Discover the Relation & History of Rome and Vatican City! 

The Vatican City, which Rome now surrounds on all sides, was a marshy land area under the Roman Empire centuries ago.

It is now an independent holy city with unique laws and regulations and maintains a good relationship with Italy!

Before history lovers plan a visit to both of these iconic cities, you should know some of the interesting history that led to the birth of the Vatican City.

In this article, we will discover the close relationships between Rome and Vatican City and learn more about what the Vatican was like before it separated and its independent journey! 

A Glance at the Timeline of the Relationship between Rome and Vatican City

625 BC: Rome was formed.

31 BC: Emperor Octavius took the throne of Rome after the death of Emperor Augustus in 49 BC.

1 AD: Christianity spread to Rome.

64 AD: The great fire destroyed Nero’s Ciruce. Catholics, including St. Peter, were punished. 

313 AD: The Edict of Milan, giving equal rights to Christians, was passed.

326 AD-333 AD: Construction of the old St. Peter’s Basilica began. 

754 AD: Papal States were formed.

773 AD: Charlemagne liberated Rome from the Lombards.

800 AD: Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of Rome at St. Peter’s Basilica.

1048 AD – 1257 AD: Church split into the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church.

1377 AD: Pope Gregory IX brought the Holy See organization back to Rome. 

1486 AD: The Carnival restarted in Rome under Pope Paul II.

1471 AD: Construction of the Vatican Library began.

1506 AD: Construction of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel began. 

1861 AD: Rome was declared as the capital of Italy. 

1870 AD: The Franco-Prussian War began. 

1922 AD: Italy was declared an ally of Germany by Benito Mussolini.

1861 AD- 1929 AD: Period of the Roman Question.

1929 AD: The Lateran Treaty declared Vatican City as an independent state. 

The Myth-like Origin of Rome: How it Got Its Name

Rome was named after Romulus, a legendary hero from the myths, who was born with his twin brother Remus.

They were believed to be the sons of Mars, the God of war and were raised by a female wolf.

Even today, you can see the legendary statue of their birth on Capitoline Hill in the Capitoline Museum!

Romulus invited many outcasts and people from other territories into his construction in this famous mythical story of Rome.

He divided these people and named them Ramnes, which means Romans. 

The Etruscan Empire 

The story mentioned above is only a myth, while the actual formation of Rome began in 625 BC when the ancient areas of Italy came together.

These areas were named the Eturia and Latium.

Before Rome was formed, the Ager Vaticanus land, which is now the Vatican City, bordered the territory of Eturia.

This land on the west of River Tiber was avoided by villagers from Latium, who were expecting an attack from Eturia. 

Eturia attacked Latium in the 600s, which led to the formation of Rome, and the Vatican City land was now part of the entire city.

Sadly, the land still remained empty for years since it was affected by floods from the Tiber River throughout the year. 

Before Rome became a republic state, it was under the rule of seven kings, lasting until 510 BC.

It was a period when Rome’s military powers grew, and the kings expanded the territory of Rome with increased trade. 

Historians believe that the Etruscans ruled Rome for a century and also had many battles with the Greeks.

The city of Rome was originally a Latin city, and even though the Etruscans highly influenced it, it continued to follow Latin traditions. 

The original inhabitants of Rome were the Latins, Trojans, Arcadeans, some Greek ancestors, and Italic speakers. 

Rome gained freedom from the Etruscans in 500 BC from where began the formation of Rome as a Republic! 

The Formation of the Republic of Rome

To know how the Vatican City land became glorious, we must first know how Rome came under the Emperors.

After the Etrusceans left, Rome was not ruled by Kings but was managed by upper-class members. 

These senators and knights formed a new law of the Twelve Tables, which all the citizens of Rome maintained in 451 BC.

The expansion of Rome continued even during this period, and these members captured the whole peninsula of Italy in 338 BC.

Since Rome was not under the control of one leader, a dangerous period of chaos and war was born.

To get control of Rome, a new dictator, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, took the throne of Rome after winning the Sulla Civil War in 81 BC.

His rule continued for many years until Julius Caesar overtook Rome’s rule and began a war with Pompey in 49 BC.

