The nucleus of the states consisted of endowments given to the popes from the 4th cent. in and around Rome, in other areas of the Italian mainland, and in Sicily, Sardinia, and other lands; these came to be called the Patrimony of St. Peter. The popes gradually lost their more distant lands, but in the duchy of Rome papal power became stronger and increasingly independent of the Eastern emperors and of the other states in Italy.
In 754 (confirmed 756), Pepin the Short gave to Pope Stephen II the exarchate of Ravenna and the Pentapolis (Rimini, Ancona, Fano, Pesaro, and Senigallia). (Like Pope Zacharias, Pope Stephen II had recognized Pepin as rightful king of the Franks, and Pepin now needed papal assistance against the Lombards.) Over these vast territories the popes were long unable to exercise effective temporal sovereignty. In 774, Charlemagne confirmed the donation of his father, Pepin the Short; moreover, to give the papal claim to temporal power greater antiquity, the so-called Donation of Constantine (see Constantine, Donation of) to Pope Sylvester I was forged. On its basis later popes also claimed suzerainty over Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia. In 1115, Countess Matilda of Tuscany, by leaving her territories to the church, helped to precipitate a long struggle between popes and emperors.
In Rome itself, the popes' temporal power, almost nonexistent in the 10th cent., remained greatly limited until the 14th cent. by the interference of the emperors, by the power of the nobles, and by the ambitions of the commune of Rome, which contended that its authority also extended over the Papal States. In the 13th and 14th cent., the emperors renounced their claims to the duchy of Spoleto, the Romagna, and the March of Ancona; however, the free communes and petty tyrannies that dominated these regions long resisted effective papal control. The Comtat Venaissin, a papal possession in S France until 1791 (though not a part of the Papal States), was acquired in 1274; in 1309, Avignon became the seat of the popes. From 1309 to 1417, during the "Babylonian Captivity" at Avignon and the Great Schism, the Papal States were in chaotic condition, only temporarily relieved by the efforts of Cardinal Albornoz.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.