New from 1573: the Papal son Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612) receives citizenship in Rome

An illustrated essay by Max Duboff (Rutgers ’19)

Diploma of 1573 granting Roman citizenship to Giacomo Boncompagni, son of Pope Gregory XIII. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Among the unpublished documents in the archive of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi in their Villa Aurora, a 27 July 1573 diploma granting citizenship from the city of Rome to the Prince’s 10th great-grandfather Giacomo Boncompagni (1548-1612) certainly stands out.

First, it must be said that any contemporary document that treats the legitimated son of Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni during his pontificate has its own intrinsic interest. And this diploma features colorful and highly symbolic illustrations; it formulaically praises Giacomo (also called Jacopo) while expansively describing the rights of citizenship in sixteenth-century Rome; and it has as its companion a large commemorative gold medal (apparently unique) minted for the occasion. The newly elected Gregory XIII secured the honor as a favor for his son Giacomo, in the process providing us with valuable context on Giacomo, Gregory himself, the social importance of citizenship, and the interplay of Papal and civic power in the city.

Pope Gregory XIII Boncompagni, above his son Giacomo Boncompagni with wife Costanza Sforza. From Pompeo Litta, Famiglie celebri italiane II (1836), after portraits by Lavinia Fontana

The diploma’s ornamentation sets the stage for its text and thus deserves careful study. The border of the document is a lustrous gold with a thick blue border inside and thin blue and gold borders outside. These unabashedly regal colors signal to any observer that the document carries considerable weight.

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The eye is immediately drawn to the image above the text in the center of the page: in it two figures—one representing Mary holding the baby Jesus and the other representing Roma, the personification of the city—rest a hand on the Boncompagni crest, complete with papal tiara and keys. The municipal government might have issued this diploma, but it clearly operated under the shadow of the Papacy, and the two figures side by side grant legitimacy to the city of Rome as a Christian hub, both with and without the Pope.

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The rest of the border establishes a strong military theme; on the left, for example, a wreathed angel with two trumpets in her mouth stands on a helmet formed from a globe, whereas on the right a similar figure stands on a beaked trireme.

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Various weapons, banners, shields, instruments, and trophies (empty armor taken from defeated enemies) dot the background of the border.

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Further, in the top left corner Mars receives a wreath from a winged Nike, while in the top right corner the characteristic Roman lupa suckles Romulus and Remus.

These symbols magnificently glorify the Rome of old, evoking strength and power over its foes, a sharp contrast with the relatively weak Papal States of 1573.

Both the left and right border feature a Boncompagni crest in the center of the page—hinting, however, that the Boncompagni Papacy can restore Rome to its former glory. The Boncompagni branding also reflects the dreams of Giacomo, who, in the words of noted Papal historian Ludwig Pastor (The History of the Popes from the Close of the Middle Ages vol. XIXtrans. Kerr, London 1930), aspired to a “principality or the purple.”

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Strikingly, the diploma liberally employs pagan images and tropes to aggrandize sixteenth-century Rome, only minimally referencing Christianity. Rome’s municipal government clearly thought of itself as independent from the Papacy and as the true heir to the legacy of ancient Rome, despite how the diploma aims to please Gregory XIII.

But what was the municipal government, and what role did citizenship play in this legacy?

The city government of Rome operated semi-autonomously from the Papacy, steadily losing authority over time. At the time of this diploma, the municipal government still advocated for the populace and had authority over day-to-day affairs such as business practices and the city’s food supply.

The conservatori, all-purpose magistrates closely linked to many of the actual functions of the civic government, could bestow citizenship diplomata, though, as historian Hanns Gross notes (Rome in the Age of Enlightenment, Cambridge 1990), “the significance of such privilege would be diminished as both the power and prestige of the Popolo Romano was reduced.” That process accelerated when the Pope began directly appointing a governor of Rome.

Still, the Conservators and the Papal government each feature prominently in this diploma, indicating the coexistence between the Pope and the people of Rome regardless of tensions.

