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CH. IV: From 476 AD to the Norman domination

L'Abruzzo nel Tempo
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Barbaric invasions

In 476 AD also Abruzzo suffered the tragic consequences of the collapse of the Roman imperial power. The emperor of the Eastern Empire, Iustinian, fought a bloody war in Italy against the barbarian Ostrogoth invaders led by Theodoricus, who destroyed Roman villages and towns, devastating the fields and slaughtering the helpless inhabitants. The remains of the abandoned Roman town all over the region witness the destruction and disappearance of the Roman urban and social organization.

The Pragmatic Sanction

For a short period Iustinian was able to restore order in Italy, and passed his celebrated Corpus Iuris Civilis and in 554 the Pragmatic Sanction, establishing Ravenna as the western capital and assigning administrative powers to bishops (this was the first step of the future civil and political power of the church).

The Dukedom of Teate

Under Longinus, Italian governor of emperor Iustinus II, Teate (Chieti) became an administrative center for the collection of taxes, the only center in Abruzzo to come out of the darkness of that century.

The Longobard invasion

In 568 AD the Longobard invasion of the king Alboinus crushed the resistance of the Byzantine troops, few in number and concentrated in the most important centers. Under Alboinus followers, Autari from 584, and Agilulf from 591, the conquest of Italy was completed, and many towns in Abruzzo suffered heavy destruction, some disappeared completely (such as the glorious Amiternum and Corfinium).

The new administrative organization: Aprutium

The Longobards established in central Italy two powerful dukedoms, Spoleto in Umbria and Benevento in Campania. As to Abruzzo, the northern areas werte included in the Dukedom of Spoleto, while Teate and southern Abruzzo were under the dukedom of Benevento. The Longobard dukedom were subdivided among gastaldates and countdoms. In Abruzzo there was a Gastaldate in Teramo, whose governor was called "Comes castri Aprutiensis" (and that is the first historical instance of the name Aprutium) and another in Teate.

The Longobard place names

The Longobard occupation of Abruzzo can be roughly divided into 2 periods: the conquest (which gave rise to names like Scurcola and Guardia) and the settlement (names like Fara, Sala, Vasto). Scurcola from Skulk indicated a sighting post, and Guardia from warda a garrison and check point, while fara meant residence, and sala meant countryhome, while vasto (from wosti) meant deserted. These names appear in many areas in Abruzzo (Fara San Martino, Farindola, Guardia Vomano, Guardiabruna, etc).

Economic conditions

The Longobard period was among the worst in history: the conquerors sacked everything, small and large landowners were obliged to give up their lands, or to deliver one third of all harvests to the new lords. Only the monasteries were left almost unmolested, and preserved the documents and knowledge of the previous civilization during the darkest centuries of Italian history.

The Franks

The situation did not improve under the Franks (late 9th century onwards) since the Saracens sailing from the South and over the Adriatic Sea began plundering the coasts. The more fertile lands in the hills and plains were abandoned for the hard but more secure mountain environments. And it was a bad time also for the monasteries; the Saracens destroyed Casauria, and kept under continuous threats other monasteries and coastal ports.

Politically, the Franks took the power after Charlemagne (Carolus Magnus) defeated the last Longobard king, Desiderius, at the battle of Susa, near Pazia, in 773 AD. The Dukedom of Spoleto soon accepted the new monarch, while the Dukedom of Benevento made war to the Franks. Charlemagne's son Pipinus was able to conquer Teate, so that the whole Abruzzo region came under the Franks.

With the Franks the feudal system was widely established, and soon great families emerged in Abruzzo, fisrt among them the Marsian counts, with their center in Celano, who claimed they descended directly from Bernardo I, king of Italy. The first Marsian counts were Berengarius and Adalbert, and their descendants Oderisius, Teodinus, Rainaldus, Trasmondus ruled over Abruzzo until 1143.

