Italy: Medieval Italy

Medieval Italy

In the divisions (9th cent.) of the Carolingian empire (see Verdun, Treaty of; Mersen, Treaty of), Italy passed to the successive emperors Lothair I, Louis II, and Charles II; however, their control was largely nominal. Under Carloman (d. 880) and Emperor Charles III (reigned 881–87), local power became increasingly strong in Italy. Emperor Arnulf (reigned 896–99) failed to reassert authority.

From 888 to 962 Italy was nominally ruled by a series of weak kings and emperors including Guy of Spoleto, Berengar I of Friuli, Louis III of Burgundy, and Berengar II of Ivrea. The petty nobles were constantly feuding, and by the end of the period the papacy had sunk to its lowest point of degradation. The Magyars plundered N Italy, and in the south the Arabs seized (917) Sicily and raided the mainland. In 961, heeding an appeal by the pope for protection against Berengar II, the German king Otto I invaded Italy. In 962 he was crowned emperor by the pope. This union of Italy and Germany marked the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire.

Although the Alps had never prevented invaders from entering Italy, they did prevent the emperors from exercising effective control there. Again and again the emperors and German kings crossed the Alps to assert their authority; each time their authority virtually vanished when they left Italy. At best, their power was limited to the territories north of the Papal States. The popes, by exerting their influence and by arranging alliances with other powers, were important in frustrating imperial control.

Apulia and Calabria, after being briefly held again by the Byzantines, were conquered (11th cent.) by the Normans under Robert Guiscard and his successors, who also wrested Sicily from the Arabs and established the Norman kingdom of Sicily. In central and N Italy, the prevailing chaos was increased by the conflict between the emperors and the popes over investiture and by the contested succession to Tuscany after the death (1115) of Countess Matilda. Because the many petty lords were independent of imperial authority and because the cities gradually gained control over these lords, feudalism did not gain a firm foothold in central and N Italy. However, in the south the Norman kings and their successors, the Hohenstaufen and Angevin dynasties, firmly entrenched the feudal system, the worst features of which were later perpetuated by the Spanish rulers of Naples and Sicily. Thus, the great difference in social and economic structure between N and S Italy, which continued well into the 20th cent., can be traced back to the 11th cent.

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