The Papal States were a group of territories located in the Italian Peninsula. These were among Italy’s major states during its existence, which began in 756 and ended in 1870. These states were also known as “The State of the Church.” Other names included the Ecclesiastical States, the Roman States, and the Pontifical States. The Papal States were under the direct rule of the Pope.
During the 4th century, the popes of Rome had acquired property around the area. As the Roman imperial authority began to break down, more people looked to the church for protection against barbarians. However, the territory remained a part of the Byzantine Empire until the 8th century.
It was during the mid-8th century when the Papal States emerged as a result of political reconfiguration. Rising taxation, iconoclasm, and the failure of Constantinople to protect Rome all contributed to this reconfiguration. Pope Stephen II appealed to Pippin III and lands of central Italy were restored. This was known as the Donation of Pippin. Territory was also ceded in northern and central Italy by Lombard king Aistulf and Charlemagne contributed to the territory’s growth.
The pope was ruler of this territory, which included the Pentapolis, the region around Ravenna, and the Roman region. Throughout the years, the political landscape changed, but the popes were able to maintain sovereignty. Throughout many centuries, the popes were faced with challenges including the rise of commune governments and the spread of the Reformation.
A string of revolts in the 1800s and a desire for national unity contributed to the fall of the Papal States. Many territories detached during this time to join the kingdom of Sardenia. In 1861, all territories with the exception of Rome join the kingdom of Italy. Rome remained separate due to its protection by French troops. In 1870, the French troops retreated and Italian troops entered. Rome was named as the capital of Italy and the Papal States were no more.
During its existence, the capital of the Papal States was Rome. Throughout the region, Latin, Italian and Occitan were the spoken languages. In the 15th century, the population of the Papal States was over 600,000. In 1853, that population exceeded 3 million. The region that made up the Papal States today is part of Italy, France, and Vatican City.