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A pious fraud: 8th century

At the period when the popes first acquire temporal power in Italy, in the 8th century, the theory evolves that their new Papal States belong to them anyway. The first Christian emperor, Constantine, is now said to have granted to Silvester I (pope from 314 to 335) the right to rule over Italy and the whole western world.

During the 8th century, either in Rome or in the Frankish empire, this entirely false piece of history is enshrined in a document known as the Donation of Constantine - the supposed grant authorized by Constantine himself.

It is possible that this is forged in a papal context in the mid-8th century, to persuade the Frankish king Pepin III to protect Rome from the Lombards; or it may be created later by the Franks to justify their not having returned Ravenna to the the Byzantine emperor. Either way the actual writing of the document is likely to be a pious fraud, in the limited sense that the authors probably believe such a gift was made by Constantine - leaving them only with the task of providing the missing evidence.

The document is widely accepted during the Middle Ages, and is much quoted by popes to bolster their authority. It is first shown to be a forgery by a Renaissance scholar, Lorenzo Valla, in 1440.

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