On Caesar’s death, his nephew Octavius overtook the throne in 44 BC and shared his rule with Mark Anthony.

Shakespeare’s fans will know that Octavius took over Egypt after defeating Mark Anthony in 31 BC. 

The Glorious Roman Empire

The grand defeat of Mark Anthony made the capital of Rome huge enough to be a Roman Empire!

It was considered the largest city of Rome during this period, with a population of millions.

The Empire only continued its glory under Emperor Augustus, who completed all the projects of Ceasar.

He also added his own Augustus Forum and the altar of Ara Pacis! 

During this period, Agrripina the Elder, mother of  Emperor Caligula, drained the Vatican land.

She commanded the construction of luxurious villas and gardens on this marshy land, which only wealthy Romans could afford.

After her death, Emperor Caligula turned the land into a charioteer circus area, completed under Nero and named “The Circus of Nero.”

Christian Influences

Christianity spread to Rome in the 1st century AD, and the punishment of people practicing the faith began under Roman Emperor Trajan. 

In 64 AD, Emperor Nero took advantage of this dislike towards Christians and set fire to the Vatican land.

It was during this Great Fire of Rome that a great number of Christians got targeted, and it’s been suggested that figures like Saints Peter and Paul may have been among them. 

However, the specific involvement of these saints in the fire events remains a matter of historical debate.

Emperor Diocletian was the last to command an attack over the Christians, but till 310 AD, the population had spread so much that it was hard to control.

An official policy was passed in 313 AD, known as the Edict of Milan, which allowed Christians to be treated equally in the Empire. 

This is how the development of the Vatican City began again, as Emperor Constantine donated the Lateran Palace area to the Pope.

This is where now stands the majestic St. Peter’s Basilica, constructed in the 4th century!  

Many of the Christian structures in Rome were constructed from the remains of other pagan temples.

As the influence of Christianity spread in Rome, the Temple of Romulus and Remus was changed to the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

Similarly, the famous Roman Pantheon became the St. Mary and Martyrs Basilica. 

The Popularity of the Pope Increases

As the Empire of Rome expanded, so did the influence of the Pope continued to grow over Rome.

Emperor Phocas of the Byzantine Empire increased the Bishop’s position in Rome by declaring Pope Boniface III as the head of all Churches.

Phocas gave it away to the Church to ensure the Pantheon kept its glory, and it was called the Basilica of St. Mary and Martyrs. 

In 727 AD, the new Emperor Leo III did not want the Pope to have any power and tried to ban religious articles from Rome.

In response, Pope Gregory II formed a council in 731 AD to go against this attack.

The Pope gained a position of significant importance in the Byzantine Roman Empire, which led to the birth of the Papal States in 754 AD. 

Since the population and resources of Rome kept reducing because of continuous war with the surrounding states, they had to get help from these Papal States.

This caused the wealth owned by the Pope to increase significantly.

The Emperor then took away all the Papal States from the Pope, giving the Patriarch of Constantinople the power. 

In 773, to gain power back over Rome, Pope Hadrian I hired Charlemagne to defeat the Lombards from Constantinople.

This led to the dawn of a new era for the Church in Rome. 

The Holy Roman Empire is formed

The new Pope Leo III crowned Emperor Charlemagne in St. Peter’s Basilica on 25th December 800.

Under Charlemagne, who worked in favor of the Church, the official religion of the city was Christianity.

The death of Charlemagne did nothing to reduce the Church’s power in Rome!

A document in the 4th century stated that the Pope was to be the new ruler of Rome, and no Emperors were needed.

Do you know that this document was recently proven to be fake? 

The Pope’s Return to Rome

In the years between 1048 and 1257, the Church was divided into the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church, so the Popes began living outside Rome. 

Rome became a major tourist attraction because of the Church’s influence, but it was very different from other Italian cities ruled by the aristocrats.

Because of the many rebellions against the Church, the Pope’s position was in danger of being taken away. 

Many wars and conflicts took place over this in the years to come, and Pope Urban finally escaped to Avignon.

