Why so few non-italian popes?

Aug 2011
Gaillimh (Ireland)
Are you saying that many non-Italian Cardinals were absent during absent during the papal election?
That's true, there are several examples of non-Italian cardinals who simply did not make it to the Conclave in time or did not even leave for Rome in the first place. For example, regarding the 1492 conclave (the one that elected Rodrigo Borgia), the four absent cardinals were all "non-Italians"; 6 out of 7 absent cardinal in 1484 were "non-Italian" and the same goes for the 1471 conclave.
Even when they were present, it was hard for "foreign" cardinals to hold the same influence of well-established members of the Curia, let alone worry the various factions mostly made-up of cardinal nephews and cardinals belonging to the Roman noble houses.
Foreing cardinals also served different interests, so it was very hard for them to create alliances during the conclave (I can't imagine a Spanish cardinal casting his vote for a French or vice-versa).


Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
Yeh, it makes sense after the Avignon schism that they would be concerned about having a powerful state try to take control of the papacy again. Spain, France, and at some times Poland and Austria could have been a threat to do this.

I think that once they had a non-Italian pope and more cardinals from other countries, it is going to be unlikely there will be many more Italian popes soon. I also think that because of the issue of having a power dominate the papacy, it is less likely a pope will be chose from France, or from certain minority Catholic countries like The US or Britain.
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Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
We should remember also the political aspects of the Papacy.

The Pope has been a king [absolute king] on a territory on central Italy for centuries and centuries.

So that, his "court" and is administration were real powers and object of interest for the surrounding Italian cities [to control the Papacy meant also to control commerce way, ports, markets, agriculture ... in central Italy].

Being an absolute power, Romans and Italians in general, were less ready to elect a foreign individual than the English were ready to see a foreign dynasty on the throne [no Magna Charta and parliament in Vatican ...].

This "local domain" in the papacy was extremely evident during late Middle Age and the Renaissance.

In fact the situation has changed through history.

Up to VII century the city of Rome is the main place of provenience of the Popes, then the Papacy begins to feel more external influences.
The VIII century is the century with the Syrian popes [an indication of a great importance of the Eastern Church].
In IX - X century the Papacy is still substantially a Roman matter.
The XI, XII century see the Norther Popes [also German], saying a lot about how the Empire was thinking to the Catholic Church and its social role.

The XIII century is fluid with foreign Popes as well.
XIV century: France rules.
XV, XVI centuries: great Italian cities impose their Popes.
End of XVI, the State of the Church comes back to control the Papacy.
XVII - XVIII centuries: State of the Church and great Italian cities.
XIX century: State of the Church and at the end France.
XX: Italian popes until Wojtyla
Then ... all foreign Popes.
Likes: Dentatus


Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
Canada, originally Clwyd, N.Wales
I was listening a Teaching Company lecture series on the Popes by Prof. Thomas Noble. Popes and the Papacy: A History

He made it seem that it wasn't because of Italy that many Popes are from there, but instead because of the politics of Italy. For many years the south of Italy was a Kingdom contested by Spain and France. A Pope who would give favour to one or the other, atleast in writing, was going to get the backing of whatever factions existed.

The professor also alluded to the fact that colonialism had a large part of it too. Because of the vast distances between colonies and Europe, Europeans were chosen, Italians specifically, because Italy did not have as large a colonial powerbase as other European nations around the world. Since many cardinals chose based upon the interests of their monarchs, it wouldn't make sense to vote for a Pope from a rival nation who may give favours to that nation and thus incur the wrath of your monarch.

Plus too the power of the Papacy began to wane after the medieval ages. In the 1700s, are there many Popes we can think of that just springs to mind? To me, most Popes I can even remember are the most recent ones and the ones from the 1400 and 1500 hundreds. After that they're all just Johns and Pauls, John Pauls... the XX....
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Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
At first Christian communities were small in each city and ruled by a few deacons,etc. Soon larger Christian communities were headed by leaders called bishops.

