COLONNA, a noble Roman family, second only to the Gaetani di Sermoneta in antiquity, and first of all the Roman houses in importance. The popes Marcellinus, Sixtus III., Stephen IV. and Adrian III. are said to have been members of it, but the authentic pedigree of the family begins with Pietro, lord of Columna, Palestrina and Paliano (about 1100), probably a brother of Pope Benedict IX. His great grandson Giovanni had two sons, respectively the founders of the Colonna di Paliano and Colonna di Sciarra lines. The third, or Colonna-Romano line, is descended from Federigo Colonna (1223). In the 12th century we find the Colonna as counts of Tusculum, and the family was then famous as one of the most powerful and turbulent of the great Roman clans; its feuds with the Orsini and the Gaetani are a characteristic feature of medieval Rome and the Campagna; like the other great nobles of the Campagna the Colonna plundered travellers and cities, and did not even spare the pope himself if they felt themselves injured by him. Boniface VIII. attempted to break their power, excommunicated them in 1297, and confiscated their estates. He proclaimed a crusade against them and captured Palestrina, but they afterwards revenged themselves by besieging him at Anagni, and Sciarra Colonna laid violent hands on His Holiness, being with difficulty restrained from actually murdering him (1303). In 1347 the Colonna, at that time almost an independent power, were defeated by Cola di Rienzi, but soon recovered. Pope Martin V. (1417-1431) was a Colonna, and conferred immense estates on his family, including Marino, Frascati, Rocca di Papa, Nettuno, Palinao, etc., in the Campagna, and other fiefs in Romagna and Umbria. Their goods were frequently confiscated and frequently given back, and the house was subject to many changes of fortune; during the reign of Pope Alexander VI. they were again humbled, but they always remained powerful and important, and members of the family rose to eminence as generals, prelates and statesmen in the service of the Church or other powers. In the war of 1522 between France and Spain there were Colonna on both sides, and at the battle of Lepanto (1571) Marc Antonio Colonna, who commanded the papal contingent, greatly distinguished himself. A detailed record of the Colonna family would be a history of Rome. To-day there are three lines of Colonna: (1) Colonna di Paliano, with two branches, the princes and dukes of Paliano, and the princes of Stigliano; (2) Colonna di Sciarra, with two branches, Colonna di Sciarra, princes of Carbagnano, and Barberini-Colonna, princes of Palestrina; and (3) Colonna-Romano. The Colonna palace, one of the finest in Rome, was begun by Martin V. and contains a valuable picture and sculpture gallery.
See A. von Reumont, Geschichte der Stadt Rom (Berlin, 1868), containing an elaborate account of the family; F. Gregorovius, Geschichte der Stadt Rom (Stuttgart, 1872); Almanack de Gotha. (L. V.*)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)