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The diploma, written in gold Latin lettering, begins with a dedication which names Antoninus Ciocius (= Antonino Ciocia), Octavianus Crescentius (= Ottavio Crescenzio), and Camillus Elephantucius (= Camillo Fantuzzi) as Conservators of the city.

The introduction praises Giacomo lavishly (“ILLUSTRIS ET EXCELLENTIS”) and introduces him by his positions, commander of the Papal forces and prefect of the Castel Sant’Angelo. To further emphasize this latter role, an intricate picture of the Castel is drawn behind the first letter of the text.

Castel S Angelo in detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The introductory paragraph concludes with the first of four instances of the abbreviation SPQR (“Senate and people of Rome”)—an official slogan of the Roman Republic and later Empire used here to summon the glory of ancient Rome—followed by the abbreviation DERIFC (likely “concerning that thing they thus decree to happen”)  to establish that this document has binding power.

The main text of the diploma begins by summarizing Roman history, from the kings onward, identifying citizenship as a primary social force in the Republic. It notes that Roman citizenship had been granted throughout time to deserving men, placing Giacomo, a Bolognese, in a long line of similar honorees.

The technical description of citizenship follows, listing the right to vote (“PRIVILEGIA SVFFRAGIA”) and some unspecified exemptions (“IMMVNITATES”), likely from taxes, military service, etc.

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The anonymous authors then move into a section on Giacomo himself; although putting emphasis on their glorious ancestors, they claim that they are freely granting citizenship and use rather universalistic terms (e.g. “VLTIMAS TERRAS”) to describe previous honorees.

Giacomo receives praise in particular for his prudence, intellect, and industry (“PRVDENTIA, INGENIVM, INDVSTRIA”) and then for loving Rome and possessing all virtue and praise. His titles are listed to complete the section about him.

The final portion of the text, after complimenting Giacomo a bit more, essentially wishes him well with the newly granted citizenship but draws a noticeable distinction between old and new citizens even while calling them equal.

What circumstances surrounded this diploma? We know relatively little, but it seems likely that Gregory XIII coerced the civic government, as evidenced by textual details that are uncharacteristically subtle for this sort of document.

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Ludwig Pastor observes that Gregory merely “allowed the city of Rome to make Giacomo an honorary citizen”, representing this citizenship grant as a small effort by Gregory XIII to satisfy Giacomo’s ambitions while mostly keeping them in check.

A few clues from the text itself indicate resistance to strong external influence on the honor: first, as aforementioned, the document places Giacomo in a long line of other honorees. This distinction serves both to minimize and glorify Giacomo; on one hand it implies he is not special, but on the other it recognizes him as especially meritorious.

More curiously, the text repeatedly references the foreign (e.g. “PEREGRINIS HOMINIBVS,” “VLTIMAS TERRAS”) as opposed to the Roman. The Boncompagni hailed from Bologna, a city in Italy today but an entirely different world in the sixteenth century. These oblique hints about Giacomo’s origins served to undermine the legitimacy of Gregory XIII since Rome could still remember the destruction of foreign invaders earlier in the century.

The use of first-person plural pronouns, particularly to describe the Roman aristocracy (e.g. “QVIBUS PATRICII CIVES NOSTRI AC SENATORES”), heightens this contrast and perhaps frames Giacomo as a novus homo (“new man”) even though he hailed from an aristocratic family.

Detail of 1573 Roman citizenship diploma for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

Finally, the word for “governor” appears to describe Giacomo’s command of the Papal military forces. The Conservators, who promulgated the actual citizenship grant, operated under the command of a different sort of governor, so the word “GVBERNATOR” has specific political connotations.

Although Gregory XIII probably did not order the diploma directly, he might very well have mentioned his interest to the governor, who, as part of his interactions with the civic government, then took care of the minutiae.