For many years, Pope Gregory XI, the successor of Pope Urban, tried to return to Rome but was not allowed to do so by the King and French Cardinals. 

When Pope Gregory XI returned to Rome in the 14th century, the city had a very low population as no one was in charge for years. 

Through much struggle, he bought back the Holy See organization of Rome in 1377. 

Renaissance Influence 

The influence of the Renaissance spread to Rome from Florence, and the Popes began constructing marvels to beat the other cities. 

They hired artists like Michelangelo, Rosselli, Bernini, etc, to work on the Vatican City. 

Humanistic teachings began spreading throughout Rome under Pope Nicholas V.

The marriage of Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick III on 16th March 1452 also increased the hold of the Church over Rome. 

Pope Paul II restarted the Carnival Festival in Rome in 1486, which attracted around a million people from all over the world!

The first Pope, the King of Rome, Sixtus VI, was a fan of art and continued beautifying the Vatican City with a new Vatican library in 1471.

During his reign, Sixtus VI commissioned the construction of the world-famous Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. 

The Vatican Museums, Borgia Apartments, and St. Peter’s Basilica were built, beautifying Rome under Julius II.

During the Baroque period, the Papacy reached its peak power in Rome because of the Church’s work for the development of Rome. 

The Unification of Italy

The Unification of Italy brought about the most changes in the power of the Papacy over Rome. 

The Piedmont forces of Italy had united the other cities of Italy, and only Rome was left to be captured.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Papal States fell under the control of Napoleon and the French Government.

Even though the Congress of Vienna, held in 1814, returned the States to the Pope, the power of the Papacy was significantly reduced over Rome.

In 1861, Rome was made the capital of Italy, even though it was still under the rule of the Pope. 

In the Franco-Prussian War in July 1870, the Italian troops overtook Rome, except for the Apostolic Palace.

As soon as World War I ended in 1918, Benito Mussolini took over Italy at the request of King Emmanuel II.

He declared Italy an ally of Germany and took over the city in 1922.  

This period between 1861 and 1929 is called the Roman Question, as Pope Pius IX refused to leave the Vatican City until these problems were solved.

Lateran Treaty: the Birth of the holy Vatican City

The Roman Question finally ended in 1929 when Benito Mussolini signed the Lateran Treaty, declaring Vatican City an independent state.

The treaty also granted Catholics a special status in Italy.

Check out our Vatican History article to know more about how they were affected by World War II. 

Even though the government did not bother with Vatican City, other church properties, such as the Quirinal Palace, were taken over. 

The Relationship between Rome and Vatican City today

The Vatican City is now a completely sovereign state, with laws made by the Holy See to follow.

Covering 49 hectares of land, it hosts famous attractions like the Vatican Museum, St. Peter’s Basilica, and Vatican Gardens

It is the smallest state in the world in size and population, with 529 residents.

The state is ruled by the Pope, who gets help from the clergy, including bishops, priests, and deacons.

It houses some of the most beautiful art sites in the world and receives most of its economic money through donations. 

FAQs on the Relation and History of Rome and Vatican City

What was the Vatican City like under the rule of the Roman Emperors?

Before Vatican City became its state, it was a marshy area housing Nero’s Circus in medieval Rome. After the fire of 64 AD, Emperors and Popes started constructing churches and attractions here, now highlights of the Vatican City. 

When did Christianity spread in Rome?

Christianity began spreading in Rome in the 1st century AD and continued growing because the Edict of Milan passed in 313. It became the official religion of Rome after ten years. 

How did the Church get hold of the Roman Pantheon?

The Byzantine Emperor Phocas gifted the Roman Pantheon to Pope Boniface III to ensure its maintenance. 

Who got the Holy See organization back to Rome?

Pope Gregory IX bought the Holy See organization back to Rome in 1377. 

When did the Vatican City receive independence?

The Vatican City became an independent city-state after the Lateran Treaty passed in 1929. 

What is the relationship between Rome and the Vatican City?

The Vatican City is an independent state with its laws and government, which shares its territory bordered by Rome on all sides. 

Featured Photo by L A L A S Z A on Unsplash,Maëva Vigier on Unsplash

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