Saeculum obscurum

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Saeculum obscurum (Latin: the Dark Age) is a name given to a period in the history of the Papacy during the first half of the 10th century, beginning with the installation of Pope Sergius III in 904 and lasting for sixty years until the death of Pope John XII in 964. During this period, the Popes were influenced strongly by a powerful and corrupt aristocratic family, the Theophylacti, and their relatives.

Periodization[edit]

The period was first identified and named by the Italian Cardinal and ecclesiastical historian Caesar Baronius in his Annales Ecclesiastici in the sixteenth century.[1] Baronius' primary source for his history of this period was Liutprand of Cremona. Other scholars have dated the period more broadly or narrowly, and other terms, such as the Pornocracy (German: Pornokratie, from Greek pornokratiā, "prostitute rule") and the Rule of the Harlots (German: Hurenregiment), were coined by Protestant German theologians in the nineteenth century[citation needed].

Historian Will Durant refers to the period from 867 to 1049 as the "nadir of the papacy".[2]

10th-century Popes[edit]

The Theophylacti family originated from Theophylactus. They held positions of increased importance in the Roman nobility such as Judex, vestararius, gloriosissimus dux, consul and senator, and magister militum.[3] Theophylact's wife Theodora and daughter Marozia held a great influence over the papal selection and religious affairs in Rome through conspiracies, affairs, and marriages.[4]

Marozia became the concubine of Pope Sergius III when she was 15 and later took other lovers and husbands.[5] She ensured that her son John was seated as Pope John XI according to Antapodosis sive Res per Europam gestae (958–62), by Liutprand of Cremona (c. 920–72). Liutprand affirms that Marozia arranged the murder of her former lover Pope John X (who had originally been nominated for office by Theodora) through her then husband Guy of Tuscany possibly to secure the elevation of her current favourite as Pope Leo VI.[6] There is no record substantiating that Pope John X had definitely died before Leo VI was elected since John X was already imprisoned by Marozia and was out of public view.

Theodora and Marozia undoubtedly held great sway over the Popes during this time.[citation needed] In particular, as political rulers of Rome they had effective control over the election of new Popes. Much that is alleged about the saeculum obscurum comes from the histories of Liutprand, bishop of Cremona. Liutprand took part in the Assembly of Bishops which deposed Pope John XII and was a political enemy of the Roman aristocracy and its control over Papal elections. Lindsay Brook writes:

We must be especially circumspect about the writing of Liutprand of Cremona, perhaps the most polemical of the tenth century chroniclers, who had his own agenda to promote the revived western Roman Empire.[7]

Further:

It would be misleading to portray all, or even most, of the popes of the era as worldly and corrupt. Surviving documents (and there are obvious lacunae) make it clear that many were competent administrators, and skilful diplomats in difficult and dangerous times. Some were even reformers, keen to root out discreditable practices such as simony. Others ordered the rebuilding and restoration of Rome's churches and palaces... Rather, it is the manner of the election of many of them and their symbiotic relationship with the Roman aristocracy that has earned their regime the designation pornocracy."[8]

List of Popes during the saeculum obscurum[edit]

Family tree[edit]

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Theophylact I, Count of Tusculum
864–924
 
Theodora
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Hugh of Italy
887-924-948
(also married Marozia)
 
Alberic I of Spoleto
d. 925
 
 
Marozia
890–937
 
 
Pope Sergius III
904–911
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alda of Vienne
 
Alberic II of Spoleto
905–954
 
David or Deodatus
 
Pope John XI
931–935
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Gregory I, Count of Tusculum
 
Pope John XII
955–964
 
Pope Benedict VII
974-983
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Pope Benedict VIII
Pope 1012–1024
 
Alberic III, Count of Tusculum
d. 1044
 
Pope John XIX
Pope 1024–1032
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Peter, Duke of the Romans
 
Gaius
 
Octavianus
 
Pope Benedict IX
1012–1055

The Tusculan Papacy, 1012-59[edit]

After several Crescentii family Popes up to 1012, the Theophylacti still occasionally nominated sons as Popes:

Pope Benedict IX went so far as to sell the Papacy to his religious Godfather, Pope Gregory VI (1045-46). He then changed his mind, seized the Lateran Palace and became Pope for the third time in 1047-48.

The Tusculan Papacy was finally ended by the election of Pope Nicholas II, who was assisted by Hildebrand of Sovana against Antipope Benedict X. Hildebrand was elected Pope Gregory VII in 1073 and introduced the Gregorian Reforms, increasing the power and independence of the papacy.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Dwyer, John C. (1998). Church history: twenty centuries of Catholic Christianity. Mahwah, USA.: Paulist Press. p. 155. ISBN 0-8091-3830-1. 
  2. ^ Durant, Will. The Age of Faith. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1972. p. 537
  3. ^ Poole, Reginald L (1917). "Papal chronology in the eleventh century". English Historical Review. 1917a41 (32): 204–214. 
  4. ^ Fedele, Pietro (1910 & 1911). "Ricerche per la storia di Rome e del papato al. sec. X". Archivo della Reale Società Romana di Storia Patria, 33: 177–247; & 34: 75–116, 393–423.
  5. ^ Ide, Arthur Frederick (1987). Unzipped: The Popes Bare All : A Frank Study of Sex and Corruption in the Vatican. Austin, USA.: American Atheist Press. ISBN 0-910309-43-4. 
  6. ^ Stark, Rodney (2004). For the glory of God. Princeton, USA.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-11950-2. 
  7. ^ Brook, Lindsay (2003). "Popes and Pornocrats: Rome in the early middle ages". Foundations 1 (1): 5–21. 
  8. ^ Brook, Lindsay (2003). "Popes and Pornocrats: Rome in the early middle ages". Foundations 1 (1): 5–21.