Posted by: ken98 | October 12, 2011

Martyred Female Popes, Holy Imperial Latrines, and Loving Empire and Loving Democracy

Day 761 – Ken here (W)(10-12-2011)
(DEF III, v.5, Ch.49, pp.140-150)(pages read: 2180)

Modern Coat of Arms of the City of Rome

Modern Coat of Arms of the City of Rome - Gibbon's History of the Decline and Fall is turning into (at least in the West) a history of the CITY OF ROME - and since ROME (City of) had connections and dealings with ALL EUROPE (esp France, Germany, later Spain) Gibbon follows Rome through all of this - I expect he will continue his History of the City down to his present day of 1788

We end today the Grab-Bag chapter 49 of Gibbon, with a long account (mostly extremely medieval, and pointedly 18th century) of the German Empire. I have to say, I am more than somewhat uninterested – we are far, far away from Roman history, except to follow the medieval history of the medieval city of Rome.

I suppose, however, since Rome was at the center of much medieval political maneuvering – ie the Papacy, Crusades, Coronation of Holy Roman Emperors, playground of the larger European Powers (Germany, France, Eastern Europeans, and yes, the Eastern Empire), Gibbon is well within his bounds to discuss the ongoing politics of the City of Rome in the previous 8 centuries before he wrote the last volume of the Decline and Fall in 1788.

So, he’s entitled – I admit it – but the 3rd Volume is NOT REALLY (at times) Roman history, and NOT REALLY the history of the Decline and Fall of Rome anymore. It’s more like the history of a half-abandoned city-patient on continuous, low-level life-support for a period of 10 centuries – not a history of Romans, but a history of the people who VISITED the Romans during her long, protracted and eventful convalescence.

But that’s my take on the purview of his historical writing. His is different. I remember, of course, his initial youthful thesis statement (one he may have later regretted as it turned out to be a multi-decade, titanic endeavor and promptly consumed his professional life) – his aim always WAS (so many years before, to the tuneful ministrations of un-shod mendicants) to present to his readers a history of the Decline of the City of Rome, and to that end he disingenuously mixes the histories of the Empire with those of the City:

It was Rome, on the fifteenth of October 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefoot friars were singing vespers in the Temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the city first started to my mind.

(Memoirs, Gibbon 1796)

Modern flag of the City of Rome

Modern flag of the City of Rome - I guess I expected an eagle on it or something - but the colors are great - typically style-conscious, fashionable, hip Italian design

I’ve actually started having problems referring to Rome in this 3rd volume (last 1000 pages of the 3000 pages) for a very telling reason – the one I’ve alluded to above – Gibbon has started writing concurrently about both Romans (the citizens of the City of Medieval Rome) and Romans of the Eastern Empire (people he calls by the derogatory title “Greeks” or “Byzantines”.)

Since I refer to the people of the empire centered around Constantinople as Romans (as, of course, they, and their neighbors thought they WERE – ie the Roman State and the Roman People), still, I have difficulty talking about a Roman (City of) revolt against Roman (Empire of) authority in the same sentence, or even the same paragraph. It just gets too confusing – so I end up using the strange term Eastern Romans as a crude, compromising alternative.

And as I loathe the awkward adjective Byzantine (somewhat like bizarrely calling the United States – “New Amsterdammer”, by referring to a large city in the U.S. (New York) and using an ancient, long-disused name of that large city (New Amsterdam) to refer to an entire country) – there just ends up being a great deal of possible confusion. In my mind however, “Roman” is the Eastern Empire and Constantinople, not the half-deserted, farm-town on the Tyber that happens to be the home of numerous Cardinals and one very important Bishop.

