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During the Dark Age, Italy was a nation divided. The Western Roman Empire existed only in name since 476, and was now divided into several small states led by the warlords of barbarian tribes known as the "Longbeards" or Lombards, to the north. As a result, there was a need for a central authority in the Italian peninsula that could provide some semblance of order in the social and economic chaos resultant from the wake of the collapse of the Roman Empire in Italy.
Italy of the 7th century constituted mostly an agrarian which would swear allegiance to the Church, the sole institution to favour a peaceful existence which neither the expansionist Byzantines nor the warlike Lombards would ever think of promising to their subjects. The ecclesiastic administration, which had always till then used with great liberality what it was given for the protection of the poor and incapacitated, easily filled in the new administrative roles that Italians simply did not want to see given to Byzantines or Lombards.
Break with Byzantium
Financially and politically, the ties between Byzantium and Rome were weakening, yet they were not severed altogether until 726, when the Byzantine Emperor Leo III the Isaurian (717-741) unleashed the Great Iconoclasm — a prohibition of the usage of icons and the purging thereof, resulting in a serious religious crisis that would last for decades and which in Italy, pushed the limits of Byzantine power to breaking point. Religious riots were soon commonplace inspired by the denunciation of Pope Gregory II of Constantinople's policy, simmering into open rebellion against Byzantine officials intent on stamping out iconolatry in Italy. It was now thus clear that the Church of Rome had to think about distancing itself further from the Byzantines and yet defend against the Lombards who surrounded Central Italy from North and South. A boost to Papal authority came along with the invasion of the Lombard king Liutprand. Attempting to unify the Italian peninsula under Lombard rule, Liutprand defeated the Byzantines and was bound to march upon Rome. However, the hostility of citizens in territories conquered by him and the arguments of the Pope convinced the pious Liutprand to give up the attempt. He ceded the castrum of Sutri, which he had seized, to the Duchy of Rome, as a gift to the "beato Petro apostolorum principi". Four cities would eventually form the patrimony of the Church in Sabina. These actions did not merely just confirm the role of the Pope as the spiritual leader of all Christianity, but as the representative of the Roman people as well.
Holy Roman Empire
Despite having thrown off the Byzantine yoke by default, and also having evaded Lombard attempts to take Rome, the Church was still open to attack, and so decided to seek a new ally which could grant it the protection it still wanted. A papal delegation crowned Pippin the Short of the Franks in 754 as "Patrician of the Romans", and Frankish armies poured into Northern Italy, defeating the Lombards. The modern Papal States were created as Pippin donated the territories of the former Exarchate of Ravenna to the Church. The ties between the Franks and the Church became even closer with the coronation of Charlemagne as "Emperor of the Romans", creating the Holy Roman Empire in the 9th century. Under this arrangement where the Papacy would give its sanction to a chosen German king, the Mediaeval Papacy would achieve its peak of power under Innocent III.
However, as time came by, the Holy See would eventually regret its actions, as it would be driven to conflict with its supposed "protectors", the Emperors over the question of whether it was the Emperor or the Pope who could dictate laws over temporal affairs. Further conflicts would be spawned as the Carlovingian empire would be split up, weakening the power of the Emperors to the benefit of the Roman aristocracy. It was at this time that urban settlement patterns in Italy changed, with people leaving the more arable lands near rivers for the safety of redoubts built near defensive sites on high ground, known as 'rocche'. As conflict between Pope and Emperor arose, the territories of the Holy See, once one of the world's safest places, now became a dangerous place as local warlords strove for power with one another. By the 14th century, Rome was no longer safe and Clement V, a Frenchman, instead moved the Papacy and the administering Curia to Provence, abandoning Rome.
The Papacy would be back by 1420 in Rome; however by then the so-called Eternal City was now full of mouldering ruins and economically bankrupt. A lot of work had to be done and blood spilled in order to restore the Holy See of Rome to working order, and so massive renovation projects took place throughout Rome and its surrounding provinces, while Papal armies were created in order to put down the banditry and lawlessness that dominated the years of the Avignon papacy. It was during the 15th and 16th centuries that modern Rome of Renaissance elegance would appear, and the Papacy would reign supreme over central Italy, but the cost of doing so would spark the Reformation and the Thirty Years' War, resulting in the declining influence of the Papacy as a deciding factor in global politics.
- Pappalardo F; Origins of the Papal States (600-824)