Feudalism in Italy

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.
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westlakemom
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Feudalism in Italy

Post by westlakemom »

When was feudalism abolished in Italy?

Can I assume my ancestors were serfs prior to that date?

Is it possible to determine if any of my ancestors were landowners, however small that land might have been?

I know both my grandfathers came to America because their families were poor.
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by bbivona »

Feudalism was formally ended in what is now Italy (it was not a unified country until the 1860s) during the period France held it under the rule of Napoleon. Feudalism was officially eliminated there between 1805-1812, depending on the region. While it was officially eliminated, the practical effects continued in many places, like Sicily, well into the 20th century. That said, you cannot presume that they were serfs prior to the official elimination of feudalism. There were small landholders and there were many people who worked with no ties to the land. Plenty of blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, bakers, etc.
Researching Gibellina, Sicily surnames Bivona, Bonafede, Zummo, Ponzio, Bevinetto, Beninati, Fontana, Cipolla, Bruno, Manfrè, Lanfranca, and Navarra
westlakemom
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by westlakemom »

I have traced one branch of my family back to the mid 1500s. They were noted as "contadino."

i made the assumption they were serfs.

Thanks for the info.
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by bbivona »

westlakemom wrote: 23 Jul 2019, 08:57 I have traced one branch of my family back to the mid 1500s. They were noted as "contadino."

i made the assumption they were serfs.

Thanks for the info.

That certainly adds context to your original question, which was very general. It would add more context to know where in Italy your family was, as tenant farming development differed from northern Italy to southern Italy and Sicily.

While many aspects of feudalism (landholding, military support, etc.) lasted much later, the legal aspect of serfdom, where serfs could be sold, etc. was gone in Italy by the mid-1400s. That said, large numbers of people worked as tenant farmers for large landholders. These tenant farmers did this on short term leases, long-term leases, and even lifetime leases. Legally they were free to move, to buy land, and to make a living as they saw fit. Someone who was listed as a contadino was most likely a tenant farmer. In many cases, however, they would run up debts to the landholder for cash rent, crop share, and other services. Where these debts became impossible to repay, a tie to the landlord would be there that in many cases resembled the serfdom of the prior era. Also, in many cases there were few, if any, other economic options than tenant farming, so there was clear lifetime economic dependence on the landholder. While in many ways the tenant farmers resembled the serfs of the middle ages (poor, illiterate, subsistence farmers, with no hope of economic betterment), the term serf connotes something more that likely wasn’t there with your ancestors at the time you mention.

All that said, I would go with tenant farmer. You could even go with peasant farmer. To me, “serf” is a term that is archaic in Italy after the middle ages, and it indicates a legal arrangement. It’s not a good translation of contadino.
Researching Gibellina, Sicily surnames Bivona, Bonafede, Zummo, Ponzio, Bevinetto, Beninati, Fontana, Cipolla, Bruno, Manfrè, Lanfranca, and Navarra
westlakemom
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by westlakemom »

Thank you for a clear answer. Yes, peasant farmer would be the appropriate term.

How would I be able to determine if any of my ancestors ever owned property regardless of how small the piece?
Is there a separate register for land purchases?
westlakemom
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by westlakemom »

To answer your question as to where my ancestors resided; one branch started in Pontelandolfo, Benevento, then moving to Morcone area. Another branch originating in Colle Sannita moving to Circello.

Since all these are small communities not too far from each other, what could be the reason for the move?
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by gabri018 »

westlakemom wrote: 18 Jul 2019, 07:50 When was feudalism abolished in Italy?

Can I assume my ancestors were serfs prior to that date?

Is it possible to determine if any of my référenceur site web Paris ancestors were landowners, however small that land might have been?

I know both my grandfathers came to America because their families were poor.
Does anyone have Italian pottery makers in their lineage?
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by joetucciarone »

Bbivona was right that feudalism persisted long after it was officially ended. This article from June 4, 1882 describes the arrival of 170 Italians to New York:

https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn ... nge&page=1

The second-to-last paragraph describes them as "vassals of the House of Baccari" on whose estate their families had lived for hundreds of years. When the Italian Consul in New York told them they were free of Baccari's contract, they said they preferred to work for him as promised. One of the Italians said "we are from his land."
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by scraig32 »

My 4x great grandfather was a Knight in Santa Ninfa. His son, a baron, was born in 1812, Santa Ninfa. Our family legend says that by 1820 the rich gentry were getting poorer and poorer and could not maintain their large lands and estate and thus a marriage was arranged between the baron and a rich noblewoman. Can you tell me, why the gentry were getting poorer? Was it because feudalism was over? Thank you for any insight you might be able to provide
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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by PippoM »

According to me, there might be two main reasons:

For all families, the transformation of economy favoured the rise of a class of traders and manufacturers; those who stayed hooked on agriculture, (that meant, for most of them, not to work at all, but just wait for tenants and sharecroppers (I hope these are the right words) to bring them money, or a part of the harvest) were little by little put aside by their old tenants, who became owner of the land, thanks to more liberal laws
Also, the children of the nobles often did not work, and spent their money in card games and other vices, until they were forced to sell their lands for a living.
Giuseppe "Pippo" Moccaldi

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Re: Feudalism in Italy

Post by scraig32 »

PippoM wrote: 29 Jun 2021, 13:00 According to me, there might be two main reasons:

For all families, the transformation of economy favoured the rise of a class of traders and manufacturers; those who stayed hooked on agriculture, (that meant, for most of them, not to work at all, but just wait for tenants and sharecroppers (I hope these are the right words) to bring them money, or a part of the harvest) were little by little put aside by their old tenants, who became owner of the land, thanks to more liberal laws
Also, the children of the nobles often did not work, and spent their money in card games and other vices, until they were forced to sell their lands for a living.

That makes total sense to me! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.
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