The Papal States also known as  the State(s) of the Church, the Pontifical States, the Ecclesiastical States, or the Roman States were territories in the Italian Peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of the pope. After the collapse of central rule from Rome and then Constantinople, the pope ruled varying territory from the 8th century until 1870. At their greatest extent, they covered most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio (which includes Rome), Marche, Umbria and Romagna, and portions of Emilia. By 1861, much of what had been the Papal States' territory had been conquered by the Kingdom of Italy. Only Lazio, including Rome, remained under the Pope's temporal control. In 1870, the pope lost Lazio and the Pope and had no physical territory at all, not even the Vatican. In 1929 Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty granting the Vatican City State sovereignty and it has been so to this day. Some say that Vatican City is the last of the Papal States.


For its first three centuries the Christian church was growing but had little structure. It was generally outlawed as an organization if it could be called that and was thus unable to hold or transfer property. Early Christian churches congregated in the audience halls of well-to-do individuals. A number of the Early Christian churches built around the edges of Ancient Rome were ascribed to patrons who held the property in custody for the Church. After Christianity was legalized in 313 with the Edict of Milan, the Church's private property grew quickly through the donations of the pious and the wealthy. The Lateran Palace was the first significant donation, a gift of Constantine himself. Other donations soon followed, mainly in mainland Italy but also in the provinces, but the Church held all of these lands as a private landowner, not as a sovereign entity. When in the fifth century the Italian peninsula passed under the control of the German warrier Odoacer who deposed the Roman Emperor Romulus in 476 (This is often referred to as the fall of Rome).  Then in 493 Theodoric the Great established an Ostrogoth kingdom in Italy. The church organization in Italy, and the bishop of Rome (The Pope) as its head, submitted to their sovereign authority while beginning to assert spiritual supremacy.

The seeds of the Papal States as a sovereign political entity were planted in the sixth century. The Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) government in Constantinople (which had not fallen in the "fall" of Rome) launched a reconquest of Italy that took decades and was largely unsuccessful. As those wars wound down, the Lombards entered the peninsula from the north and conquered much of the countryside. By the seventh century, Byzantine authority was limited to a diagonal band running roughly from Ravenna, where the Emperor's representative or Exarch was located, to Rome and south to Naples. With effective Byzantine power weighted at the northeast end of this territory, the Bishop of Rome, as the largest landowner and most prestigious figure in Italy, began by default to take on much of the ruling authority that Byzantines were unable to project to the area around the city of Rome. While the Bishops of Rome—now beginning to be referred to as the Popes—remained Byzantine subjects, in practice the Duchy of Rome, an area roughly equivalent to modern-day Latium, became an independent state ruled by the Church.

The Church's relative independence, combined with popular support for the Papacy in Italy, enabled various Popes to defy the will of the Byzantine emperor. Pope Gregory II had serious conflict with Emperor Leo III during the iconoclast controversy. Nevertheless the Pope and the Exarch (the officer of the Byzantine government) still worked together to control the rising power of the Lombards in Italy. As Byzantine power weakened, though, the Papacy took an ever larger role in defending Rome from the Lombards, usually through diplomacy, threats and bribery. In practice, the papal efforts served to focus Lombard aggrandizement on the Exarch and Ravenna. A defining moment in the founding of the Papal States was the agreement over boundaries embodied in the Lombard king Liutprand's Donation of Sutri (728) to Pope Gregory II.

The Donation of Pepin and the Holy Roman Empire

When the Exarchate finally fell to the Lombards in 751, the Duchy of Rome was completely cut off from the Byzantine Empire, of which it was theoretically still a part. Pope Stephen II acted to neutralize the Lombard threat by courting the de facto Frankish ruler, Pepin the Short. With the urging of Pope Zachary to depose the Merovingian figurehead Childeric III, Pepin was crowned in 751 by Saint Boniface. Stephen later granted Pepin the title Patrician of the Romans. Pepin led a Frankish army into Italy in 754 and 756. Pepin defeated the Lombard's taking control of northern Italy and made a gift (called the Donation of Pepin) of the properties formerly constituting the Exarchate of Ravenna to the Pope. In 781, Charlemagne codified the regions over which the Pope would be temporal sovereign: the Duchy of Rome was key, but the territory was expanded to include Ravenna, the Pentapolis, parts of the Duchy of Benevento, Tuscany, Corsica, Lombardy and a number of Italian cities. The cooperation between the Papacy and the Carolingian dynasty climaxed in the year 800, when Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne the first "Emperor of the Romans" (Augustus Romanorum). We now call this the Holy Roman Empire, although it did not last.

