Pope Gregory III

Last updated

Pope Saint

Pope Gregory III
90-St.Gregory III.jpg
Papacy began11 February 731
Papacy ended28 November 741
Predecessor Gregory II
Successor Zachary
Created cardinal726
by Gregory II
Personal details
Born Syria, Umayyad Caliphate [1]
Died(741-11-28)28 November 741
Rome, Exarchate of Ravenna
Previous postCardinal-Deacon (726-31)
Other popes named Gregory

Pope Gregory III (Latin : Gregorius III; died 28 November 741) was the bishop of Rome from 11 February 731 to his death. His pontificate, like that of his predecessor, was disturbed by Byzantine iconoclasm and the advance of the Lombards, in which he invoked the intervention of Charles Martel, although ultimately in vain. He was the last pope to seek the consent of the Byzantine exarch of Ravenna for his election.



Gregory was the son of a Syrian named John. [2] He was elected pope by popular acclamation on 11 February 731, but was not formally consecrated as bishop of Rome until 18 March, [3] after having received the approval of the Byzantine exarch of Ravenna. He was the last pope to seek the exarch’s ratification of a papal election. [4]


Immediately upon his accession, Gregory appealed to Emperor Leo III to moderate his position on the iconoclasm. When Gregory's representative was arrested on the orders of the emperor, Gregory called a synod in November 731, which condemned iconoclasm outright. [5] Leo responded by trying to bring the pope under control, but the fleet he sent to enforce the imperial will was shipwrecked in the Adriatic Sea. [6] He then proceeded to appropriate papal territories in Sicily and Calabria, and transferred ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the former praetorian prefecture of Illyricum to the patriarch of Constantinople. [7] However, his attempt to force the duke of Naples to enforce an imperial decree to confiscate papal territory in the duchy failed, as the duke was supportive of the pope’s stand. [8]

Gregory, in the meantime, demonstrated his opposition to iconoclasm by emphasising his veneration of icons and relics. He repaired or beautified numerous churches, which involved their decoration with icons and images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints. [9] He ordered to be erected in the heart of St. Peter’s Basilica an iconostasis , situated between six onyx and marble columns which had been sent to Gregory as a gift from the exarch Eutychius. [10] He built a new oratory in St. Peter's Basilica to house the relics of a number of saints, convoking a synod in 732 in order to regulate the prayers and masses to be said there. [11] Gregory was an enthusiastic supporter of monasticism; he established the monastery of St. Chrysogonus and rebuilt the hospice of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, near St. Peter's, endowing it for the support of the poor. [12]

Ecclesiastical policy

A temporary lull in the conflict between the Byzantines and the Lombards allowed Gregory to deal with some longstanding internal issues, in particular the ongoing jurisdictional dispute between the patriarchs of Grado and Aquileia. Although the Synod of 731 had adjudicated in this matter in favour of Grado, Gregory was forced to reprimand the patriarch of Aquileia, Calixtus, who had attempted to gain possession of the island of Barbana from Grado’s jurisdiction. [13] In 731, he approved the election of Tatwine as archbishop of Canterbury, after the latter came to Rome in person to ask for the pallium. Gregory approved of the election of his successor, Nothhelm, while in 735 he agreed to the request of King Ceolwulf of Northumbria that Bishop Egbert of York should be elevated to the rank of archbishop. [14]

Gregory promoted the Church in northern Europe. He supported the continuing mission of Saint Boniface in Germany, elevating him to the rank of archbishop of Germany in 732; and, after a personal visit to Rome from Boniface in 737, where he was meant to attend a synod which does not appear to have been held, [15] Gregory made Boniface a papal legate in Germany, and asked him to reorganize the episcopal sees in Germany. [16] Gregory sent Boniface back to Bavaria with three letters. One commanded the bishops and higher ecclesiastical officers to provide Boniface with as much help as they could. A second was addressed to the nobles and people of Germany, urging them to obey Boniface. A third, addressed to the bishops in Alamannia and Bavaria, confirmed Boniface’s status as the papal vicar, ordering them to assemble in a council twice a year at Augsburg under Boniface’s authority. [17] Gregory promoted the mission of Willibald in Germany. [18]

