Research Projects

Conflitti sociali, strutture parentali e comunità locali nell’Italia altomedievale (VIII-XI secolo)

Social conflict, kinship structure and local community in early medieval Italy (VIII-XI centuries)



Data avvio: 1 February 2013

Data termine: 31 January 2016


The project is dedicated to examining the transformation of kinship structures within Italian regional societies between the 8th and 11th centuries. The theoretical starting point for the project is that the role of such relationships was much more important in early medieval society in the absence of institutions unbound by kinship structures than it is today and very closely tied to social reproduction processes. And secondly that, even in the absence of a cognatic kinship structure in which all family members have the same rights, exclusion, selection and 'positive discrimination' processes which reinforced total dependence operated in the early Middle Ages. The question of how an individual's biological origins were represented, enhanced or excluded from archaeological and textual contexts is posed.

The project has been split into two parts which are subject to separate analysis but which will ultimately be brought together into a shared debate.

As far as analysis of texts on practices and theorising on kinship structures are concerned, the analysis will revolve around three issues: kinship vocabulary, alliances and lineage. The texts produced in the Italian area from the 8th to the 11th centuries are the sources of the research (papers, diplomas, judicial rulings, epistles and narrative texts). As far as kinship vocabulary is concerned, changes in terms indicating biological relationships between individuals over time will be analysed in relation to the dissemination of Christianity which used them to express hierarchical relationships between bishops and their flock (pater, filius, filia) and peer relationships between believers (frater, soror). On the subject of alliances, forms of marriage practices will be analysed and the presence of methods common to other European areas verified such as homogamy in unions, the presence of informal unions observed in relation to ecclesiastical norms which limited endogamy establishing degrees of 'forbidden marriages' and establishing the permanence of marriage. In relation to lineage, in the early Middle Ages a largely cognatic system replaced the Roman patrilinear system. Agnatic terms disappeared and cognatic terms were extended to denote kinship relationships par excellence. This shift took place from the 8th to the 11th centuries as groups of descendants identified according to category and behaviour were progressively excluded from inheritance. This tendency took the outward form of name transmission and the development of norms on inheritance potential. But differentiation between children was not considered paramount as disputes over legacies and inheritances show. As far as analysis from the gender perspective of a broad range of data gathered from the indexing (previously carried out) of more than 200 necropoli in Italy is concerned, the group's analysis revolves around the relationships which existed between the necropoli studied, verifying whether it was biological or other - gender or age group - forms of kinship which prevailed in topographical cemetery layout. The issue of the gender ratio between men and women which works to the disadvantage of women in Italy will also be dealt with. It has been theorised that the larger number of adult male skeletons could be balanced by a larger number of young female/girl skeletons indicating higher infancy and youth death rates in women. The aim is to carry out isotopic analyses (carbonium and nitrogen) on a sample of skeletons from the Comacchio and S. Lorenzo di Ammiana (VE) necropoli. The data will be analysed from a gender perspective on forms of discrimination and access to resources. Tooth analysis in relation to adult skeletons whose gender is known will offer retrospective information on the state of health of boys and girls for an understanding of whether boys’ and girls’ diets were similar or otherwise as may be indicated by the distorted gender ratio found in the sample studied.

National Academic Co-ordinator:

Stefano Gasparri (Università Ca Foscari di Venezia)

Research Units:

Giuseppe Albertoni (Università degli Studi di Trento)
Stefano Gasparri (Università Ca Foscari di Venezia)
Marco Milanese (Università degli Studi di Sassari)
Maria Cristina La Rocca (Università degli Studi di Padova)

Members of the Padova Research Unit:

Maria Cristina La Rocca (Head)
Vito Loré (Università di Roma Tre)
Irene Barbiera (research grant holder)
Piero Majocchi (Professor at the University of Padova)
Maddalena Betti (research grant holder)
Francesco Veronese (research grant holder)