A short story of the smallest country

If Pluto relies on South America, Brazil could more or less contain it, with its 8,514,877 km² surface.

Central Park, on the other hand, measures only 3.41 km2, but is almost 8 times larger than the smallest State in the world. It is a fairly recent State, born only 81 years ago, but actually with a rather ancient history, which someone might even say adamitic, but which we can historically say medieval.

This State, located in Europe, is governed by an Argentine and is an absolute, but elective, monarchy. This State, today, is called Vatican (City), is located entirely within Rome and has fewer than 1000 inhabitants. Some will wonder how it is possible that this state is only 81 years old. Probably this someone is quite certain to have seen this state on the medieval (and even more recent) maps of Italy.

Actually there is something true, but there is also a trick.

With the weakening of the Byzantine Empire (yes, again) in Italy, the bishop of Rome went slowly to join the dux, which had temporal power, then he replaced it, becoming the ruler of what was once the most important city of the Mediterranean Sea and the surrounding countryside. This also happened because the Byzantines gradually abandoned Rome, preferring Ravenna. The Pope, whose election was approved by the emperor, later became the governor of an officially recognized state when Longobards and Carolingians donated certain territories, starting from 728.

As early as 590, a man had laid the foundations for what would have been a small but very influential state in the centuries to come. Territorial donations were actually only the formalization of what Pope Gregory I, known as the Great, had already built more than 100 years earlier. He reorganized the Church and what was now his state, of which he also organized the army, drawing on guilds, as often happened in medieval Italy. Gregory I reached such a popularity as to be among the signatories of the peace between the Byzantines and the Lombards, by the will of the king of these. In 728 the Lombards reported important victories in central Italy, also conquering the fortress of Sutri. Pope Gregory II therefore turned to King Liutprand to mediate the restitution of those territories to the Byzantines, but the Lombard ruler was more astute and gave the fortress of Sutri to the papacy, thus tending to the pontiff who held an effective temporal power. The pope, however, struggled to establish himself in his own territories, while the bishops had greater autonomy in the Lombard territories.

Pope Zacharias was the first pontiff to be elected without asking the Byzantines for confirmation of his election, making his power, in a certain sense, autocephalous. He was able to gain new territories, that the Lombards had stolen from the Dukes of Spoleto. Zacharias, moreover, after the Byzantine Exarchate had fallen under the Lombard attacks, understood that soon it would be the destiny of his small territory and for this he made an alliance with the Franks, whose king was Childeric III, but in fact the ruler was the famous Pepin the Short, who, in exchange for the Pope’s support for his ascent to the throne, sent an army to protect Rome, as Charles Martel had previously done. Pepin the Short then also helped the subsequent popes, reporting important victories over the Lombards and donating most of the old Byzantine territories to the papacy, in 756. Pope Stephen II, to thank him, then appointed him and his children as patrician of Rome, an established office, but a bit different from that of a patrician who only the emperor could give and who was now absent in Italy since the fall of the Exarchate, a lustrum before. Thus it was that the Pope was finally able to govern over his territories, delegating administration to the aristocracy and military defense always to the Franks. With the advent of the son of Pepin, a man crowned on Christmas night of the 19th century and known as Charlemagne, the Church obtained many other territories, including Corsica, acquiring the geographical structure which it then maintained for many centuries, in how much Charlemagne was extremely devoted to St. Peter. In reality most of the territories were lost after the death of Charlemagne and were reconquered, even by force, only 4 centuries later. The antiques fake news of the Donation of Constantine dates back to the same period, which served to legitimize the temporal power of the papacy and was denied only 7 centuries later. The birth of temporal power also corresponded to the struggle to obtain power, so that the emperor had to put a stop to the recklessness of the Roman aristocracy, which on some occasions also managed to obtain temporal power. With the Privilegium Othonis of 13 February 962, Emperor Otto I of Saxony sanctioned the dominion of the Holy Roman Empire over the papacy. It took about a century, with the advent of the Normans, for the papacy to regain a large part of its independence, which was finally recognized by Frederick II, called Barbarossa (Red Beard), but thus were born Guelphs (pro pope) and Ghibellines (pro emperor), the early parties of medieval Italy. The frictions between papacy and empire continued in the following centuries, between excommunications, territorial donations and some clashes.

In the late Middle Ages the state was rearranged in administrative terms. Initially on the model of the free municipalities of Central-Northern Italy, but a clerical representative of the papacy was then appointed. The disputes with the emperor were largely resolved with the intervention of a French prince, Charles of Anjou, who settled in the Kingdom of Sicily and formally submitted it to the Pope. Nicholas III obtained territorial recognition from the Holy Roman Emperor, but the subsequent transfer of the papal see to Avignon, France, relegated the peninsular territories to anarchy and struggles for the power of the Roman aristocracy, again. Shortly after the return to Rome, with the election of the Italian Urban VI, the period of the antipopes began, since the French did not want to lose their control over the papacy and therefore over power. The so-called Western Schism ended only in 1417, with the emergence of an increasingly earthly monarch, now also interested in vulgar Italian and the creation of the figure of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, which still exists today. The Papal States became increasingly centralized. This centralization, however, probably created a certain stability, which continued until the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte, who for the first time brought together the Italian peninsula after the fall of the Roman Empire. After the defeat of the Illuminist emperor, the papacy, partly to overcome the economic crisis, partially liberalized the economy and reacquired its territories, with the exception of the French ones, which were in any case reduced.

Pope Pius VII was a reformer, but the advent of the Neapolitan army had meant that the Illuminist ideals spread like wildfire, giving rise to several secret societies contrary to the earthly power of the Church (and often even anti-clerical). Only 4 years after the restoration of power in Rome, popular uprisings began, which lasted for about a decade. After various vicissitudes, on September 20, 1870, General Cadorna (Raffaele, father of Luigi, sadly famous for the disastrous management of the Italian army during the First World War) entered Rome on behalf of the Kingdom of Italy.

In 1867 the Italian Parliament had transferred the capital from Turin to Florence and had banned Italian citizens from joining the Catholic clergy, in a climate of growing friction between Italy and the Vatican. In 1871 Parliament tried to reconcile by guaranteeing a minimum independence for the papacy, but Pius IX refused, continuing to declare himself a prisoner in the Vatican and excommunicating the authors of the law. Taking note of the occupation, his successor, Pope Leo XIII, proclaimed the official dissolution of the Papal States on September 20, 1900. After a few unsuccessful attempts, it was fascism with the Lateran Pacts, signed on February 11, 1929, that established the Vatican City State, which includes the basilica of San Peter (the largest in the world) and little else, in largely occupied by the Vatican Gardens and the Vatican Museums, but where it is also possible to find some houses and trattorias, as if to recall the glory of an earthly state that was and to reaffirm a spiritual power that has never been spiritual only, all now, between scandals and charity, between conservatives and progressives. A tiny state, of which Stalin said: “The Pope! How many divisions has he got? “. But with a great power, for better or for worse (Ratzinger perhaps wrote about this aspect, speaking about Apocalypse, but this is another story).

A young state, but ancient, earthly, but spiritual, with many contrasts, which make it unique, like all States, after all.

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