Key to Umbria: Spoleto

Spoleto in the 12th Century

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The Emperor Henry IV awarded the Duchy of Spoleto Werner of Urslingen, Margraves of Ancona in 1093 as an act of revenge against Countess Matilda.  Werner held the title until his death in 1119. 

The Council of Worms (1122) settled the Investiture Crisis.

Frederick I and Henry VI

Sack of Spoleto (1155)

In 1155, while Frederick I was in Rome for his coronation, his supporter Guido Guerra II, who had just finished a mission to King William I of the Two Sicilies, stopped at Spoleto on his way back to the imperial court.  (Guido, a Tuscan noble, was one of the key Italian supporters of Frederick I and had negotiated and signed the Treaty of Constance).  Perhaps at the instigation of Wiliam I, the Spoletans took the opportunity to imprison him.

In a letter written in 1157 to his uncle and later biographer, Bishop Otto of Freising, Frederick I described the events that led up to his furtive coronation and his subsequent retreat under fire from Rome.  He continued: “we went to Spoleto and, because it was defiant and held captive Count Guido Guerra and our other messengers, we made an assault on the city....  we took ... by fire and sword this most strongly fortified city, which had almost a hundred towers.  After gaining booty beyond measure and burning even more ... we utterly destroyed the city.” 

Otto of Freising describes these events in more detail in his contribution to the “Gesta Friderici I imperatoris”, which he wrote just before his death in 1158.  The imperial army camped on the banks of the Nera for several days to recuperate after the fighting in Rome and Frederick I demanded the “fodrum”,  a special tax for the upkeep of the imperial army, from a number of the nearby communes.  The “people of Spoleto” angered Frederick I in two ways:

  1. They paid less than he demanded and some of the money that they did pay was “bad” (presumably counterfeit).  

  2. Even worse, they ignored an imperial command for the release of Guido Guerra. 

It seems that the Spoletan army made another mistake by leaving the well-fortified city and attacking the imperial camp.  They were driven back  towards the city with the imperial army in hot pursuit in a battle that lasted 6 hours.  “Finally, from the side where the city seemed particularly impregnable because of the slope of the mountain - just opposite the principle church, the bishop’s seat .... [Frederick I at the head of his army]  ascended the mountain ... and broke into the city ... The victorious prince remained there that night.  On the next day, because ... the burning of corpses was producing an intolerable smell, he moved his army a short distance away.  There he stayed for two days ...”.

After Frederick I left Italy in 1155, Hadrian IV bolstered his position by recognising a number of communes including Spoleto as self-governing entities within the papal patrimony. 

Papal Schism (1159-77)

Spoleto had a series of schismatic bishops in the period 1155-77, none of whom left a mark on the city.

Frederick I appointed Archbishop Christian of Mainz as his legate to Umbria in the period 1165-77. 

The first mention of a commune at Spoleto relates to the events of 1174, when three consuls entered into the anti-Imperial alliance with the communes of Terni and Narni.  Gubbio sent reinforcements to Christian of Mainz, who brutally subdued the rebellions. 

Under the terms of the Treaty of Venice, Frederick I recognised Pope Alexander III, thereby ending the papal schism.  In return (inter alia) Alexander III recognised the rights of Frederick I over the Duchy of Spoleto.

Conrad of Urslingen, Duke of Spoleto (1177-98)

Frederick I appointed Conrad of Urslingen as Count of Assisi and Duke of Spoleto in 1177.  Alexander III consecrated Bishop Transarico in 1178.   The Duomo seems to have been damaged beyond repair in the sack of 1155, and Bishop Transarico began its reconstruction soon after his consecration.

Like other cities in the duchy, Spoleto enjoyed a considerable measure of self-rule over the city and contado.  Thus in March 1180, it accepted the submission of the “buoni uomini” of Coccorone (later Montefalco), albeit acknowledging that town’s ultimate subservience to the Emperor, to his son Henry (the future Emperor Henry VI) and to Duke Conrad of Urslingen. 

Frederick I was not immediately able to respond to what he regarded to this insubordination.  However, after the Peace of Constance (1183), in which he was forced to acknowledge the effective independence of the northern communes, he was determined not to concede similar powers to the communes of central Italy, and particularly not to Spoleto.  He therefore confirmed Foligno’s control over Bevagna and Coccorone in 1984, contrasting that city’s fidelity in stark contrast to the perfidy (as he saw it) of Spoleto in terms that clearly terrified the Spoletans.  They prevailed upon Conrad of Urslingen to intercede on their behalf, and Frederick I formally “received into grace” the Spoletans in 1185, during a stay at Coccorone.  He presented them with a Byzantine icon of the Madonna, the SS Icone, which still survives survives in the Duomo. 

Read more: 
C. Mierow (Tr.), “The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa”, New York (1953), on the sack of Spoleto in 1155.

Return to the page on the History of Spoleto.