Carolus Rex Senator Urbis: How Charles of Anjou became Crowned King of Sicily, Roman Senator in Christian Times – and killed Conradin, rightful Heir to the Staufen Dynasty


Charles of Anjou, Conradin and Rome, capital of the world, those three are the main characters of our story which is about the bloody end of the Staufer and the conquest of Sicily.

Come along with us on our journey through the world of money. Today we are stopping in Rome. We are in the year 1268 AD.

A woman clad in elegant garments is depicted on this coin. On her head, she wears a crown with long pendants, the pendilia. In her right hand she holds the globe symbolizing world dominion, in her left a palm branch as the victor’s attribute. The inscription tells us who we are dealing with: ROMA CAPVD MVNDI, and SPQR for Senatus PopulusQue Romanus – Rome, Capital of the World. Senate and People of Rome.

The goddess Roma representing Christian Rome? Senate and people of Rome in the papal metropolis? This is strange! The coin’s reverse likewise raises questions. The lion is really not that unusual. The inscription is, though! It reads CAROLVS REX SENATOR VRBIS, thus King Charles, Senator of the city of Rome.

Who was this Charles? What was he king of? And why did he call himself senator at a time the senate was long consigned to history?

To answer all those questions, we have to take a look at events happening about 20 years before this coin was struck.

In December 1250, Frederick II Holy Roman Emperor and King of Sicily died. He ruled Southern Italy and he would have loved to likewise rule Northern and Central Italy. He spent half his life fighting wars over those territories. In doing so, he made himself a bitter enemy: the Pope.

Between the Empire and Sicily, the Pope was on the horns of a dilemma. No pope could allow Germany and Sicily being united under one single ruler.

So the Pope looked for a new ruler over Sicily already during Frederick’s lifetime. He claimed the kingdom to be a papal tenure which was why he, the Pope, could assign it to any candidate he deemed suitable. Unfortunately, nobody wanted to attack powerful and rich Sicily and expel the Staufer. Besides, the Pope intended to benefit from the deal.

There was only one man ambitious enough to agree on that. Charles of Anjou, the younger brother of Saint Louis. In 1263, he signed the papal contract, only to break it before he had even left France.

The reason for this was Rome. The city was not under papal authority at that time. Quite the opposite, the Roman nobility tried to behave like an autonomous republic, like Florence or Venice. In this situation, Charles of Anjou came in handy. The Romans appointed him senator, highest ranking official of their commune.

That was a clear breach of contract. Charles had promised not to assume any kind of office in Italy. Yet there he was - head of Rome’s executive body. But the pope had no other option. There was nobody, instead of Charles, he could have enfeoffed with Sicily. So he gave in. On May 23, 1265, Charles of Anjou took up residence in the Senators’ Palace on the Capitoline Hill. On June 28, four cardinals crowned him King of Sicily.

It took only one single battle to defeat his rival Manfred, the illegitimate son of Frederick II. The fight was still far from being won, though.

Conradin, the grand-son of Frederick II and thus rightful heir to Sicily, embarked to conquer the kingdom. When he left Germany, he was only fifteen years old. He did not have many soldiers, but the people loved him. The Romans welcomed the handsome juvenile rather enthusiastically. He was a man to the masses’ liking: young, energetic, fair-haired and promising.

Only one month later, his army was crushed and Conradin a prisoner of Charles of Anjou. Charles had the last member of the Staufen dynasty publicly executed, in the marketplace of Naples, on October 29, 1268. The nobility was appalled. Charles thought he had finally prevailed. No other rival was on the scene. Sicily was his.

Rome humbly submitted to him. Charles resumed office and, as a senator, regained control over the city. He was head of defense, legislature, financial and fiscal affairs. In a nutshell, this coin, on which he calls himself Senator of Rome, testifies to his comprehensive victory.

The next item on his agenda was to clear the massive debts he had contracted in order to capture Sicily. To that end, Charles introduced an almost modern tax administration throughout his empire. The Sicilians hated him for that.

A riot broke out. The nobility of the country vented its anger in the Sicilian Vesper. They sent for Peter of Aragon. Anjou and Aragon started a war that was to last for decades. It turned prosperous Sicily into one of the poorest countries in Europe.

Thank you for listening. And you can find more podcasts about coins and money on the Sunflower Foundation Web page.

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