It is regrettable that the most detailed aspect of Symmachus' papacy is his struggle to stay in office. Much ought to have been made of his support (financial, I guess) for the North African churches that were besieged by the Arian kings. Symmachus himself was born a pagan in Sardinia while it was under Vandal control and lived in Ostrogothic Italy -- the relationships among Christian heterodoxies and ethnic groups (including, of course, the Greeks in Constantinople, who had not entirely lost interest in Italy yet) are complex and fascinating.
Sadly, though, Rome seemed to have bogged down in domestic struggles, albeit with outside influences contending. Symmachus was elected to succeed Anastasius II in 498. He had served as archdeacon to his predecessor so his election seemed natural enough. However, the archpriest of Rome's Basilica of Santa Prassede, a chap named Laurentius, was also elected by a dissident group that met at Saint Mary's.
Emperor Anastasius (not to be confused with the late pope) backed Laurentius, but agreed to abide by the decision of King Theodoric, the Gothic ruler of Italy. Teddy looked into it and decided that Symmachus was duly elected by the majority, and that his election had been earlier in the day. He was, therefore, the rightful successor to Saint Peter. Pope Symmachus appointed Laurentius to be the bishop of Nuceria in Campagna, a gesture that might have seemed generous (or at least appeasing), but which Laurentius preferred to view as exile.
This ought to have been an end to it, but a rumor that Symmachus or his pals had handed out 400 golden solidi to secure a favorable judgment kept Laurentius' hopes alive. An influential senator named Festus complained that Symmachus was an adulterer who misused church property and celebrated Easter on the wrong day. Ted summoned him on the Easter charge, but when Symmachus showed up and learned of the other charges against him, he bolted.
Nothing looks quite as guilty as a man on the lam. Bishops and priests pulled their support for the Pope; Theodoric appointed a visiting bishop to run the Holy See until a synod could depose Symmachus properly. When it finally met, however, the synod proved indecisive. Symmachus fought back with every legal objection in the book and added a few of his own. The group sent word to Theodoric that it was deadlocked; he sent word back that they had to keep at it until they reached a resolution. He also sent word that the decision had already been made and they only needed to ratify it.
To be fair, if an emperor is nice enough to give you the right answer, how hard can it be to confirm his wisdom. One doesn't need to understand the decision; one is only required to approve it. While the synodeers (synodians? synodistas?) weren't in a mood to overthrow the Pope, some of them were in a mood to fight about it. They attacked Symmachus' entourage as they were trying to reach St. Mary's Basilica and killed several people, including the priests Gordianus and Dignissimus.
Sidenote: Why aren't Gordianus and Dignissimus accorded sainthood as martyrs? So let it be acknowledged, here if no where else.
Again the synodantes sent word that they should be allowed to go home since they were deadlocked. Again, Theodoric sent word that they could go home as soon as they reached a decision. So, they voted to declare Symmachus the true and rightful pope, and that anyone not in communion with him was a schismatic. Being a schismatic is worse than it sounds -- it's a really bad thing to call somebody.
Laurentius was willing to be called a schismatic, and so was Senator Festus. They kept control of a bunch of churches in Rome for their faction, even though Pope Symmachus held the Vatican. Mobs supporting each side brawled; legal arguments were invented based on forged canon judgments. Eventually, a couple of practical deacons named Ennodius and Dioscurus managed to wear Theodoric down to the point where he accepted Symmachus' papacy. This was in 506, eight years after the Pope was first elected. He died in 514, eight years after the King ended the schism. How much more might have been accomplished if they did not waste eight years debating who had been elected? Papal reform may not have come far enough or fast enough to suit some folks, but at least we know who the Pope is. [Sorry, all you schismatics out there -- we do know, and I mean know, that it is Francis.}