Lordship and Feudality

The Normans and feudal institutions

Seigniory and feudality were innovations brought to the Mezzogiorno by the Normans. They entitled the lord to appropriate the fruits of the earth and certain rights to command, administer justice, and collect income and taxes of the public power, in exchange for the oath to serve a higher ranking lord the count, duke, and later on, after 1130, the Norman king notably in his armies.

In the Mezzogiorno, the seigniory was primarily a secular affair, based on warriors taking over land, sometimes involving no commitment in return. But the Norman lords did not just exercise their dominion over cultivated land. They tried for example to lay their hands on the public taxes of the Byzantine and Lombard administrations for their own personal profit. Everywhere they claimed a monopoly on the use of forests and uncultivated land, collecting levies on grazing herds as well. They used the castle network to collect taxes on the movement of goods. Even the towns were placed under the control of one or more lords.

This kind of political and social control of the population was new to southern Italy, although certain forms of commitment to serve the prince on oath already existed in the Lombard prinicipalities . Feudalism was not however a readymade model imported from Normandy, but developed gradually to meet different local situations. In Calabria and Sicily, Robert Guiscard and Roger the Great Count imposed their authority rather as William of Normandy had done. It was they who distributed fiefs, doing so in such a way as to avoid concentrations of large seigniories. In Byzantine Apulia, in the Lombard principalities of Campania and the Frankish Abruzzi, a constant worry for the Norman kings was the feudal anarchy that was rife among lords who recognized no higher authority unless imposed upon them by force. When Sicily was finally conquered, the king kept direct control over a large domain, and important feudatories wielding any real power were few and far between..

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