But enough of my endless whining and complaining and back to someone really interesting: Gibbon and (finally) the petering out and final end of chapter 49…

The Story
Dark Age Rome – Local Rulers – Alberic of Spoleto (932) and Marozia
  • Although Gibbon may have gotten the story a little confused – the famous Roman sisters Marozia (or Maria) and Theodora (poss Marozia’s mother Theodora) – Marioza marries (3rd marriage) Hugh of Burgundy – holder of Rome and is a power in Rome, after her son Alberic (1st marr) revolts against his new stepfather and assumes Roman power for 20 years – making and unmaking the next 3 popes
  • Marozia’s brother becomes Pope John XI, her son Pope John XII (967)
  • Marozia – much maligned by Liutprand of Cremona (Lombard historian middle 900’s) – she was made senator (senatrix) – her rule called the pornocracy since she was (of course, as a powerful woman) seen as a prostitute and evil

    Consul Crescentius (998)
  • “Consul” of Rome (998) he twice was governor of the city
  • conspired to restore Eastern Roman control of city, put to death by Otto III
  • Cresc’s widow poisons Otto in retaliation
  • It’s really hard to know what’s fairy tale and what’s true in all this 10th cent “history”

    Kingdom of Italy (774-1250)
  • After the Carolingian era, the cities of N. Italy are left technically part of the German Empire, but actually pretty much alone, esp after the fall of the 2 Fredericks
  • Frederick I (1152-1190) Barbarossa (or Red Beard) – one of my favorites – Holy Roman Emperor – invades, tries to act as emperor in Italy (the re-discovery of Justinian’s Pandects inspire him to be absolute ruler, as Justinian saw himself 700 years earlier), but the League of Lombardy (Cities, Pope, Eastern Romans) defeat him
  • Frederick II (1198-1250) – Another one of my favorites – I like BOTH FREDERIKS – He has all of N. and S. Italy – tried to reign in Italy, is defeated by the Lombard League, beheaded at Naples – end of German attempts at ruling Italy for 60 years – ALSO THE BEGINNING OF THE RENAISSANCE – a curious coincidence that
  • I NOTE WITH PLEASURE that Frederick II DID NOT participate in the 4th Crusade – the one that siezed and conquered Constantinople and brought about the Latin Empire from 1204-1261 – OF COURSE, BEING ONLY 6 YEARS OLD HELPED A GREAT DEAL – still the 4th was mostly French as it turned out – French and Venetian

    Free Germany (814-1250)
  • German possessions in the East of the Carolingians began to make their own way in the world, separate from the Western Frankish home-lands
  • The German Constitution (ca. 1250) – after death of Fred II, Germany dissolves into a hundred principalities, archbishoprics, etc – the 7 most powerful are the ELECTORS of the EMPEROR – 4 temporal, 3 spiritual – King of Bohemia, Duke of Saxony, Margrave of Brandenburg, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and the Archbishops of Mentz, Treves, Cologne
  • Cities, Leagues develop – and Germany develops from the Ground up in a kind of disorganized fashion – something Gibbon heartily approves of as the English Constitution is one of improvisation based on longstanding custom – pretty much the same as Germany’s – REMEMBER at this very PRE-BISMARCK point (1780’s), Germany is still split into a hundred pieces – not unified for another 100 years or so

    Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (1347-1378)
  • Gibbon notes his weakness and poverty – but doesn’t talk about the Golden Bull (1356) – Charles IV regulating the German Succession – detailed above in the “Constitution”
  • We are so FAR AWAY from ROMAN HISTORY at this point – except for the King of Rome stuff – that I hesitate even to include this


    Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (Red Beard) from the Welf Chronicle

    Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (Red Beard) from the Welf Chronicle

    Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II - grandson of Barbarossa

    Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II - grandson of Barbarossa - one of the most powerful monarchs of the Middle Ages - an incredible man - the Stupor Mundi (wonder of the world) to some, the AntiChrist to others (like the Pope, esp when he was fighting the Pope AND WINNING) who met with a horrible end in Naples and he and his house disappeared, possibly causing the disunity of Germany to be prolonged for centuries



    Quotable Gibbon – Gibbon’s Idea of Good Government (Well, Good Empire)


    It’s interesting to hear the views of one English Gentleman (living ex-pat on the Continent) and his views of what is required to maintain and expand a well-run empire.

