Rich Ring

title.none: Stroll, The Medieval Abbey of Farfa (Ring)

identifier.other: baj9928.9902.004 99.02.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Rich Ring , University of Kansas,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Stroll, Mary. The Imperial Abbey of Farfa: Target of Papal and Imperial Ambitions. Studies in Intellectual History, Vol 74. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1997. Pp.xiv, 298. $135.00. ISBN: 9-004-10704-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.02.04

Stroll, Mary. The Imperial Abbey of Farfa: Target of Papal and Imperial Ambitions. Studies in Intellectual History, Vol 74. Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1997. Pp.xiv, 298. $135.00. ISBN: 9-004-10704-5.

Reviewed by:

Rich Ring
University of Kansas

Ma ry Stroll has written a book about the struggle between papacy and empire in the late 11th and early 12th centuries from the point of view of the central Italian monastery of Farfa. This is a valuable undertaking since the local Roman and Italian roots of the reform movement and the Investiture Controversy are frequently minimized in order to concentrate on high theory and ideology. Unfortunately Stroll portrays Farfa's late 11th and early 12th century history as an example of the papal/imperial ideological conflict rather than demonstrating how that conflict grew out of local socio-political histories such that of Farfa. The following review is based both on Stroll's account and on my on research on Farfa and central Italy in the early middle ages.

Farfa--the name derives from the Farfa river and was not applied to the abbey until the late 10th century--is located about 40 km N/NE of Rome in the Sabine hills. According to legend a certain Lawrence built a church on the site of a Roman farmstead and terracing in the 6th century. The real foundation of the monastery came ca.680-700 when Thomas of Maurienne re-built the church. The abbey received early support from Duke Faroald of Spoleto and a papal privilege from John VII (705). Before 774 Farfa acquired large amounts of land in the Sabina and the Marche. The abbey enjoyed the on-going patronage of the Dukes of Spoleto and the Lombard kings.

After the Frankish conquest of the Lombard kingdom in 774 Abbot Probatus steered Farfa into the Carolingian camp. As early as 775 Farfa received a confirmation of its holdings from the new king, Charlemagne, the first of some 33 royal/imperial privileges in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Carolingian kings and emperors generally defended Farfa's properties and liberties, as when Lothar sided with Abbot Ingoald against the papacy in a case in Rome in 823-4 and later confirmed Farfa's holdings and ordered the pope to return any property that had been seized illegally (829). Several emperors actually visited Farfa where, according the anonymous Libellus constructionis farfensis, there was a palatium specially built for imperial visits. The monastery was at the height of its early wealth and power in the mid-9th century with extensive holdings in lands and churches throughout central Italy and probably in the city of Rome as well. The monastery itself consisted of a number of buildings that were, according to a later description, like a walled city. Farfa may have been even larger than the recently excavated monastic complex at San Vincenzo al Volturno.

Like the other great central Italian monasteries, Montecassino and San Vincenzo al Volturno, Farfa was overrun by Saracen raiders in the late 9th century and in 897 the monks split into three groups and abandoned the site. Subsequently (905?) the monastic complex was burned down by Christian looters (not by the Saracens as Stroll states, p. 24-5). Monks did not return to Farfa until the 930s. Alberic II Senator tried to reform Farfa by introducing Cluniac measures but he was not successful. With the "restoration" of the empire under Otto I Farfa once again came under imperial patronage and protection, but the fortunes of the abbey did not reach their 9th century levels until the abbacy of Hugh (998-1039). With the help of Odilo of Cluny Hugh implemented effective reforms at Farfa. And from the beginning he vigorously defended Farfa's rights and properties, especially in the Sabina and in Rome. In his first year (998), for example, Hugh defended some of Farfa's Roman holdings against San Eustachio in a placitum held in the presence of Otto III and Pope Gregory V. Abbot Hugh also increased Farfa's economic base in the Sabina and held off threats from the Roman nobility, especially the Crescenzi and the two branches of the Ottaviani who descended from them. Farfa and the Crescenzi/Ottaviani were both neighbors and sometime opponents in Rome where both were based in the ruins of the Terme Alessandrini between the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.

