Italy during the dark Age

The history of Italy during the early middle ages

The Early Middle Ages (the "Dark Age") is the period in European history following the fall of the Western Roman Empire, spanning roughly the five centuries from AD 476 to 1000. The Florentine Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) conceived of a "Dark Age" as part of his criticism of the character of Late Latin literature, and later historians expanded the term to include not only a paucity of Latin literature, but a lack of contemporary written history. The Early Middle Ages were followed by the High Middle Ages (11 C, 12 C and 13 C :: 1000–1300 A.D.) and the ascent of the Italian city states. The Late Middle Ages  (14 C and 15 C :: 1300–1500 A.D.), characterised by a major increase in population, led up to the Italian Renaissance.

Gothic invasions

The barbarian invasions of Late Antiquity, roughly the period AD 300 and 500, put Germanic peoples in control of most areas of the former Western Roman Empire. The first to enter Roman territory were the Visigoths who ended the Late Roman Empire. They were called in to defend the Empire in exchange for money, but they later occupied it. They were soon followed and replaced by the Ostrogoths led by Theodoric the Great.

The Roman Catholic Church, the only centralised institution to survive the fall of the Western Roman Empire intact, was the sole unifying cultural influence in the West during this period, preserving Latin learning, maintaining the art of writing and preserving a centralised administration through its network of bishops ordained in succession. The Early Middle Ages were characterised by the urban control of bishops and the territorial control exercised by dukes and counts. The rise of urban municipalities marked the beginning of the High Middle Ages. The Christianisation of Germanic tribes thus began in the fourth century with the Goths, and continued throughout the Early Middle Ages.

The Longobards

The Lombards (Longobards), who first entered Italy in 568 under Alboin, carved out a state in the north, with its capital at Pavia. At first, they were unable to conquer the Byzantine Exarchate of Ravenna, the Ducatus Romanus, and Calabria and Apulia. The next two hundred years were occupied in trying to seize these territories from the Byzantine Empire.

The Lombard state was truly barbarian in custom compared with the earlier Germanic states of Western Europe. It was highly decentralised at first, with the territorial dukes having practical sovereignty in their duchies, especially in the southern duchies of Spoleto and Benevento. For a decade following the death of Cleph in 575, the Lombards did not elect a king and the period is called the Rule of the Dukes. The first written legal code was composed in poor Latin in 643: the Edictum Rothari. It was primarily the codification of Longobard oral legal tradition.

The Lombard state was well-organised and stabilised by the end of the long reign of Liutprand (717–744), but its collapse was sudden. Unsupported by the dukes, King Desiderius was defeated and forced to surrender his kingdom to Charlemagne in 774 and Frankish rule was initiated. 

The Franks

The Frankish king Pepin the Short had, by the Donation of Pepin, given the pope the "Papal States" and the territory north of that swath of papally-governed land was ruled primarily by Lombard and Frankish vassals of the Holy Roman Emperor until the rise of the city-states in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Abbeys and pilgrims

Income and development came with the pilgrims and merchants travelling along the route known as the via Francigena between France and Rome during the mediæval period. The food and shelter needed by these travellers fuelled the growth of new communities around churches and taverns. Abbeys and monasteries as well as castles and walled towns provided much-needed shelter and supplies at stopping points along this road.

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