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The History Of Italy
Author: Hallam, Henry


Part II


The sovereignty of the emperors, meanwhile, though not very effective,
was in theory always admitted. Their name was used in public acts, and
appeared upon the coin. When they came into Italy they had certain customary
supplies of provisions, called fodrum regale, at the expense of the city where
they resided; during their presence all inferior magistracies were suspended,
and the rights of jurisdiction devolved upon them alone. But such was the
jealousy of the Lombards, that they built the royal palaces outside their
gates; a precaution to which the emperors were compelled to submit. This was
at a very early time a subject of contention between the inhabitants of Pavia
and Conrad II., whose palace, seated in the heart of the city, they had
demolished in a sedition, and were unwilling to rebuild in that situation. ^f

[Footnote f: Otho Frisingens. p. 710; Muratori, A.D. 1027.]

Such was the condition of Italy when Frederic Barbarossa, Duke of Suabia,
and nephew of the last emperor, Conrad III., ascended the throne of Germany.
[1152.] His accession forms the commencement of a new period, the duration of
which is about one hundred years, and which is terminated by the death of
Conrad IV., the last emperor of the house of Suabia. It is characterized,
like the former, by three distinguishing features in Italian history; the
victorious struggle of the Lombard and other cities for independence, the
final establishment of a temporal sovereignty over the middle provinces by the
popes, and the union of the kingdom of Naples to the dominions of the house of

In Frederic Barbarossa the Italians found a very different sovereign from
the two last emperors, Lothaire and Conrad III., who had seldom appeared in
Italy, and with forces quite inadequate to control such insubordinate
subjects. The distinguished valor and ability of this prince rendered a
severe and arbitrary temper and a haughty conceit of his imperial rights more
formidable. He believed, or professed to believe, the magnificent absurdity,
that, as successor of Augustus, he inherited the kingdoms of the world. In
the same right, he more powerfully, if not more rationally, laid claim to the
entire prerogatives of the Roman emperors over their own subjects; and in this
the professors of the civil law, which was now diligently studied, lent him
their aid with the utmost servility. To such a disposition the self-government
of the Lombard cities appeared mere rebellion. Milan especially, the most
renowned of them all, drew down upon herself his inveterate resentment. He
found, unfortunately, too good a pretense in her behavior towards Lodi. Two
natives of that ruined city threw themselves at the emperor's feet, imploring
him, as the ultimate source of justice, to redress the wrongs of their
country. It is a striking proof of the terror inspired by Milan that the
consuls of Lodi disavowed the complaints of their countrymen, and the
inhabitants trembled at the danger of provoking a summary vengeance, against
which the imperial arms seemed no protection. ^g The Milanese, however,
abstained from attacking the people of Lodi, though they treated with contempt
the emperor's order to leave them at liberty. Frederic meanwhile came into
Italy, and held a diet at Roncaglia, where complaints poured in from many
quarters against the Milanese. Pavia and Cremona, their ancient enemies, were
impatient to renew hostilities under the imperial auspices. Brescia, Tortona,
and Crema were allies, or rather dependents, of Milan. Frederick soon took
occasion to attack the latter confederacy. Tortona was compelled to surrender
and levelled to the ground. But a feudal army was soon dissolved; the emperor
had much to demand his attention at Rome, where he was on ill terms with
Adrian IV.; and when the imperial troops were withdrawn from Lombardy, the
Milanese rebuilt Tortona, and expelled the citizens of Lodi from their
dwellings. Frederic assembled a fresh army, to which almost every city of
Lombardy, willingly or by force, contributed its militia. It is said to have
exceeded a hundred thousand men. The Milanese shut themselves up within their
walls; and perhaps might have defied the imperial forces, if their immense
population, which gave them confidence in arms, had not exposed them to a
different enemy. Milan was obliged by hunger to capitulate, upon conditions
not very severe, if a vanquished people could ever safely rely upon the
convention that testifies their submission.

[Footnote g: See an interesting account of these circumstances in the
narrative of Otho Morena, a citizen of Lodi. Script. Rer. Ital. t. vi. p.
966. M. Sismondi, who reproaches Morena for partiality towards Frederic in
the Milanese war, should have remembered the provocations of Lodi. Hist. des
Repub. Ital. t. ii. p. 102.]