Farfa was at the height of its wealth and power in second half of the eleventh century under the abbacy of Berard I (1048-1089). Berard managed to get both imperial and papal support early in his rule. Henry III confirmed Farfa's privileges including its immunity from papal jurisdiction in a charter issued at Goslar in 1050. Pope Nicholas II confirmed that immunity in 1060 on the occasion of his visit to Farfa in order to consecrate two altars to the Savior and the Virgin respectively. Stroll thinks that Hildebrand influenced the pope to curry favor with Farfa and to confirm privileges that could later be denied, but there is no evidence for this. Although the perpetual validity of acts became an important issue later there is no reason to believe that Hildebrand was prepared to deny this principle in the 1060s and 1070s. Indeed a Farfa charter of 1072 (RF 1006) for a dispute settled at Hildebrand's urging in the Lateran Palace cites Justinian to the effect that acts recorded in publica monumenta have perpetual firmitas.

Nicholas II also defended Farfa against the depredations of the Crescenzi/Ottaviani in the Sabina in a charter (RF 906) that cited the libri codicis Iustiniani. Berard usually successfully defended Farfa's rights against all comers. For example, the dispute with SS. Cosmas e Damiano over the church of Santa Maria in Minione on the coast near Civitavecchia lasted more than a hundred years and was finally settled in 1084 by Henry IV. By that time Farfa had become a staunch supporter of the emperor and an opponent of Gregory VII. Henry had visited Farfa in 1082 and Abbot Berard had been with the emperor at the siege of Rome in 1083-84. But Farfa's need for imperial support from and dependency on the emperor only sharpened the threats to Farfa's holdings from the local nobility and the papacy in the Sabina, the Marche and elsewhere. Although Stroll mentions briefly the "class struggles" in the Sabina and the process of incastellamento (citing Pierre Toubert--but mis-stating his concepts), she never adequately explains the socio-political forces that were interacting in central Italy in the 11th and early 12th centuries. A fuller and more accurate summary of incastellamento in the Sabina would have helped Stroll's readers to understand the significance of Farfa's position vis a vis the empire, the papacy and the Roman/Sabine nobility.

Abbot Berard II (1090-1099) was from all accounts a poor defender of Farfa's property. His sumptuous life style and political incompetence squandered Farfa's wealth and the good will patiently built up by Berard I. But the threat to Farfa's territories led the monk Gregory of Catino to begin those activities that preserved for posterity such a large amount of Farfa documentation. In 1092 he began the compilation of the Regestum farfense (RF) which was completed some twenty-five years later by Gregory's nephew Todinus. Stroll's discussion of this immense cartulary would have benefitted from a broader view of how and why cartularies were compiled; see, for example, the discussion of Patrick Geary in Phantoms of Remembrance: memory and oblivion at the end of the first millenium (Princeton, 1994). Gregory of Catino later compiled a book of leases and other land transaction known as the Liber largitoribus, and a narrative with documents, the Chronicon farfense (ChronF). Finally ca. 1130 Gregory put together the Liber floriger, a topographical listing of all of Farfa's holdings. These materials were copied by Gregory in order to defend Farfa against all threats, but they are now the principal sources of our knowledge of Farfa's early medieval history.

Abbot Berard II (1100-1119) was a staunch supporter of Henry V. When the emperor-to-be seized Paschal II and sixteen of his cardinals in Rome in 1111 he imprisoned them in Farfa's castle at Tribuco. But despite Berard II's vigorous defense of Farfa's rights, things fell apart after his death. A disputed election between Berard IV, Henry V's candidate, and Guido, who sought support from the papal militia, led to the dispersal of Farfa's monks, treasures and lands. The Concordat of Worms in 1122 effectively removed Farfa's traditional imperial protection and placed it under the jurisdiction of the papacy. When papal representatives removed Guido in 1125 and installed Adenolfus as abbot things began to improve. With papal backing and diplomatic finesse Adenolfus consolidated Farfa's diminished economic base. Adenolfus played some role on the international ecclesiastical scene. A friend of Bernard of Clairvaux, Adenolfus appointed the Cistercian Bernard of Pisa as abbot of Farfa's dependency of S. Salvatore at Scandriglia. Later Bernard, as Pope Eugenius III, was consecrated at Farfa and defended Farfa against the continuing depredations of the Roman nobility in the Sabina.

