As a nation state, Italy has emerged only in 1871. Until then the country was politically divided into a large number of independant cities, provinces and islands. The currently available evidences point out to a dominant Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultural influence on today's Italians.
My Sicilian ancestors in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were mostly poor peasants (contadino, etc). However in the late 18th and early 19th century, they owned vineyards, fields and other lands, usually had an mro next to their name, and had people with the same surnames with Dottore, Don or Donna. This got me wondering about who they were and how they lived, and what society was like.
What happened to children of noble families who were not first in line for inheritance? Would they inherit something? Would they still be allowed to buy land before the 19th century if they somehow earned money?
Was my family instead a rare example of a middle class? Could there be some exaggeration in the records? Could someone listed as a 'proprietario' not have owned more than the shirt off his back? Could a man listing 3 vineyards and an orchard in the reveli really have planted a few plants on land no one wanted?
We are from Polizzi Generosa, which was città demaniali - administered directly by the crown instead of local nobility. Would the customs and rules been different here because of that?
I think most of them, even into the 20th century, could read and write. A lot of the records are written by or witnessed by one of my ancestors or relatives.