The meeting did not broach Tibet's struggle for independence from China, the Vatican said on Wednesday.
"It was a short visit of an exclusively religious nature," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.
"I told the pope of my admiration of what he has done for peace and religious harmony in the world," the Dalai Lama told reporters after a meeting later with the speaker of Italy's senate Marcello Pera.
The Vatican did not officially announce the pope's meeting with the Dalai, sandwiched between audiences with Bulgarian President Gueorgi Parvanov and the French bishops of Amiens and Beauvais, monsignors Jean-Luc Bouilleret and Jean-Paul James.
Seen by China as a symbol of Tibetan nationalism, the Dalai Lama is visiting Italy at the invitation of an all-party group of
parliamentarians. He will take part on Friday in the fourth summit of Nobel peace laureates hosted by Rome's mayor.