Frederick Barbarosa tried to revive imperial ambitions in Italy and specifically at Farfa, visiting the abbey in person in 1159. In turn Farfa supported anti-pope Victor IV. As late as 1185 Farfa received a charter of imperial privilege. But the Concordat of Worms was not going to be overthrown. Farfa was now clearly dependent on the papacy. The expansion of the papal state under Innocent III and later 13th century popes made this even more evident. Finally in 1261 Urban IV issued Farfa a privilege that firmly and irrevocably placed it under the Holy See alone.

The heart of Prof. Stroll's book, chapters 5-9, deals with the arbitration proceedings or tribunals that pitted Farfa against one branch of the Ottaviani family group in 1103-1105. Relations between Farfa and the Crescenzi ancestors of the Ottaviani had been ambiguous for a long time. As previously mentioned, both Farfa and the Crescenzi had built into the ruins of the Terme Alessandrini in Rome since the mid-10th century. By the early 11th century the Crescenzi were moving into the Sabina, challenging Farfa for castles and jurisdiction. John Crescenzi, patricius of Rome (1002-1012), named his nephews, Oddo and Crescenzio, the sons of his sister Rogata, as rectors in the Sabina. John and Rogata were the children of Crescenzio II, senator of Rome, who was executed by Otto III in 990. Rogata was married to Ottaviano, the son of Joseph Count of Rieti. Their above-mentioned sons were the progenitors of the two branches of the Ottaviani family array whose various members were involved in disputes with Farfa over properties and rights throughout the 11th and early 12th centuries. It is more than a little difficult to keep the individual Ottaviani and their relations straight since Stroll does not provide any genealogical charts. One must turn to the charts in Pierre Toubert, Les structures du Latium medieval; le latium meridional et la Sabine du IXème siécle à la fin du XIIème siàcle (Rome, 1973) or Paolo Brezzi, Roma e l'impero medievale (Rome, 1947), though their charts of family trees are far from complete. John Howe also has some useful and succinct information on the Crescenzi/Ottaviani--see Church Reform and Social Change in Eleventh-Century Italy (Philadelphia, 1997).

In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, the grandsons of Crescenzio (son of Rogata) vied with Farfa over several castra and castles on the abbey's southern flanks. In 1082 Henry IV directed imperial troops to expel Rusticus, Crescenzio's son, from Fara in Sabina which he had invaded. Eighteen years later Rusticus and his sons, Oddo and Count Sinebaldus, made a complicated agreement with Farfa involving Fara in Sabina, Pomonte and Corese (RF 1117). The Ottaviani "returned" these castra to Farfa along with the rights of placitum and districtus - i.e., seigneurial jurisdiction - and received back a grant in enfiteusi (for three generations) of Pomonte. Stroll is not very good about explaining the strategic importance of these and other places to Farfa in its struggles with the powerful families of the Sabina. Her only maps are reduced copies of several in Toubert. Fara in Sabina, for example, right next to the abbey, would have critical to Farfa's socio-political independence.

It was the other branch of the Ottaviani, the grandsons of the previously mentioned Oddo, that precipitated the conflicts in 1103-5. Two of them, (another) Oddo and his brother Ottaviano, had inherited castles at Monticelio and Palumbara in Sabina, respectively. In 1058 Oddo and his mother, Davina, had donated lands near Tivoli to Farfa. In the 1080s and 1090s the brothers made further donations to Farfa at Caminata and Scandriglia, while also sponsoring attempts to seize Farfa holdings at Fara and Pomonte. Stroll never makes clear that most of these places were to the south of Farfa as were almost all of the Ottaviani holdings in the Sabina. Monticelio and Palumbara were in fact much closer to Tivoli and in the sphere of the abbey of Subiaco, where interestingly enough Oddo and Ottaviano's brother John was abbot. Even more interesting is that John had been a monk at Farfa. Stroll has a good account of John's selection as abbot--in the presence and with the support of Hildbrand and Desiderius of Montecassino, two future popes--and his support of the reformed papacy, though she barely mentions that John became a cardinal deacon under Paschal II.

