Saeculum obscurum (Latin : the Dark Age ) was a period in the history of the Papacy during the first two-thirds of the 10th century, beginning with the installation of Pope Sergius III in 904 and lasting for sixty years until the death of Pope John XII in 964. During this period, the popes were influenced strongly by a powerful and allegedly corrupt aristocratic family, the Theophylacti, and their relatives.
The saeculum obscurum was first named and identified as a period of papal immorality by the Italian cardinal and historian Caesar Baronius in his Annales Ecclesiastici in the sixteenth century. : Pornokratie, from Greek pornokratiā, "rule of prostitutes"), hetaerocracy ("government of mistresses") and the Rule of the Harlots (German : Hurenregiment) were coined by Protestant German theologians in the nineteenth century.Baronius's primary source for his history of this period was a contemporaneous writer, Bishop Liutprand of Cremona. Baronius himself was writing during the Counter-Reformation, a period of heightened sensitivity to clerical corruption. His characterisation of the early 10th-century papacy was perpetuated by Protestant authors. The terms "pornocracy" (German
Historian Will Durant refers to the period from 867 to 1049 as the "nadir of the papacy".
The Theophylacti family originated from Theophylactus. They held positions of increased importance in the Roman nobility such as Judex, vestararius, gloriosissimus dux, consul and senator, and magister militum .Theophylact's wife Theodora and daughter Marozia held a great influence over the papal selection and religious affairs in Rome through conspiracies, affairs, and marriages.
Marozia became the concubine of Pope Sergius III when she was 15 and later took other lovers and husbands.She ensured that her son John was seated as Pope John XI according to Antapodosis sive Res per Europam gestae (958–962), by Liutprand of Cremona (c. 920–972). Liutprand affirms that Marozia arranged the murder of her former lover Pope John X (who had originally been nominated for office by Theodora) through her then husband Guy of Tuscany possibly to secure the elevation of her current favourite as Pope Leo VI. There is no record substantiating that Pope John X had definitely died before Leo VI was elected since John X was already imprisoned by Marozia and was out of public view.
Theodora and Marozia held great sway over the popes during this time.[ citation needed ] In particular, as political rulers of Rome they had effective control over the election of new popes. Much that is alleged about the saeculum obscurum comes from the histories of Liutprand, Bishop of Cremona. Liutprand took part in the Assembly of Bishops which deposed Pope John XII and was a political enemy of the Roman aristocracy and its control over papal elections. Lindsay Brook writes:
We must be especially circumspect about the writing of Liutprand of Cremona, perhaps the most polemical of the tenth century chroniclers, who had his own agenda to promote the revived western Roman Empire. ... It would be misleading to portray all, or even most, of the popes of the era as worldly and corrupt. Surviving documents (and there are obvious lacunae) make it clear that many were competent administrators, and skilful diplomats in difficult and dangerous times. Some were even reformers, keen to root out discreditable practices such as simony. Others ordered the rebuilding and restoration of Rome's churches and palaces ... Rather, it is the manner of the election of many of them and their symbiotic relationship with the Roman aristocracy that has earned their regime the designation pornocracy.
| Theophylact I, Count of Tusculum |
| Hugh of Italy |
(also married Marozia)
| Alberic I of Spoleto |
| Marozia |
| Pope Sergius III |
|Alda of Vienne|| Alberic II of Spoleto |
|David or Deodatus|| Pope John XI |
|Gregory I, Count of Tusculum|| Pope John XII |
| Pope Benedict VII |
| Pope Benedict VIII |
| Alberic III, Count of Tusculum |
| Pope John XIX |
|Peter, Duke of the Romans||Gregory II, Count of Tusculum||Gaius||Octavianus|| Pope Benedict IX |
Pope 1032–1044, 1045, 1047–1048
After several Crescentii family Popes up to 1012, the Theophylacti still occasionally nominated sons as Popes:
Pope Benedict IX went so far as to sell the Papacy to his religious Godfather, Pope Gregory VI (1045–46). He then changed his mind, seized the Lateran Palace, and became Pope for the third time in 1047–48.
The Tusculan Papacy was finally ended by the election of Pope Nicholas II, who was assisted by Hildebrand of Sovana against Antipope Benedict X. Hildebrand was elected Pope Gregory VII in 1073 and introduced the Gregorian Reforms, increasing the power and independence of the papacy.
Pope Agapetus II was Pope from 10 May 946 to his death in 955. A nominee of the Princeps of Rome, Alberic II, his pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum.
Pope Anastasius III was Pope from April 911 to his death in 913. He was a Roman by birth. A Roman nobleman, Lucian, is sometimes recognized as his father, although other sources assert that he was the illegitimate son of his predecessor Pope Sergius III (904–911). Almost nothing is recorded of Pope Anastasius III, his pontificate falling in the period when Rome and the Papacy were in the power of Theophylact, Count of Tusculum, and his wife Theodora, who approved Anastasius III's candidacy. Under his reign the Normans of Rollo were evangelized.