But the author(s) of this document had no illusions about the governor’s role, and cleverly depict Giacomo as a Papal tool, a foreigner who might deserve praise at the moment but truly belongs away from Rome.

Obverse of 1573 Roman citizenship medal for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

The gold commemorative medal accompanying the diploma tells a similar story. Its obverse features two female figures, one with a cross and keys to represent the Church and one with a sword and scales to represent the Popolo Romano, each with a hand on a crown.

The SPQR in the center recalls the ancient Republic and strongly establishes non-Papal and perhaps anti-Papal influence on the medal. Even the rocky ground the figures stand on, which recurs on the reverse, might reference the Italian countryside or the Apennines, seen as distinctly Roman. The inscription on the edge of the obverse simply notes the occasion.

Reverse of 1573 Roman citizenship medal for Giacomo Boncompagni. Collection of HSH Prince Nicolo’ and HSH Princess Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi, Rome

On the reverse, the legend “a sign given out of love and respect” (SIGNUM DAT ᐧ AMORIS ET OBSERVANTIAE) stands in stark contrast to the image, the same as in the top left of the diploma, with a representation of Roma seated on the seven hills of the city, with a winged Victoria in her palm. Romulus and Remus suckled by the she-wolf, another image on the diploma, appear in the lower left, and in the lower right there is a personification of the river-god Tiber.

Implications of military might befit Giacomo, commander of the Papal forces, but here the imagery is pagan. Ancient Rome inspired the Papacy and the Roman civic government alike and provided the civic government with a way to subtly criticize the Papacy. After all, even if the victories represented are Giacomo’s, the Popolo Romano had to fight his battles.

The apparent prototype for the reverse of the citizenship medal received by Giacomo Boncompagni in 1573 is a bronze sestertius of Vespasian (71 CE, RIC 108), Credit: Numismatica Ars Classica Auction 54 (24 March 2010) lot 361

The Popolo Romano might thus expect considerable protections, but citizenship in sixteenth-century Rome represented more than citizenship does in modern democracies; hence its exclusivity. As in antiquity, citizens in the time of Gregory XIII were not simply members of the state but rather received lucrative benefits and exemptions.

Nevertheless, key similarities stand out: Giacomo received the right to vote on civic matters in Rome and receive services from the state, provisions of citizenship today. Citizenship also passed from parents to children, allowing for general inflation of the citizenry. In cases where citizenship does not pass by birth, we too only confer citizenship on those deemed worthy; detailed citizenship tests following arduous immigration processes show a commitment to exclusivity even though we largely consider citizenship a basic right.

It is interesting to note that in 1581 Michel de Montaigne also received an honorary grant of Roman citizenship. In an essay “Of Vanity” he describes the text as not entirely complimentary, appending a transcription of the Latin document, passed under the same scribes that registered Giacomo nine years previous: “an authentick bull of a Roman burgess…was granted me when I was last there, glorious in seals and gilded letters; and granted with all imaginable ceremony and bounty. And because ’tis couch’d in a mixt style, more or less favourable, and that I could have been glad to have seen a copy of it before it had pass’d the seal.” [translation Charles Cotton; emphasis mine.]

Montaigne, “Of Vanity“: transcription of decree of Roman citizenship in his honor, 13 March 1581.

Rome’s citizenry continued to grow until 1746, when virtually all Romans held citizenship. Benedict XIV marked off noble families in the Golden Book (Libro d’Oro) and once again politically stratified Roman society.

One cannot help but sympathize with the Popolo Romano as it helplessly resisted encroaching Papal power. Despite its eventual failure, however, its complicated relationships continue to provide insight through Giacomo’s diploma and medal and countless other artifacts.

Scipio Pulzone (“Il Gaetano”, 1544-1598), portrait of Giacomo (Jacopo) Boncompagni, dated to 1574 (detail). The painting was sold on 30 January 2013 by Christie’s

My transcription and translation of the diploma follow:

QVOD ANTONINVS CIOCIVS, OCTAVIANVS CRESCENTIVS

CAMILLVS ELEPHANTVCIVS VRBIS COSS.

