The communes

Also in Rome Papal authority was challenged by the communal movement. A commune was set up (1144-55), led by Arnold of Brescia, and a republic was established, headed by an elected senator. However, civil strife continued between popular and aristocratic factions and between Guelphs (papal) and Ghibellines (imperial). The commune made war to subdue neighboring cities, for it pretended to rule over the Papal States, particularly the Duchy of Rome, which included Latium and parts of Tuscany.

In 1152 Frederick I was elected emperor and tried to reestablish the authority of the empire over the Italian communes. In 1167, 22 communes joined the Lombard League to fight the emperor with the support of Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) and the Sicilian Norman kings. The Emperor was defeat at Legnano in 1176, and with the Peace of Constance he grant to the Italian communes a certain level of independence.

The supremacy of the Papacy over the Empire was enforced by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), who obtained to consider France and England as feuds granted by the Holy See, and supported Spain during the fights against the Arabs. He supported the forth crusade against Constantinople, to weaken also the influence of the Byzantine Empire, and the crusade in France against the Albigensians in 1208.

In the meantime Frederick I combined the marriage between his son Henry and the Norman Constance of Sicily to gain the control of Southern Italy. Innocent III supported their successor Frederick II to take the control of the region, that lived a period of economic and cultural progress, but the attempt to unify the Kingdom of Sicily with the north of the country caused the opposition of the Pope and the Italian communes. After the death of Frederick II in 1250, his son Manfred was defeated by Charles of Anjou (1266), called by the Pope to rule the region. Due to the revolt held in Sicily in 1282 against the French domination (Sicilian Vespers), the Kingdom of Sicily (and then Sardinia) passed to the rule of Peter III of Aragon, while the Kingdom of Naples remained under the French control.

Babylonian captivity

Following the short pontificate of Pope Celestine V in 1294, new fights between Church and Empire took place during the rule of Pope Boniface VIII (1294-1303) and the King of France Philip IV, who asked to the Church to pay taxes for their possessions in France in 1302, while the Pope restated the sovereignty of the Church over the Empire with bulla Unam Sanctam. The king was able to bring the fight in Rome, by using the Colonna and Orsini families as counterpart of the Caetani family of the Pope. In 1303 the Pope was arrested in Anagni; freed by the people, he died in few weeks and Pope Clement V (1305-1314) was elected and the Papal See became Avignon. This period, called Babylonian Captivity of the popes (1309-1378), represented the end of the attempt made by the Papacy to establish a Papal control over the new national kingdoms: the main example was the fight between John XXII (1316-1334) and Ludovico IV il Bavaro, who in 1338 stated the independence by the Pope of the Holy Roman Empire, now became the German Kingdom.

Rome was desolate, economically ruined, and in constant turmoil. Cola di Rienzo became the champion of the people and tried to revive the ancient Roman institutions; in 1347 he was made tribune, but he was arrested and Pope Innocent VI (1352-1362) sent in Rome Cardinal Egidio Albornoz in 1353, who temporarily restored the papal authority. In 1357 the Costituzioni Egidiane were approved, reorganizing the Papal States with an increased autonomy of Rome and the Communes and Signorie included in the Papal boundaries. Due to the improved social condition, in 1377 Pope Gregory XI (1370-1378) moved the papacy back to Rome.

Western Schism

In 1378 two Popes were elected (Western Schism: 1378–1417): Clement VII in Avignon (supported by the Kingdoms of France, Navarre, Aragon, Castile, Savoy, Naples, and Scotland) and Urban VI (1378-1389) in Rome (supported by the Kingdoms of England, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Teutonic Order State, and Holy Roman Empire). Once more a republic was set up in Rome. In 1417 Pope Martin V (1417-1431) was elected during the Council of Constance (1414-1418) and he returned in Rome. With the council began the dominion of the Popes in Rome, where the papal court made the city a brilliant Renaissance capital, but with little real power of the pope outside Italy.

Western Schism

In 1453 the Byzantine Empire fell, with Constantinople conquered by the Ottomans. The menace of the new Ottoman Empire suggested to stop the fights for the supremacy in Italy, and in 1454 under Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455) the Peace of Lodi was signed among the Milan, Venice, Naples and Papal States. The new politic equilibrium helped to reorganize the state and to develop arts and culture: the Vatican Library was founded in this period.


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