    In and introduction to the Medieval German Empire – the Holy Roman Empire – and especially its relations with Italy, Gibbon lists some necessary qualities an empire ought to have to keep its subject members in control. I can’t help not only hearing Gibbon speak of the nascent British Empire and its polyglot, globe-straddling patchwork quilt of loosely held and mixed jurisdictions over subject peoples. I’m also hearing the English gentleman’s views on how one ought to properly hold onto the colonies – esp the North American ones south of the St. Lawrence that are getting a little too uppity for their own good.

    Gibbon goes on to describe the rise of the City-States in Italy, which he is honor-bound and tradition-bound to LOVE. Gibbon, after all was/is a classical student, an English gentleman and an admiring reader of Greek democratic authors – Thucydides, etc – who are taught to praise small freedom-loving city-states and denigrate imperial (read: Persian, Eastern) slavery, luxury, and depravity.

    Which is all to the good. But it is pure Gibbon that he is in the unenviable position of defending empire (the current one, the English one) and at the same time defending the rise of the small City-State (presumably, England is an example of the eventual development of the freedom-loving City-State into the Magna-Carta-Loving British Empire). That he is unconscious of the conflict between loving the small City-States of Italy and disparaging the German Empire, and being rabidly pro-British-Empire and against the small states encompassed by them

    So here is Gibbon on empire:

    How to Run an Empire: Inspiring Fear Without Provoking Discontent and Despair

    There is nothing perhaps more adverse to nature and reason than to hold in obedience remote countries and foreign nations, in opposition to their inclination and interest. A torrent of Barbarians may pass over the earth, but an extensive empire must be supported by a refined system of policy and oppression; in the centre, an absolute power, prompt in action and rich in resources; a swift and easy communication with the extreme parts; fortifications to check the first effort of rebellion; a regular administration to protect and punish; and a well-disciplined army to inspire fear, without provoking discontent and despair.

    Far different was the situation of the German Caesars, who were ambitious to enslave the kingdom of Italy. Their patrimonial estates were stretched along the Rhine, or scattered in the provinces; but this ample domain was alienated by the imprudence or distress of successive princes; and their revenue, from minute and vexatious prerogative, was scarcely sufficient for the maintenance of their household. Their troops were formed by the legal or voluntary service of their feudal vassals, who passed the Alps with reluctance, assumed the license of rapine and disorder, and capriciously deserted before the end of the campaign. Whole armies were swept away by the pestilential influence of the climate: the survivors brought back the bones of their princes and nobles, and the effects of their own intemperance were often imputed to the treachery and malice of the Italians, who rejoiced at least in the calamities of the Barbarians.

    This irregular tyranny might contend on equal terms with the petty tyrants of Italy; nor can the people, or the reader, be much interested in the event of the quarrel. But in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Lombards rekindled the flame of industry and freedom; and the generous example was at length imitated by the republics of Tuscany. In the Italian cities a municipal government had never been totally abolished; and their first privileges were granted by the favour and policy of the emperors, who were desirous of erecting a plebeian barrier against the independence of the nobles. But their rapid progress, the daily extension of their power and pretensions, were founded on the numbers and spirit of these rising communities

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.49, p.142)

    The Mythical Female Pope - Pope Joan - riding the many-headed beast as the Whore of Babylon

    The Mythical Female Pope - Pope Joan - riding the many-headed beast as the Whore of Babylon - Gibbon thinks the origin of the story is the strong Roman noble woman Marozia of the middle 900's - supposedly Pope Joan hid her sex until after she was elected Pope, but was found out when she gave birth while riding a horse through the City of Rome and was torn to shreds by the rightfully indignant Roman mob - a very strange misogynistic fable



