The two versions of the life of Pope Sergius II in the Liber pontificalis. Anti-Frankish feeling in Rome after Louis II’s expedition of 844

From Firenze University Press Book: Networks of bishops, networks of texts

University of Florence
3 min readMay 15, 2023

Maddalena Betti, University of Venice Ca’ Foscari

The Liber pontificalis consists of a sequence of biographies of the bishops of Rome, composed either step by step when the pontiff was still alive, or immediately after his death1 , with the exception of those biographies included in the first writing stage dating back to the first half of the sixth century.

These lives follow a predetermined form and are characterized by clear parallelisms in structure and content. However, each of them stands out for its peculiarities. Identifying and studying these peculiarities in the sections reserved for the narration of historical events, allows us to grasp the point of view put forward in the Lateran palatium. In practice, this meant the group of clerics and high-ranking lay people who held the most prestigious positions of the articulated and complex Roman pontifical administrative machine. Nevertheless, it is necessary to keep in mind that each single life is also an individual part of a book which, despite its complex genesis, was indeed conceived as a whole, with its own precise internal logic.

The Liber pontificalis, out together by the officers employed at the scrinium and the vestararius, was in fact tasked with establishing the official memory of the papal party, represented a multifunctional memory provided for both internal purposes in the palatium and also intended for the external public. It was therefore a text aimed at those wishing to know the history of the papacy itself as an institution over time, that of the prestigious Roman churches which were the destination of pilgrimages, and finally that of the city of Rome, proud of its past, and its protagonists, the latter included the popes, but also the clergy, the aristocrats and the Roman people. It is difficult to establish whether the authors of the individual lives were all equally aware of the value of the work they were contributing to augment — to produce not only administrative information but also a coherent attempt to interpret events in a long-term historical perspective. What is certain is that they consciously followed a precise path, traced by their predecessors through the elaboration and repetition of the same format, which was rigid but allowed for variations.

The contents analysis of a single life is therefore appropriate, though it is also necessary to consider the whole series of biographies among which it is situated. Thus, my investigation of the life of Sergius II starts from a comparison with the papal biographies belonging to the last editorial phase of the Liber Pontificalis, that devoted to the ninth-century popes, with particular attention being paid to the lives preceding it and the ones immediately following it.

DOI: 10.36253/978–88–5518–623–0.10

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