In 1103 properties that Farfa owned at Forano, Colle de Nera and San Pietro in Bezzano were returned to the abbey after a three generation lease had run its course, and were subsequently re-leased. Oddo, who may have held the title count and was sometime papal rector in the Sabina, challenged Farfa's immunity from comital jurisdiction with regard to these Sabine holdings and attacked several of Farfa's castles. Once again Stroll does not make clear the nature of Oddo's dispute nor the location of the disputed properties. In fact, Forano, Colle de Nera and Bezzano are all north of the river Farfa, west/northwest of the abbey, in an area of the Sabina where the Ottaviani had not been particularly active previously.

Oddo's brother, Ottaviano, was in a difficult situation because he had witnessed the initial transactions--along with a distant cousin Count Gentile--and thus had recognized and sworn to uphold Farfa's immunity from comital jurisdiction. But after the abbey's forces captured Oddo's son, John, in a battle near Colle de Nera, Ottaviano joined his brother's army against Farfa.

At this point, before too much blood was shed, some of the fideles (=vassals?) of Oddo and Ottaviano (and of Farfa as well?) intervened and arranged for the dispute to be settled by arbitration. Hostages and pignera (pledges - not pawns, pace Stroll) were exchanged, and Tebaldo Cencii and Pietro Leoni were chosen as arbiters. Both parties in the dispute ( intentio) were brought together in pacito at San Nicola in Carcere in Rome. Stroll argues that Tebaldo was probably a supporter of imperial causes but that Pietro Leoni was certainly a vigorous supporter of the reforming papacy. After some "legal maneuvering"--Count Gentile reminded Ottaviano of his oath to support Farfa's immunities in the Sabina--both sides presented their cases. Despite the strength of Farfa's documents, Pietro Leoni seemed inclined to rule against the abbey. But he was apparently out-maneuvered by Tebaldo and Farfa's lawyers. The case was postponed. The hostages and pledges were turned over to a new arbiter, Count Rainaldo, the brother of the previously mentioned Count Gentile.

The second session of the attempted dispute settlement was held in July 1105 at the castle of Tophia in the Sabina. Again the location of Tophia--on the river Farfa less than 6 km. east of the abbey--seems significant bacause of its proximity to the abbey, but Stroll makes no mention of it.

Oddo now switched around the basis of his claims. At the first court session in Rome he had claimed comital rights based on imperial grants, for which he apparently had no charters. At the second session Oddo and his advocate argued that the papacy owned the whole of the Sabina and indeed all Italy from the time of the Donation of Constantine, and that the papacy had granted the Ottaviani comital jurisdiction. Farfa's representatives argued that the Donation of Constantine did not give the papacy any such rights or jurisdiction over private property. If it had why did popes continue to make purchases and accept donations of property? Moreover, Farfa cited a long history of imperial protection of the papacy that had been acknowledged by all, as for example in the election decree of 1059 (about which more below). Then the abbey's advocates produced a long series of imperial and papal charters (undoubtedly compiled by Gregory of Catino from his Regestum) going back to the time of Charlemagne that confirmed Farfa's liberties. With these documents in evidence Farfa argued that even the papal privileges had perpetual validity and that popes were indeed bound the decisions of their predecessors. As Stroll points out, this assertion became an issue with later canonists. Huguccio, for example, argued that popes could not bind their successors (p.126). But Farfa's argument was not questioned in 1105.

Count Rainaldo, apparently at the beginning of the arbitration, had appointed a Florentine named Bellincio as a judge. After hearing from various witnesses and reviewing the documents, Rainaldo and Bellincio suggested that the Ottaviani and Farfa come to an agreement privately. When this failed to take place Rainaldo returned the hostages and pledges and swore Oddo and Abbot Berard to a four year truce.

