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The Catasti Onciari of 1742

The "catasti onciari" are among the most important resources for the study of the social and economic history of Southern Italy.
These Italian "Domesday Books" were ordered by a law of 4 October 1740 by King Charles III Bourbon to reform the tax system of the Kingdom of Naples (from 1816 "Kingdom of the Two Sicilies") that included the present regions of Abruzzo, Molise, southern and eastern Lazio, Campania, Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria.
In the reconstruction of the genealogical tree of a family, the "Catasti Onciari" are documents of primary importance thanks to the information provided not only on the family's economic status but also on its composition at the specific moment when data were collected, listing all the members of the "fuoco" (=fireplace), that is, the people living under a same roof, united by close relations of kinship and economic solidarity. An invaluable tool for the researcher, the information from the onciario might bring family reconstruction back to the late 1600 or at least early 1700's. For an individual to appear in the catasto he must have been living at the time the catasto was made (about 1742-1750).

Normally, in addition to possessions in land, buildings, farm animals, credits and debits, the document stated the name, age, profession and origin (if from another place) of the family head; moreover, the name, surname (sometimes) and age of the wife, names and ages of any children and cohabiting relatives and servants in the family. There were also lists of all church properties, and estates owned by citizens of other places.

The ancient Provinces of 1742

catasti Abruzzo Ultra PrimoAbruzzo CitraMoliseCapitanataTerra di BariTerra di OtrantoAbruzzo Ultra SecondoTerra di LavoroPrincipato UltraBasilicataNapoliPrincipato CitraCalabria CiterioreCalabria Ulteriore SecondoCalabria Ulteriore Primo
The Kingdom of Naples was divided at the time of Charles III Bourbon into provinces, which only partly correspond to the present provinces of Southern Italy.
  • Abruzzo Citra (capital Chieti): present provinces of Chieti or Pescara
  • Abruzzo Ultra I (capital Teramo): present provinces of Teramo or Pescara
  • Abruzzo Ultra II (capital Aquila): present provinces of Aquila, Pescara or Rieti
  • Basilicata (capital Matera): present provinces of Potenza or Matera
  • Calabria Citra (capital Cosenza, included places today in the province of Cosenza
  • Calabria Ultra I (capital Reggio): present provinces of Reggio Calabria, Catanzaro or Vibo Valenzia
  • Calabria Ultra II (capital Catanzaro): present provinces of Reggio Calabria, Catanzaro, Crotone or Vibo Valenzia
  • Capitanata (capital Lucera): present provinces of Foggia, Avellino or Benevento
  • Molise: present provinces of Campobasso, Isernia, Chieti, Benevento
  • Napoli: present provinces of Napoli or Caserta
  • Principato Citra (capital Salerno): present provinces of Salerno or Avellino
  • Principato Ultra (capital Benevento): present provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Salerno
  • Terra di Bari: present province of Bari
  • Terra di Lavoro: present provinces of Caserta, Frosinone, Benevento, Avellino, Isernia, Latina, Napoli
  • Terra di Otranto: present provinces of Lecce, Brindisi or Taranto

The Catasti of the 1742 Law

However, all this changed with a Law by Charles II Bourbon of 4 October 1740, ordering the catasto system for the whole kingdom. In the following two years 1741 and 1742 the Regia Camera della Sommaria gave out instructions on how to make these catasti, and on 28 September 1742 the final ordnance was to deliver the catasto fiscal census within four months. Over ten years later many "universitates" had not accomplished the job, so the king sent his Commissioners in May 1753 to close the works where the municipalities had not been able to do the catasto by themselves.

The result was a kind of census of all the population of Southern Italy with all their ages, profession and property, including houses and lands with extension and boundaries, big animals (horses, cows, oxen, donkeys, sheep, goats), debits, rents, credits. A kind of Domesday book, that each universitas (municipality) had to make out in two copies, one to be kept at the universitas for further updates, the other to be sent to Naples to the regia Camera della Sommaria, the central tax authority of the Kingdom.

The Catasti before 1742

Until mid-18th century the ancient catasti recorded the possessions (lands, houses, farm animals, credits, etc) of the citizens as well as the revenue of their activities, to establish the amount of taxes due. This kind of fiscal levy was called "battaglione", and was managed by the government representatives in each large or small place. However, it was possible for the Universitates (the municipalities) to pay taxes with a simpler method, called "gabella" which was basically a tax on consumer goods. For this reason only a minority of municipalities, until 1740, chose to pay taxes with the "battaglione" method, and for many places therefore no ancient catasti exist, since they were not compiled.

The catasti extant in the Archive of Naples

Since then, many of the copies that were held locally have been destroyed or delivered to province archives. The copies that were sent to Naples are now kept in a special section containing thousands and thousands of books, most of them still not studied. In the lists here supplied of the onciari books existing in Naples, however incomplete and certainly not without mistakes, the places are listed alphabetically, divided by ancient Province and followed by the official date when the book was finished.

For a thorough family and demographic study a very good knowledge of handwritten Italian and acquaintance with land use regulations, measures, names of places of the mid 18th century is advisable.

The books can be requested for study in the Archive of Naples; the archive has a photographic section that can release microfilms, prints from microfilms, or digital images of whole books.