Italy Medieval History

493-553 Ostrogothic kingdom: the Eastern emperor Zeno, worried about the expansion of Odoacer in Illyricum, pushes the king of the Ostrogoths, Theodoric, to replace Odoacer with the title of magister militum. However, Theodoric’s formal dependence on the Eastern emperor does not prevent him from becoming independent of any Roman authority; the Ostrogoths, settled in Italy with a colonization that reaches a line that roughly goes from lands immediately N of Rome to an area north of the Gargano, respect the Roman civil administration, keeping their military government structure intact. It is therefore a sort of juxtaposition, which guarantees for a few years a coexistence between Goths and Romans, also thanks to Theodoric’s ability to choose Roman collaborators of considerable social and cultural level, such as Cassiodorus, Boethius, Fausto, and to maintain a good relationship with the Christian clergy.

535-553: Gothic-Byzantine war; the troubles that broke out between the Goths at the death of Theodoric for the assassination of Amalasunta, and the succession of Theodatus, the cowardly leader of the Goth nationalists, offer the propitious opportunity for the Emperor Justinian to recover the Italy from the Empire; the fierce war ends with the victory of the Byzantine general Narsete.

554 Justinian emanates the Pragmatica Sanctio which extends to Italy the imperial organization, reducing it to a simple province; the pope’s political power is developing in a context of power vacuum in the peninsula and outside Byzantine control.

569-774 Domination of the Lombards, who settled in almost all of the Italy northern, where they establish the capital in Pavia, in Tuscany around Lucca, in Umbria around Spoleto and in the Benevento area; the remaining part of Italy (Exarchate, Pentapolis, Rome, the Kingdom of Naples and the islands) is under the control of the Byzantines, with Ravenna as its capital.

End of the 7th century: the conversion of the Lombards from Arianism to Catholicism, begun by Gregory I, can be considered completed.

726-728: the pope’s resistance to the iconoclastic decrees of Leo the Isaurian spreads to the Italian Byzantine territories; the attempt of the Lombard king Liutprand to exploit the Byzantine weakening to extend the Lombard dominions clashes with the will of the pope; Liutprando renounces and submits himself to the pontiff with the donation of the castle of Sutri.

749-756: the successor Astolfo resumes the offensive against the Byzantines, who lose the Exarchate in 750, and against the pope, but Stephen II calls to his aid Pepin the Short, already recognized as legitimate king of the Franks by his predecessor Zacharias, and confers on him the title of patrician of the Romans, obtaining the promise of help to ensure the restitution of the former Byzantine territories of Italy from the Lombards. Pippin defeats Astolfo and donates the territory of the Exarchate and the Roman Duchy to the Pope, marking an important stage in the process of building the Patrimony of St. Peter, from which the State of the Church will later develop.

756-774: Desiderio, king of the Lombards, tries in vain to break the alliance between the Kingdom of the Franks and the Church and to avoid a new Frankish military intervention in Italy.

774: Charlemagne, king of the Franks, repeatedly wins the Lombards, conquering their kingdom.


Progressive replacement of the Franks to the Lombards in the political-administrative structures of the kingdom. Faced with a political fragmentation of the Italy In the southern part of the peninsula, an Italic kingdom endowed with wide autonomy, including legislative autonomy (Italic capitulars) was established. The Italian territory subjected to Frankish domination is organized into counties (instead of duchies), progressively granted to Frankish personalities linked to the sovereign by a bond of vassalage. The revolts of Rotgaudo and Stabilino da Treviso are repressed (776); Tassilone of Bavaria (787) and Arechi, Duke of Benevento (788) submit.

25 December 800: Charlemagne, king of the Franks, already awarded the title of patricius Romanorum, defender of Rome and the papacy, is crowned emperor by Pope Leo III. Charlemagne considers the imperial crown as an increase in his own royal dignity extended over several kingdoms, and as the symbol of a power of which religion constitutes a particular sector, according to the model of the rex et sacerdos. For the papacy, the Empire is a direct filiation of the Church, subordinated to it with political and military tasks. However, for a certain period the popes did not exert much influence in Frankish affairs.

