Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire




Gibbon's The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire

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Chapter LXIX: State Of Rome From The Twelfth Century. -- Part IV.

After his decease, the tedious and equal suspense of the conclave was fixed by the dexterity of the French faction. A specious offer was made and accepted, that, in the term of forty days, they would elect one of the three candidates who should be named by their opponents. The archbishop of Bourdeaux, a furious enemy of his king and country, was the first on the list; but his ambition was known; and his conscience obeyed the calls of fortune and the commands of a benefactor, who had been informed by a swift messenger that the choice of a pope was now in his hands. The terms were regulated in a private interview; and with such speed and secrecy was the business transacted, that the unanimous conclave applauded the elevation of Clement the Fifth. ^79 The cardinals of both parties were soon astonished by a summons to attend him beyond the Alps; from whence, as they soon discovered, they must never hope to return. He was engaged, by promise and affection, to prefer the residence of France; and, after dragging his court through Poitou and Gascony, and devouring, by his expense, the cities and convents on the road, he finally reposed at Avignon, ^80 which flourished above seventy years ^81 the seat of the Roman pontiff and the metropolis of Christendom. By land, by sea, by the Rhône, the position of Avignon was on all sides accessible; the southern provinces of France do not yield to Italy itself; new palaces arose for the accommodation of the pope and cardinals; and the arts of luxury were soon attracted by the treasures of the church. They were already possessed of the adjacent territory, the Venaissin county, ^82 a populous and fertile spot; and the sovereignty of Avignon was afterwards purchased from the youth and distress of Jane, the first queen of Naples and countess of Provence, for the inadequate price of fourscore thousand florins. ^83 Under the shadow of a French monarchy, amidst an obedient people, the popes enjoyed an honorable and tranquil state, to which they long had been strangers: but Italy deplored their absence; and Rome, in solitude and poverty, might repent of the ungovernable freedom which had driven from the Vatican the successor of St. Peter. Her repentance was tardy and fruitless: after the death of the old members, the sacred college was filled with French cardinals, ^84 who beheld Rome and Italy with abhorrence and contempt, and perpetuated a series of national, and even provincial, popes, attached by the most indissoluble ties to their native country.

[Footnote 79: See, in the Chronicle of Giovanni Villani, (l. viii. c. 63, 64, 80, in Muratori, tom. xiii.,) the imprisonment of Boniface VIII., and the election of Clement V., the last of which, like most anecdotes, is embarrassed with some difficulties.]

[Footnote 80: The original lives of the eight popes of Avignon, Clement V., John XXII., Benedict XI., Clement VI., Innocent VI., Urban V., Gregory XI., and Clement VII., are published by Stephen Baluze, (Vitæ Paparum Avenionensium; Paris, 1693, 2 vols. in 4to.,) with copious and elaborate notes, and a second volume of acts and documents. With the true zeal of an editor and a patriot, he devoutly justifies or excuses the characters of his countrymen.]

[Footnote 81: The exile of Avignon is compared by the Italians with Babylon, and the Babylonish captivity. Such furious metaphors, more suitable to the ardor of Petrarch than to the judgment of Muratori, are gravely refuted in Baluze's preface. The abbé de Sade is distracted between the love of Petrarch and of his country. Yet he modestly pleads, that many of the local inconveniences of Avignon are now removed; and many of the vices against which the poet declaims, had been imported with the Roman court by the strangers of Italy, (tom. i. p. 23--28.)]

[Footnote 82: The comtat Venaissin was ceded to the popes in 1273 by Philip III. king of France, after he had inherited the dominions of the count of Thoulouse. Forty years before, the heresy of Count Raymond had given them a pretence of seizure, and they derived some obscure claim from the xith century to some lands citra Rhodanum, (Valesii Notitia Galliarum, p. 495, 610. Longuerue, Description de la France, tom. i. p. 376--381.)]

[Footnote 83: If a possession of four centuries were not itself a title, such objections might annul the bargain; but the purchase money must be refunded, for indeed it was paid. Civitatem Avenionem emit . . . . per ejusmodi venditionem pecuniâ redundates, &c., (iida Vita Clement. VI. in Baluz. tom. i. p. 272. Muratori, Script. tom. iii. P. ii. p. 565.) The only temptation for Jane and her second husband was ready money, and without it they could not have returned to the throne of Naples.]

[Footnote 84: Clement V immediately promoted ten cardinals, nine French and one English, (Vita ivta, p. 63, et Baluz. p. 625, &c.) In 1331, the pope refused two candidates recommended by the king of France, quod xx. Cardinales, de quibus xvii. de regno Franciæ originem traxisse noscuntur in memorato collegio existant, (Thomassin, Discipline de l'Eglise, tom.

  1. p. 1281.)]

