Duchy of Rome

Duchy of Rome
A greatly reduced Duchy of Rome (3) in 717.

The Duchy of Rome (Latin: Ducatus Romanus) was a Byzantine district in the Exarchate of Ravenna. Like other Byzantine states in Italy, it was ruled by an imperial functionary with the title dux. These were often in conflict with the Papacy for the supreme power in Rome.

Within the exarchate, the two chief districts were the country about Ravenna where the exarch was the centre of Byzantine opposition to the Lombards, and the Duchy of Rome, which embraced the lands of Latium north of the Tiber and of Campagna to the south as far as the Garigliano. There the pope himself was the soul of the opposition.

Furthermore, the greatest pains were taken, as long as it was at all possible, to retain control of the intervening districts and with them communication over the Apennine mountains. Hence the strategic importance of the Duchy of the Pentapolis (Rimini, Pesaro, Fano, Sinigaglia, Ancona) and Perugia. If this strategic connexion were broken, it was evident that Rome and Ravenna could not singly maintain themselves for any length of time. This was recognized by the Lombards also. The same narrow strip of land in fact broke the connexion between their Duchies of Spoleto and Benevento and the main portion of the king's territories in the north, and it was against this therefore that, from the second decade of the eighth century, they aimed their attacks with ever-increasing energy. In the beginning the popes were able repeatedly to wrest from their hands all that they had gained. In 728 the Lombard King Liutprand took the Castle of Sutri, which dominated the highway at Nepi on the road to Perugia. But Liutprand, softened by the entreaties of Pope Gregory II, restored Sutri "as a gift to the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul".

This expression of the Liber pontificalis was erroneously interpreted to mean that in this gift the beginning of the States of the Church was to be recognized. This is incorrect inasmuch as the popes continued to acknowledge the imperial Government, and Greek officials appear in Rome for some time longer. True it is, however, that here for the first time we meet the association of ideas on which the States of the Church were to be constructed. The pope asked the Lombards for the return of Sutri for the sake of the Princes of the Apostles and threatened punishment by these sainted protectors. The pious Liutprand was undoubtedly susceptible to such pleas, but never to any consideration for the Greeks. For this reason he gave Sutri to Peter and Paul, that he might not expose himself to their punishment. What the pope then did with it would be immaterial to him.

The belief that the Roman territory (at first in the more restricted, but afterwards also in the wider sense) was defended by the Prince of the Apostles became more and more prevalent. In 738 the Lombard duke Transamund of Spoleto captured the Castle of Gallese, which protected the road to Perugia to the north of Nepi. By a large payment Pope Gregory III induced the duke to restore the castle to him. The pope then sought by an alliance with Duke Transamund to protect himself against Liutprand. But Liutprand conquered Spoleto, besieged Rome, laid waste the Duchy of Rome, and seized four important frontier fortresses (Blera, Orte, Bomarzo, and Amelia), thereby cutting off the communication with Perugia and Ravenna.

In this exigency the pope now (739) for the first time turned to the powerful Frankish kingdom, under the protection of which Boniface had begun his successful labours as a missionary in Germany. He sent to Charles Martel, "the powerful mayor of the palace" of the Frankish monarchy and the commander of the Franks in the famous battle at Tours, undoubtedly with the consent of the Greek dux, and appealed to him to protect the tomb of the Apostle. Charles Martel replied to the embassy and acknowledged the gifts, but was unwilling to offer aid against the Lombards, who were helping him against the Saracens.

Accordingly the successor of Gregory III, pope Zachary (the last Greek who occupied the papal chair) changed the policy that had been previously followed toward the Lombards. He formed an alliance with Liutprand against Transamund, and received (741) in return the four castles, as the result of a personal visit to the camp of the king at Terni. Liutprand also restored a number of patrimonies that had been seized by the Lombards, and furthermore concluded a twenty years' peace with the Pope.

The duchy now had a respite from Lombard attacks. The Lombards fell upon Ravenna, which they had already held from 731 to 735. The Exarch had no other recourse than to seek the aid of the pope. Liutprand did in fact allow himself to be induced by Zachary to surrender the greater part of his conquests. Nor was it unimportant that these districts too once owed their rescue to the pope. Only a short time after Liutprand's death (744) Zachary was successful in further postponing the catastrophe.

When Rachis, the next Lombard king, was besieging Perugia (749), Zachary so wrought upon his conscience that the king raised the siege. But as a result of this Rachis was overthrown, and Aistulf, who was put into his place, at once showed by his acts that no consideration could halt him in his course.


The dukes were initially appointees of the exarch, but by mid-century they were created by the Pope.

  • Peter ( –725)[1]
  • Marinus (725– )[2]
  • Stephen (fl. 743)[3]
  • Toto (767–68)[4]
  • Gratiosus (769–72)[5]
  • John (772– )[6]
  • Theodore (fl. 772×95)[7]

The office of Duke of Rome disappeared around 778–81, but there are scattered references to dukes among the Papal officers, who may be successors of the dukes of Rome:

  • Leoninus (fl. 772×95)[8]
  • Sergius (815)[9]


  1. ^ Thomas F. X. Noble, The Republic of St. Peter: The Birth of the Papal State, 680–825 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984), 22.
  2. ^ Noble, Republic of St. Peter, 29.
  3. ^ Noble, Republic of St. Peter, 53.
  4. ^ Noble, Republic of St. Peter, 112–18, 128, 195–201, 236, 248–49.
  5. ^ Noble, Republic of St. Peter, 116–17, 234.
  6. ^ Noble, Republic of St. Peter, 130, 234.
  7. ^ Noble, Republic of St. Peter, 234–35.
  8. ^ Noble, Republic of St. Peter, 247.
  9. ^ Noble, Republic of St. Peter, 210n.


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