SEE ALSO Borgias Home I The Italian City-States I Powerful Families of Renaissance Italy I Foreign Relations I Discussion Forum IPapal States I House of Orsini I House of Colonna

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Rome Skyline

The Roman Heritage Map of Italy - Lazio highlighted

The Roman Empire dominated the entire western world and parts of Asia from c. 63 BC to 476 AD. After the Fall of Rome in 476, the Western portion of the empire fell to invading tribes, yet the Eastern Roman Empire remained strong at Constantinople; the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Rome was controlled alternately by Germanic and Lombard kingdoms and also by the Byzantine Empire. The Papal States came into being gradually, but by 700 they were formally tied to Rome as its capitol with the Bishop of Rome as its ruler. The rest of the middle ages were characterized by the conflicts and power struggles between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, commonly fought between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. They were embattled over the question of which, the pope or the emperor, was to be the leader of Christian secular affairs.

The Western Schism and pope-less period known as the Avignon Papacy (1309-1378) ushered in the first phase of Rome's early modern development. Yet the return to Rome was embittered by anti-popes and confusion, finally being settled by the Council of Constance in 1417. With its return to Rome, the papacy needed to show the populace and the world its splendour and brilliance - thus begins the watering of the fertile age of the Renaissance in Rome.

The Rebirth

The Renaissance in Rome began with the pontificate of Nicholas V, who presided over a court, city, and realm that believed the display of material riches and splendor equaled power, influence, international legitimacy, and most of all divine approval. A heritage rich in the art and culture of classical antiquity led the city-state to a natural revival of these achievements according to the infiltration of humanism, a tradition that had its roots in Florence during the 1300s. Scholars and artists were invited to Rome and flourished under the patronage of the Renaissance Popes.
The Pilgrims Meet the Pope (Vittore Carpaccio c.1492)
Rome during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance has been described as a hotbed of activity: flourishing commerce, artistic milestones, violence and intrigue, crowded and plague-ridden, but also a focus of widespread pilgrimage. Rome contains a vast array of religious artifacts and relics captured by crusaders and brought to Rome. Rome’s extraordinary number of sacred buildings and the relics of the saints they contain is ample proof of this. The Renaissance as an artistic movement was at its peak in Rome between 1490 and 1527. This period is known as the High Renaissance. The cultural and artistic movement that historians refer to as the Italian Renaissance was at its peak in Florence under the great statesman, Lorenzo de Medici. By 1500, though with the wealth and power of the Renaissance papacy, it is no wonder that many of the best artists flocked to Rome.

Castel Sant'Angelo in the background from the painting, The Pilgrims Meet the Pope (Vittore Carpaccio)

"The Castel Sant' Angelo from the South"Papal Hierarchy

The Departments of State under the Pope were as varied and complex as any monarchical system. Under the pope's temporal and spiritual authority were rule of the Papal States and the administration of the Universal Church of Christendom. The Papal States (temporal power) were administered by Vicars, protected by the Captain General, and served by special liaisons called Legates. The Universal Church of Christendom (spiritual power) was administered by Ecclesiastical Offices (bishoprics and benefices), Cardinals, and Legates. The office of Pope conducted the central government of the states, church, and Rome itself, from the Vatican Palace complex. His direct rule covered all civil and ecclesiastical administration. Although an elected official, the pope derived supreme and absolute power from Christ, not the electors (College of Cardinals). - From the Papal Administration Tree found in the Introduction to At the Court of the Borgia, Johann Burchard pg. 16

Pope Julius II Viewing the Newly-found Statue of the Apollo Belvedere
Pope Julius II Viewing the Newly-found Statue of the Apollo Belvedere, From the painting by Carl Becker, Berlin Photographic Co.
Castel Sant'Angelo
Castel Sant'Angelo, Rome

Papal Apartments, Vatican Palace
Papal Apartments, Vatican Palace
View inside the Apartamento Borgia, Vatican Palace
View inside the Apartamento Borgia,
painted by Pinturicchio c. 1492.
Sistine Chapel, Vatican
Exterior, Sistine Chapel
The Sistine Chapel was named in honor of its sponsor, Pope Sixtus IV. Rome began its steady climb to the apex of glory during the Renaissance under the auspices of this great patron pope. His legacy was continued by all successive Renaissance popes, especially his nephew Pope Julius II.

Add more images to the: Rome Photo Album

Powerful Roman Noble Families of the 15th Century

Rome - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
Tomb of Agostino Chigi, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.
The Noble House of Chigi was a powerful banking family from Siena. Mariano Chigi (1439-1504) was a banker and ambassador of Siena to Popes Alexander VI and Julius II. He founded the Roman branch of the family. Agostino Chigi (1465-1520) was the most famous member of the family during the Renaissance. He became an immensely rich banker, lending immense amounts of money to Alexander VI and owning the monopoly on salt and alum. He was a major art patron and built the palace and gardens afterwards known as the Farnesina, decorated by Raphael and was noted for the splendour of his entertainments.
House of Chigi Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms, House of Chigi
Rome - THE  BORGIAS   wiki
Fabrizio Colonna and Bernardino Rucellai discussing the Art of War
The Noble House of Colonna along with the Houses of Orsini and Caetani are the most ancient noble families in Rome. This powerful noble family produced a pope (Martin V) and many other condottiere and civic leaders. The family is famous for their long-drawn out factional rivalry with the Orsini Family over influence in Rome until it was formally ended by papal bull in 1511. The famous condottiero Fabrizio Colonna, who was married to Agnese, the daughter of Federico da Montefeltro was a general of the Papal Armies during the Italian Wars. He was also the father of Vittoria Colonna, famous poetess and confidante of Michelangelo.
House of ColonnaCoat of Arms
Coat of Arms, House of Colonna