    The Whore of Babylon

    Gibbon wonders aloud whether the medieval legend of Pope Joan was the (in)famous Roman woman-Senator Marozia (see below). The whole Pope-Joan-Portable-Latrine controversies probably have a lot more to do with Protestant mud-slinging, anti-woman rants than they do with anything approaching a historical question. But for the record:

    Here is the story from WIKI:

    First, Wiki’s Conclusion:

    Against the weight of historical evidence to the contrary, the question remains as to why the Pope Joan story has been so often believed and revisited. Some, such as Philip Jenkins in The New Anti-Catholicism, have suggested that the periodic revival of what he calls this “anti-papal legend” has more to do with feminist and anti-Catholic wishful thinking than historical accuracy

    and now, the story…

    Pope Joan is a legendary female Pope who, it is purported, reigned for a few years some time in the Middle Ages. The story first appeared in the writings of 13th-century chroniclers, and subsequently spread through Europe. It was widely believed for centuries, though modern historians and religious scholars consider it fictitious, perhaps deriving from historicized folklore regarding Roman monuments or from anti-papal satire.

    The first mention of the female pope appears in the chronicle of Jean Pierier de Mailly, but the most popular and influential version was that interpolated into Martin of Troppau’s Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum somewhat later in the 13th century. Most versions say that she was a talented and learned woman who disguised herself as a man, often at the behest of a lover. Due to her abilities, she rises through the church hierarchy, eventually being chosen as pope. However, while riding on horseback one day, she gives birth to a child, thus revealing her sex. In most versions, she dies shortly after, either by being killed by an angry mob or from natural causes, and her memory is shunned by her successors.

    The earliest mention of the female pope appears in the Dominican Jean de Mailly’s chronicle of Metz, Chronica Universalis Mettensis, written in the early 13th century. In his telling, the female pope is not named, and the events are set in 1099.

    According to Jean:

    Query. Concerning a certain Pope or rather female Pope, who is not set down in the list of Popes or Bishops of Rome, because she was a woman who disguised herself as a man and became, by her character and talents, a curial secretary, then a Cardinal and finally Pope. One day, while mounting a horse, she gave birth to a child. Immediately, by Roman justice, she was bound by the feet to a horse’s tail and dragged and stoned by the people for half a league, and, where she died, there she was buried, and at the place is written: ‘Petre, Pater Patrum, Papisse Prodito Partum’ [Oh Peter, Father of Fathers, Betray the childbearing of the woman Pope]. At the same time, the four-day fast called the “fast of the female Pope” was first established” (Jean de Mailly, Chronica Universalis Mettensis).

    Jean de Mailly’s story was picked up by his fellow Dominican Etienne de Bourbon, who adapted it for his work on the Seven Gifts of the Holy Ghost. However, the legend gained its greatest prominence when it appeared in the third recension (edited revision) of Martin of Opava’s Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum later in the 13th century. This version, which may have been by Martin himself, is the first to attach a name to the figure, indicating that she was known as “John Anglicus” or “John of Mainz.” It also changes the date from the 11th to the 9th century, indicating that Joan reigned between Leo IV and Benedict III in the 850s.

    According to the Chronicon:

    John Anglicus, born at Mainz, was Pope for two years, seven months and four days, and died in Rome, after which there was a vacancy in the Papacy of one month. It is claimed that this John was a woman, who as a girl had been led to Athens dressed in the clothes of a man by a certain lover of hers. There she became proficient in a diversity of branches of knowledge, until she had no equal, and, afterward in Rome, she taught the liberal arts and had great masters among her students and audience. A high opinion of her life and learning arose in the city; and she was chosen for Pope. While Pope, however, she became pregnant by her companion. Through ignorance of the exact time when the birth was expected, she was delivered of a child while in procession from St Peter’s to the Lateran, in a lane once named Via Sacra (the sacred way) but now known as the “shunned street” between the Colisseum and St Clement’s church. After her death, it is said she was buried in that same place. The Lord Pope always turns aside from the street, and it is believed by many that this is done because of abhorrence of the event. Nor is she placed on the list of the Holy Pontiffs, both because of her female sex and on account of the foulness of the matter (Martin of Opava, Chronicon Pontificum et Imperatorum).

