The states where the Catholic pope held direct “temporal” authority in central Italy, beginning in the middle of the eighth century, and where papal sovereignty ended with the unification of Italy in 1870. The fall of Rome in the fifth century left the popes as the strongest power in the city and its surrounding region. When Italy was under the threat of total conquest by the Lombards, Pope Stephen II sent for help from the Franks and their king Pepin the Short. The Franks invaded Italy despite the efforts by the eastern Roman (Byzantine) empire to establish rule over the peninsula and restore the empire. In 756, the Franks turned over territories under their control to the church, an event known as the Donation of Pepin. The domains of the popes expanded in the Middle Ages, to include Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia under Pope Sylvester I, and Tuscany in the early twelfth century. From 1305, the seat of the Papacy was in Avignon, France, and the Papal States fell under the authority of secular princes.
The restoration of the Papacy in Rome led to the expansion of papal authority in central Italy, beginning in the late fifteenth century. Pope Alexander VI sanctioned a campaign by his son Cesare Borgia to conquer these small principalities, which did not have effective defenses against Borgia's large and disciplined forces. Cities of the Romagna, a region centered in the valley of the Po River in northern Italy, and the Marches, along the central Adriatic coast, came directly under the pope's authority. The power of the Papacy was strengthened in the late Renaissance, after Pope Julius II and later popes abolished secular governments in several key cities, including Ferrara and Urbino. The Papal States remained independent of more powerful states that were emerging in the north (such as Venice and Tuscany) and the south (including Naples). In 1796 a French army under Napoléon Bonaparte, a determined opponent of the church's civic authority, invaded and disbanded the Papal States, which were restored for a last time in 1815. The last remnant of the Papal States is Vatican City, a small enclave in Rome that is the seat of the modern Catholic Church.
See Also: Italy; Julius II; Papacy