Gentile Virginio Orsini, Lord of Bracciano
Gentile Virginio Orsini
The Noble House of Orsini was one of the most famous and powerful Italian families. Their members married into nearly every noble house in Italy. The family boasts many early medieval popes, civic leaders, and rulers of cities and domains in and outside of Rome, notably the fortress at Bracciano. Gentile Virginio Orsini (1434-1497) was a bitter enemy of Alexander VI during the first Italian Wars. Although a vassal of the pope, Orsini, as the head of the clan, was allied with the kingdom of Naples to tip the balance of power in the Roman political field. The Orsini tried to call for the deposition of Pope Alexander VI after the invasion of Charles VIII. After his lands and wealth were confiscated by the pope, Gentile Virginio Orsini died a prisoner at the Castel dell'Ovo (Naples).
Orsini Coat of Arms
Orsini Coat of Arms

Historical images associated with Rome

Rome Reborn: The Vatican Library & Renaissance Culture: Library of Congress Web Exhibition

From the Orient to Rome

Rome negotiated regularly with Christian churches and non-Christian powers all over the Mediterranean world and beyond, and individuals and small communities from Eastern Christian churches lived in and visited the city. During the sixteenth century the authorities took advantage of these opportunities for scholarship. Even as the Counter-Reformation damaged some areas of study, it promoted others. Rome became one of Europe's most productive centers of Oriental printing and study.

How the Orient Came to Rome

The scholarship done in the curia was not limited to Greek and Roman texts. The popes took a serious interest in Hebrew, the original language of the Old Testament and still the holy language of the Jews. Christian scholars at Rome, as elsewhere in Europe, were captivated by the Cabalistic mysticism of some Jewish commentators on the Bible. Important members of the Curia, like Giles of Viterbo, believed as fervently as any rabbi that each letter of the Hebrew alphabet concealed deep theological mysteries. As the sixteenth century progressed, however, detailed knowledge of the real languages and cultures of the Near East grew, and facts began to displace myths. The Vatican developed one of the greatest collections in the world of Hebrew books, both handwritten and printed. Texts in Arabic and many other languages, from old Church Slavonic and Armenian to Syriac and Coptic, accumulated beside them. The Vatican became a center of what the humanists liked to call "trilingual" scholarship: the study of the Bible in its three great languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.

Flavius Mithridates, Good Friday Sermon Flavius Mithridates, Good Friday Sermo in Latin, Hebrew, and Aramaic

Rome. 1481 On Good Friday 1481, Flavius Mithridates, a converted Jew from a learned Sicilian family, preached this sermon before the pope and cardinals in the Vatican. A good linguist, Flavius dazzled the clerics with his deft pronunciation of Hebrew and Aramaic as he cited Jewish texts to prove that the Jews had known and resisted the truths of Christianity. A clever charlatan, he altered and invented much of the evidence, borrowing from medieval Christian polemics against the Jews.

Book of Job, Owned by Pico della Mirandola, with notes in his handBook of Job, Owned by Pico della Mirandola, with notes in his hand

In Latin. Fifteenth century One Christian scholar who used the help of the learned but tricky Flavius Mithridates was Pico della Mirandola, who here struggles to unravel the secret meanings of the Book of Job.

The Study of Eastern Languages

The church had long encouraged, in theory, the study of languages that might prove useful in converting unbelievers. But as late as the fifteenth century, it had amassed little expertise. The converted Jew Flavius Mithridates impressed the pope and cardinals on Good Friday 1481 simply by his ability to pronounce long passages in Hebrew and Aramaic. In the course of the sixteenth century, Rome became a center for the study of Near Eastern and other little-known languages. Christians (and a few non-Christian prisoners) from the Slavic world, Armenia, Mesopotamia, North Africa, and Ethiopia came to Rome, often on ecclesiastical business. They found eager students who wanted to learn their languages, inventive printers who could cut type following their scripts, and papal support--especially for the publication of the Bible in Syriac, Ethiopic, Arabic, and other languages. Meanwhile the library amassed extraordinary holdings from many languages and from many cultures. The Church Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-45) brought delegates to Italy from many churches and cultures. The books they brought with them proved instrumental to the growth of the Vatican Library and of near-eastern studies in Europe.

