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.
In Trafford R Cole's excellent book â€œItalian Genealogical Records" he says that the traditional independence of Italian towns in the Middle Ages "created a strong sense of property; to retain sufficient land for the sustenance of the family, the property was not divided but was passed on to the first-born son. Other male children either had to work for the first-born or find a vocation in the church or military service. Only exceptionally wealthy families could afford to purchase new land for other sons.
"Houses, too, were passed from father to first-born son. Because they were built to last for centuries, many ancestral homes accommodated the same families for centuries."
In Paolo Tullio's â€œNorth of Naples, South of Romeâ€
I have seen this kind of division in several towns in the Province of Frosinone and I believe it is the law when there is no will. One of our relatives (the oldest of the family and responsible for deciding who got what) gave his sister a piece of land that was in the middle of several others and with no right of access. Essentially she could only sell to one of her brothers (read-the oldest). She refused, on principle, and did not speak to her brother again. This caused discention among the rest of the family also by causing them to take sides.
You can request a document from the town office that will tell you the 'particelli' (who owns what percentage). When one of the inheritors emigrated the 'particello' is worded as 'the heirs of ????'.