Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Apocalypse in Rome: Cola di Rienzo and the Politics of the New Age

Ronald G. Musto
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 456
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Apocalypse in Rome
    Book Description:

    On May 20, 1347, Cola di Rienzo overthrew without violence the turbulent rule of Rome’s barons and the absentee popes. A young visionary and the best political speaker of his time, Cola promised Rome a return to its former greatness. Ronald G. Musto’s vivid biography of this charismatic leader—whose exploits have enlivened the work of poets, composers, and dramatists, as well as historians—peels away centuries of interpretation to reveal the realities of fourteenth-century Italy and to offer a comprehensive account of Cola’s rise and fall. A man of modest origins, Cola gained a reputation as a talented professional with an unparalleled knowledge of Rome’s classical remains. After earning the respect and friendship of Petrarch and the sponsorship of Pope Clement VI, Cola won the affections and loyalties of all classes of Romans. His buono stato established the reputation of Rome as the heralded New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse and quickly made the city a potent diplomatic and religious center that challenged the authority—and power—of both pope and emperor. At the height of Cola’s rule, a conspiracy of pope and barons forced him to flee the city and live for years as a fugitive until he was betrayed and taken to Avignon to stand trial as a heretic. Musto relates the dramatic story of Cola’s subsequent exoneration and return to central Italy as an agent of the new pope. But only weeks after he reestablished his government, he was slain by the Romans atop the Capitoline hill. In his exploration, Musto examines every known document pertaining to Cola’s life, including papal, private, and diplomatic correspondence rarely used by earlier historians. With his intimate knowledge of historical Rome—its streets and ruins, its churches and palaces, from the busy Tiber riverfront to the lost splendor of the Capitoline—he brings a cinematic flair to this fascinating historical narrative.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92872-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. INTRODUCTION: Cola di Rienzo
    (pp. 1-22)

    In Rome on May 20, 1347, Cola di Rienzo, a young visionary with a gift for oratory, the former ambassador of the Roman commune to the pope in Avignon, the friend of Petrarch, and now papal notary in Rome, overthrew the rule of the corrupt and lawless barons, and in the name of the pope and the people of Rome reestablished the Roman republic. Cola’s new government, thebuono stato,was soon to restore peace, prosperity, and justice to the city and its countryside, revive the reputation of Rome’s ancient grandeur, and briefly make Rome the new center of diplomacy...

  8. CHAPTER 1 Birth, Youth, and Society
    (pp. 23-33)

    The myths surrounding Cola di Rienzo began with Cola himself.

    In 1312 Rome was a bleeding corpse without a head. Following the deadly attack on Boniface VIII at Anagni in 1303, the papal court had fled Rome and in 1305 finally relocated to Avignon in southern France, where it was to remain until 1377. With it went the bureaucracy and all its attendant services, the diplomatic corps, the heads of the religious orders, and large portions of the noble Roman and Italian families who made up the cardinalate and the pope’s Curia. Rome’s population had reached a peak of about...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Education, Profession, and Family
    (pp. 34-44)

    Cola di Rienzo never told us who his teachers were, or the subjects that he took in school, or who paid for his classes and masters, or for his books.¹ He never told us how he became a notary, or where he went to learn his profession. But where the documents are missing, the historian may be able to piece together from the context of Cola’s time and place, and with a reasonable chance of accuracy and success, the kind of school he most likely attended, the subjects that he took, and how he obtained the elements of his profession...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Reviving Antiquity
    (pp. 45-57)

    For his anonymous Roman biographer, Cola di Rienzo’s first, and greatest, claim to fame and to the enduring memory of his fellow citizens was precisely his ability to answer these questions in fresh and new ways: to decipher the long-lost meaning of the ruins of Rome that lay all about them and to make the ancient Romans come alive again. And yet these hopes for Rome’s rebirth were not new with Cola, nor with the early stirrings of Renaissance humanism in late medieval Italy. For the story of Rome’s revival and reform is actually the history of Rome in the...

  11. CHAPTER 4 The Popes at Avignon
    (pp. 58-82)

    This passage reveals a key technique of the Anonimo romano: the highly vivid, compact, almost pictorial phrase to convey a wealth of information and the elements of an underlying psychological drama.¹

    The Anonimo romano deliberately juxtaposed these sentences in this order: the murder of Cola’s brother (by unnamed assailants), Cola’s thoughts of revenge, his analysis of Rome’s bad government, and his rise to prominence in the city, culminating in his appointment as chief ambassador to Avignon. In so doing, Cola’s biographer lays out for the reader—from a completely external series of descriptives—a profound choice between private revenge and...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Cola and the Barons
    (pp. 83-103)

    And so Cola di Rienzo returned to Rome, and as Pope Clement had perhaps expected, Rienzo alone seems to have survived the shipwreck of the Thirteen Good Men. His task would be a long and hard one: reestablishing the coalition that had brought about the revolution and had sent him to Avignon. But now he had the backing of the pope and an official position within Rome’s government, a minor one, but one from which he could reestablish his contacts and build support, and one that would protect him from the power of the barons.

