoted undoubtedly the great authority of Abbé Duchesne, who thinks that the first forty-four chapters (that is the whole historical part of the Life) were composed in this very year 774. 'It is enough,' he says, 'to read these pages with some knowledge of their historic environment, to feel oneself in the presence of an absolutely contemporary narrative. It was not in 795, twenty years after the disappearance of the Lombard dynasty, that a writer would have dwelt so minutely on the details of the negotiations with Desiderius, on the punishment of Afiarta and his partisans, on the political correspondence with Constantinople, on the negotiations of the Spoletans with the Pope, even on the journey of Charlemagne to Rome in 774. At the death of Hadrian, men were already far from this earlier period: important events had succeeded, amongst others, two journeys of Charlemagne to  p395 Rome in 781 and 787, which have left their marks on the Papal correspondence, on the monuments, on the constitution of the Roman state: certain courses had been taken, new ways of looking at things had become necessary: of all which we find no trace in the narrative before us. It represents well enough what might be written, what ought to be written in 774, not what would be written after the death of Hadrian.'11

I can accept nearly all these statements of the eminent editor of the Liber Pontificalis, without accepting his conclusion that the Vita Hadriani, as we have it, is a contemporary document. Let me remind the reader of the extraordinary phenomenon which that work presents to us. Here we have a so‑called life of the Pope which narrates with great minuteness the events of the first two years of his reign, which just leads up to the alleged donation by Charles, tells in a few lines the conquest of Pavia, and then is absolutely silent as to the last twenty years, most important years, of the same reign, giving us instead of history a most wearisome and diffuse catalogue of all the ecclesiastical rebuildings, and of all the articles of upholstery wherewith Hadrian enriched the Roman churches during his long pontificate. Surely there is something suspicious in this extreme loquacity as the two years and this utter silence as to the succeeding twenty. Whether there ever was or was not a Life of Hadrian worthy of the name, must be I think a matter of conjecture.​12 As to this production which is now before us, it appears to me to be what the Germans call a Tendenzschrift, having for its object the assertion of certain preposterous claims for papal sovereignty over two‑thirds of Italy. I suggest that it was composed during the reign of Louis the Pious, that the conspirator copied certain genuine and contemporary documents with reference to the collapse of the party of Paulus Afiarta and the negotiations with Desiderius, tacked on to them his absolutely fictitious account of the donation of Charles (perhaps to some extent copied from the Fragmentum Fantuzzianum), and then left the remaining twenty years of Hadrian's pontificate undescribed, knowing that at every step of the real history he  p396 would have been confronted with facts which proved the absurdity of his romance. To obtain the necessary length for his biography he has (like many other authors of the Papal lives but at greater length than they) ended that biography with the aforesaid catalogue of furniture, for which, very likely, trustworthy materials existed in the Papal bureaux.13

We have thus three fictitious documents of great historical importance emanating from the Papal chancery or written in the Papal interest, during the hundred years between 750 and 850; possibly within a much shorter compact of time. They are the Donation of Constantine, the Donation of Pippin (Fragmentum Fantuzzianum), and the Donation of Charles (capp. xli‑xliii of the Vita Hadriani).

One document of a slightly later date, the Privilegium of Louis the Pious addressed to Pope Paschal II in 817 — a document which is now generally quoted as the Ludovicianum — after remaining long under a cloud of suspicion, has been of later years, chiefly by the exertions of two German scholars, Ficker and Sickel, rehabilitated as a genuine and trustworthy document. But this vindication of the Privilege of Louis does not help, but rather damages the alleged Donation by his father. For the Ludovicianum, though sufficiently generous towards the Popes, gives no more territory to them than is perfectly consistent with the course of historical events disclosed to us by the Codex Carolinus,​14 and when it travels far afield beyond the limits of the three provinces (Exarchate, Pentapolis, and Ducatus Romae), it carefully introduces the word patrimonia. There is also a very distinct reservation of the Imperial supremacy over the duchies of Tuscany and Spoleto, accompanying the grant of certain revenues out of those provinces. Considering the characters of  p397 the men, it is almost inconceivable that the Popes would have accepted from the weak and pious son the limited grant of territories contained in the Ludovicianum if they had in their archives a document conferring far larger territories, bearing the signature of the strong and statesmanlike father. The Ludovicianum is therefore distinctly a witness against the Vita Hadriani.

There is no doubt, however, that in the course of the ninth century the fabrication had obtained extensive currency, being no doubt by that time fairly installed in the Liber Pontificalis. It is quoted in the False Decretals of Isidore, and it reappears in the Ottonianum, or 'Privilegium' granted to the Pope by the Emperor Otto I in 962.

After being in modern times generally discredited, the Caroline Donation has recently found some staunch and able defenders; but the qualifications and reservations, which even these authors have to make, show the extreme difficulty of the task which they have undertaken, and, at any rate in the judgment of the present writer, it is not probable that the cause which they have championed will finally prevail.

The whole discussion and the ever-expanding character of the Papal claims for territory at this period seem to be the best explanation of the forethought exhibited by the great Frankish ruler when he pinned down his Papal correspondents to certain positions by collecting their letters in the Codex Carolinus.

The Author's Notes:

1 In 807 we find Charles sending troops to defend Corsica from the Moors (Einh. Ann. s. a.).

2 This is probably the meaning of 'a Lunis'; Portus Lunae being the well-known name for that gulf. Luna itself, the most northerly town of the Etruscan confederacy, was probably situated about three miles south of Sarzana.

3 In the Introduction to the Lib. Pont. pp. ccxxxvii‑ccxlii.

4 In his monograph, 'Die sogenannten Schenkungen Pippins, Karls des Grossen und Ottos I an die Päpste' (Stuttgart, 1896).

5 Lib. Pont. I. ccxxxvii.

6 See vol. VI pp324 441.

7 Vita, c. 25.

8 See p319.

9 Capp. xxiii, xxix, and xxxvii.

10 Simson (Jahrbücher, II.539) says, 'The epithet Great was never borne by Charles in his lifetime, at any rate officially. According to the Abbot Smaragdus . . . he at first received only the title of Prudent. But already in the first half of the ninth century the title of honour (Great) to which his deed gave him such undoubted claim became universal.'

Thayer's Note: But see Hodgkin's own honest corrective, IX.37 and note.

11 Duchesne, Introduction, ccxxxvi.

12 I may suggest, however, the possibility that the life of Hadrian may have remained unwritten all through the pontificate of Leo III (795‑816), on account of the bitter hostility between the partisans of the earlier and the later Pope.

13 As bearing on this question I may notice the remarks of Malfatti (Imperatori e Papi, II pp63 and 73) as to the confused and inconsistent statements of the biographer with reference to the embassies between Desiderius and Hadrian in 772 and between Desiderius and Charles in 773. If we admit Malfatti's argument, we shall see that we are dealing with the work, not of an eye‑witness, but of a later and compiling historian.

14 It includes generally the Ducatus Romae, the Exarchate and the Pentapolis, the Sabinense, and certain towns in Tuscany and Campania which were confessedly bestowed on Hadrian by Charles. Where Beneventum is mentioned it is expressly stated that it is only 'patrimonium Beneventanum,' of which possession is secured to the Pope. The clause about the three islands, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily, is admitted to be a later interpolation.

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