Eusebius, Epistle to Carpianus, and other texts Eusebius, Epistle to Carpianus, and other texts

In Armenian. Before 1287. The first Armenian manuscript to enter the Vatican collection in the fifteenth century, this finely illuminated thirteenth-century codex may have been donated by the Armenian delegates at the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-45). It contains a vast miscellany of texts. These are mainly ecclesiastical--the liturgical sections are particularly important for the history of the Armenian church--but there are also texts on chronology, geography, astronomy, mensuration, philosophy, and history. Shown here is the second part of the fifth of the Eusebian canon tables designed to indicate which passages in one of the Gospels are in agreement with the other three Gospels. Their use is explained in the epistle that Eusebius of Caesarea wrote to Carpianus early in the fourth century. The canon tables are a fine example of Armenian manuscript illumination in its heyday between 1250 and 1290, when the center of Armenian art was in Cilicia, between the Taurus mountains and the southeastern coast of Anatolia. Thanks to the presence of the crusaders and their alliances with the Mongols, the Armenians had become acquainted with both western and eastern art, and much of their work is an intriguing combination of the different styles. Among the Cilician illuminators, however, western influence prevailed and their ornamentation acquired a delicacy and refinement which allowed them to compete with some of the best illuminators in Europe.

Gospel of Luke 20: 1-8Gospel of Luke 20: 1-8

In Arabic. Cairo. A.D. 993. This tenth-century Egyptian codex was donated to Pope Eugene IV by the Egyptian delegates at the Council of Ferrara-Florence. Translated from a Coptic original, it is one of the earliest Arabic versions of any part of the New Testament, none of which can be dated before the late eighth or ninth centuries. The text displayed is from Luke 20.


In Ethiopic. Fifteenth century. How this Ethiopic Psalter came into the Vatican Library in the late fifteenth century is still a matter of uncertainty. According to one hypothesis it was brought by the Ethiopian delegates at the Council of Ferrara-Florence, probably from the Ethiopian convent in Jerusalem, but according to another it was donated by Giovanni Battista Brocchi from Imola, who accompanied a Franciscan mission to Ethiopia in 1482. The first folio of the codex shows the First Psalm between two strapwork bands. The manuscript is widely held to have inaugurated Ethiopic studies in Europe and to have been borrowed by Johannes Potken in 1511. It would thus have provided the text on which he based his Psalterium, published two years later. See Renato Lefevre, "Su un codice etiopico della `Vaticana,'" La Bibliofilia 42 (1940):97-107.

Psalterium David et Cantica aliquaPsalterium David et Cantica aliqua

Edited by Johannes Potken. In Ethiopic. Rome: M. Silber,1513. This Psalter, probably based on the preceeding manuscript, was the first book ever to be printed in Ethiopic, the first book to be printed in Rome in any oriental language other than Hebrew, and the first Psalter to be printed in any language other than Hebrew, Greek, or Latin. Having learned Ethiopic from Thomas Walda Samuel, an Ethiopian pilgrim from Jerusalem staying at Santo Stefano Maggiore in Rome, Johannes Potken had Ethiopic types cut at his own expense by the printer Marcellus Silber from Regensburg. On his departure from Rome two years after the publication of the Psalter, Potken took the fonts with him to Germany. Potken's edition includes canticles from the Song of Solomon and ends with an Ethiopic syllabarium and a brief comment on it. In the foreward Potken describes how he learned Ethiopic, which he insistently but erroneously calls Chaldean. He goes on to tell of his decision to publish the Psalter and to inform the reader about the land of Prester John. The page on display shows the First Psalm and the beginning of the Second Psalm under a woodcut lacework headpiece.

Psalterium Hebraeum, Graecum, Arabicum, et Chaldaeum, *** tribus Latinis interpretationibus et glossisPsalterium Hebraeum, Graecum, Arabicum, et Chaldaeum, tribus Latinis interpretationibus et glossis

(Hebrew, Greek, Arabic, and Chaldean Psalter, with three Latin translations and glosses)
Edited by Agostino Giustiniani. Genoa: P.P. Porro. 1516 Agostino Giustiniani, the member of a patrician family from Genoa, was a Dominican who became bishop of Nebbio in Corsica. A gifted scholar, he was invited in 1517 to France, where he taught Hebrew and Arabic at the University of Paris for five years. During that period he visited England and made the acquaintance of Erasmus. Giustiniani's Psalterium was dedicated to Pope Leo X in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. It was originally intended as part of a multilingual edition of the entire Bible, but the project was thwarted by the limited commercial success of the psalter. Nevertheless, the book was much in demand among orientalists and biblical scholars throughout the sixteenth century and remains a work of remarkable scholarship. The pages displayed here bear the text of the First Psalm. In parallel columns from left to right, spread across the two leaves, we see the Hebrew text; a literal Latin translation by Giustiniani himself; the text of the Latin Vulgate; the version in the Greek Septuagint; an Arabic version based on at least two manuscripts owned by Giustiniani, one from Egypt and one from Syria; the Aramaic targum; a Latin translation of the targum; and, finally, Giustiniani's own scholia, or notes, in Latin. These notes show how well he was acquainted with the Midrash and rabbinic literature, from which he quotes extensively. Later in the work his glosses on Psalm 19:4 contain the earliest reference in print to the discoveries of his compatriot Christopher Columbus.

Thank you Poncianito for adding the Web Exhibit contents.