Stroll seems puzzled and a bit disappointed at the inconclusive outcome of these arbitration proceedings which she has spent so much time describing. After all Stroll has suggested that the Ottaviani were "thinly veiled surrogates for the papacy" deriving their arguments "from the subtle theoreticians of the papal curia". (p.75) Later Stroll claims that the Ottaviani use of the Donation of Constantine makes it "highly probable that the curia participated in crafting this [Ottaviani] defense." (p.134) This seems to me to be possible, though not very likely. Stroll presents no documentary evidence that would support such a claim. A better case could be made for John of Subiaco advising his brothers on the arguments that might be used to support their case. Even more unlikely is Stroll's speculation that the first session in Rome was " of the first in which [Bologna's] jurisprudentes performed." (p.101)

Stroll's whole account of these arbitration hearings--indeed the whole book--is colored by her "expectancy that the judgement of the dispute between Farfa and the Ottaviani would serve as a referendum on the claims to authority of the papacy and the empire," (p. 133) and that the hearings had "a patina of a contest between regnum and sacerdotium." (p.114) I believe that it was just that--a patina. Stroll thinks that "the local conflict between Farfa and the Ottaviani burgeoned into a sophisticated political drama...for ultimate authority over western Christendom." (p.75)

This seems to me to be looking at this history from the wrong direction. Local Roman and Italian politics shaped the course of papal/imperial interactions in the late 11th and early 12th centuries to a much greater degree than is acknowledged here. Stroll has missed an opportunity to demonstrate this using the example of Farfa because she is really much more interested in papal and imperial ideologies than in the politics of the Sabina and Farfa. But local conflicts continued to be played out as, for example, in Duke Werner of Spoleto's invasion of Rome in November 1105, or Paschal II's seizures of lands and castles near Velletri and Subiaco with the help of Norman troops in 1108-9, or finally in Henry V's expedition to Rome in 1110-11 and his aforementioned capture of the pope.

In the course of the arbitration proceedings, Farfa's advocate had introduced the papal election decree of 1059. The Farfa version of this decree, recorded by Gregory in the Chronicon farfense, has been regarded as pro-imperial and not the genuine decree by most scholars. Stroll spends five chapters and more than sixty pages discussing this issue. She concludes that the issue is still an open one but seems to favor the possibility that the Farfa version of the election decree is genuine. "It could well have been the decree formulated by Nicholas II in 1059." (p.208) This is an important question, but it is tangential to the main narrative and the themes of this book. It might have been placed in an appendix, or better yet published as a separate article. As an article it would receive more deserved attention from specialists concerned with papal elections and the early stages of the reformed papacy.

Stroll's narrative of Farfa's history in the 11th and early 12th centuries is often very informative and sticks quite closely to the primary sources. But sometimes this has led to mis-translations and infelicities that should have been avoided, perhaps even caught by a good editor. E.g., Henry IV granted Farfa a field not a "campus" (p.66). Guido returned a charter (brevis) to Abbot Berard, not a "brief" (p.235). The monks supposedly were used to eating delicate foods and spiced or fortified drink (pigmentorum potus), not "tinted drinks" (p.242). I am not sure how the Concordat of Worms "allowed the papacy de facto cart blanche in Italy" (p.244). And who knows if Gregory of Catino was "not just a pasty-faced monk"--as Stroll opines (p.7)? Some of these instances (and many others) stem from Stroll's tendency to quote or closely paraphrase both primary and secondary sources (as, e.g., the nearly exact and unattributed quote from Toubert on p.50).

In many respects Stroll has written a valuable book. It brings to our attention the important role played by the abbey of Farfa at various points in the development of the reformed papacy and the Investiture Controversy. But the main thrust of the book is indicated in its sub-title. Someday someone may see the merit in writing about Farfa and showing how its history--along with dozens of other religious bodies and secular family groupings--are the primary thread of 11th and 12th century Italian development.

Stroll's descriptions of several subsidiary issues--the papal election decree of 1059 and the concept of perpetual validity of papal acts--are interesting and important contributions to scholarship. But they may have been more valuable as separate articles.

Despite its shortcomings Stroll's work is worth the attention of scholars interested in the struggle between the papacy and empire in the 11th and 12th centuries and in the history of central Italian and Roman politics.