Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire




Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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423--432.) The fact must in some degree be true; yet I could wish that it had been coolly related, before it was turned into a reproach against the antipope.]

[Footnote 95: Muratori has given two dissertations (xli. and xlii.) to the names, surnames, and families of Italy. Some nobles, who glory in their domestic fables, may be offended with his firm and temperate criticism; yet surely some ounces of pure gold are of more value than many pounds of base metal.]

[Footnote 96: The cardinal of St. George, in his poetical, or rather metrical history of the election and coronation of Boniface VIII., (Muratori Script. Ital. tom. iii. P. i. p. 641, &c.,) describes the state and families of Rome at the coronation of Boniface VIII., (A.D. 1295.)

Interea titulis redimiti sanguine et armis

Illustresque viri Romanâ a stirpe trahentes

Nomen in emeritos tantæ virtutis honores

Insulerant sese medios festumque colebant

Aurata fulgente togâ, sociante catervâ.

Ex ipsis devota domus præstantis ab Ursâ

Ecclesiæ, vultumque gerens demissius altum

Festa Columna jocis, necnon Sabellia mitis;

Stephanides senior, Comites, Annibalica proles,

Præfectusque urbis magnum sine viribus nomen.

  1. ii. c. 5, 100, p. 647, 648.)

The ancient statutes of Rome (l. iii. c. 59, p. 174, 175) distinguish eleven families of barons, who are obliged to swear in concilio communi, before the senator, that they would not harbor or protect any malefactors, outlaws, &c. -- a feeble security!]