In 732, Gregory banned the consumption of horse meat, both domestic and wild, anathematizing it as an "abomination" since it was associated with pagan ritual feasting. [15] [19]

Lombard threat

The division of Italy between the Lombards and the Byzantines during Gregory III's pontificate Liutprand's Italy.gif
The division of Italy between the Lombards and the Byzantines during Gregory III's pontificate

Conscious of the ongoing Lombard threat, Gregory undertook and completed the restoration of the Aurelian Walls during the early 730s. He also refortified Centumcellae, purchasing from Thrasimund II of Spoleto the fortress of Gallese along the Via Flaminia, which had been taken by the Lombards, interrupting Rome’s communications with the exarch at Ravenna. [20] The return of the Lombard king Liutprand in 737 saw a renewal of the Lombard assault on the Exarchate of Ravenna.

Gregory's opposition to iconoclasm did not stop his lending support to the Eastern Empire to help in the recapture of Ravenna after it had fallen to the Lombards in around 738. [21] In that same year, [22] Liutprand demanded that the Lombard dukes of Spoleto and Beneventum ravage the area around the Duchy of Rome; but both refused, citing a treaty with the pope. [23] Gregory then actively encouraged the rebellion of Thrasimund II of Spoleto, forcing Liutprand to temporarily abandon his attacks on the exarchate, turning his attention towards Spoleto, which Liutprand annexed. Thrasimund was forced to flee Spoleto, seeking refuge in Rome, where he was welcomed by Gregory. [24]

By the middle of 739, Liutprand was encroaching once again on the Exarchate and threatening Rome. In desperation, Gregory sent ambassadors to Charles Martel, the Frankish mayor of the Palace, begging him to intervene on the pope’s behalf. [25] Although Gregory stated that he was willing to give up his allegiance to the Eastern Empire and place himself under the protection of the Franks, Charles made no promise to assist, since he was fully occupied by the Umayyad invasion of Gaul. [26] [27] Gregory himself referred to these Saracen Muslims as gens ferocissima or "that most fierce nation". [28] The Lombard capture of the towns of Ameria, Ortas, Polimartium and Blera once again caused Gregory to write to Charles, this time in even greater tones of despair, beseeching his aid: [29]

"Our affliction moves us to write to you once again, trusting that you are a loving son of St. Peter and of us, and that, from respect for him, you will come and defend the Church of God and His peculiar people, who are now unable to endure the persecution and oppression of the Lombards. They have seized the very means set aside to furnish funds for the lights ever kept burning at St. Peter s tomb, and they have carried off offerings that have been made by you and by those who have gone before you. And because, after God, we have turned to you, the Lombards deride and oppress us. Hence the Church of St. Peter has been stripped and reduced to the last straits. We have put into the mouth of the bearer of this letter, your faithful servant all our woes, which he will be able to unfold to you. Please come at once, to show your love towards St. Peter, and us, his own people." [30]

This time Charles Martel did send an embassy to Rome, and this implicit support, together with the beginnings of fever running through his troops, forced Liutprand to march back to Pavia by the end of August 739. [31] Taking advantage of this withdrawal, Gregory agreed to support Thrasimund II's return to Spoleto. Thrasimund II forced his way back in by December 739 with Roman armed support, but refused to hand over the four captured towns he had promised in exchange for papal support. [32] Learning that Charles Martel was sick, Liutprand once again returned to attacking the Exarchate in 740, forcing Gregory yet again to appeal to the Franks, who again refused to become involved. [33]


Unsuccessful at stopping the Lombard advance, Gregory III died on 28 November 741. [34] He was succeeded by Pope Zachary. He was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica, in the oratory he had built at the start of his pontificate. [35] Gregory’s feast day is now celebrated on 10 December. [36]

Related Research Articles

Pope Stephen II was the bishop of Rome from 26 March 752 to his death. Stephen II marks the historical delineation between the Byzantine Papacy and the Frankish Papacy. During Stephen's pontificate, Rome was facing invasion by the Lombards when Stephen II to Paris to seek assistance from Pepin the Short. Pepin defeated the Lombards and made a gift of land to the pope, eventually leading to the establishment of the Papal States.

