1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > Italian History - Frankish Emperors

(Part 32)


Italian History - Frankish Emperors

The Franko-Papal alliance, which conferred a crown on Pippin and sovereign rights upon the see of Rome, held within itself that ideal of mutually supporting papacy empire which exercised so powerful an influence in mediaeval history. When Charles the Great (Charlemagne) deposed his father-in-law Desiderius, the last Lombard king, in 774, and when he received the circlet of the empire from Leo III. at Rome in 800, he did but complete and ratify the compact offered to his grandfather, Charles Martel, by Gregory III. The relations between the new emperor and the pope were ill defined ; and this proved the source of infinite disasters to Italy and Europe in the sequel. But for the moment each seemed necessary to the other; and that sufficed. Charles took possession of the kingdom of Italy, as limited by Pippin's settlement. The pope was confirmed in his rectorship of the cities ceded by Astolf, with the further understanding, tacit rather than expressed, that, even as he had wrung these provinces for the Italic people from both Greeks and Lombards, so in the future he might claim the protectorate of such portions of Italy, external to the kingdom, as he should be able to acquire. This, at any rate, seems to be the meaning of that obscure resettlement of the peninsula which Charles effected. The kingdom of Italy, transmitted on his death by Charles the Great, and afterwards confirmed to his grandson Lothar by the peace of Verdun in 843, stretched from the Alps to Terracina. The duchy of Benevento remained tributary, but independent. The cities of Gaeta and Naples, Sicily, and the so-called Theme of Lombardy in South Apulia and Calabria, still recognized the Byzantine emperor. Venice stood aloof, professing a nominal allegiance to the East. The parcels into which the Lombards had divided the peninsula remained thus virtually unaltered, except for the new authority acquired by the see of Rome.

Internally Charles left the affairs of the Italian kingdom much as he found them, except that he appears to have pursued the policy of breaking up the larger fiefs of the Lombards, substituting counts for their dukes, and adding to the privileges of the bishops. We may reckon these measures among the earliest advantages extended to the cities, which still contained the bulk of the old Roman population, and which were destined to intervene with decisive effect two centuries later in Italian history. It should also here be noticed that the changes introduced into the holding of the fiefs, whether by altering their boundaries or substituting Frankish for Lombard vassals, were chief among the causes why the feudal system took no permanent hold in Italy. Feudalism was not at any time a national institution. The hierarchy of dukes and marquises and counts consisted of foreign soldiers imposed on the indigenous inhabitants; and the rapid succession of conquerors, Lombards, Franks, and Germans following each other at no long interval, and each endeavouring to weaken the remaining strength of his predecessor, prevented this alien hierarchy from acquiring fixity by permanence of tenure. Among the many miseries inflicted upon Italy by the frequent changes of her northern rulers, this at least may be reckoned a blessing.

The Italians acknowledged eight kings of the house of Charles the Great, ending in Charles the Fat, who was deposed in 888. After them followed ten sovereigns, some of whom have been misnamed Italians by writers too eager to catch at any resemblance of national glory for a people passive in the hands of foreign masters, The truth is that no period in Italian history was less really glorious than that which came to a close in 961 by Berengar II.'s cession of his rights to Otto the Great. It was a period marked in the first place by the conquests of the Saracens, who began to occupy Sicily early in the 9th century, overran Calabria and Apulia, took Bari, and threatened Rome. In the second place it was marked by a restoration of the Greeks to power. In 890 they established themselves again at Bari, and ruled the Theme of Lombardy by means of an officer entitled Catapan. In the third place it was marked by a decline of good government in Rome. Early in the 10 th century the papacy fell into the hands of a ' noble family, known eventually as the counts of Tusculum, who almost succeeded in rendering the office hereditary, and in uniting the civil and ecclesiastical functions of the city under a single member of their house. It is not necessary to relate the scandals of Marozia's and Theodora's female reign, the infamies of John XII., or the intrigues which tended to convert Rome into a duchy. The most important fact for the historian of Italy to notice is that during this time the popes abandoned, not only their high duties as chiefs of Christendom, but also their protectorate of Italian liberties. A fourth humiliating episode in this period was the invasion of the Magyar barbarians, who overran the north of Italy, and reduced its fairest provinces to the condition of a wilderness. Anarchy and misery are indeed the main features of that long space of time which elapsed between the death of Charles the Great and the descent of Otto. Through the almost impenetrable darkness and confusion we only discern this much, that Italy was powerless to constitute herself a nation.

The discords which followed on the breakup of the Carolingian power, and the weakness of the so-called Italian emperors, who were unable to control the feudatories (marquises of Ivrea and Tuscany, dukes of Friuli and Spoleto), from whose ranks they sprang, exposed Italy to ever-increasing misrule. The country by this time had become thickly covered over with castles, the seats of greater or lesser nobles, all of whom were eager to detach themselves from strict allegiance to the "Regno." The cities, exposed to pillage by Huns in the north and Saracens in the south, and ravaged on the coast by Norse pirates, asserted their right to enclose themselves with walls, and taught their burghers the use of arms. Within the circuit of their ramparts, the bishops already began to exercise authority in rivalry with the counts, to whom, since the days of Theodoric, had been entrusted the government of the Italian burghs. Agreeably to feudal customs, these nobles, as they grew in power, retired from the town, and built themselves fortresses on points of vantage in the neighbourhood. Thus the titular king of Italy found himself simultaneously at war with those great vassals who had chosen him from their own class, with the turbulent factions of the Roman aristocracy, with unruly bishops in the growing cities, and with the multitude of minor counts and barons who occupied the open lands, and who changed sides according to the interests of the moment. The last king of the quasi-Italian succession, Berengar II., marquis of Ivrea (951-961), made a vigorous effort to restore the authority of the regno ; and had he succeeded, it is not impossible that now at the last moment Italy might have become an independent nation. But this attempt at unification was reckoned to Berengar for a crime. He only won the hatred of all classes, and was represented by the obscure annalists of that period as an oppressor of the church and a remorseless tyrant. In Italy, divided between feudal nobles and almost hereditary ecclesiastics, of foreign blood and alien sympathies, there was no national feeling. Berengar stood alone against a multitude, unanimous in their intolerance of discipline. His predecessor in the kingdom, Lothar, had left a young and beautiful widow, Adelheid. Berengar imprisoned her upon the Lake of Como, and threatened her with a forced marriage to his son Adalbert. She escaped to the castle of Canossa, where the great count of Tuscany espoused her cause, and appealed in her behalf to Otto the Saxon. The king of Germany descended into Italy, and took Adelheid in marriage. After this episode Berengar was more discredited and impotent than ever. In the extremity of his fortunes he had recourse himself to Otto, making a formal cession of the Italian kingdom, in his own name and that of his son Adalbert, to the Saxon as his overlord. By this slender tie the crown of Italy was joined to that of Germany; and the formal right of the elected king, of Germany to be considered king of Italy and emperor may be held to have accrued from this epoch.

Read the rest of this article:
Italy - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-21 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries