(13 Sept. 604–22 Feb. 606)
Born at Volterra in Tuscany, he was a career cleric who as deacon served as Gregory I's nuncio in Constantinople from 593 to 595. This indicates that Gregory then had a high opinion of him, but he incurred the pope's anger in 595 for not being sufficiently firm with Emperor Maurice (582–602) and Patriarch John IV in opposing the latter's use of the title ‘ecumenical patriarch’. He was recalled, and later that year was a member of a papal mission to Gaul. Elected probably in Mar. 604, he had to await the arrival of the imperial mandate from Constantinople before being ordained in mid-Sept. His election represented a reaction against Gregory, who was unpopular in Rome at the time of his death; it is significant that, reversing Gregory's policy of relying on monks, he preferred to promote secular clergy. Almost nothing is known of his short reign, which saw a renewal of hostilities with the Lombards and an intensification of the famine gripping Rome when Gregory died. LP seems to suggest that he was involved in negotiations for a truce between Smaragdus, imperial exarch at Ravenna, and the Lombard king. His policy for alleviating the famine again contrasted with Gregory's, who had given away grain from the papal granaries freely; Sabinian kept a tight control and sold it, possibly on the instructions of the emperor, only to be accused of profiteering. This made him so unpopular with the masses that, in order to avoid hostile demonstrations, his funeral procession had to make a detour outside the city walls to reach St Peter's.
JW i. 220LP i. 315 (Davis 1: 64)Caspar ii. 515 f.DCB iv. 574 (J. Barmby)DTC xiv. 438 f. (É. Amann)Levillain iii. 1353 (J. Durliat)NCE xii. 463 (P. J. Mullins)Seppelt ii. 43JR 244, 260 f.