Liber pontificalis (LP) is the name used since the eighteenth century for a work that was titled in the Middle Ages Gesta Pontificum Romanorum. The work is a series of career sketches of varying length of the popes. The accounts are not strictly biographical because they rarely contain any information about their subject's prepontifical careers. There is a certain regularity in the information provided for each pope: paternal ancestry, electoral details, major ecclesiastical initiatives, liturgical innovations or reforms, diplomatic engagements, (sometimes) construction and donation records, length of pontificate, and number of ordinations performed. The lives were almost certainly written in the papal administration; some scholars arguing for the scrinium and some for the vestiary. Many manuscripts of the LP are preceded by an apocryphal exchange of correspondence between St. Jerome and Pope Damasus. Thus the earliest portion of the work was erroneously attributed to Damasus in the Middle Ages. In the sixteenth century, the LP was attributed to Anastasius Bibliothecarius who may have written some of the mid-ninth century lives. The early papal lives were recorded in several different sources such as the Catalogus Liberianus and the Chronographer of 354. The LP was prepared in stages beginning under Boniface II (530–532) when the whole series down to Felix IV (526-530) was complied. In the time of Pope Conon (686–687) a second redaction was prepared. From the early eighth
century until the death of Leo III (816), the lives were written shortly after each pontificate, but they were usually begun during the pope's reign. Across the ninth century the lives were compiled sporadically. The series then broke off until it was resumed in the time of Gregory VII and carried on in several stages until the end of the twelfth century. Thereafter there were sometimes multiple lives of particular popes and occasional compilations of such lives down to 1479 when Platina prepared the last medieval version of the whole text. Useful and interesting for all periods, the LP is, alongside the papal correspondence, the critical source for papal history between 500 and 900.
Bibliography: l. duchesne, Le Liber Pontificalis, 2 v. (Paris 1886-92), v. 3 ed. c. vogel (Paris 1957). u. pŘerovskÝ, "Liber pontificalis nella recensione di Pietro Guglielmo OSB, e del card. Pandolfo," Studia Gratiana, 21-23 (Rome 1978). o. bertolini, "Il 'Liber Pontificalis,"' in La storiografia altomedievale, Settimane di studio del centro italiano di studi sull'alto medioevo 17 (1970) 387–455. h. geertman, More Veterum (Groningen 1975). t. f. x. noble, "A New Look at the Liber Pontificalis," Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 23 (1985) 347–58.
[t. f. x. noble]