In July 1278, Nicholas III issued an epoch-making constitution for the government of Rome that forbade foreigners from taking civil office.
Nicholas' father had been a personal friend of Francis of Assisi, and he himself had to focus much of his attention on the Franciscan order. He issued the papal bullExiit qui seminat on 14 August 1279 to settle the strife within the order between the parties of strict and loose observance.
Nicholas III, though a man of learning noted for his strength of character, was known for his excessive nepotism. He elevated three of his closest relatives to the cardinalate and gave others important positions. This nepotism was lampooned both by Dante and in contemporary cartoons, depicting him in his fine robes with three "little bears" (orsatti, a pun on the family name) hanging on below.
Dante, in The Inferno (of the Divine Comedy), talks briefly to Nicholas III, who was condemned to spend eternity in the Third Bolgia of the Eighth Circle of Hell, reserved for those who committed simony, the ecclesiastical crime of paying for offices or positions in the hierarchy of a church.
In Dante's story, the Simoniacs are placed head-first in holes, flames burning on the soles of their feet (Canto XIX). Nicholas was the chief sinner in these pits, which is demonstrated by the height of the flames on his feet. At first he mistakes Dante for Pope Boniface VIII. When the confusion is cleared up, Nicholas informs Dante that he foresees the damnation (for simony) not only of Boniface VIII, but also Clement V, an even more corrupt pope.