The progress of industry had produced and enriched the Italian republics: the æra of their liberty is the most flourishing period of population and agriculture, of manufactures and commerce; and their mechanic labors were gradually refined into the arts of elegance and genius. But the position of Rome was less favorable, the territory less fruitful: the character of the inhabitants was debased by indolence and elated by pride; and they fondly conceived that the tribute of subjects must forever nourish the metropolis of the church and empire. This prejudice was encouraged in some degree by the resort of pilgrims to the shrines of the apostles; and the last legacy of the popes, the institution of the holy year, ^85 was not less beneficial to the people than to the clergy. Since the loss of Palestine, the gift of plenary indulgences, which had been applied to the crusades, remained without an object; and the most valuable treasure of the church was sequestered above eight years from public circulation. A new channel was opened by the diligence of Boniface the Eighth, who reconciled the vices of ambition and avarice; and the pope had sufficient learning to recollect and revive the secular games which were celebrated in Rome at the conclusion of every century. To sound without danger the depth of popular credulity, a sermon was seasonably pronounced, a report was artfully scattered, some aged witnesses were produced; and on the first of January of the year thirteen hundred, the church of St. Peter was crowded with the faithful, who demanded the customary indulgence of the holy time. The pontiff, who watched and irritated their devout impatience, was soon persuaded by ancient testimony of the justice of their claim; and he proclaimed a plenary absolution to all Catholics who, in the course of that year, and at every similar period, should respectfully visit the apostolic churches of St. Peter and St. Paul. The welcome sound was propagated through Christendom; and at first from the nearest provinces of Italy, and at length from the remote kingdoms of Hungary and Britain, the highways were thronged with a swarm of pilgrims who sought to expiate their sins in a journey, however costly or laborious, which was exempt from the perils of military service. All exceptions of rank or sex, of age or infirmity, were forgotten in the common transport; and in the streets and churches many persons were trampled to death by the eagerness of devotion. The calculation of their numbers could not be easy nor accurate; and they have probably been magnified by a dexterous clergy, well apprised of the contagion of example: yet we are assured by a judicious historian, who assisted at the ceremony, that Rome was never replenished with less than two hundred thousand strangers; and another spectator has fixed at two millions the total concourse of the year. A trifling oblation from each individual would accumulate a royal treasure; and two priests stood night and day, with rakes in their hands, to collect, without counting, the heaps of gold and silver that were poured on the altar of St. Paul. ^86 It was fortunately a season of peace and plenty; and if forage was scarce, if inns and lodgings were extravagantly dear, an inexhaustible supply of bread and wine, of meat and fish, was provided by the policy of Boniface and the venal hospitality of the Romans. From a city without trade or industry, all casual riches will speedily evaporate: but the avarice and envy of the next generation solicited Clement the Sixth ^87 to anticipate the distant period of the century. The gracious pontiff complied with their wishes; afforded Rome this poor consolation for his loss; and justified the change by the name and practice of the Mosaic Jubilee. ^88 His summons was obeyed; and the number, zeal, and liberality of the pilgrims did not yield to the primitive festival. But they encountered the triple scourge of war, pestilence, and famine: many wives and virgins were violated in the castles of Italy; and many strangers were pillaged or murdered by the savage Romans, no longer moderated by the presence of their bishops. ^89 To the impatience of the popes we may ascribe the successive reduction to fifty, thirty-three, and twenty-five years; although the second of these terms is commensurate with the life of Christ. The profusion of indulgences, the revolt of the Protestants, and the decline of superstition, have much diminished the value of the jubilee; yet even the nineteenth and last festival was a year of pleasure and profit to the Romans; and a philosophic smile will not disturb the triumph of the priest or the happiness of the people. ^90

[Footnote 85: Our primitive account is from Cardinal James Caietan, (Maxima Bibliot. Patrum, tom. xxv.;) and I am at a loss to determine whether the nephew of Boniface VIII. be a fool or a knave: the uncle is a much clearer character.]

[Footnote 86: See John Villani (l. viii. c. 36) in the xiith, and the Chronicon Astense, in the xith volume (p. 191, 192) of Muratori's Collection Papa innumerabilem pecuniam ab eisdem accepit, nam duo clerici, cum rastris, &c.]

[Footnote 87: The two bulls of Boniface VIII. and Clement VI. are inserted on the Corpus Juris Canonici, Extravagant. Commun. l. v. tit. ix c 1, 2.)]

[Footnote 88: The sabbatic years and jubilees of the Mosaic law, (Car. Sigon. de Republica Hebræorum, Opp. tom. iv. l. iii. c. 14, 14, p. 151, 152,) the suspension of all care and labor, the periodical release of lands, debts, servitude, &c., may seem a noble idea, but the execution would be impracticable in a profane republic; and I should be glad to learn that this ruinous festival was observed by the Jewish people.]

