University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
The Donation of Constantine
The Donation of Constantine has been considered a forgery, especially since 1440 A. D. by Lorenzo Valla in his Declamatio: “So all these are yours, supreme pontiff? And it is your purpose to recover them all? To despoil all kings and princes of the West of their cities or compel them to pay you a yearly tribute, is that your plan? ” (Valla, 27) “The Donation” is a very controversial document that became an instrument used by the Papacy to ‘officially justify’ its political power and control. This fraudulent document has been thought to have been written 5 centuries later, between 750 and 800 A. D.
The basis of the document itself was the transfer of power from Constantine to Pope Sylvester when Constantine converted to Christianity by baptism in 324 A. D. : “So the pontiffs, who are the representatives of that same chief of the apostles, should obtain from us and our empire the power of a supremacy greater than the earthly clemency of our imperial serenity is seen to have had conceded to it, (…)And we ordain and decree that he shall have the supremacy as well over the four chief seats Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Jerusalem, as also over all the churches of God in the -whole world.
And he who for the time being shall be pontiff of that holy Roman church shall be more exalted than, and chief over, all the priests of the whole world” (Donatio Constantini) The reality, however, was that Constantine had been baptized later in 337 A. D. , by the Bishop of Rome. The donation in question consisted in surrendering the imperial insignia, the Lateran Palace, and the Roman and Italian territories. Besides, Rome was the capital of the great Roman Empire and the seat of the Apostles. So, the idea was that these Bishops of Rome, the representatives of Christ, should inherit Rome and its seat.
In the beginning, the Bishop of Rome at the time of Constantine was not a very powerful public figure. Nevertheless, he benefited from his closeness with Constantine who had been in Rome to quietly and gradually assert authority as the head of the Emperor’s religion. (Williams, 522) The rise of the predominance of the Bishops of Rome ‘owning Rome and Christianity’ was subsequently supported by different rulers like Theodosius the Great who instituted a law that stated that any nation seeking the protection of the Pope in Rome would have to become a Christian nation.
(Williams, 523) Unfortunately, numerous upheavals in power in the territories surrounding Rome became evident when pagan nations moved into Britain; Arian Kings moved into the remaining West while the Lombards established their domination next door to Rome. They were not the only threat to the authority of the Pope of Rome. At the same time, the emperor of Constantinople had been an enemy of the Pope; the emperor had even tried to assassinate him.
(Williams, 524) The only way for the Pope (Stephen II or III) to secure his power was to enlist the help of a powerful ruler with whom he could forge an alliance. This ruler was the Frankish king Pepin III, nicknamed “Le Bref,” French for “the Short. ” Pepin the Short became an ally against the Lombards who were dangerously threatening to take over all the Italian territory. In order to get the help from the Frankish king, Stephen traveled through the Alps all the way to Gaul where he anointed Pepin as well as his two sons Carloman and Charlemagne.
Subsequently, Pepin and his two sons battled the Lombards, beat them, and took over their territory, formerly a Byzantine territory. In order to fulfill their alliance, Pepin gave this territory to Stephen in the Donation of Pepin, freeing Rome from Byzantine control. This conferred authority over these territories was the beginning of the papal states, dramatically increasing the political influence and religious power of the papacy. The papal power was confirmed and supported by Charlemagne. In 799, Pope Leo III had been mistreated by the Romans and sequestered.
Charlemagne came to his aid and Leo crowned him emperor on December 25, 800 A. D. Charlemagne became the renewer of the Western Roman Empire and kept up his father’s relations with the Pope while becoming his protector. Charlemagne was a ruler always at war for most of his reign and conquered many lands like Saxonia, forcing the pagan population to embrace Roman Catholicism. (Ganhof, 220) (Becher, 19-81) Conclusion The ascension of Charlemagne to the throne originated from his father’s alliance with the papacy. Around 750 A. D.
, the Donation of Constantine falsely validated the Pope’s authority on Rome and the Italian territory. This authority was confirmed and supported by Charlemagne whose loyalty to the Pope earned him the imperial seat of the Western Roman Empire. He was crowned in 800 A. D. by Pope Leo III. Works Cited Valla L. Discourse on the Forgery of the Alleged Donation of Constantine. Trans. by Christopher B. Coleman. Scanned & Proofread by Jonathan Perry. New Haven: Yale University Press 1922. Hanover Historical Texts Project. 2001. Donatio Constantini.
750-800AD. The Medieval Sourcebook. The Fordham University of Medieval Studies. July 22, 2006: December 3, 2006. Williams SH. The Historian’s History of the World: A Comprehensive Narrative of the Rise and Development of the Roman Empire. History Association Publication, 1904. Ganshof, F. L. The Carolingians and the Frankish Monarchy: Studies in Carolingian History, trans. Janet Sondheimer, Ithaca, N. Y. : Cornell University Press, 1971. Becher, M. Charlemagne, trans. David S. Bachrach, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.