06: Governing Medieval Rome

Rome’s medieval city government (comune)

How is it typical of Italian cities

How is it uniquely Roman

Some key features:

  1. Merchants do not displace nobles in government; competing power blocs, instability
  2. “ senator” comes to resemble positions in other cities: in some ways like lord (signore), in others   like a podestà
  3. Prominent out-of-towners as senators
  4. Guelf-Ghibelline issues and other factional issues very different here

Some prominent outsiders

13th c

    • Arnold of Brescia
    • Monument to Arnoldo, Brescia, 1882





  • Brancaleone degli Andalò  (coin)

14th c

  • Petrarch
  • Bridget of Sweden
  • Catharine of Siena

Politics and religious vision, millenarian goals

1140s:  formation of a communal government

  • Relatively late among Italian cities
  • Oaths; defense (neighborhood militias); guilds
  • Rome: few, relatively weak guilds

Nobles (barons) and house towers.











Palazzetto degli Anguillara


1127: record notes some 60 “senators” (barons)

1143 war with  Tivoli; Rome wins; Pope (Lucius II) negotiated terms

  • Revolt among Romans
  • Leader Giacomo Pierleoni: Patricius
  • 1145 Lucius killed in fighting;
  • Eugenius III elected pope. Comune allowed entry to Lateran but not St. Peters for consecration unless he renounceed  claims to control of city      (instead: Farfa, Viterbo)
  • negotiations with Eugenius: commune agrees to recognize pope, dismiss Pierleoni, accept imperial representative

Arnold of Brescia (ca. 1090-1155)   Arnold of Brescia Monument 1882

  • Paris-education Augustinian; controversial; silenced by Innocent II
  • Eugenius: to Rome for penance. Supported commune; argued clerics with property could not properly administer sacraments.
  • Arnold excommunicated but keeps working
  • Adrian IV (1154-59): alliance with Barbarossa
  • 1155 Rome under interdict (Holy Week); Arnold arrested, killed as rebel

Senate: 4 from each of 14 rioni or 56 led by Patricius

Council based in rioni survives but titles change

1191-1205  one senator

1205-1238: 2 senators

Palazzo on Capitoline      Currrent Palazzo Senatorio (as redesigned by Michelangelo)

1205: Innocent III   appointed  podestà  (with title of senator)

Foreign political leaders as senators: exx:  Manfred king of Sicily, Charles of Anjou

Baronial regimes

popolo regimes. Ex:  1254 Brancaleone degli Andalò

Brancaleone d’Andalò Grosso.jpg

(coin from his regime)

Other officers: chancery (scribasenatus); magistri edificiorum

Some baronial families: Orsini, Conti, Savelli, Annibaldi, Colonna.


Cola di Rienzo  (1313-1354)




Vita di Cola di Rienzo: Tribuno de Popolo Romano (Bracciano: Per Andrea Fei, 1631) a partial edition of the 14th-c chronicle

Politics as religious and moral action

Exx:  Bridget of Sweden and Catharine of Siena




Rome, Anagni

C 1333:  notary

1342: Baronial regime sent sent delegates to Avignon to recognize new pope Clement VI

Revolt: 13 “good men” to rule city;  Cola sent as delegate to Avignon.

  1. request Clement to return to Rome (no success)
  2. Ask for a Jubilee year in 1350 (success)

Speeches in Avignon

Revolution failed

Cola named Notary of Roman City Chamber

1344 April   Rome

1347 (May) Cola led rival militia from S Angelo to Capitol; seized power, announced new ordinances.

  • Cola and papal vicar (Raymond of Orvieto) elected “rector”
  • Cola requested and received title Tribune
  • Barons obliged to swear obedience to regime
  • Regime: dedicated  to Holy Spirit, apocalyptic understanding of unity
  • Established loyalty of regional cities;  ambassadors sent to  Italian cities, official letters to main European courts
  • August 1: knighted as a Knight of the Holy Spirit
  • Aug 15: coronation as Tribune by city prelates
  • November: unsuccessful attack led by Colonna family   support; excommunicated; left  December Cola out of power

3 years as hermit (Abruzzi)

Plague hits Rome and environs

1350 Cola visits court of new emperor Charles of Bohemia at Prague

Charles imprisoned Cola for heresy

1351 sent to Avignon (Petrarch saw him)

1353 exonerated by new pope Innocent VI, sent back to Rome as Papal Senator.

1354 August return to power in Rome after some delay

  • Economic problems in city; imposed salt, wine taxes.
  • 8 October Mob incited by barons attacked, killed Cola,   body burned

Girolamo Masini (1840 – 85) Statue of Cola di Rienzo (1871), Rome, Capitoline

Religious Women in Rome

Visionaries and politics


Bridget of Sweden (1303-73)

Family, children; widowed

Franciscan tertiary

1350 Rome for Jubilee, stayed

visionary; devotional practices

Brigit’s Eucharistic Vision. Morgan Library.


Catharine of Siena (1347-1380)

Dominican tertiary; mystical marriage to Jesus; visions and trances

Wrote letters;  traveled to Avignon

Urban VI invited her to Rome

File:Catherine of Siena, Here begynneth the orchard of Syon... Wellcome L0021213.jpg

Pinturicchio,  The Canonization of Catherine of Siena (1461) by Pope Pius II (1502-08)