Craft industry and trades

Craft industry and urban society

Not much is known about the organization of the trades in the towns of southern Italy, but the toponymy would tend to suggest a distribution of specialities by district, as was common in the mediaeval towns. There was a blacksmiths’ district in Naples, around the church of San Pietro ad Ferrarios, at least in the 12th c., and there are similar known cases for other everyday trades, or for specialist activities such as weapons manufactures. The luxury product workshops attached to the court of the Norman kings at Palermo were special cases, copied or directly inherited from eastern traditions.

The status of craftsmen varied from trade to trade. The most affluent were those who worked with precious metals, while the least well-off prepared fabrics (fullers, dyers…). Certain trades were marginalized, for they used materials or techniques regarded as degrading. All trades involved in the production and slaughter of livestock (butchers, tanners…) were subjected to regulations vitiated by discriminatory measures. Despite the scale of the construction works launched under Norman rule, especially the building of churches and monasteries, the building trades were not among the most highly rated. Social discrimination might also be combined with religious discrimination. Thus the Jews had "monopolies" in the dyeing trade which were in fact overseen by the bishops, who levied taxes on them.

Even when extensive, craft production was mostly intended for the local markets, to meet people’s everyday needs. Certain major centres like Naples and Palermo had a more definite calling to trade. The production of luxury items itself served chiefly the needs of the court and church and lay dignitaries. We find it in foreign courts in the form of gifts or presents – plate, ivory and silk goods. There was some exporting of highly valuable goods, but only ceramics on an "industrial" scale.


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