DE ILLVSTRISS ∙ ET EXCELLENTISS ∙ IACOBO BONCOMPAGNO

PEDESTRIS ET EQVESTRIS MILITIAE ∙ S ∙ R ∙ E ∙ GVBERNATORE, ET CASTRI

S ∙ ANGELI PRAEFECTO CIVITATE DONANDO AD SENATVM RETVLERVNT

∙ S ∙ P ∙ Q ∙ R ∙

∙ D ∙ E ∙ R ∙ I ∙ F ∙ C ∙

CVM AB IPSO ROMANAE VRBIS PRIMORDIO PRAECLARE FVERIT PRIMVM. A REGIBVS INSTITVTVM, DEINDE | A REPVBLICA PERPETVO OBSERVATVM, NON MODO VT CIVES IPSI PRO CVIVSQVE MERITO HONORIBVS AC | PRAEMIIS DECORATI, CETEROS AD EGREGIAM BENE DE PATRIA MERENDI CONSVETVDINEM EXCITARENT, | VERVM ETIAM VT PEREGRINIS HOMINIBVS, QVORVM PERSPECTA NOBILITAS, AVT INSIGNI ALIQVO | FACINORE COGNITA VIRTVS ESSET, IN CIVITATEM ADSCRIPTIS EADEMQVE VETERIBVS CIVIBVS IVRA | PRIVILEGIA SVFFRAGIA IMMVNITATES NVLLO DISCRIMINE IMPERTIRENTVR. NOS ANIMVM AC MENTEM AD | EA SAEPE REFERENTES, QVIBVS MAIORES NOSTRI DECVS IMMORTALE CONSECVTI, NON FINITIMIS MODO GENTIBVS, | VERVM VLTIMAS QVOQVE TERRAS INCOLENTIBVS LEGES DEDERVNT, EANDEM COMMVNICANDAE CIVITATIS CONSVETVDINE | LIBENTER IMITAMVR, ANIMADVERTENTES IN PRIMIS, VT HVNC HONOREM NON TEMERE, NVLLO DELECTV, SED IN | EOS POTISSIMVM CONFERAMVS, QVORVM NOBIS PRVDENTIA, INGENIVM, INDVSTRIA, QVASI PAREM ALIQVANDO | GRATIAM REFERAT, SIC VT ILLVSTRI CIVIVM ROMANORVM PERENNIQ∙ ET CONTESTATA GLORIA DIGNI | FVISSE VIDEANTVR EX HOC NVMERO CVM VNVM VEHEMENTER EXCELLERE COGNOVERIMVS, NOSTRAE CIVITATIS | AMANTISSIMVM, OMNI VIRTVTE AC LAVDE CVMVLATVM IACOBVM BONCOMPAGNVM BONONIENSEM PEDESTRIS | ET EQVESTRIS MILITIAE SANCTAE ROMANAE ECCLESIAE GVBERNATOREM ET CASTRI ∙ S ∙ ANGELI PRAEFECTVM | PLACVIT ∙ S ∙ P ∙ Q ∙ R ∙ VT EXTET IVDICII, AMORIS, OBSERVANTIAE SVAE TESTIMONIVM, DONARE EVM AMPLISSIMO | CIVITATIS IVRE VT IISDEM REBVS COMMODIS, ORNAMENTIS VTATVR, FRVATVR, POTIATVR ET GAVDEAT, QVIBVS PATRICII | CIVES NOSTRI AC SENATORES, VTI FRVI, POTIRI ET GAVDERE CONSVEVERVNT. QVAM VOLVNTATEM, AC SENTENTIAM, | SINGVLARI OMNIVM ∙ CONSENSV AC LAETITIA COMPROBATAM, IN PVBLICAS LITTERAS, PER SCRIBAS EIVSDEM SACRI | SENATVS, AD AETERNAM MEMORIAM REFERRI, EIDEM ∙ S ∙ P ∙ Q ∙ R ∙ ITA PLACVIT. VT BENEFICIVM, HONOREMQ∙  NON | MAGIS DARE, QVAM ACCIPERE VIDERETVR. IN CAPITOLIO ∙ VI ∙ KL ∙ SEPTEMBRIS ANNO POST NOSTRAM SALVTEM ∙ M∙D∙LXXIII.