However, the precise nature of the relationship between the Popes and Emperors—and between the Papal States and the Empire—was not clear. Was the Pope a sovereign ruler of a separate realm in central Italy, or were the Papal States just a part of the Frankish Empire over which the Popes had administrative control? Events in the ninth century postponed the conflict: in 843, the Treaty of Verdun marked the Frankish Empire's collapse, as it was subdivided among Charlemagne's three grandsons. The papacy's prestige declined, with the tyranny of the local Roman nobility in the tenth century, into the condition later dubbed the pornocracy, or "rule by harlots." In practice, the Popes were unable to exercise effective sovereignty over the extensive and mountainous territories of the Papal States, and the region preserved its old Lombard system of government, with many small countships and marquisates, each centered upon a fortified rocca.

The Popes increasingly saw themselves as the granters of political legitimacy, as Jesus Christ's representative on earth they were agents of the King of Kings. Their tiara represented three realms over which they exercised power - temporal, spiritual in this world and over purgatory in the next. The tiara appears to have been adopted as the Popes gained the Papal States. Jewels were added, indicating that the Pope was also a prince, or a temporal ruler. In theory, no king ruled without the Pope's blessing. On the other hand, no Pope could rule without the approval of the Holy Roman Emperor. The Pope saw the Emperor as subordinate; the Emperor saw the Pope as subordinate. The coronation declared, "Know that thou art the father of princes and kings - the ruler of the world". The tiaras became more elaborate; earlier, Popes had been "content with the symbol that made them temporal lord only of Rome and the Papal States." Later, "they wore a crown as splendid as that of any emperor" and claimed jurisdiction over all princes in Christendom.[4]

Over several campaigns in the mid-tenth century, the German ruler Otto I conquered northern Italy; Pope John XII crowned him emperor (the first so crowned in more than 40 years), and the two of them ratified the Diploma Ottonianum, which guaranteed the independence of the Papal States. Yet over the next two centuries, Popes and Emperors squabbled over a variety of issues, and the German rulers routinely treated the Papal States as part of their realms on those occasions when they projected power into Italy. A major motivation for the Gregorian Reform was to free the administration of the Papal States from imperial interference, and after the extirpation of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, the German emperors rarely interfered in Italian affairs. By 1300, the Papal States, along with the rest of the Italian principalities, were effectively independent.

From 1305 to 1378, the Popes lived in Avignon, in what is now France, and were under the influence of the French kings in what was known as the 'Babylonian Captivity'. During this Avignon Papacy, however, much of the Papal States in Italy remained only formally under Papal control; in fact, 1357 marks a watershed in the legal history of the Papal States, when Cardinal Albornoz promulgated the Constitutiones Sanctæ Matris Ecclesiæ, which replaced the mosaic of local law and accumulated traditional 'liberties' with a uniform code of civil law. The promulgation of the Constitutiones Egidiane followed the military progress of Albornoz and his condottieri heading a small mercenary army. Having received the support of the archbishop of Milan and Giovanni Visconti, he defeated Giovanni di Vico, lord of Viterbo, moving against Galeotto Malatesta of Rimini and the Ordelaffi of Forlì, the Montefeltro of Urbino and the da Polenta of Ravenna, and against the cities of Senigallia and Ancona. The last holdouts against full papal control were Giovanni Manfredi of Faenza and Francesco II Ordelaffi of Forlì. Albornoz, at the point of being recalled in 1357, in a meeting with all the Papal vicars, April 29, 1357, issued the Constitutiones; they remained in effect until 1816.

During this period the city of Avignon itself was added to the Papal States; it remained a papal possession even after the popes returned to Rome, only passing back to France during the French Revolution.

Calls for Reform

Papal preoccupation with temporal power and with the trappings of power had its critics. Various movements within the Church and outside as well called for a return to the care of souls and spiritual leadership. Critics, starting with the Gregorian movement under Pope Gregory VII, pointed out how the wealth, power and property of the church seemed to be a far cry from the simple life-style lived by Jesus. The Popes tended to reply that without power they could not fulfill their mandate as vicars of Christ on earth wielding temporal authority as well as spiritual on his behalf. Pope Boniface VIII is reported to have said, "Emperor! I am the Emperor." They wore the imperial purple, "the red buskins of imperial office together with the gilt shoes and spurs, with the great sword in his hand and the cross on his breast."

Martin Luther denounced the wealth and temporal power of the Papacy. Such reform-minded groups as the so-called "Flying Squad" in the seventeenth century wanted to modernize administration of the Papal States, neutralize the Papacy politically so that it could concentrate on spiritual leadership. Certainly, some Popes were more interested in patronizing art and in promoting members of their own family than in any type of spiritual activity or leadership. Becoming a pope, often by devious means, was to become a wealthy and powerful secular ruler so much so that the religious function was all but forgotten, except for officiating at ceremonies. Possession of the Papal States made the Papacy a more attractive post, attracting men who may have been reluctant to "be seated in a chair when all it offered was a spiritual crown and the probability of physical coercion from an only too fleshly emperor." Once the Bishop of Rome held "not only the keys of heaven but also the keys of more than a score of cities, each with its revenues, the attraction of the office was considerably magnified." 8/3/16 8/3/16