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Resume Of Italian History

( Originally Published 1913 )



After the fall of Rome, in 476, Italy was left largely to the mercy of the invader. In 489 the Ostrogoths, under their able king Theodoric, pressed into the peninsula and set up their kingdom. About 300,000 strong, they ruled over as many as 3,000,000 people, a remnant of earlier Roman citizens. The Ostrogoths had become civilized to a surprising degree, and had their king lived to maintain his power, or had he left it to others as able as himself, the later development of affairs in Italy might have taken another course.

Fair-minded and clear-sighted, Theodoric preserved Roman law and custom, and, so far as he was able, continued in the ways of his Roman predecessors. He governed Italy as a kind of an imperial province, acknowledging the general supervision of the Eastern Emperor. An Arian, with a liberalism unusual for his time, he was tolerant to orthodox Catholics. All went well until Justinian determined to crush the Arians and issued edicts commanding their persecution. A conquered people were not likely to remain loyal when strength lay in opposition, and soon Theodoric found the Pope, the Emperor and the people arrayed against him. His death removed any hope of a permanent Ostrogothic kingdom in Italy.

Theodoric died in 553, and in 568 the Lombards came into the helpless land from the north. Italy was prostrate before an enemy. Too often during the last centuries had she witnessed invasions which brought destruction in their wake. Various masters had commanded her resources and robbed her of rich possessions. Subject first to one, then to another, her men lost all capacity for self-assertion.

"...Italy had been one perpetual battlefield; whichever side won, the unfortunate natives had to lodge and feed a foreign army, and endure all the insolence of a brutal soldiery. Plague, pestilence, and famine followed. The ordinary business of life came to a stop. Houses, churches, aqueducts went to ruin; roads were left unmended, rivers undiked. Great tracts of fertile land were abandoned. Cattle roamed without herdsmen, harvests withered up, grapes shriv eled on the vines. From lack of food came the pest. Mothers abandoned sick babies, sons left their fathers' bodies unburied. The inhabitants of the cities fared no better. Rome, for instance, had been captured five times. Before the war her population had been 250,000; at its close not one-tenth was left. It is said that in one period every living thing deserted the city, and for forty days the ancient mistress of the world lay like a city of the dead. With peace came some respite; but the frightful squeeze of Byzantine taxation was as bad as Barbarian conquest. Italy sank into ignorance and misery. The Latin inhabitants hardly cared who their masters were. They never had spirit enough to take arms and fight, but meekly bowed their heads."

The Lombards were rougher than the Ostrogoths, for they had not been so long near the culture of Rome. Gradually, nevertheless, they too took on the ways of the country wherein they dwelt. Lacking the faculty of uniting, their settlements tended to fall apart-a fact which became significant later. During the Iconoclastic controversy the Papacy broke with the Empire. It will be remembered that, with the intention of purifying the mode of worship, the Eastern Emperor commanded the destruction of all images hitherto used in churches for the aid of Christian teaching. Acceptable to the Eastern, or Greek, church, this was a most unpopular measure in the West. Realizing that the hostilities between the Pope and Emperor offered an occasion for a third power to extend property, the Lombards put forth feeble efforts to bring Italy under their domination. Feeling the need of support, the Pope called upon the king of the Franks, who was already under obligation for Papal sanction, given when Pippin took for himself the Frankish crown, and set aside the weak Merovingian ruler. Glad to repay this obligation, Pippin invaded Italy and repulsed the Lombards. The friendly relations thus established between Franks and Papacy continued and Charlemagne was finally crowned in 800, on Christmas Day, Emperor of the Roman Empire.

In the years that followed the dissolution of Charlemagne's empire, Italy, densely ignorant and spent with troubles, was threatened by the invasion of the Saracens. For a while it appeared as though the peninsula, like Spain, was to become a Mohammedan country.

