Rome During Avignon: Myth, Memory, and Civic Identity in Fourteenth-Century Roman Politics
Doctor of Philosophy, Cornell University, January (2006)
My dissertation examines the social and political ramifications on Rome of the papacy’s 1304 departure for Avignon. In this least-studied of Roman centuries, citizens weathered economic shock, loss of prestige, and a traumatic impact on their sense of political relevance. Questioning their city’s identity, some turned to the communal model, while others sought to revive Roman claims to empire. Incorporating sociological, anthropological, and psychological theories of memory, my study investigates how social groups employed myth and collective memory to legitimize existing power or to introduce reforms. Traditional scholarship has it that ideological conflict with the papacy defined the early Roman commune. However, a sustained analysis of the major chronicle sources – John of Salisbury, Otto of Freising, and Matthew Paris – reveals that cooperation was also an important defining element of communal-papal relations beginning with the 1143 revival of the senate. The early commune, moreover, seeking legitimacy, frequently entreated the German emperor to return to Rome. The empire grew in stature in the Roman political imaginary between 1300 and 1343. The papacy’s departure was attended in early century by five major popular revolts that frequently appealed to Romans’ mythologized belief in their inherited claims to empire. As Rome lost political power in the papal absence, Romans enhanced their symbolic power by appealing to lasting myths.
In mid-century, Romans often fought socio-political battles through the medium of culture. Classical learning and historical memory became important tools, underscoring the class dimension of early humanism. Though elites had traditionally used the ancient past to legitimize their power, Romans of varied backgrounds began acquiring classical educations and writing history. The Anonimo romano, Giovanni Cavallini, and, most seriously, Cola di Rienzo, who incorporated ancient rhetoric, political theory, and learning into his political persona, all challenged elite dominance through extensive classical learning. Cola’s ritualized murder and Charles IV’s subsequent imperial coronation at Rome reveal the profoundly changing political landscape after Cola. The imperial ideal suddenly disappeared from political rhetoric, Romans forgot Cola, and the Felice Societa’ inaugurated a period of stable popular government predicated on a culture of oblivion.