Social conflicts, kinships and local communities in Italy in the Early Middle Ages


This project is devoted to the analysis of changes in kinships in local Italian communities between the 8th and 11th centuries. The theoretical starting point is that the Early Middle Ages society lacked institutions other than kinships, yet the role of institutions was more relevant than it is today and was deeply connected to the forms of social reproduction. The second premise is that, despite the existence of cognatic descent - where all members are entitled to equal rights - exclusive, selective and “positive discrimination” processes were implemented in the Early Middle Ages, highlighting utter dependency. The representation, enhancement or exclusion of biological origins of individuals in archaeology and texts are taken into consideration.

The project is divided into two parts, which will be analyzed separately and will lead to a shared discussion.

When it comes to the analysis of texts on the theory and practice of kinship, the study will focus on three topics: the vocabulary of kinship; alliances; filiation. The study will be based on text sources produced in Italy between the 8th and 11th centuries (documents, diplomas, judicial placita, epistolae, narrative). 

The vocabulary of kinship will deal with changes in terms identifying biological relations between individuals over time in the light of the spread of Christian language, that used such terms to express hierarchical relations between the Bishop and his believers (pater, filius, filia) as well as peer relations among believers (frater, soror). As far as alliances are concerned, nuptial forms witnessed in practice will be examined, studying their spread in other European countries, like for instance: the homogamous structure of unions; the existence of informal unions in relation with clerical law that limited endogamic unions, establishing the grades of “forbidden unions” and introducing the model of marriage as an eternal union. Speaking of filiation, a largely cognatic system replaced the Roman patrilineal filiation system in the Early Middle Ages. “Agnatio” as a term disappeared altogether and “cognatio” would be used to indicate kinship. Between the 8th and 9th century, this transition led to the gradual exclusion of groups of descendants, due to their class and behavior. This trend materialized in passing on names and drafting rules on the possibility of inheritance. However, distinctions between sons weren’t regarded as insurmountable, as shown by conflicts on endowment and inheritance.

When it comes to gender-oriented analysis, data from more than 200 Italian necropolises of the Early Middle Ages have already been collected and filed.

The analysis deals with the relationships between the deceased in the necropolises under consideration, seeking to understand whether in cemeterial topography biological kinship was significant or other forms (according to gender or age groups) prevailed. The issue of sex-ratio between men and women will be faced, with a majority of men in Italy. The highest volume of male adult skeletons is supposedly balanced by a high volume of young women/girls skeletons, showing a higher rate of infant mortality among women. Isotopic tests (carbon and nitrogen) will be run on a sample of skeletons from Comacchio and S.Lorenzo di Ammiana (VE). Data will be analyzed from a gender-oriented perspective, studying forms of discrimination in access to resources. Dental analyses on adults whose sex is known provide retrospective information on child health for boys and girls: they allow to understand whether boys and girls were equally fed or not, as the unbalanced sex ratio encountered in the examined sample could lead to believe.

The project ended in:

National Scientific Coordinator
Stefano Gasparri (Università Ca Foscari di Venezia)

Task Groups
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 Padova's Task Group
Maria Cristina La Rocca (Responsabile)
Vito Loré (Università di Roma Tre)
Irene Barbiera (assegnista ricerca)
Piero Majocchi (professore a contratto)
Maddalena Betti (assegnista ricerca)
Francesco Veronese (assegnista di ricerca)