All the southern provinces were overrun by the Saracens, who even dared to come to the very walls of Rome and sack St. Peter's and St. Paul's, both outside the defences. All the strength of Italy asserted itself against the Mohammedans and even the Eastern Emperor aided in the common cause. At last the Saracens were driven back to Africa, from whence they sallied occasionally to harass the people who lived along the southern coasts. In 962, Otto the Great restored the empire and was crowned by the pope in St. Peter's. The theory obtaining at this time, as in the days of Charlemagne, was that the world was ruled by two sovereigns-one secular, the other ecclesiastical. However, the great strength of the socalled Roman Empire at this time was German; almost the whole strength of the papacy was Italian. It is difficult at the start to see how harmony between the two could have long continued. Even in the time of Otto, and frequently in the reigns of his successors, the Emperors made and unmade Popes at their pleasure. Gregory VII, sometimes called the "Julius Caesar of the Papacy," was the first to assert the supremacy of the Pope.

In the eleventh century the Normans, already established in France, turned toward Italy for adventure. Southern Italy and Sicily were shortly won by them. By the Emperor they were regarded as mere usurpers, but the Papacy soon made friends of them. By the donation of Constantine the Papacy had become possessed of certain territorial domains which continued to grow. These were the bases of the later Papal States over which the Pope ruled as king. In his capacity as temporal ruler over these lands he received the Normans as vassals and for some time they remained strong in the Two Sicilies-that is, Sicily and the mainland, divided only by narrow waters-Naples.

The Middle Ages were marked in Italy by a struggle between the Pope, who lived on the peninsula, ruled over certain church territories, and remained at the head of the Church Universal, and the Emperor, who lived generally in Germany-which country he ruled as king-and considered that the old empire of Charlemagne still remained to him. Determined that Italy should not be united into one kingdom, the Popes worked for years to prevent its accomplishment. The solution of the Emperor-Papal problem was to come from a third element-the growing commercial centers of Italy.

Certain Italian cities early developed extensive commercial activities, because of their intermediary position. Because the tide turned shortly in other directions, several of these mediaeval Italian towns-today mere villages-had a remarkable history. Such was Amalfi, now a fishing village-once a republic of 50,00o people. "She traded with Sicily, Egypt, Syria, and Arabia; she decked her women with the ornaments of the East; she built monasteries at Jerusalem, also a hospital from which the Knights Hospitallers of St. John took their name; she gave a maritime code to the Mediterranean and Ionian seas, and circulated coin of her own making throughout the Levant."

Salerno, Pisa, Genoa and Venice all became important trading centers. While emperors and popes were wrestling with the matter of supremacy, these towns were steadily plying their trade wherever opportunity offered. As the needs of commerce grew, old feudal-imperial regulations disappeared, for feudalism was suited to an agricultural, not a commercial people.

Both opposing the advancement of imperial power, cities and the Papacy alike stood out against it. The cities were stronger and to them remains the credit of restraining the Emperor. First individually, then together, they fought against him until, by the Peace of Constance, all but nominal rights were given up. The Emperor retained the right to keep his representatives in the cities and to receive food and lodging for his army when he visited Italy, but the management of internal affairs and the right to wage private war were acknowledged.

The Hohenstaufen line of emperors held exalted opinions regarding the imperial power. For this reason they incurred the lasting and relentless opposition and enmity of the Papacy. It was Frederick I, or Frederick Barbarossa, who accepted the Peace of Constance, having fought the matter out with the commercial cities and lost. His grandson, Frederick II, should be included in any account of Italian development, however brief. Seldom has nature fashioned a man so gifted. Freeman calls him "most gifted of the sons of men." Left heir to the Sicilies when a mere child, the Pope aided him in coming into his own. Later the Papacy reluctantly set its approval upon his accession to the imperial crown. Shortly after, a bitter quarrel ensued between Emperor Frederick and the Pope, who never rested until he had ruined the Hohenstaufen house and destroyed its heirs. Frederick gathered around him a most brilliant court, as a result of which the first school of Italian poetry arose. In fact Italian poetry was called Sicilian for years, wherever produced. Most enlightened of any court in Europe, scholars and men of excellent parts were cordially welcomed; cultured Mohammedans were received, to the great indignation of the Pope; Frederick's personal views indicated lack of orthodoxy which was considered dangerous in the extreme. In all Italian history during the Middle Ages there is no more absorbing study than that of the life and career of this brilliant man. With his death the Pope lost a dangerous enemy. When Manfred, Frederick's son, succeeded his father as king of the Sicilies, the Pope invited Charles of Anjou to take possession of this coveted territory-which invitation he promptly accepted. In the war that followed, Manfred was killed and a permanent union between the Sicilies and the empire was prevented, while the French house of Anjou replaced the Hohenstaufens in Italy.