    One version of the Chronicon gives an alternate fate for the female pope. According to this, she did not die immediately after her exposure as female but was confined and deposed, after which she did many years of penance. Her son from the affair eventually became Bishop of Ostia, and had her interred in his cathedral when she died.

    Other references to the female pope are attributed to earlier writers, though none appear in manuscripts that predate the Chronicon. The one most commonly cited is attached to Anastasius Bibliothecarius (d. 886), a compiler of Liber Pontificalis, who would have been a contemporary of the female Pope by the Chronicon’s dating. However, the story is found in only one unreliable manuscript of Anastasius. This manuscript, in the Vatican Library, bears the relevant passage inserted as a footnote at the bottom of a page, out of sequence, and in a different hand, one that dates from after the time of Martin von Troppau. This “witness” to the female Pope is likely to be based upon Martin’s account, and not a possible source for it. The same is true of Marianus Scotus’s Chronicle of the Popes, a text written in the 11th century. Some manuscripts of it contain a brief mention of a female Pope named Joanna (the earliest source to attach to her the female form of the name), but all these manuscripts are, again, later than Martin’s work. Earlier manuscripts do not contain the legend.

    ( from Pope Joan WIKI)

    Sedes Stercoraria (the Dung Chair) or the Slotted Chair, or Chair With A Hole In It

    Sedes Stercoraria (the Dung Chair) or the Slotted Chair, or Chair With A Hole In It - supposedly used to check either the sex of the Pope, or whether or not he was castrated - both titillating in a kind of simplistic suspension-of-disbelief kind of way, but ultimately nonsensical - the truth is stranger than the fiction - the chair was probably a leftover imperial birthing stool, or a portable latrine, and was sat in (briefly) by Popes at some time during their coronation (in the Lateran) to show imperial legitimacy - probably the Popes in question (and their cardinals who pushed for it to happen) had NO IDEA why THEY WERE FORCING the HEAD OF THEIR CHURCH to sit in such a thing - traditions die hard and are usually illogical - a Pope from our time period (800's) would need EVERY KIND OF IMPERIAL PROPAGANDA NECESSARY to ensure a smooth transition of power - even if it meant SITTING ON A FORMER IMPERIAL LATRINE - the 2 surviving examples are in the Vatican and the Louvre

    The Strange History of the Holy Portable Latrine – Sedes Stercoraria

    The sedes stercoraria (defecation seats), the thrones with holes in it at St. John Lateran did indeed exist, and were used in the elevation of Pope Pascal II in 1099 (Boureau 1988). In fact, one is still in the Vatican Museums, another at the Musée du Louvre. They do indeed have a hole in the seat. The reason for the hole is disputed, but, as both the seats and their holes predated the Pope Joan story, they have nothing to do with a need to check the gender of a Pope. It has been speculated that they originally were Roman bidets or imperial birthing stools, which because of their age and imperial links were used in ceremonies by Popes intent on highlighting their own imperial claims (as they did also with their Latin title, Pontifex Maximus).

    Alain Boureau (Boureau 1988:23) quotes the humanist Jacopo d’Angelo de Scarparia who visited Rome in 1406 for the enthronement of Gregory XII in which the Pope sat briefly on two “pierced chairs” at the Lateran: “the vulgar tell the insane fable that he is touched to verify that he is indeed a man” a sign that this corollary of the Pope Joan legend was still current in the Roman street.

    Medieval Popes, from the 13th century onward, did indeed avoid the direct route between the Lateran and St Peter’s, as Martin of Opava claimed. However, there is no evidence that this practice dated back any earlier, let alone that it originated in the 9th century as a deliberate rebuff to the memory of the female Pope. The origin of the practice is uncertain, but it is quite likely that it was maintained because of widespread belief in the Joan legend and that it was thought genuinely to date back to that period.

