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Cola di Rienzo


Roman revolutionary; b. Rome, Italy, 1313 or 1314;d. Campidoglio Palace, Rome, Oct. 8, 1354. He was born into humble surroundings (an anonymous contemporary biographer says that his father, Lorenzo, was a tavern keeper and his mother a washerwoman and water carrier) and was orphaned at an early age. Until he was 20 years old he lived at Anagni, and in 1333 or 1334 he returned to Rome. There he devoted himself to the study of the classics and of Roman antiquities; he also began to study law. In 1343 he was sent to Avignon by the popular government of the 13 boni homines to inform Pope clement vi of the pitiable state of the city and beg him to declare 1350 a holy year. The personality and eloquence of the Roman politician greatly impressed the pope, who named him a notary of the papal camera in Rome on April 13, 1344.

While at Avignon he met petrarch and found in him a man who shared his own ideals. In 1344 he returned, not without difficulty, to Rome and there began his public career. He created a sensation by the allegorical images and messianic tone of his speeches, set against the background of a continued deterioration of affairs in the city. Supported by the popular elements of the city, as well as by the gentry and the wealthy merchants, he staged a coup d'état on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 1347. Rienzo assumed broad governmental powers and proclaimed new ordinances intended to restore the material and spiritual well-being of the city, reduce the privileged position of the nobility, and guarantee security and justice for all classes of the population. He applied himself with decision to implementing this program, took the title of tribune, and surrounded himself with a sumptuous ceremonial that, together with the extravagant claims he then began to make, tended to aggravate the political situation in Rome and to increase the opposition of its citizens. A series of contretemps embittered his relations with the pope and the Roman townspeople, until he was forced (December 15) to resign and withdraw to castel sant' angelo. Pursued by the papal authorities, he sought refuge in 1348 among the hermits of Maiella near Mt. Merrone. Incited by his reading and conversations with the sense of an almost prophetic mission, he traveled to the court of Emperor Charles IV in Prague (July 1350), but was imprisoned as an excommunicate. In 1352 he was transferred to Avignon and subjected to a lengthy trial by the inquisition, which ended in his absolution and liberation. innocent vi decided to use Rienzo in preparing the ground for Cardinal albornoz in his efforts to reestablish papal authority at Rome, for he could hold the lower classes in check and lead the opposition to the nobility. On Aug. 1, 1354, at the head of an army of mercenaries, Rienzo entered Rome amid wild acclaim, bearing the title of senator conferred on him by the papal legate. A series of unpopular and arbitrary acts, however, together with violence and extortion that were associated with his rule, turned the people against him and he was killed in the course of a popular riot. The personality of Cola di Rienzo is a controversial subject even today, and varying and sometimes contradictory interpretations of his career make it difficult to judge its precise significance.

Bibliography: cola di rienzo, Briefwechsel , ed. k. burdach and p. piur, 5 v. in 6 (Berlin 191229). La vita di Cola di Rienzo, ed. a.m. ghisalberti (Florence 1928). f. a. gregorovius, History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages, tr. from 4th Ger. ed. by a. hamilton, 8 v. in 13 (London 18941902). r. morghen, Cola di Rienzo, senatore, 1354, ed. l. gatto (Rome 1956). e. duprÉ theseider, Roma dal comune di popolo alla signoria pontificia, 12521377 (Bologna 1952); I papi di Avignone, e la questione romana (Florence 1939). h. vielstedt, Cola di Rienzo: Die Geschichte des Volkstribunen (Berlin 1936). g. vinay, "Cola di Rienzo e la crisi dell'universalismo medievale," Convivium NS 2 (1948) 96107. g. seibt, Anonimo Romano (Stuttgart 1992). f. petrarch, The Revolution of Cola di Rienzo (New York 1986). j. wright, trans., The Life of Cola di Rienzo (Toronto 1975).

[m. monaco]

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