Frederic, after the surrender of Milan, held a diet at Roncaglia, where
the effect of his victories was fatally perceived. [A.D. 1158.] The bishops,
the higher nobility, the lawyers, vied with one another in exalting his
prerogatives. He defined the regalian rights, as they were called, in such a
manner as to exclude the cities and private proprietors from coining money,
and from tolls or territorial dues, which they had for many years possessed.
These, however, he permitted them to retain for a pecuniary stipulation. A
more important innovation was the appointment of magistrates, with the title
of podesta, to administer justice concurrently with the consuls; but he soon
proceeded to abolish the latter office in many cities, and to throw the whole
government into the hands of his own magistrates. He prohibited the cities
from levying war against each other. It may be presumed that he showed no
favor to Milan. The capitulation was set at naught in its most express
provisions; a podesta was sent to supersede the consuls and part of the
territory taken away. Whatever might be the risk of resistance, and the
Milanese had experience enough not to undervalue it, they were determined
rather to see their liberties at once overthrown than gradually destroyed by a
faithless tyrant. They availed themselves of the absence of his army to renew
the war. Its issue was more calamitous than that of the last. Almost all
Lombardy lay patient under subjection. The small town of Crema, always the
faithful ally of Milan, stood a memorable siege against the imperial army; but
the inhabitants were ultimately compelled to capitulate for their lives, and
the vindictive Cremonese razed their dwellings to the ground. ^h But all
smaller calamities were forgotten when the great city of Milan, worn out by
famine rather than subdued by force, was reduced to surrender at discretion.
Lombardy stood in anxious suspense to know the determination of Frederic
respecting this ancient metropolis, the seat of the early Christian emperors,
and second only to Rome in the hierarchy of the Latin church. A delay of
three weeks excited fallacious hopes; but at the end of that time an order was
given to the Milanese to evacuate their habitations. The deserted streets
were instantly occupied by the imperial army; the people of Pavia and Cremona,
of Lodi and Como, were commissioned to revenge themselves on the respective
quarters of the city assigned to them; and in a few days the pillaged churches
stood alone amidst the ruins of what had been Milan.

[Footnote h: The siege of Crema is told at great length by Otto Morena; it is
interesting, not only as a display of extraordinary, though unsuccessful,
perseverance and intrepidity, but as the most detailed account of the methods
used in the attack and defence of fortified places before the introduction of
artillery. Scrip. Rer. Ital. t. vi. pp. 1032-1052.]

There was now little left of that freedom to which Lombardy had aspired:
it was gone like a pleasant dream, and she awoke to the fears and miseries of
servitude. [A.D. 1162.] Frederic obeyed the dictates of his vindictive
temper, and of the policy usual among statesmen. He abrogated the consular
regimen in some even of the cities which had supported him, and established
his podesta in their place. This magistrate was always a stranger, frequently
not even an Italian; and he came to his office with all those prejudices
against the people he was to govern which cut off every hope of justice and
humanity. The citizens of Lombardy, especially the Milanese, who had been
dispersed in the villages adjoining their ruined capital, were unable to meet
the perpetual demands of tribute. In some parts, it is said, two-thirds of
the produce of their lands, the only wealth that remained, were extorted from
them by the imperial officers. It was in vain that they prostrated themselves
at the feet of Frederic. He gave at the best only vague promises of redress;
they were in his eyes rebels; his delegates had acted as faithful officers,
whom, even if they had gone a little beyond his intentions, he could not be
expected to punish.

But there still remained at the heart of Lombardy the strong principle of
national liberty, imperishable among the perishing armies of her patriots,
inconsumable in the conflagration of her cities. ^* Those whom private
animosities had led to assist the German conqueror blushed at the degradation
of their country, and at the share they had taken in it. A league was
secretly formed, in which Cremona, one of the chief cities on the imperial
side, took a prominent part. [A.D. 1167.] Those beyond the Adige, hitherto
not much engaged in the disputes of central Lombardy, had already formed a
separate confederacy to secure themselves from encroachments, which appeared
the more unjust, as they had never borne arms against the emperor. Their
first successes corresponded to the justice of their cause; Frederic was
repulsed from the territory of Verona, a fortunate augury for the rest of
Lombardy. [A.D. 1164.] These two clusters of cities on the east and west of
the Adige now united themselves into the famous Lombard league, the terms of
which were settled in a general diet. Their alliance was to last twenty years,
during which they pledged themselves to mutual assistance against anyone who
should exact more from them than they had been used to perform from the time
of Henry to the first coming of Frederic into Italy; implying in this the
recovery of their elective magistracies, their rights of war and peace, and
those lucrative privileges which, under the name of regalian, had been wrested
from them in the diet of Roncaglia. ^i

[Footnote *: Quae neque Dardaniis campis potuere perire, Nec cum capta capi,
nec cum combusta cremari. - Ennius.]

[Footnote i: For the nature and conditions of the Lombard league, besides the
usual authorities, see Muratori's 48th dissertation. The words, a tempore
Henrici Regis usque ad introitum imperatoris Frederici, leave it ambiguous
which of the Henrys was intended. Muratori thinks it was Henry IV., because
the cities then began to be independent. It seems, however, natural, when a
king is mentioned without any numerical designation, to interpret it of the
last bearing that name; as we say King William, for William the Third. And
certainly the liberties of Lombardy were more perfect under Henry V. than his
father; besides which, the one reign might still be remembered, and the other
rested in tradition. The question, however, is of little moment.]

