Lordship and Feudality

How the seigniory worked

The count, baron or lower-ranking lord obtained the wherewithal to maintain his standing by collecting certain revenues from the public authority Ė justice, taxes Ė and by farming the land allocated to him. The lord himself worked only part of his domain, the rest being parcelled out in lots granted to peasants through leases specifying the proportion of dues levied on harvests and the free labour owed on the lordís own land. These leases or livelli added to their submission to the lordís military power a further bond of economic dependence.

The rural seigniory was an innovation introduced by the Normans to a region with a broad spectrum of political and economic situations. In the old Lombard principalities, the large domains farmed as a single holding adapted more easily to the seigneurial system (concessions of land to the peasants in return for payment). Elsewhere though, particularly in Apulia, the peasantry were traditionally free-holders, and so more loath to take the backward step into the system of lordly dominion without violence and exactions. Lastly, there were vacant areas which were colonized in Norman times. It was then in the lordís interest to encourage an influx of peasants by granting them a more favourable feudal arrangement. One such case was the Capitanata, in northern Apulia.

Thus in economic terms, the Norman feudal system in the Mezzogiorno was no more imported from a model already applied in Normandy than it was in political terms. Here again the "Norman genius" lies in the way it was adapted to fit the circumstances. We do however see a number of features of the seigniory where economic and political pressure on subjected populations came together and which were foreign to the Mediterranean world, such as the obligation to pay to use the oven, the press or the mill, over which the lord had a monopoly.

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