Abruzzo Countdoms

The countdoms of Abruzzo were subject to the Dukedom of Spoleto until 1056. Most of the population lived in fortified citadels, because of the frequent and unpredictable Saracen raids. In 926 AD the Marsian counts had split into two large countdoms, and from them descended most of the lords that ruled over Abruzzo in the following centuries. The first dynasty had as ancestor Trasmondo III, count of Teate, who had under his rule the lands of Teate, Penne and Apruzzo (Teramo); the second dynasty began with Berardus, count of Celano, who ruled over Marsica and the Valva territory (Sulmona area).

The Normans

The Normans in the early 11th century had settled in Apulia. In 1059 their leader Geoffrey Altavilla began to push inside the territory of Teate - the Norman danger is documented in the records of the monastery of San Giovanni in Venere, where abbot Oderisius ordered defenses to be built against the Normans. Geoffrey's son, Robert, conquered and settled in Loritello (near Larino, province of Campobasso) and a number of smaller feudal lords under the rule of the monastery of Casauria sought the support of the Normans to gain independence from the monastery. More rebellions began also against Trasmondo, the count of Chieti. Meanwhile, the last duke of Spoleto, Geoffrey Barbatus, died heirless and wars began to obtain the powerful dukedom, and at a time of great crisis between the pope and the emperor for supremacy, and the uncertain situation only made the Normans more aggressive. The legitimate lords of Abruzzo, with the monasteries of Casauria and Valva, asked the Pope for help. The pope appointed a ruthless monk, Trasmondo of the Marsian counts, as abbot of Casauria and bishop of Valva, and the latter in a very short time was abele to erect fortresses and citadels.

Meanwhile the crisis between Pope and Emperor came to a crucial strait, when Pope Gregory VII excommunicated emperor Henry IV. The Normans took advantage of the crisis and Robert of Loritello invaded the countdom of Teate, taking Trasmondo himself as prisoner, and receiving a huge ransom for his liberty. The lords of Chieti asked the Counts of Celano, who were fighting against the Normans at Capua, for help, but though the Marsians came with a strong army, Robert the Norman siged and destroyed Ortona, and divided the lands south of Teate with his brother Drogonis (nicknamed Tascione), keeping Lanciano and surrounding areas for himself.

The Pope excommunicated the Normans in vain, and another Norman leader, Hugh Mamouzet, who was one of the great villains in the history of Abruzzo: he occupied Casauria and Valva with great bloodshed among the monks and population. The Norman conquest was fast, but short; on his death Drogone repented and donated everything in his possessions to the various churches, abbots and monasteries that he had defeated, and his brother Robert confirmed the donations and added his own. Only Mamouzet remained of the Norman lords of Abruzzo: on his death, he left everything to Drogone's son, Guglielmo Tascione. Meanwhile another Norman dynasty had established their power: the counts of Manoppello, who purchased from Guglielmo San Clemente, Popoli and Valva.

The countdom of Apruzzo and Attone

North of the Pescara river, in the countdom called Apruzzo (Teramo), started the resistance against the Normans. Count Attone, helped by Marquis Guerrieri of Ancona, freed the monastery of Casauria. Meanwhile emperor Henry had abdicated, and Guglielmo Tascione had donated to Santa Maria in Picciano all the lands of Loreto. Being the power of the Emperor so weak, the power of the church increased enormously. While Attone and Tascione fought about the supremacy in the territory of Penne, along the border between their countdoms, the bishop of Casauria regained control of Pietranico and Cugnoli. The Pope ruled almost directly (1116 AD) on the territories of the monasteries of Carpineto and Casauria.

