Gregory III, Pope

(d. 741)
   Mid-eighth-century pope (r. 731-741) who sought aid from the Carolingian mayor of the palace and effective ruler of the Franks, Charles Martel, in order to resolve the crisis brought on by the failure of Byzantine power in Italy and the continued encroachments on papal territory by the Lombards. Although Charles Martel was unable to aid the pope because of his long-standing friendship and political alliance with the Lombard king Liutprand, Gregory's diplomatic initiative marked a significant step in the history of the papacy and the Carolingian family. The pope's effort moved the papacy further into an alliance with the Frankish rulers of the west and further from the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople. It also laid the foundation for the alliance struck in the 750s between the popes and the Carolingian mayor of the palace and later king Pippin III the Short.
   Gregory inherited a number of problems from his predecessor, Gregory II, including difficult relations with the Lombards and with the Byzantine emperor. In fact, the situation between Rome and Constantinople worsened in the opening year of Gregory III's reign as pope. In response to the emperor Leo III's policy of iconoclasm (the prohibition and eventual destruction of images of Jesus, Mary, and the saints) the new pope summoned a council in Rome to denounce the emperor's religious policy. The council asserted the growing independence of papal Rome from imperial Constantinople and was followed by Gregory's ambitious program of construction and renovation in Rome, a program that promoted the cult of images. Leo III's reaction is not altogether clear, but he did introduce a series of administrative reforms shortly after the council that may indicate his displeasure. He restructured taxation policy in Italy, reorganized the method of military recruitment, and withdrew a number of churches in Sicily from Roman jurisdiction.
   Despite the increasing sense of alienation between Rome and Constantinople, Gregory continued to look to the emperor as his main source of protection against his enemies in Italy. The main rival of the popes was the Lombard king Liutprand, who had revived the traditional Lombard goal of unifying Italy. Liutprand, either because of illness or an agreement with Gregory II or probably both, had restrained his assault against Rome and papal territory in central Italy in the 730s. Unfortunately, several actions by Gregory III forced Liutprand back into action. During Liutprand's illness his nephew, Hildeprand, was made coregent, and Byzantine commanders in Italy struck against the Lombards. When Hildeprand counterattacked, the Byzantine commanders were supported by Gregory III. The pope also sought further support from Lombard powers in southern Italy, the dukes of Beneventum and Spoleto. This alliance and the attacks against the Lombards in the north roused Liutprand to action against the pope and his allies. Liutprand's offensive put the pope in very straitened circumstances. The Lombard king took several papal cities in central Italy and captured the duchies of Beneventum and Spoleto for a time. The pope was powerless to stop the king and was now without allies in southern Italy or in the Byzantine capital in Italy, Ravenna, which Liutprand had recaptured. And the emperor himself could not be relied on for help.
   In the face of extreme crisis in 739-740, Gregory took the initiative and contacted Charles Martel. He in fact wrote to the Carolingian mayor of the palace twice during the years 739-740 seeking aid against the advances of Liutprand. It is likely that Gregory had little hope that anything positive would ensue from the correspondence, because the pope surely knew of the friendship that had existed between the two rulers since 725. If he was unaware of that personal tie, he could not have been unaware of Liutprand's military assistance to Charles in 739 against the Muslims. But that notwithstanding, the pope wrote to Charles. He was possibly persuaded to do so by the Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface, who had received protection from the Carolingian mayor. Indeed, Charles's support for Boniface was highly regarded by Rome, and the activities of Boniface may have increased Rome's prestige among the Franks. Moreover, Gregory's second letter, in 740, was couched in language and combined with gifts-keys to the tomb of St. Peter, a link from St. Peter's chain-that were intended to gain the most favorable response possible from Charles Martel. The second letter and, especially, the gifts may have inspired Charles to aid the pope. Although there was no official reaction from Charles, who relied upon his alliance with Liutprand, it is possible that when he returned the ambassadors he sent his own ambassadors, who mediated between Gregory and Liutprand. Whatever the case, Liutprand made no attacks on Roman territory from 739-742, possibly as a result of a request by Charles Martel.
   Although it is possible that Gregory's diplomatic initiative bore no immediate fruit, it was significant in itself. It marked a crucial step in the papacy's disengagement from its ancient alliance with the emperors in Constantinople and their representatives in Ravenna. It was also an important moment in the establishment of an independent papal power in central Italy and an important attempt to limit the Lombard advance. Gregory's effort also set the stage for the establishment of a formal alliance between the pope's successors and Charles Martel's son, Pippin III the Short in the 750s.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Davis, Raymond, trans. The Lives of the Eighth-Century Popes (Liber Pontificalis): The Ancient Biographies of Nine Popes from a.d. 715 to a.d. 817. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1992.
 ♦ Herrin, Judith. The Formation of Christendom. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.
 ♦ Llewellyn, Peter. Rome in the Dark Ages. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1971.
 ♦ McKitterick, Rosamond. The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987. London: Longman, 1983.
 ♦ Noble, Thomas F. X. The Republic of St. Peter: The Birth of the Papal State, 680-825. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.
 ♦ Paul the Deacon. History of the Lombards. Trans. William Dudley Foulke. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974.
 ♦ Riché, Pierre. The Carolingians: A Family Who Forged Europe. Trans. Michael Idomir Allen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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