The rural world

Produce of the soil

The Norman conquerors were attracted by what at the time was famous as rich agricultural land. Parts of Apulia in fact still exported corn to Constantinople. Campania was a rich area for tillage and appropriately it bore the name terra di lavoro. Sicily produced grain, fruit, silk, cotton etc. However, the staples of all the agricultural systems were cereals, wheat and barley, and while vines were commonly grown in country areas for the needs of the population, the lord’s table, to sell, and for the needs for the liturgy, this became a specialist crop only in certain small southern areas of the peninsula.

Olive plantations date back to Antiquity, but the choice of chestnut trees came in the wake of forest clearance in the more rugged areas. Their fruit provided a well-known flour to supplement bread made with grain. Other fruit trees were also grown, like walnut or apple. Having become the ornamental tree in the orchards of Campania, the lemon tree was introduced following contacts with the Moslem and Byzantine world, as were the silk tree and the mulberry. Lastly, the date palm is actually reproduced on Sicilian coins minted at the end of the Norman monarchy.

The textile craft industry also had flax and hemp produced locally in the wetlands, and cotton too, a crop requiring mastery of the irrigation system set up by the Moslem peasants of Sicily.

Everywhere, food was supplemented by the horticultural produce of vegetable gardens, while the introduction of leguminous plants noted on fallow land is a sign generally associated with agricultural advances, of particular benefit as fodder for draught animals used for ploughing, and their by-products – hides, leather, wool etc. There were well-established systems for moving to summer pastures along long-established paths like the tratturi of Molise. And one completely exotic animal turned up among the domestic fauna of the 12th c. Mezzogiorno: the buffalo, acclimatized in the wetlands where buffalo cow’s milk is today a regional speciality of Campania.

previous page  The Normans in the Mediterranean  next page