But among, perhaps above, the peers and princes of the city, I distinguish the rival houses of Colonna and Ursini, whose private story is an essential part of the annals of modern Rome. I. The name and arms of Colonna ^97 have been the theme of much doubtful etymology; nor have the orators and antiquarians overlooked either Trajan's pillar, or the columns of Hercules, or the pillar of Christ's flagellation, or the luminous column that guided the Israelites in the desert. Their first historical appearance in the year eleven hundred and four attests the power and antiquity, while it explains the simple meaning, of the name. By the usurpation of Cavæ, the Colonna provoked the arms of Paschal the Second; but they lawfully held in the Campagna of Rome the hereditary fiefs of Zagarola and Colonna; and the latter of these towns was probably adorned with some lofty pillar, the relic of a villa or temple. ^98 They likewise possessed one moiety of the neighboring city of Tusculum, a strong presumption of their descent from the counts of Tusculum, who in the tenth century were the tyrants of the apostolic see. According to their own and the public opinion, the primitive and remote source was derived from the banks of the Rhine; ^99 and the sovereigns of Germany were not ashamed of a real or fabulous affinity with a noble race, which in the revolutions of seven hundred years has been often illustrated by merit and always by fortune. ^100 About the end of the thirteenth century, the most powerful branch was composed of an uncle and six bothers, all conspicuous in arms, or in the honors of the church. Of these, Peter was elected senator of Rome, introduced to the Capitol in a triumphal car, and hailed in some vain acclamations with the title of Cæsar; while John and Stephen were declared marquis of Ancona and count of Romagna, by Nicholas the Fourth, a patron so partial to their family, that he has been delineated in satirical portraits, imprisoned as it were in a hollow pillar. ^101 After his decease their haughty behavior provoked the displeasure of the most implacable of mankind. The two cardinals, the uncle and the nephew, denied the election of Boniface the Eighth; and the Colonna were oppressed for a moment by his temporal and spiritual arms. ^102 He proclaimed a crusade against his personal enemies; their estates were confiscated; their fortresses on either side of the Tyber were besieged by the troops of St. Peter and those of the rival nobles; and after the ruin of Palestrina or Præneste, their principal seat, the ground was marked with a ploughshare, the emblem of perpetual desolation. Degraded, banished, proscribed, the six brothers, in disguise and danger, wandered over Europe without renouncing the hope of deliverance and revenge. In this double hope, the French court was their surest asylum; they prompted and directed the enterprise of Philip; and I should praise their magnanimity, had they respected the misfortune and courage of the captive tyrant. His civil acts were annulled by the Roman people, who restored the honors and possessions of the Colonna; and some estimate may be formed of their wealth by their losses, of their losses by the damages of one hundred thousand gold florins which were granted them against the accomplices and heirs of the deceased pope. All the spiritual censures and disqualifications were abolished ^103 by his prudent successors; and the fortune of the house was more firmly established by this transient hurricane. The boldness of Sciarra Colonna was signalized in the captivity of Boniface, and long afterwards in the coronation of Lewis of Bavaria; and by the gratitude of the emperor, the pillar in their arms was encircled with a royal crown. But the first of the family in fame and merit was the elder Stephen, whom Petrarch loved and esteemed as a hero superior to his own times, and not unworthy of ancient Rome. Persecution and exile displayed to the nations his abilities in peace and war; in his distress he was an object, not of pity, but of reverence; the aspect of danger provoked him to avow his name and country; and when he was asked, "Where is now your fortress?" he laid his hand on his heart, and answered, "Here." He supported with the same virtue the return of prosperity; and, till the ruin of his declining age, the ancestors, the character, and the children of Stephen Colonna, exalted his dignity in the Roman republic, and at the court of Avignon. II. The Ursini migrated from Spoleto; ^104 the sons of Ursus, as they are styled in the twelfth century, from some eminent person, who is only known as the father of their race. But they were soon distinguished among the nobles of Rome, by the number and bravery of their kinsmen, the strength of their towers, the honors of the senate and sacred college, and the elevation of two popes, Celestin the Third and Nicholas the Third, of their name and lineage. ^105 Their riches may be accused as an early abuse of nepotism: the estates of St. Peter were alienated in their favor by the liberal Celestin; ^106 and Nicholas was ambitious for their sake to solicit the alliance of monarchs; to found new kingdoms in Lombardy and Tuscany; and to invest them with the perpetual office of senators of Rome. All that has been observed of the greatness of the Colonna will likewise redeemed to the glory of the Ursini, their constant and equal antagonists in the long hereditary feud, which distracted above two hundred and fifty years the ecclesiastical state. The jealously of preeminence and power was the true ground of their quarrel; but as a specious badge of distinction, the Colonna embraced the name of Ghibelines and the party of the empire; the Ursini espoused the title of Guelphs and the cause of the church. The eagle and the keys were displayed in their adverse banners; and the two factions of Italy most furiously raged when the origin and nature of the dispute were long since forgotten. ^107 After the retreat of the popes to Avignon they disputed in arms the vacant republic; and the mischiefs of discord were perpetuated by the wretched compromise of electing each year two rival senators. By their private hostilities the city and country were desolated, and the fluctuating balance inclined with their alternate success. But none of either family had fallen by the sword, till the most renowned champion of the Ursini was surprised and slain by the younger Stephen Colonna. ^108 His triumph is stained with the reproach of violating the truce; their defeat was basely avenged by the assassination, before the church door, of an innocent boy and his two servants. Yet the victorious Colonna, with an annual colleague, was declared senator of Rome during the term of five years. And the muse of Petrarch inspired a wish, a hope, a prediction, that the generous youth, the son of his venerable hero, would restore Rome and Italy to their pristine glory; that his justice would extirpate the wolves and lions, the serpents and bears, who labored to subvert the eternal basis of the marble column. ^109

[Footnote 97: It is pity that the Colonna themselves have not favored the world with a complete and critical history of their illustrious house. I adhere to Muratori, (Dissert. xlii. tom. iii. p. 647, 648.)]

[Footnote 98: Pandulph. Pisan. in Vit. Paschal. II. in Muratori, Script. Ital. tom. iii. P. i. p. 335. The family has still great possessions in the Campagna of Rome; but they have alienated to the Rospigliosi this original fief of Colonna, (Eschinard, p. 258, 259.)]