Horatius Fuscus Sacri S ∙ P ∙ Q ∙ R. Scriba;

Vinc(entiu)s Martholus Sacri S ∙ P ∙ Q ∙ R. Scriba

Giovanni V. Melone for Gregory XIII Boncompagni (ca. 1578): medal commemorating the Pope’s rebuilding of the Palazzo Senatorio del Campidoglio. Credit: Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger Auction 281 (2 May 2012) lot 2265

TRANSLATION:
Whereas Antoninus Ciocius, Octavianus Crescentius, and Camillus Elephantucius, Conservators of the city, referred to the Senate concerning presenting with citizenship the most illustrious and excellent Jacopo Boncompagni, commander of the infantry and cavalry of the Holy Roman Church and prefect of the Castel Sant’Angelo

SPQR [The Roman Senate and People]

DERIFC [concerning that thing they thus decree to happen]

Since from the very beginning of the city of Rome it first was instituted by the kings,

and later observed in perpetuity by the republic,

not only that citizens themselves, decorated with honors and rewards, according to the  merit of each, might stimulate others to the admirable custom of deserving well of the fatherland;

but also (that) to non-citizen men, whose nobility is conspicuous, or whose virtue is ascertained thanks to some outstanding deed, having been registered into citizenship,

there might be imparted the same rights, privileges, voting rights and immunities as old citizens possess, with no difference;

we often, turning our spirit and mind to those matters by which our ancestors, having gained immortal splendor, gave laws not only to neighboring peoples, but even to those inhabiting the furthest lands, are gladly imitating the same tradition of sharing citizenship,

taking notice first of all that we confer this honor not rashly, without selectivity, but especially on those whose wisdom, intellect, and industry to us might at some time requite almost an equal favor, in a way that they should seem to have been worthy of the illustrious, ever-lasting and proven glory of Roman citizens;

from this number, since we have seen that one strongly excels, most loving of our city, having accumulated every virtue and praise, Jacopo Boncompagni of Bologna, commander of the infantry and cavalry of the Holy Roman Church and prefect of the Castel Sant’Angelo,

the SPQR resolved, in order that a testimony might be conspicuous of his judgment, love and reverence, to present him with the fullest right of citizenship, in order that he might employ, enjoy, possess and rejoice in the same attributes, advantages and distinctions that our patrician citizens and senators have been accustomed to employ, enjoy, possess and rejoice in; (and) that this vote and opinion, confirmed by the remarkable consent and joy of all, in the public accounts by the scribes of the same sacred Senate be registered into eternal memory.

And it was so resolved by the same SPQR that it not appear to give a benefit and honor in a greater degree than he appear to receive. On the Capitol, six days before the Kalends of September [i.e. 27 August], in the 1573rd year after our salvation.

Giovanni V. Melone for Gregory XIII Boncompagni (ca. 1579): medal commemorating the Pope’s rebuilding of the Palazzo Senatorio del Campidoglio, with focus on its new tower. Credit: A. Tkalec AG auction of Papal Medals Part II (7 May 2008) lot 148

Max DuBoff is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences (Honors College) of Rutgers University-New Brunswick, studying Philosophy and Classics. This academic year, as a participant in Rutgers’ Aresty Research Assistant Program, he has been researching the cultural history of the Boncompagni Ludovisi under the direction of professor T. C. Brennan. Max plans to pursue graduate studies in Ancient Philosophy.

Comments

  1. Rita Boncompagni Ludovisi says:

    Excellent!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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