Under Boniface VIII the Papacy reached its culmination and with his death began to decline. Vigorous, energetic, ambitious, grasping, he sought to exalt the Church and deride Its enemies. By an aggressive policy he maintained for a time what others had won. In 1300 he celebrated a papal jubilee, giving rise to a custom which he hoped might become permanent. Needing plenty of gold for the expensive building enterprises which he was conducting in Rome, he proclaimed the Bull of jubilee, promising remission of sins to all who should visit St. Peter's and St. Paul's in the course of the year. Thousands flocked to Rome, and a single day sometimes brought 200,000 visitors to the basilicas. All made offerings, consequently very large sums of money were realized. It has often been noted as significant that neither princes nor kings were among the faithful. New nationalities were developing and kings were absorbed with other concerns. Meantime a quarrel was brewing with the aggressive king of France, Philip the Fair. Philip levied a tax upon the clergy, an action wholly contrary to the usual custom. The Pope retaliated by forbidding churchmen to pay the tax, whereupon the king forbade money being sent out of the kingdom to Italy. This at once cut off a large source of revenue for the Church and was not to be tolerated. The papal bull received in France was publicly burned, and, unprecedented in centuries, officers of Philip were secretly dispatched to take the venerable pope prisoner. Treated with insult and indignity, Pope Boniface died within a few days. This extreme action of Philip was denounced by Christians everywhere, but in France a young nationality was beginning to realize its strength, and the sympathy of the country supported the king in the policy he was attempting to carry out-though not, to be sure, his lawless methods. Not content with this, Philip caused a French archbishop to be elected to the Papacy, who, instead of setting out for Rome, took up his abode in Avignon, under the influence of France. Thus began the so-called Babylonian Captivity, lasting nearly seventy years. From a position of acclaimed supremacy the Papacy had become a French tool.

With the withdrawal of the Papacy from Italy, the country fell into still greater confusion. City fought against city and citizen against citizen. The reflective turned back to the empire, which had failed so signally in years before it became obsolete. Henry VII became king of Germany and assumed the empty title of Emperor. Many looked to him to restore peace in the distracted peninsula. Dante, in exile from Florence, wrote his De Monarchia to persuade the princes that peace would come only as a result of a world empire. He contended that the Empire-not the Papacy-should be supreme, and denied the temporal power of the Pope. Excited by hopes of a regeneration, he addressed the various princes of Italy.

"Behold, now is the accepted time, in which arise signs of consolation and peace. For a new day begins to shine, showing the dawn that shall dissipate the darkness of long calamity. Now the breezes of the East begin to blow, the lips of heaven redden, and with serenity comfort the hopes of the people. And we who have passed a long night in the desert shall see the expected joy.

"Rejoice, O Italy, pitied even by the heathen; now shalt thou be the envy of the earth, because thy bridegroom, the comfort of the world and the glory of the people, the most merciful Henry, Divus, Augustus, hastens to thy espousals." Alas for Dante and his hopes, and the hopes of others who saw in Henry VII' their deliverer. He did none of these things. Cities fortified against him. Ghibellines welcomed him, to be sure, but the strength of the land lay in the commercial centers which, for the most part, were Guelf. With the death of the Emperor near Sienna, the dream of a revived empire came to an end.

The empire practically an idea of the past, the Papacy in exile in France, the situation in Italy was that the Papal States were still governed in the interest of the Pope through agents. Sometimes they remained loyal; sometimes they broke away. Naples and Sicily were governed by the French house of Anjou; Florence and the surrounding towns belonged to the Lombards ; Genoa and Venice were aristocracies based on commerce. A revolt in Sicily tore that island away from French domination and gave it to the husband of Manfred's daughter, King Pedro of Aragon. There was absolutely no unity throughout the land and Italy remained for generations "a mere geographical expression."



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