    Reviewing all the forms of...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Preparing for the Apocalypse
    (pp. 104-129)

    Cola was quick to take his dispute with the barons out from the privacy of the banqueting hall and the closed debates of the Council. We do not know how long his behind-the-scenes maneuvering lasted after his return from Avignon and before the breach with the barons had become too well known and too humiliating for him not to answer it publicly and promptly. If Cola had returned to Rome in July 1344 and taken up his new position by the fall, his status as a member of the Civic Chamber and Council did not give him much time to...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Pentecost
    (pp. 130-142)

    Cola’s campaign to rebuild a civic culture in Rome took nearly three years: from his return to the city in June 1344 to the spring of 1347. But as his speeches gained circulation and his apocalyptic images grew on the consciousness of the Romans, he became more and more confident in his ability to restore power to the communal government.

    He also predicted his ascendancy in this way. He wrote a placard and affixed it to the door of San Giorgio della Chiavica [in Velabro]. The placard said: ‘In a short time the Romans will return to their ancientbuono...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  16. CHAPTER 8 The Buono Stato
    (pp. 143-159)

    Cola and his supporters knew that for the revolution to succeed and the renewed commune to survive, they not only must promulgate a new constitution but also must form new institutions to embody their ideals. They also must spread the news of Rome’s rebirth far afield both to gain practical support and to fulfill the promise embodied in their attempt to renew the world. Cola and his supporters had been working and preparing for months. Now “in their season,” they produced the first fruit of their labors: the proclamation of the Ordinances of thebuono stato.¹ It was a natural...

  17. CHAPTER 9 Cola and the World
    (pp. 160-192)

    Cola’sbuono statohad restored the peace, security, and prosperity of Rome’sbuon governo,it had awoken the slumbering grandeur of the ancient republic, and it had ushered in a new era in which Rome would be restored to its rightful place as the New Jerusalem, the light and beacon for the faithful. But, as Jesus had told his disciples, no light can remain hidden under a bushel, and his new people must stand forth like a “city on a hill,” a new Zion. It followed that Cola’sbuono statowould manifest the deep and dramatic changes taking place in...

  18. CHAPTER 10 War with the Barons
    (pp. 193-229)

    Thebuono statohad been established, but it needed both a regular system of taxation and a defense force to maintain peace and justice. The papacy’s flight to Avignon had shifted power and control over the city’s finances to the barons. What public funds the commune did command—gabelleon trade and business and thefocatico,the hearth tax on households—either had been left to lapse or had been diverted from the public sector into the hands of powerful private interests. Thus military supremacy and the reestablishment of taxing authority went hand in hand with any reform of the...

  19. CHAPTER 11 Abdication and Exile
    (pp. 230-268)

    Opera comune,“common work,” was what Cola had called the victory over the barons at Porta San Lorenzo, hardly something to be proud of for those who had been there. Cola’s actions had shocked and disturbed the loyal knights of Rome: no great celebration, no double pay,paca doppiaas the Anonimo romano records Cola’s words.¹ This may, indeed, have sounded like what Cola had said; but this master of language could, instead, have intended the pun of apacca doppia,“double slap.” Such punning was common among Italy’s preachers and public speakers; Bernardino da Siena would make it a...

  20. CHAPTER 12 Last World Emperor and Angel Pope
    (pp. 269-307)

    Stirred by Fra Angelo to take up his role in the Last Days, and weary of his long years of hiding from Rome’s barons and their plots to destroy him, in June 1350 Cola di Rienzo decided that his fate lay with the Roman emperor in his far-off capital. Accompanied by a small group of loyal retainers, perhaps disguised as somewhat lax Franciscans on horseback, or perhaps as pilgrims returning home from the Jubilee in Rome, Cola would have covered nearly 1,050 kilometers by the time he had journeyed from the Montagna della Maiella to the capital of Bohemia.¹ Cola...

  21. CHAPTER 13 Apocalypse in Rome
    (pp. 308-348)

    Upon the death of Clement VI on December 6, 1352, the elaborate machine established for electing popes went into motion; and by December 18, 1352, Clement’s successor had been chosen by the College of Cardinals. Étienne Aubert, the cardinal-bishop of Ostia, was crowned Pope Innocent VI on December 30, 1352, by Cardinal Gaillard de la Mothe, the senior cardinal-deacon.¹ Born in Les Mont, Beyssac (Corrèze), in 1282, Étienne studied law at the University of Toulouse and received his licentiate in 1321, when he entered the French royal civil service. By 1329 he had both earned a doctorate in law and...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 349-376)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 377-408)
  24. Index
    (pp. 409-436)