Julius II: Battle Pope

The tale of Julius II is one of rags and riches, of military prowess and artistic patronage. It is a tale which begins in the Italian town of Albissola, today Savona. Here in 1443 was born Giuliano della Rovere, with powerful, noble name but possessing little money. He developed a special bond with his uncle Francesco at a young age and went into the Franciscan order of monks, where he was brought up. In 1471, his uncle became Pope Sixtus IV and, in a display true of nepotism, Sixtus IV made Giuliano a cardinal, and from there he continued to increase his power. After Sixtus IV died, Giuliano's now impressive influence among the cardinals helped him bring Pope Innocent VIII to power, and he acted on Giuliano's behalf.

But when Innocent VIII died, Giuliano found that the cardinals resented the power he wielded over them, and through an intricate array of political dealings, in 1492 a man Giuliano personally detested, the cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, was elected Pope Alexander VI. To protest this election, Giuliano fled to Ostia. A year later he went into voluntary exile in France, where Charles VIII then reigned; there, he convinced Charles that it would be a good idea for France to wage war on Naples. Entering Rome with an army like Caesar or Sulla before him, Giuliano attempted unsuccessfully to remove Alexander VI from office. With his hopes dashed, he retreated to northern Italy until Alexander died in 1503. Giuliano lost the next papal election, but fortunately for him, Alexander's successor, Pope Pius III lasted only about twenty-six days before expiring. Subsequently, Giuliano obtained the support of Cesare Borgia and became Pope Julius II.

Julius II was crowned Pope at the age of 60 in 1503 and then began his real work. Ever the warrior, he carefully rejoined the Papal States into one territory ruled by the papacy in a series of alliances and minor wars fought against Venice, which had occupied several Italian cities in the Papal States. These wars were not overly successful until he obtained the help of Louis XII and the emperor Maximilian I of France and the Holy Roman Empire respectively. The 1508 League of Cambrai, comprised of France, the Empire, and the papacy, ensured that Venice lost its power in Italy. However, and ironically, France shortly thereafter became dissatisfied with the idea of papal supremacy in Italy. To protect and expand his empire, Julius found himself in the Holy League of 1510, allied with Venice, the cantons of Switzerland, Ferdinand II of Aragon, Henry VIII of England, and Maximilian I of the Empire, and that League was united against Louis XII in France. But no change in power came from this war. The Swiss won key battles in Milan and Novara and so assured Julius control of Lombardy and most of the rest of Italy in 1513; unfortunately for him, he died in that same year and the French won back their land two years later under Francis I's leadership. Of all Julius's territorial ambitions, his greatest military success was his regaining of the Papal states for the papacy.

Yet despite all the belligerence of this "warrior pope" who is most often visualized leading papal soldiers into battle, he possessed a more refined side. His admirable taste is evident in his patronage of Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael. Though he supported these artists financially, his obstinate personality shone through often; for example, he is said to have "struck Michelangelo more than once with the stick he always carried; ... but it is also reported that Julius struck anyone who irritated him." 1 One of the famous works produced at Julius's command is Raphael's painting of the Pope. Another, perhaps of more renown, is the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, which Michelangelo painted on Julius's order. Michelangelo also constructed Julius's tomb, which he ordered in 1503 but whose completion Michelangelo delayed until 1547. In 1506, Julius II began the construction of the Saint Peter's Basilica; later controversy arose over the selling of indulgences to support this project, and while Julius II also sold indulgences, his were not of a sufficient degree to inflame the people so much as did his successor, Leo X. In 1512, shortly before his death, he formed the Fifth Lateran Council, which attempted to make the Church more Italian and banned simony, the sale of ecclesiastical offices, in the college of cardinals. Thus Julius's effects as ruler went beyond his thirst for war and land to include a more direct satisfaction of his ego in the everlasting art he encouraged and reform he attempted.

Overall, it can be seen that Julius II was key to the successful maintenance of a powerful Papal States in Renaissance Italy. A more dubious question is whether without his construction of the Saint Peter's Basilica, Leo X would have levied so great an indulgence as to inspire Luther's dissent; in any case, Julius could not have known of the effects of this work. The artists whom Julius selected gained great acclaim in his and later generations. In all, Julius displayed great ingenuity (if irascible temperament) during his time as ruler of the Papal States.


1 Hoover, Sharon R. "Tour of Italy: Palimpsest - Pope Julius II". <http://touritaly.org/magazine/people01/jul02.htm>. Updated May 1999.
"CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Pope Julius II". <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08562a.htm>. Updated 1913.
"Julius II and Leo X - Sketch of Church History". <http://bible.christiansunite.com/sch/sch02-29.shtml> Updated 1904.
"Julius II. The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001" <http://www.bartleby.com/65/ju/Julius2.html>
"Pope Julius II - Wikipedia". <http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Julius_II> Updated October 6, 2002.
Spielvogel, Jackson. _Western Civilization, Comprehensive Volume, 4th edition_. 2000.

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