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Pope John (numbering)

The numbering of Popes John does not occur in strict numerical order. These discrepancies are due in part to a now discounted belief in another Pope John between John XIV and John XV, and the antipapacy of John XVI.

John Dates of Papacy Notes #
There is no controversy regarding the numbering of the popes John before XV
I  • II  • III  • IV  • V  • VI  • VII  • Anti-VIII  • VIII  • IX  • X  • XI  • XII  • XIII
Pope John XIV 983–984 Pietro Canepanova 14
John XIVb or John XIV Bis Medieval historians misreading the Liber Pontificalis assumed another Pope John between Pope John XIV and the true Pope John XV, mistaking him with the historical character of cardinal deacon John son of Robert, who opposed Antipope Boniface VII.
Pope John XV 985–996 John He is sometimes called XVI because of his legendary predecessor, "John XIVb," born to confusion between the reign of Boniface VII, the four-month-long imprisonment of John XIV being interpreted as a distinct pontificate in the Liber Pontificalis, and the historical cardinal deacon John son of Robert that opposed Boniface VII after death of John XIV. So one might sometimes see him listed as "John XV (XVI)" 15
Antipope John XVI 997–998 Johannes Philagathos or Piligato or Filagatto An antipope, according to conventional wisdom now, and thus his regnal number XVI should have been reused, but this did not occur. Some centuries later the sequencing was "corrected" in the wrong direction by some medieval historians who believed there was another Pope John between popes John XIV and John XV (Pope John XIVb, whom they believed was the real Pope John XV), and so sometimes you will see him listed as "Antipope John XVI (XVII)". He was elected in opposition to Pope Gregory V (996–999).
Pope John XVII 1003 Sicco He took the number XVII on account of Antipope John XVI, but some historians corrected his number to XVIII to account for Pope John XIVb (whom they thought of as the real Pope John XV) who was actually non-existent, so he is sometimes labelled as "Pope John XVII (XVIII)". 16
Pope John XVIII 1004–1009 Fasanius As explained above, he is sometimes labelled as "Pope John XVIII (XIX)". 17
Pope John XIX 1024–1032 Romanus As explained above, he is sometimes labelled as "Pope John XIX (XX)". 18
Pope John XXI 1276–1277 Pedro Julião
romanised as Petrus Hispanus
There has never been a Pope John XX because Pedro Julião wanted to correct what in his time was believed to be an error in the counting of his predecessors John XVXIX. Due to the error in over-correcting his number, some sources will list him as "John XXI (XX)" although he was in fact the nineteenth valid Pope by that name. 19
Pope John XXII 1316–1334 Jacques Duèze 20
Antipope John XXIII 1410–1415 Baldassare Cossa
Pope John XXIII 1958–1963 Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli Roncalli's choice of XXIII rather than XXIV confirmed the antipope status of Baldassare Cossa. 21

John XX

Confusion in numbering Popes John results from an error in the textual transmission of the entry on John XIV (983/984) in the Liber Pontificalis. This entry originally specified not only the duration of his pontificate ("VIII mens." = eight months), but also the duration of his ensuing imprisonment by Antipope Boniface VII, "per IV menses" ("for four months"). In the 11th century, some time after the pontificate of John XIX, this entry on John XIV was misread to be referring to two different popes John, the first reigning for eight months and directly succeeded by another John reigning for four months:

Iohannes m. VIII ("John, eight months")
Iohannes m. IV ("John, four months")

In distinguishing these two Johns, the second one came to be numbered as "Iohannes XIV. bis" ("John XIV the second") and it was confused with a historic character, the cardinal deacon John son of Robert, who opposed Boniface VII after John XIV's death. Given the fact that the following Popes John, from John XV (985–996) until John XIX (1024–1034), seemed to have neglected the existence of John XIV "bis", Pedro Julião "corrected" this error by taking the name John XXI rather than John XX.


  • Reginald L. Poole: "The Names and Numbers of Medieval Popes", in: The English Historical Review, Vol. 32, No. 128 (1917), pp. 465–478, see especially pp. 474–475