Pope Gregory II was the bishop of Rome from 19 May 715 to his death. His defiance of Emperor Leo III the Isaurian as a result of the iconoclastic controversy in the Eastern Empire prepared the way for a long series of revolts, schisms and civil wars that eventually led to the establishment of the temporal power of the popes.

Pope Zachary was the bishop of Rome from December 741 to his death. He was the last pope of the Byzantine Papacy. Zachary built the original church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, forbade the traffic of slaves in Rome, negotiated peace with the Lombards, and sanctioned Pepin the Short's usurpation of the Frankish throne from Childeric III. Zachary is regarded as a capable administrator and a skillful and subtle diplomat in a dangerous time.

The 730s decade ran from January 1, 730, to December 31, 739.

The 720s decade ran from January 1, 720, to December 31, 729.

AD 727 727

Year 727 (DCCXXVII) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 727 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

703 703

Year 703 (DCCIII) was a common year starting on Monday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 703 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

739 739

Year 739 (DCCXXXIX) was a common year starting on Thursday of the Julian calendar. The denomination 739 for this year has been used since the early medieval period, when the Anno Domini calendar era became the prevalent method in Europe for naming years.

Eutychius was the last Exarch of Ravenna.

Exarchate of Ravenna early medieval political territory in northeastern Italy

The Exarchate of Ravenna or of Italy was a lordship of the Eastern Roman Empire in Italy, from 584 to 751, when the last exarch was put to death by the Lombards. It was one of two exarchates established following the western reconquests under Emperor Justinian to more effectively administer the territories, along with the Exarchate of Africa.

Duchy of Spoleto

The Duchy of Spoleto was a Lombard territory founded about 570 in central Italy by the Lombard dux Faroald. Its capital was the city of Spoleto.

Liutprand, King of the Lombards King of the Lombards

Liutprand was the King of the Lombards from 712 to 744 and is chiefly remembered for his Donation of Sutri, in 728, his multiple phases of law-giving, in fifteen separate sessions from 713 to 733 inclusive, and his long reign, which brought him into a series of conflicts, mostly successful, with most of Italy. He is often regarded as the most successful Lombard monarch, notable for the Donation of Sutri, which was the first accolade of sovereign territory to the Papacy.

Transamund II was the Lombard Duke of Spoleto from 724 to 745, though he was twice driven from power by the king, Liutprand. Transamund rose to power by deposing his own father, Faroald II, and tonsuring him in a monastery.

Hilderic was the Lombard Duke of Spoleto briefly from 739 to 740. He was the first appointee of Liutprand, King of the Lombards, against the rebellious Thrasimund II.

Duchy of Rome

The Duchy of Rome was a state within the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna. Like other Byzantine states in Italy, it was ruled by an imperial functionary with the title dux. The duchy often came into conflict with the Papacy over supremacy within Rome. The duchy was founded by the conquest of Emperor Justinian I in 533 AD. After the founding of the Papal States in 751, the title of Duke of Rome fell into disuse.

Kingdom of the Lombards former country

The Kingdom of the Lombards also known as the Lombard Kingdom; later the Kingdom of (all) Italy, was an early medieval state established by the Lombards, a Germanic people, on the Italian Peninsula in the latter part of the 6th century. The king was traditionally elected by the highest-ranking aristocrats, the dukes, as several attempts to establish a hereditary dynasty failed. The kingdom was subdivided into a varying number of duchies, ruled by semi-autonomous dukes, which were in turn subdivided into gastaldates at the municipal level. The capital of the kingdom and the center of its political life was Pavia in the modern northern Italian region of Lombardy.

Duchy of the Pentapolis

In the Byzantine Empire, the Duchy of the Pentapolis was a duchy, a territory ruled by a duke (dux) appointed by and under the authority of the Praetorian Prefect of Italy (554–584) and then the Exarch of Ravenna (584–751). The Pentapolis consisted of the cities of Ancona, Fano, Pesaro, Rimini and Sinigaglia. It lay along the Adriatic coast between the rivers Marecchia and Misco immediately south of the core territory of the exarchate ruled directly by the exarch, east of the Duchy of Perugia, another Byzantine territory, and north of the Duchy of Spoleto, which was part of the Lombard Kingdom of Italy. The duchy probably extended inland as far as the Apennine Mountains, perhaps beyond, and its southernmost town was Humana (Numera) on the northern bank of the Misco. The capital of the Pentapolis was Rimini and the duke was both the civil and military authority in the duchy.