[Footnote 89: See the Chronicle of Matteo Villani, (l. i. c. 56,) in the xivth vol. of Muratori, and the Mémoires sur la Vie de Pétrarque, tom.

  1. p. 75--89.]

[Footnote 90: The subject is exhausted by M. Chais, a French minister at the Hague, in his Lettres Historiques et Dogmatiques, sur les Jubilés et es Indulgences; la Haye, 1751, 3 vols. in 12mo.; an elaborate and pleasing work, had not the author preferred the character of a polemic to that of a philosopher.]

In the beginning of the eleventh century, Italy was exposed to the feudal tyranny, alike oppressive to the sovereign and the people. The rights of human nature were vindicated by her numerous republics, who soon extended their liberty and dominion from the city to the adjacent country. The sword of the nobles was broken; their slaves were enfranchised; their castles were demolished; they assumed the habits of society and obedience; their ambition was confined to municipal honors, and in the proudest aristocracy of Venice on Genoa, each patrician was subject to the laws. ^91 But the feeble and disorderly government of Rome was unequal to the task of curbing her rebellious sons, who scorned the authority of the magistrate within and without the walls. It was no longer a civil contention between the nobles and plebeians for the government of the state: the barons asserted in arms their personal independence; their palaces and castles were fortified against a siege; and their private quarrels were maintained by the numbers of their vassals and retainers. In origin and affection, they were aliens to their country: ^92 and a genuine Roman, could such have been produced, might have renounced these haughty strangers, who disdained the appellation of citizens, and proudly styled themselves the princes, of Rome. ^93 After a dark series of revolutions, all records of pedigree were lost; the distinction of surnames was abolished; the blood of the nations was mingled in a thousand channels; and the Goths and Lombards, the Greeks and Franks, the Germans and Normans, had obtained the fairest possessions by royal bounty, or the prerogative of valor. These examples might be readily presumed; but the elevation of a Hebrew race to the rank of senators and consuls is an event without a parallel in the long captivity of these miserable exiles. ^94 In the time of Leo the Ninth, a wealthy and learned Jew was converted to Christianity, and honored at his baptism with the name of his godfather, the reigning Pope. The zeal and courage of Peter the son of Leo were signalized in the cause of Gregory the Seventh, who intrusted his faithful adherent with the government of Adrian's mole, the tower of Crescentius, or, as it is now called, the castle of St. Angelo. Both the father and the son were the parents of a numerous progeny: their riches, the fruits of usury, were shared with the noblest families of the city; and so extensive was their alliance, that the grandson of the proselyte was exalted by the weight of his kindred to the throne of St. Peter. A majority of the clergy and people supported his cause: he reigned several years in the Vatican; and it is only the eloquence of St. Bernard, and the final triumph of Innocence the Second, that has branded Anacletus with the epithet of antipope. After his defeat and death, the posterity of Leo is no longer conspicuous; and none will be found of the modern nobles ambitious of descending from a Jewish stock. It is not my design to enumerate the Roman families which have failed at different periods, or those which are continued in different degrees of splendor to the present time. ^95 The old consular line of the Frangipani discover their name in the generous act of breaking or dividing bread in a time of famine; and such benevolence is more truly glorious than to have enclosed, with their allies the Corsi, a spacious quarter of the city in the chains of their fortifications; the Savelli, as it should seem a Sabine race, have maintained their original dignity; the obsolete surname of the Capizucchi is inscribed on the coins of the first senators; the Conti preserve the honor, without the estate, of the counts of Signia; and the Annibaldi must have been very ignorant, or very modest, if they had not descended from the Carthaginian hero. ^96

[Footnote 91: Muratori (Dissert. xlvii.) alleges the Annals of Florence, Padua, Genoa, &c., the analogy of the rest, the evidence of Otho of Frisingen, (de Gest. Fred. I. l. ii. c. 13,) and the submission of the marquis of Este.]

[Footnote 92: As early as the year 824, the emperor Lothaire I. found it expedient to interrogate the Roman people, to learn from each individual by what national law he chose to be governed. (Muratori, Dissertat

  1. ]

[Footnote 93: Petrarch attacks these foreigners, the tyrants of Rome, in a declamation or epistle, full of bold truths and absurd pedantry, in which he applies the maxims, and even prejudices, of the old republic to the state of the xivth century, (Mémoires, tom. iii. p. 157--169.)]

[Footnote 94: The origin and adventures of the Jewish family are noticed by Pagi, (Critica, tom. iv. p. 435, A.D. 1124, No. 3, 4,) who draws his information from the Chronographus Maurigniacensis, and Arnulphus Sagiensis de Schismate, (in Muratori, Script. Ital. tom. iii. P. i. p.


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Fall of Roman Empire
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