[Footnote 99:

Te longinqua dedit tellus et pascua Rheni,

says Petrarch; and, in 1417, a duke of Guelders and Juliers acknowledges (Lenfant, Hist. du Concile de Constance, tom. ii. p. 539) his descent from the ancestors of Martin V., (Otho Colonna:) but the royal author of the Memoirs of Brandenburg observes, that the sceptre in his arms has been confounded with the column. To maintain the Roman origin of the Colonna, it was ingeniously supposed (Diario di Monaldeschi, in the Script. Ital. tom. xii. p. 533) that a cousin of the emperor Nero escaped from the city, and founded Mentz in Germany.]

[Footnote 100: I cannot overlook the Roman triumph of ovation on Marce Antonio Colonna, who had commanded the pope's galleys at the naval victory of Lepanto, (Thuan. Hist. l. 7, tom. iii. p. 55, 56. Muret. Oratio x. Opp. tom. i. p. 180--190.)]

[Footnote 101: Muratori, Annali d'Italia, tom. x. p. 216, 220.]

[Footnote 102: Petrarch's attachment to the Colonna has authorized the abbé de Sade to expatiate on the state of the family in the fourteenth century, the persecution of Boniface VIII., the character of Stephen and

his sons, their quarrels with the Ursini, &c., (Mémoires sur Pétrarque,
tom. i. p. 98--110, 146--148, 174--176, 222--230, 275--280.) His
criticism often rectifies the hearsay stories of Villani, and the errors
of the less diligent moderns. I understand the branch of Stephen to be
now extinct.]


[Footnote 103: Alexander III. had declared the Colonna who adhered to the emperor Frederic I. incapable of holding any ecclesiastical benefice, (Villani, l. v. c. 1;) and the last stains of annual excommunication were purified by Sixtus V., (Vita di Sisto V. tom. iii.

  1. 416.) Treason, sacrilege, and proscription are often the best titles of ancient nobility.]

[Footnote 104:

-------- Vallis te proxima misit,


Appenninigenæ qua prata virentia sylvæ

Spoletana metunt armenta gregesque protervi.

Monaldeschi (tom. xii. Script. Ital. p. 533) gives the Ursini a French origin, which may be remotely true.]

[Footnote 105: In the metrical life of Celestine V. by the cardinal of St. George (Muratori, tom. iii. P. i. p. 613, &c.,) we find a luminous, and not inelegant, passage, (l. i. c. 3, p. 203 &c.:) --

-------- genuit quem nobilis Ursæ (Ursi?)


Progenies, Romana domus, veterataque magnis

Fascibus in clero, pompasque experta senatûs,

Bellorumque manû grandi stipata parentum

Cardineos apices necnon fastigia dudum

Papatûs iterata tenens.

Muratori (Dissert. xlii. tom. iii.) observes, that the first Ursini pontificate of Celestine III. was unknown: he is inclined to read Ursi progenies.]

[Footnote 106: Filii Ursi, quondam Clestini papæ nepotes, de bonis ecclesiæ Romanæ ditati, (Vit. Innocent. III. in Muratori, Script. tom.

  1. P. i.) The partial prodigality of Nicholas III. is more conspicuous in Villani and Muratori. Yet the Ursini would disdain the nephews of a modern pope.]

[Footnote 107: In his fifty-first Dissertation on the Italian Antiquities, Muratori explains the factions of the Guelphs and Ghibelines.]

[Footnote 108: Petrarch (tom. i. p. 222--230) has celebrated this victory according to the Colonna; but two contemporaries, a Florentine (Giovanni Villani, l. x. c. 220) and a Roman, (Ludovico Monaldeschi, p. 532--534,) are less favorable to their arms.]

[Footnote 109: The abbé de Sade (tom. i. Notes, p. 61--66) has applied the vith Canzone of Petrarch, Spirto Gentil, &c., to Stephen Colonna the younger:

Orsi, lupi, leoni, aquile e serpi

Al una gran marmorea colexna

Fanno noja sovente e à se danno. 11]


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Fall of Roman Empire
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