This union of the Lombard cities was formed at a very favorable juncture.
Frederic had almost ever since his accession been engaged in open hostility
with the see of Rome, and was pursuing the fruitless policy of Henry IV., who
had endeavored to substitute an antipope of his own faction for the legitimate
pontiff. In the prosecution of this scheme he had besieged Rome with a great
army, which, the citizens resisting longer than he expected, fell a prey to
the autumnal pestilence which visits the neighborhood of that capital. The
flower of German nobility was cut off by this calamity, and the emperor
recrossed the Alps, entirely unable for the present to withstand the Lombard
confederacy. Their first overt act of insurrection was the rebuilding of
Milan; the confederate troops all joined in this undertaking; and the
Milanese, still numerous, though dispersed and persecuted, revived as a
powerful republic. Lodi was compelled to enter into the league. Pavia alone
continued on the imperial side. As a check to Pavia, and to the Marquis of
Montferrat, the most potent of the independent nobility, the Lombards planned
the erection of a new city between the confines of these two enemies, in a
rich plain to the south of the Po, and bestowed upon it, in compliment to the
Pope, Alexander III., the name of Alessandria. Though, from its hasty
construction, Alessandria was even in that age deemed rude in appearance, it
rapidly became a thriving and populous city. ^j The intrinsic energy and
resources of Lombardy were now made manifest. Frederic, who had triumphed by
their disunion, was unequal to contend against their league. After several
years of indecisive war the emperor invaded the Milanese territory; but the
confederates gave him battle, and gained a complete victory at Legnano. [A.D.
1176.] Frederic escaped alone and disguised from the field, with little hope
of raising a fresh army, though still reluctant from shame to acquiesce in the
freedom of Lombardy. He was at length persuaded, through the mediation of the
republic of Venice, to consent to a truce of six years, the provisional terms
of which were all favorable to the league. It was weakened, however, by the
defection of some of its own members; Cremona, which had never cordially
united with her ancient enemies, made separate conditions with Frederic, and
suffered herself to be named among the cities on the imperial side in the
armistice. Tortona and even Alessandria followed the same course during the
six years of its duration; a fatal testimony of unsubdued animosities, and
omen of the calamities of Italy. At the expiration of the truce Frederic's
anxiety to secure the crown for his son overcame his pride, and the famous
peace of Constance established the Lombard republics in real independence.
[A.D. 1183.]

[Footnote j: Alessandria was surnamed, in derision, della paglia, from the
thatch with which the houses were covered. Frederic was very desirous to
change its name to Caesarea, as it is actually called in the peace of
Constance, being at that time on the imperial side. But it soon recovered its
former appellation.]

By the treaty of Constance the cities were maintained in the enjoyment of
all the regalian rights, whether within their walls or in their district,
which they could claim by usage. Those of levying war, of erecting
fortifications, and of administering civil and criminal justice, were
specially mentioned. The nomination of their consuls, or other magistrates,
was left absolutely to the citizens; but they were to receive the investiture
of their office from an imperial legate. The customary tributes of provision
during the emperor's residence in Italy were preserved; and he was authorized
to appoint in every city a judge of appeal in civil causes. The Lombard
league was confirmed, and the cities were permitted to renew it at their own
discretion; but they were to take every ten years an oath of fidelity to the
emperor. This just compact preserved, along with every security for the
liberties and welfare of the cities, as much of the imperial prerogatives as
could be exercised by a foreign sovereign consistently with the people's
happiness. ^k

[Footnote k: Muratori, Antiquitates Italiae, Diss. 50.]

The successful insurrection of Lombardy is a memorable refutation of that
system of policy to which its advocates give the appellation of vigorous, and
which they perpetually hold forth as the only means through which a
disaffected people are to be restrained. By a certain class of statesmen, and
by all men of harsh and violent disposition, measures of conciliation,
adherence to the spirit of treaties, regard to ancient privileges, or to those
rules of moral justice which are paramount to all positive right, are always
treated with derision. Terror is their only specific; and the physical
inability to rebel their only security for allegiance. But if the razing of
cities, the abrogation of privileges, the impoverishment and oppression of a
nation could assure its constant submission, Frederic Barbarossa would never
have seen the militia of Lombardy arrayed against him at Legnano. Whatever
may be the pressure upon a conquered people, there will come a moment of their
recoil. Nor is it material to allege, in answer to the present instance, that
the accidental destruction of Frederic's army by disease enabled the cities of
Lombardy to succeed in their resistance. The fact may well be disputed, since
Lombardy, when united, appears to have been more than equal to a contest with
any German force that could have been brought against her; but even if we
admit the effect of this circumstance, it only exhibits the precariousness of
a policy which collateral events are always liable to disturb. Providence
reserves to itself various means by which the bonds of the oppressor may be
broken; and it is not for human sagacity to anticipate whether the army of a
conqueror shall moulder in the unwholesome marshes of Rome or stiffen with
frost in a Russian winter.



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