In time, one bishop in a Roman province would be the supervisor and archbishop or metropolitan of the bishops in the province. Naturally the bishop or Rome, the founding city of the Roman Empire, became the archbishop or metropolitan of the region around Rome. Naturally the bishop of Rome became the primate or head bishop of all Italy when that title and/or function was established.

And when a few bishops became recognized as patriarchs presiding over church affairs in vast regions, the bishop of Rome was naturally one of the patriarchs.

Unfortunately, the early church did not evolve special procedures to select holders of higher offices like archbishops, metropolitans, primates, and patriarchs. Those offices were attached to the offices of bishops of particular cities which was the reverse of the logical way. Instead of electing an archbishop of city X and making him also the bishop of city X, they selected the bishop of city X and made him also the archbishop of city X.

So the Archbishop of Rome. Metropolitan of Rome, Primate of Italy, and Patriarch of Rome were all selected by the ordinary process of selecting a bishop of a city. Whoever who selected the Bishop of Rome the same way the bishop of any other city was selected also got to select the Patriarch of Rome.

That is sort of like making whoever is elected Mayor of the City and County of Philadelphia also Governor of the State of Pennsylvania without any input from other Pennsylvanians.

And then the Bishops of Rome began to claim to be the rightful top Bishops of the entire Christian church worldwide, the job that is meant when someone is called a pope. And the popes were still selected the same way any ordinary bishop was selected. Which was like the people of Washington, DC electing their mayor who then also becomes President of the United States.

And when election of the pope by the college of cardinals was introduced there was still no representation of most of the Catholics in the world. Instead popes appointed mostly Italian and Roman clergy to the posts of cardinal deacons, cardinal priests, and cardinal bishops. The college of cardinals has only recently become less Rome and Italy based.
Oct 2016
Maybe the reason is political and genealogical, because they are not really "Popes" but secret Roman Emperors. The early popes list from "Peter" to at least the last official/traditional West Roman Emperor is a fake and really matches the Roman Emperors list.

eg "Peter" is really Nero. Linus "flax colour hair" is really Vespasian (Flavian "yellow coloured hair"), Alexander is Trajan who "was thinking aloud of Alex the great at Charax". Pius is Antonius Pius, Zephyrinus is Severus; Hippolytus is Heliogabalus, Silvester 1 is Constantine 1 the Great, Gregory 1 may be Gallinicus (& Romanus?).

Thesis: The Roman Emperors and the early "Popes" - All Empires - EBooks

POPE'S OFFICE IN THE BIBLE - Page 3 - Eschatology & Prophecy Forum - Christianity Board
who is the earliest historically attested Pope - History Forum ~ All Empires - Page 1
Emmet Scott - History Forum ~ All Empires

(US candidates all Pope/Rome links: who will win US presidential elections? - History Forum ~ All Empires - Page 1 )

I suspect "popes" are selected for having genealogical relation to Roman emperors/Caesars.
Rome and Italy is the centre of the (West) Roman Empire. It would be much like anti-Semites claims of Israel and Jerusalem as the centre of world "ZOG". Or Nazi Germany's Germany as "power state" of Europe. ("Away from Rome Movt"?)
We maybe see similar in Roman places like Philippines (Duterte)?

Even in Gregory 1 time and in time of synod of Whitby, it was *"Roman"* "religion/church".

But for some long time Popes official sphere was limited to Italian.

Alpin Luke's info is interesting though (# 22 & 34).

It is claimed that the selection of Polish John Paul 2 (plus his east bloc visits and "soft power") was one reason for fall of Eastern bloc.

Pope Joan English
Adrian (Nicholas Breakspear) English
John Paul2 Polish
Benedict # German
Francis 1 Argentinian/American/[Atlantean].

There is also tradition of Jewish pope Petrus Romanus?

1 said "Our current pope", not "the current pope"?
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