    (from Pope Joan WIKI)

    Supposed Illustration of the actual USE of the Slotted Chair or Dung Chair (Sedes Stercoraria)

    Illustration of the supposed USE of the Slotted Chair or Dung Chair (Sedes Stercoraria) - from an 18th cent print - this looks so much like a Protestant Propaganda print of Popish Demonic Insanity that it's a little hard to believe - I'm not sure what's going on - the title (in Latin) says - the Pontifical Marble Chair in the Lateran - but the chair looks nothing like the sedes stercoraria - also the Pope looks too much like a jolly Santa Claus, blessing everyone as his privates are massaged(?) by a Cardinal (who's saying something illegible) - this is a little like using a cartoon from the National Enquirer for historical evidence - but here it is - for some reason on the internet, lots of people have lots of opinions about the sedes - the truth (that they sat on it for imperial prestige) is actually a lot more interesting (to me) than the wild anti-Catholic tales - IMHO


    Last Word…


    Strong Women – Marozia – Sister, Mother of Popes, Senator of Rome – A Woman to be Reckoned With


    Marozia got nothing but bad press, her rule was called the pornocracy, and her power was highly suspect. It doesn’t help matters any that the historians who mention her are hostile (ex. Liutprand of Cremona – Lombard). At this distance it very hard to tell what’s going on. Gibbon, woman-hating Gibbon, well, powerful-woman-hating Gibbon (I’m sure he liked woman in general, as a sex, esp. for their decorative qualities) has a field day with Marozia (of course).

    On a tangential note, some suggest that Marozia is the vague historical precedent for Pope Joan – the shadowy female (and mythical) Medieval Pope.

    Here we see Gibbon introducing Marozia and her sister Theodora, (poss. getting Marozia’s sister Theodora mixed up with Marozia’s mother Theodora) as the “two sister prostitutes” – and then continuing from there…

    Powerful Women are Pontifically Insulting

    The Roman pontiffs, of the ninth and tenth centuries, were insulted, imprisoned, and murdered, by their tyrants; and such was their indigence, after the loss and usurpation of the ecclesiastical patrimonies, that they could neither support the state of a prince, nor exercise the charity of a priest. The influence of two sister prostitutes, Marozia and Theodora, was founded on their wealth and beauty, their political and amorous intrigues: the most strenuous of their lovers were rewarded with the Roman mitre, and their reign may have suggested to the darker ages the fable of a female pope.

    The bastard son, the grandson, and the great-grandson of Marozia, a rare genealogy, were seated in the chair of St. Peter, and it was at the age of nineteen years that the second of these became the head of the Latin church. His youth and manhood were of a suitable complexion; and the nations of pilgrims could bear testimony to the charges that were urged against him in a Roman synod, and in the presence of Otho the Great.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.49, pp.138-139)

    Marozia and Her Son Alberic

    Amidst the ruins of Italy, the famous Marozia invited one of the usurpers to assume the character of her third husband; and Hugh, king of Burgundy was introduced by her faction into the mole of Hadrian or Castle of St. Angelo, which commands the principal bridge and entrance of Rome. Her son by the first marriage, Alberic, was compelled to attend at the nuptial banquet; but his reluctant and ungraceful service was chastised with a blow by his new father.

    The blow was productive of a revolution. “Romans,” exclaimed the youth, “once you were the masters of the world, and these Burgundians the most abject of your slaves. They now reign, these voracious and brutal savages, and my injury is the commencement of your servitude.” The alarum bell rang to arms in every quarter of the city: the Burgundians retreated with haste and shame; Marozia was imprisoned by her victorious son, and his brother, Pope John XI., was reduced to the exercise of his spiritual functions.

    (DEF III, vol.5, ch.49, p.140)

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google photo

    You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s


    %d bloggers like this: