Written at an unknown date and place in the heart of the Dark Ages, for unknown purposes, it was embedded in the Forged Decretals in the early 9th century, and so drifted into the main collections of legal material used in the Middle Ages, including Gratian’s Decretum. In the absence of a stable political environment in Italy from the collapse of the Roman empire to the establishment of the modern Italian state, the papacy was obliged to provide for its own security. The document was used to justify it doing so. The text purports to be a legal document issued by the Emperor Constantine, transferring control of Italy and the western provinces to Pope Sylvester in gratitude for being cured of leprosy. The renaissance Popes, whose spiritual role seemed often secondary to their function as the heads of a minor Italian state, used it extensively to oppose the territorial ambitions of the great powers and support their own. But in the Renaissance, for the first time in a millennium, it was possible to compare such documents with the genuine products of antiquity. St. Nicholas of Cusa was one of the first to notice that the Donation did not agree with the picture given by other documents. But it was left to the quarrelsome but brilliant scholar Lorenzo Valla to make public that the document was a fraud. This he did around 1439-1440.
Project: 10. Churches and religions in Europe.
Chronology: 15th century
Scope: Secondary Education, Higher Education
Resource type: Text
Source: Hanover Historical Texts Project
Language: Latin and English
Owner: Filippo Galletti (Modernalia)
Copyright: English translation by Christopher B. Coleman. Scanned and proofread by Jonathan Perry, February 2001.
Abstract: The document known to us as the Donation of Constantine is one of the most famous medieval forgeries.