Leonine City

The Leonine City (in Latin Civitas Leonina) is that part of the city of Rome around which Pope Leo IV commissioned the construction of the Leonine Wall. It is on the opposite side of the Tiber from the seven hills of Rome. The Vatican City is within that area, but the Leonine City, containing also the Roman rione of Borgo, is much more extensive than the tiny Vatican City.


The Leonine Wall, which defines the Leonine City, was constructed following the sack of St.Peter by Saracens in 846. Built from 848-852 as the only extension to the walls of Rome, this three kilometre wall completely encircled the Vatican area(Civitas Leoniana). In addition, chain-towers were also built on either side of the Tiber river to repel Saracen assaults by water. Pope Leo IV used his estate workers, inhabitants from the surrounding countryside and captured Saracens, along with an imperial Frankish donation to construct the wall.

Pope Gregory VII

After refusing to crown Henry IV as the next Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Gregory VII found himself under siege within the Leonine City. After Henry took the city, Gregory fled to Castel Sant'Angelo. Gregory attributed the loss of the Leonine City to famine and negligence and not so much "the courage of Henry's men.

Lateran Treaty

In 1870, when the military forces of the Kingdom of Italy overthrew what was left of the Papal States, the Italian government intended to allow the pope to keep the Leonine City as a small remnant Papal State. However, Pope Pius IX would not agree to that arrangement, and thus there was a 59-year standoff, settled in 1929 by the Lateran Treaty, which recognized the sovereignty and independence of the Vatican City.



  • Hodges, Richard. Mohammed, Charlemagne & the Origins of Europe. Cornell University Press, 1983. ISBN 0801492629
  • Wards-Perkins, Bryan. From Classical Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press, 1984. ISBN 0198218982

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