North of Norman Italy lay the city-state of Benevento, ruled by dukes of Lombard origin. Beyond this were the lands under the immediate temporal power of the popes—the “Patrimony of Peter”—including Anagni, Tivoli, Rome, and thence to Perugia.
Rome was the center, but hardly the model, of Latin Christianity. No city in Christendom had less respect for religion, except as a vested interest. Italy took only a modest part in the Crusades; Venice shared in the Fourth only to capture Constantinople; the Italian cities thought of them chiefly as opportunities to establish ports, markets, and trade in the Near East; Frederick II postponed his crusade as long as he could, and embarked upon it with a minimum of religious belief. There were religious souls in Rome, gentle spirits who aided pilgrims to maintain the shrines; but their voices were seldom heard above the din of politics.
Aside from the papacy, Rome was in this period a poor city. The Norman sack of 1084 had capped six centuries of destruction and neglect. The population had shrunk to some 40,000 from its ancient million. It was not a hub of commerce or industry. While cities of northern Italy led the economic revolution, the Papal States tarried in a simple agrarian regime. Market gardens, vineyards, and cattle paddocks mingled with homes and ruins within the walls of Aurelia. The lower classes of the capital lived half by handicraft, half by ecclesiastical charity; the middle classes were a medley of merchants, lawyers, teachers, bankers, students, and resident or visiting priests; the upper classes were the higher clergy and the landed nobility. The old Roman custom of owning in the country and living in the city still prevailed. Long since shorn of any general patriotism that would have united them for national defense, the Roman nobles divided into factions led by rich and powerful families—Frangipani, Orsini, Colonna, Pierleoni, Caetani, Savelli, Corsi, Conti, Annibaldi…. Each family made its Roman residence a castle-fortress, armed its members and retainers, and frequently indulged in street brawls, occasionally in civil wars. The popes, having only spiritual weapons little feared in Rome, struggled in vain to keep order in the city; they were repeatedly subjected to insult there, sometimes to violence; and many of them, for peace or safety, fled to Anagni, Viterbo, or Perugia, even to Lyons, at last to Avignon.
The popes had dreamed of a theocracy in which the Word of God, interpreted by the Church, would suffice as law; they found themselves crushed amid the autocracy of the emperors, the oligarchy of the nobles, and the democracy of the citizens. The relics of the Forum and the Capitol kept alive, among the Romans, the memory of their ancient republic; and periodically an effort was made to restore the old autonomy and forms. The leading nobles were still called senators, though the Senate had disappeared; consuls were chosen or appointed, though they wielded no power; and some old manuscripts preserved the half-forgotten edicts of Roman law. Inspired by the rise of free cities in northern Italy, the people of Rome, in the twelfth century, began to demand a return to secular self-government. In 1143 they elected a Senate of fifty-six members, and for some years thereafter elected new senators annually.
The mood of the time called for a voice, and found it in Arnold of Brescia. Tradition reports that he had studied under Abélard in France. He returned to Brescia as a monk, practicing such austerities that Bernard described him as a man who “neither eats nor drinks.” He was substantially orthodox in doctrine, but denied the validity of sacraments administered by priests in a state of sin. He held it immoral for a priest to own property, demanded a return of the clergy to apostolic poverty, and advised the Church to surrender all her material possessions and political power to the state. At the Council of the Lateran in 1139 Innocent II condemned him and commanded him to silence; but Pope Eugenius III absolved him on condition of a pilgrimage to various churches in Rome. It was a kindly error; the sight of the old republican landmarks fired the imagination of Arnold; standing amid the ruins, he called upon the Romans to reject clerical rule, and to restore the Roman Republic (1145). Fascinated by his fervor, the people chose consuls and tribunes to be actual governors, and established an equestrian order to serve as leaders in a new militia of defense. Intoxicated with the ease of this glorious revolution, the followers of Arnold renounced not only the temporal power of the popes, but the authority, in Italy, of the German emperors of the Holy Roman Empire; indeed, they argued, it was the Roman Republic that should rule not Italy alone, but, as of old, the “world.”5 They rebuilt and fortified the Capitol, seized St. Peter’s, turned it into a castle, took possession of the Vatican, and levied taxes upon pilgrims. Eugenius III fled to Viterbo and Pisa (1146), while St. Bernard, from Clairvaux, hurled denunciations against the people of Rome, and reminded them that their subsistence depended on the presence of the papacy. For ten years the Comune di Roma ruled the city of the Caesars and the popes.
Plucking up his courage, Eugenius III returned to Rome in 1148. He confined himself for a time to spiritual functions, distributed charity, and won the affection of the populace. His second successor, Hadrian IV, shocked by the killing of a cardinal in a public tumult, laid an interdict upon the capital (115 5). Fearful of a profounder revolution than the aristocracy could digest, the Senate abrogated the Republic and surrendered to the Pope. Arnold, excommunicated, hid himself in the Campagna. When Frederick Barbarossa approached Rome Hadrian asked him to arrest the rebel. Arnold was found and apprehended; he was turned over by the Emperor to the papal prefect of Rome, and was by him hanged (1155). The corpse was burned, and the ashes were thrown into the Tiber “for fear,” said a contemporary, “that the people would gather them up and honor them as the ashes of a martyr.”6 His ideas outlived him, and reappeared in the Paterine and Waldensian heretics of Lombardy, in the Albigensians of France, in Marsilius of Padua, and in the leaders of the Reformation. The Senate continued to exist till 1216, when Innocent III succeeded in replacing it with one or two senators congenial to the papal cause. The temporal power of the popes survived till 1870.
At different times the Papal States included Umbria, with Spoleto and Perugia; the “March,” or frontier land, of Ancona on the Adriatic; and the Romagna, or Rome-ruled region, with the cities of Rimini, Imola, Ravenna, Bologna, and Ferrara. Ravenna continued to decline in this period, while Ferrara rose to prominence under the wise leadership of the house of Este. Under the lead of the great lawyers produced by its university, Bologna developed a virile communal life. It was among the first cities to choose a podesta to govern the internal affairs of the commune, and a capitano to lead it in its external relations. Peculiar requirements ruled the choice of the podesta or man of power: he must be a noble, a foreigner to the city, and over thirty-six years of age; he must own no property within the commune, and must have no relative among the electors; he must not be kin to, or come from the same place as, the preceding podesta. These strange rules, adopted to secure impartial administration, prevailed in many Italian communes. The “captain of the people” was chosen not by the communal council but by the popular party, dominated by the merchant guilds; he represented not the poor but the business class. In later centuries he would extend his power at the expense of the podesta, as thebourgeoisie would come to surpass the nobility in wealth and influence.