In a previous post, we discussed how the period of history ushered in by the Cadaver Synod was called the pornocracy by historians. Europe was effectively in pieces. Attacks were coming from the Vikings in the North, Muslim pirates in the South and the Magyars in the East. Rome was ruled by the Popes, and the Popes were ruled by one woman, Marozia.
Marozia was born between 890 and 892, and she was the daughter of the Roman consul Theophylact, Count of Tusculum, and of Theodora, a senatrix and serenissima vestaratrix of Rome. The two were the power couple of Rome and had made their share of enemies. One of the most vocal was Liudprand of Cremona, who described Theodora as a “shameless harlot…whose very mention is most foul, was holding the monarchy of the city of Rome, and not in an unmanly way.” Wow. However, the two were not above pandering their teenaged daughter, Marozia, to the new pope, Sergius III in 904. Sergius was smitten with the beautiful Marozia and they became lovers. Marozia eventually bore the pope a son, John, and was subsequently married off to Alberic I of Spoleto. She bore him a son, Alberic, soon after. It was not mandatory for clerics to be celibate until 1138, however, it was an embarrassment for the Pope to have a child. This gave Marozia and her family a bit of leverage.
When her husband and parents died, Marozia took up the leadership of the family who was controlling Rome. In his book The Birth of the West, Paul Collins described her as “an extraordinary woman, her importance lies not in her paramours, but in the fact that she continued the tradition of the Theophylact clan in maintaining stability in Rome and the Patrimonium…She understood that the sexual was political and was able to use this to her advantage in a patriarchal world. Obviously beautiful and alluring to men, she was also intelligent, strong-willed, and independent like her mother.” She did not take threats to her power lightly. When Pope John X tried to challenge her, she married one of his rivals Guy, Margrave of Tuscany and attacked Rome. Her forces took Castel Sant’Angelo.and the Papal residence. The pope’s brother was killed and Pope John X was thrown in prison. Mysteriously he died a month later. It could have been from illness, but stories leaked out that he killed. Liudprand of Cremona writes “they placed a cushion over his mouth by which they most wickedly suffocated him.” The coup d’etat was complete and Marozia was in complete control.
She placed her son John on the papal throne as soon as he was old enough. Her two puppet popes in the interim died mysteriously at her whim. Monks muttered, “Rome has been subjected to the power of a woman, as we read in the Prophet, ‘The women dominate Jerusalem’.” In 929, her husband Guy died and she proposed marriage to a long time rival, Hugh of Arles. She hinted that the pope would give them a special wedding present- make his mother and new stepfather Emperor and Empress. Beats a set of towels.
Hugh thought this was a good deal, and arrived in Rome in 932. The two were married by Pope John and were all set to be crowned. However, Marozia forgot about her second son, Alberic. He was not happy about being left out of this power grab. He showed up at the wedding with an ax to grind. Liudprand describes the scene as this:
“Alberic, at his mother’s request, was pouring water so that King Hugo, his stepfather, that is, could wash his hands, he was hit in the face by him as a reprimand because he would not pour the water moderately and carefully. Therefore this man, so that he might avenge the offense against himself, gathered together the Romans and addressed them with a speech like this:
“The dignity of the Roman city is led to such depths of stupidity that it now obeys the command of a prostitute. For what is more lurid and what is more debased than the city of Rome should perish by the impurity of one woman, and the one-time slaves of the Romans, the Burgundians, I mean, should rule the Romans? If he hits my face, that is, the face of his stepson, and, what is more, when he is a recently arrived guest, what do you think he will do to you as soon as he has settled in?”
The Romans rose up and attacked Castel Sant’Angelo led by Alberic. Hugh escaped down the walls by climbing a rope, but Marozia was captured and imprisoned by her son. She and her other son, Pope John, were imprisoned for five years until Marozia died in prison. Alberic was now the new power and in charge of Rome for twenty years and his son became pope after him. An ignoble end for a power player of Rome.
Sources available on request.