Italy in the Middle Ages

A country between Pope and Emperor

Shortly after the end of the Roman Empire, the history of Italy moved back to the centre of Europe. The Vatican gained power in Rome and was able to strengthen its position. The subsequent appointment of Pippin as King and the restoration of the Roman Empire was the beginning of a long dispute between the pope and the monarchs about power and legitimacy in Europe. This dispute culminated in the Investiture Controversy of the 12th and 13th century when the German Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa invaded Italy. Both victims and beneficiaries were the Italian city states, which gained a powerful position in Italy by taking current concessions of the two parties and developed economically and militarily independent.

From the Langobards to the Franconians

After the fall of Rome and the invasion of the Germans, a turbulent history started in Italy. The Germans were followed by the Ostrogoths under Theodoric and built their empire in Italy until the Lombards who built their empire in Northern Italy defeated them again. Veneto, Tuscany and Lombardy were their core regions. While the Lombards settled in the north, and Arabs, Byzantines and Normans fought for supremacy in the south, in central Italy the new state of the Christian church gain strength against its enemies. Despite Christianisation of the Lombards, the Vatican quickly became a fierce opponent. With the help of the Franks, who forced the Lombards to territorial concessions to the Pope (Pippinian gift), the foundations for the Papal State were laid.

Italy between Church and Emperor

As a thanks for the Frankish military aid, the Pope crowned Pippin as King of God's grace, and later his son Charles the Great to Emperor of the re-installed Holy Roman Empire. With the end of the Frankish rule, the north of Italy was plunged into chaos. Italian and Frankish nobles fought for the crown of the Langobards. As the German King Otto I at the behest of the Pope once again maintained law and order in two military campaigns, he was crowned emperor of Germany and Italy became formally the German Roman Empire. Soon after this important event, however, the relations between Pope and Emperor deteriorated and a long-running dispute began, which was to change the power structure in Italy dramatically.

The city-states in Italy arise

While the south of Italy and the Papal States were governed centrally, the big and rich port cities of northern Italy went another way. Because of their wealth, they already enjoyed special status and were less willing to follow the German Emperor or the Pope. The newly emerging middle class supported these efforts and promoted the development of their own city-states in Italy. Preoccupied with their own dispute, Pope and Emperor competed for the favour of influential city-states like Venice, Genoa and Milan, with concessions that further strengthened the power of the already powerful cities. The trade flourished and soon the city-states established new forms of government. Rich merchants and families like the Medici in Florence and the Visconti in Milan vied for influence and took control in the respective city governments. City-states were created in Italy, which shaped the development of northern Italy in the late Middle Ages up to the modern era.

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