9th century

In Lombard southern Italy, the principality of Benevento, favored by a prosperous economy, enriched by Byzantine influences and trained for the continuous state of war with the Italic-Byzantine cities of the coast (Naples, Amalfi, Sorrento), resisted the countryside of Charlemagne and his son Pepin, managing to retain substantial independence. But the division of the aristocracy into factions and the anarchist ambitions of the individual lords soon caused the principality to split into two political areas: the principality of Benevento and that of Salerno, to which the county of Capua was soon added.

823-844: after the elimination by Ludovico il Pio of his nephew Bernardo, son of Pipino, the Italic Kingdom is ruled by Lotario, son of Ludovico; with Lothair, engaged in the struggles with his brothers for the division of the Empire, the Kingdom loses its previous autonomy and importance; the Carolingian structures grafted by Pippin thus run the risk of being overwhelmed and the public administration becomes inefficient. In this period we are witnessing a process of formation of vast domains by aristocratic families, especially those who exercise public functions in the border marches, Friuli, Tuscia, Ivrea and Spoleto.

Taking advantage also of the divisions and the continuous struggles of the Longobard potentates, the Saracens undertake the conquest of Sicily (827), progressively driving out the Byzantines. Often called as mercenaries by the southern potentates fighting each other, the Saracens come to settle permanently in Bari, Taranto, Reggio; in 846 a Saracen band arrives as far as Rome sacking the basilicas of the Apostles.

844-875: reign of Ludovico II, son of Lothair, who in 850 was also crowned emperor, but due to the hereditary divisions of the Empire he was limited to exercising his authority over the Italic kingdom. His activity, aimed at reconstructing the structures of the Italian Kingdom, restoring its efficiency and asserting its authority in Rome and in the south, where it undertakes to expel the Saracens and establish a hegemony over the local potentates, restores union and prestige to the Kingdom. Starting from him, imperial dignity is inextricably linked with the Italic crown. On his death without direct successors, the papacy, by now strongly interested in the questions of the Kingdom, the comital aristocracy, strengthened in the process of merging the Italic agrarian structures and the feudal-vassallatic customs imported from beyond the Alps, and the Italic episcopate,

888: deposition of Charles the Fat, the last Carolingian king.

Berengario The Marquis of Friuli, Guido and Lamberto di Spoleto, then Berengario again succeed each other on the throne and fight each other, even reaching the imperial title, without ever being able to establish a politically and territorially compact body and without guaranteeing the authority of power public, involved in papal events which, parallel to the crisis of public power, gradually see the history of the Church of Rome marked by contrasts between factions of powerful local families who aim to control the papal throne as an additional element of prestige for a particular domination, on Rome and the immediate surrounding lands.

10th century

The crisis of authority of the Carolingian powers is accompanied by the social change in feudalism: new families give rise to dynasties such as the Canossa family; the jurisdictions undergo a territorial rearrangement; it resumes the Byzantine influence on southern Italy, which attracts the principality of Benevento under its influence without eliminating the Saracen danger; the Church is oriented towards the recovery of spiritual values, supported by figures of bishops such as Attone of Vercelli and Raterio of Verona.

926: an attempt to restore the royal authority is made by Hugh of Provenza, who tries to draw Rome into his power and has cordial relations with Byzantium. The too personal nature of his power and the inadequacy of the means with which he tries to dominate a fragmented and tumultuous political world make his enterprise fail under the pressure of the new aristocracy headed by Berengar of Ivrea, supported by Otto king of Germany.

951-952: Otto descends in Italy and is proclaimed king of Italy in Pavia, giving the investiture to Berengario. The latter, however, antagonizes Pope John XII, whom he recalls in Italy Ottone.

962: Otto I receives the imperial crown from the pope by joining the crown of Italy to the Germanic Holy Roman Empire.

Italy Medieval History