Byzantine Papacy Byzantine domination of the Roman papacy, 537 to 752

The Byzantine Papacy was a period of Byzantine domination of the Roman papacy from 537 to 752, when popes required the approval of the Byzantine Emperor for episcopal consecration, and many popes were chosen from the apocrisiarii or the inhabitants of Byzantine-ruled Greece, Syria, or Sicily. Justinian I conquered the Italian peninsula in the Gothic War (535–554) and appointed the next three popes, a practice that would be continued by his successors and later be delegated to the Exarchate of Ravenna.

Duchy of Perugia

The Duchy of Perugia was a duchy in the Italian part of the Byzantine Empire. Its civil and military administration was overseen by a duke (dux) appointed by and under the authority originally of the Praetorian Prefect of Italy (554–584) and later of the Exarch of Ravenna (584–751). Its chief city and namesake was Perugia (Perusia), located at its centre. It was a band of territory connecting the Duchy of the Pentapolis to its northeast with the Duchy of Rome to its southwest, and separating the duchies of Tuscia and Spoleto, both parts of the Lombard Kingdom of Italy. It was of great strategic significance to the Byzantines since it provided communication between Rome, the city of the Popes, and Ravenna, the capital of the Exarchate. Since it cut off the Duke of Spoleto from his nominal overlord, the king ruling from Pavia, it also disturbed the Lombard kingdom, which was a constant thorn in the Byzantines' side. This strategic importance meant that many Lombard and Byzantine armies passed through it.

The Synods of Rome in 731 were two synods held in St. Peter’s Basilica in the year 731 under the authority of Pope Gregory III to defend the practice of Icon veneration.


  1. Houghton Mifflin Company (2003). The Houghton Mifflin Dictionary of Biography. p. 642. ISBN   9780618252107.
  2. "The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church" . Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  3. Mann, p. 204
  4. Levillain, p. 643
  5. Treadgold, p. 354; Mann, p. 205
  6. Levillain, p. 644; Mann, p. 206
  7. Duffy, p. 64; Mann, p. 207
  8. Mann, p. 208
  9. Mann, pp. 208-209
  10. Duffy, p. 63; Mann, p. 210
  11. Mann, p. 209
  12. Mann, pp. 210-211
  13. Mann, pp. 211-212
  14. Mann, pp. 212-213
  15. 1 2 Mann, p. 214
  16. Levillain, p. 644
  17. Mann, pp. 214-215
  18. Mershman, Francis. "Sts. Willibald and Winnebald." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 15. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 18 September 2017
  19. Schwabe, Calvin W. (1979). Unmentionable Cuisine. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. p. 157. ISBN   978-0813908113.
  20. Mann, p. 216
  21. Treadgold, p. 355; Duffy, p. 63
  22. Mann, p. 221
  23. Mann, pp. 216-217
  24. Treadgold, p. 355; Mann, pp. 217-218
  25. Duffy, p. 68
  26. Michael Collins (1 August 2005). The Fisherman's Net: The Influence of the Popes on History (reprint, revised ed.). Paulist Press. p.  85. ISBN   9781587680335.
  27. Mann, pp. 218-219
  28. Irfan Shahîd (1984). Byzantium and the Arabs in the Fourth Century (illustrated, reprint ed.). Dumbarton Oaks. p. 187. ISBN   9780884021162.
  29. Mann, p. 219
  30. Mann, pp. 219-220
  31. Mann, p. 220
  32. Levillain, p. 644; Mann, p. 222
  33. Levillain; p. 644; Mann, pp. 221-222
  34. Mann, p. 223
  35. Mann, p. 224
  36. Brusher S.J., Joseph. "St. Gregory III", Popes Through the Ages


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Gregory II
Succeeded by