Pope Stephen VIII was Pope from 14 July 939 to his death in 942.
Pope Sergius III was Pope from 29 January 904 to his death in 911. He was pope during a period of feudal violence and disorder in central Italy, when warring aristocratic factions sought to use the material and military resources of the Papacy. Because Sergius III had reputedly ordered the murder of his two immediate predecessors, Leo V and Christopher, and allegedly fathered an illegitimate son who later became pope, his pontificate has been variously described as "dismal and disgraceful", and "efficient and ruthless".
Pope Leo VIII was the head of the Catholic Church from 23 June 964 to his death in 965; before that, he was an antipope from 963 to 964, in opposition to Pope John XII and Pope Benedict V. An appointee of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I, his pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum.
Pope Leo V was Pope from July 903 to his death in 904. He was pope during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum. He was thrown into prison in September 903 by the Antipope Christopher, and was probably killed at the start of the pontificate of Pope Sergius III. If his deposition is not considered valid, then his papacy may be considered to have ended with his death in 904.
Pope Leo VI was Pope for just over seven months, from June 928 to his death in February 929. His pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum.
Lando was Pope from c. September 913 to his death c. March 914. His short pontificate fell during an obscure period in papal and Roman history, the so-called Saeculum obscurum (904–964). He was the last pope to use a papal name that had not been used previously until the election of Pope Francis in 2013.
Marozia, born Maria and also known as Mariuccia or Mariozza, was a Roman noblewoman who was the alleged mistress of Pope Sergius III and was given the unprecedented titles senatrix ("senatoress") and patricia of Rome by Pope John X.
Pope John XI was Pope from March 931 to his death in December 935.
Pope John X was Pope from March 914 to his death in 928. A candidate of the Counts of Tusculum, he attempted to unify Italy under the leadership of Berengar of Friuli, and was instrumental in the defeat of the Saracens at the Battle of Garigliano. He eventually fell out with Marozia, who had him deposed, imprisoned, and finally murdered. John’s pontificate occurred during the period known as the Saeculum obscurum.
Theophylact I was a medieval Count of Tusculum who was the effective ruler of Rome from around 905 through to his death in 924. His descendants would control the Papacy for the next 100 years.
Theodora was a senatrix and serenissima vestaratrix of Rome.
The counts of Tusculum were the most powerful secular noblemen in Latium, near Rome, in present-day Italy between the 10th and 12th centuries. Several popes and an antipope during the 11th century came from their ranks. They created and perfected the political formula of noble-papacy, wherein the pope was arranged to be elected only from the ranks of the Roman nobles. The pornocracy, the period of influence by powerful female members of the family, also influenced papal history.
Alberic I was the Lombard Duke of Spoleto from between 896 and 900 until 920, 922, or thereabouts. He was also Margrave of Camerino, and the son-in-law of Theophylact I, Count of Tusculum, the most powerful man in Rome.
Guy was the son of Adalbert II of Tuscany with Bertha, daughter of Lothair II of Lotharingia.
Papal appointment was a medieval method of selecting a pope. Popes have always been selected by a council of Church fathers, however, Papal selection before 1059 was often characterized by confirmation or "nomination" by secular European rulers or by their predecessors. The later procedures of the papal conclave are in large part designed to constrain the interference of secular rulers which characterized the first millennium of the Roman Catholic Church, and persisted in practices such as the creation of crown-cardinals and the jus exclusivae. Appointment might have taken several forms, with a variety of roles for the laity and civic leaders, Byzantine and Germanic emperors, and noble Roman families. The role of the election vis-a-vis the general population and the clergy was prone to vary considerably, with a nomination carrying weight that ranged from near total to a mere suggestion or ratification of a prior election.
There was no uniform procedure for papal selection before 1059. The bishops of Rome and supreme pontiffs (popes) of the Catholic Church were often appointed by their predecessors or by political rulers. While some kind of election often characterized the procedure, an election that included meaningful participation of the laity was rare, especially as the popes' claims to temporal power solidified into the Papal States. The practice of papal appointment during this period would later result in the jus exclusivae, i.e., a right to veto the selection that Catholic monarchs exercised into the twentieth century.
The Tusculan Papacy was a period of papal history from 1012 to 1048 where three successive Counts of Tusculum installed themselves as pope.
The Synod of Rome (963) was a possibly uncanonical synod held in St. Peter’s Basilica from 6 November until 4 December 963, under the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto I to depose Pope John XII. The events of the synod were recorded by Liutprand of Cremona.