The Kingdom of Sicily

Robert Guiscard and his successors expelled the Saracens and Byzantines and established a powerful foothold in Apulia Calabria, Campania, and Sicily. Then Roger II united the southern part of the peninsula with Sicily, and assumed the title of King of Sicily in 1130. In 1140 Roger extended his rule also all over the Abruzzo region. From that date onwards, the history and destiny of Abruzzo was part of the history of the kingdom of Sicily (later of Naples, or of the Two Sicilies)

It took some decades for the lesser Norman lords in Abruzzo to accept the supremacy of the King of Sicily. Then the Norman power began to decline, and the last Norman king designated Constance, wife of Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, as heir and the kingdom passed successively to Frederick II, Conrad IV, Manfred, and Conradin of Hohenstaufen.

The Norman administration

Under the Normans the region was divided into three countdoms - Teate, Penne and Apruzzo - divided into many smaller fiefdoms, where the bishops also had their completely autonomous power. Fights among the many lords, repression and destruction continued to bring misery among the population, and commerce and trade almost disappeared, making the poverty much worse.

Valvense art

The first example of regional literature is the Leggenda di San Vittorino, of the latter half of the 5th century, to the 10th century dates back the Passio Sancti Pelini, a reconstruction of the life of San Pelino; this early period is known as "Valvense art", and was characterized by a fusion of the Roman classical tradition with the Christian spirit.

Monastery art

Little by little San Clemente a Casauria became the greatest cultural and religious center in the region, and gave to the culture of mankind such a superb document as the Chronicon Casauriense (original is kept in the Louvre) an illuminated manuscript written in the 12th century collecting documents since the early Frankish era. In Architecture, distinctive features of the period were the flowered decorations in carved stones, as can be seen in Santa Maria di Propezzano, San Clemente al Vomano, Santa Maria in Piano, San Clemente a Casauria, San Liberatore a Maiella.

Benedictine art

Under the Normans, the influence of the abbey of Montecassino greatly increased in Abruzzo, establishing convents, public schools and libraries - as in Santo Stefano in Rivo Maris (Casalbordino) or San Giovanni in Venere. The greatest examples of Benedictine architecture are the cathedral of San Pelino, typical for its fusion of Romanesque, Byzanthine and Lombard art, San Pietro in Albis near Alba Fucens, and Santa Maria di Ronzano, near castel Castagna.

Architecture, sculpture and painting

The most distinctive feature of the great Abruzzese cathedrals of the early Middle Ages, though derived from the Campania region, is that kind of pulpit called AMBON, placed mostly along the central nave of the churches, more often to the right side. There are 28 throughout the region, the richest being those of Bominaco and San Clemente, each one different though related to the others through decorations and symbols.

Other elements of Abruzzese sculpture of the period are carvings in the capitols of columns, in the lunettes and bas relief of tombs. In those times, when almost no one was able to read, the Gospel and religion were taught through the rich paintings on the walls of the churches; the earliest example of these were the frescoes in San Pietro ad Oratorium, near Capestrano (early 12th century) in an almost monochromatic ochre red, followed a little later by the highly allegorical frescoes in Santa Maria di Ronzano.

Documents

  1. Aprutium - Three letters by St. Gregory the Great (Pope from 590 to 604) mention for the fisrt time the words Aprutiense, Aprutium, Aprutio - From Hartmann, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, vol II, liber XIII, Berlin 1957

  2. San Clemente a Casauria - The five books of the Chronicon Casauriense follow the history of the monastery from its foundation in AD 871 by emperor Lotarius until 1182. Lotarius obtained from pope Adrian II the permission to transfer in the new monastery the relics of St. Clemens. The greatest splendor of the monastery was reached between 1155 and 1182, under Abbot Leonates, who entrusted monk John of Berardus to collect all the documents of the abbey, which were then written down by master Rusticus. The five passages reported, taken from the Chronicon Casaurience, as reported in L.A.Muratori, rerum Italicarum Scriptores, Milano 1726) recollect the events of:
    • The Foundation of San Clemente (columns 777 and following)
    • The Translation of St. Clemens
    • The body of St Clemens found again
    • A miracle of St. Clemens
    • Abbot Leonates