Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Julius II (1443–1513) from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Pope (1503–13). A politician who wanted to make the Papal States the leading power in Italy, he formed international alliances first against Venice and then against France. He began the building of St Peter's Church in Rome in 1506 and was a patron of the artists Michelangelo and Raphael.


Julius II

Summary Article: Julius, II (1443 - 1513)
From Thames & Hudson Dictionary of the Italian Renaissance, The

Ablest of the nephews of Sixtus IV, Giuliano della Rovere became Cardinal S. Pietro in Vincula on the elevation of his uncle in 1471. He was one of the most successful pluralists of his age, eventually accumulating 8 bishoprics and 1 archbishopric (Avignon) as well as numerous abbeys. As legate a latere to France (1480–82) he displayed his diplomatic skill by reconciling Louis XI and Maximilian of Austria. Being also largely responsible for the election of Innocent VIII (1484), he continued to enjoy considerable influence and, during the so-called Barons' War (1484–86), provided, with characteristic energy, for the defence of Rome from the armies of the King of Naples. After the election of his rival, Cardinal Borgia, as Alexander VI (1492), Giuliano retired to his fortress at Ostia. In 1494 he fled to France, hoping to obtain backing for the convocation of a Council to depose Alexander VI. This plan failed and Giuliano was reconciled with the Borgias (1498). In 1502, however, Cesare Borgia invaded the duchy of Urbino, whose heir-apparent was Francesco della Rovere, and Giuliano again retired to France, returning to Rome on Alexander VI's death (1503). On the death of Pius III, Giuliano himself became pope (1503).

His pontificate was an important one for the Papacy. Julius II, whom Machiavelli admired almost unreservedly, was responsible for reconstituting the Papal State into the form it retained for 4 centuries. He recovered the territories taken by Cesare Borgia and reasserted papal authority over the Roman barons. He obtained the surrender of Perugia from Gian Paolo Baglioni and expelled Giovanni Bentivoglio from Bologna (1506). He joined the League of Cambrai and excommunicated Venice (1509), then, having recovered Rimini and Faenza, made peace (1510). Disturbed by growing French strength in Italy, he then allied with Venice, Spain and England in the Holy League. He attacked the Duke of Ferrara, occupied Modena (1510) and captured Mirandola (1511), himself playing an active part in the campaigns. The French recovered Mirandola and Bologna and in 1512 won the battle of Ravenna, but by 1513 their power in Italy had collapsed. Meanwhile, Julius had successfully backed the Medici restoration in Florence (1512). In 1511 Louis XII summoned the conciliabulum of Pisa. Julius who had a sincere, if sporadic, interest in church reform had already issued a bull against simony and was actively supporting missionary enterprises in the New World and the reform of the Benedictines. He, therefore, countered the French king's move by summoning the not unimpressive Fifth Lateran Council.

Julius was a financial genius and brilliant administrator. He carefully supervised all aspects of the papal administration, was responsible for defining the legal and procedural distinctions between lay and ecclesiastical cases, reorganized the college of notaries and began the system of strict annual auditing of the papal accounts. His monetary reforms, including the issue of the new silver giulio, helped avoid a papal bankruptcy. His enlightened patronage of the arts laid the foundations of the Roman High Renaissance. He expanded the Vatican library and began the papal collection of antique sculpture. He employed Michelangelo, Bramante, Raphael and other artists to celebrate the power of the Church and the truth of its doctrine. It was he who began the building of the new St Peter's and he who commissioned the Sistine ceiling from Michelangelo and the Stanze della Segnatura from Raphael.

Julius was criticized by his contemporaries, as he has been by subsequent historians, for his involvement in secular affairs. Yet his determined efforts to restore the Papal State were an honest attempt to rescue the Church from the control of any secular power, and he was the first Renaissance pope to attempt to eliminate both simony and nepotism. See Papacy; Wars of Italy. Judith Hook


L. Pastor The history of the popes VI (1898) L. Partridge and R. Starn A Renaissance likeness: art and culture in Raphael's Julius II (1980)

© 1981 Thames and Hudson Ltd. London. Reprinted 2003.

Related Articles

Full text Article Julius II (1443 - 1513)
The Encyclopaedia of the Renaissance

Giuliano della Rovere came from an impoverished noble family in Liguria. When his uncle became Pope Sixtus IV (1471) he gained a...

Full text Article Julius II (1443 - 1513)
Who's Who in Christianity, Routledge

Julius was born Giuliano della Rovere in Abissola, Italy. He joined the Franciscan Order and, when his uncle was elected Pope ...

Full text Article Julius II (Giuliano Della Ròvere) (1443 - 1513)
Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, Routledge

Born into a humble family, he studied in a Franciscan friary in Perugia. His career took a different turn when his uncle,...

See more from Credo