2

The rural world

Agriculture

Norman immigration to the Mezzogiorno was even less a case of rural colonization than the early Scandinavian settlements in Normandy had been. The newcomers were a minority of fighting men. The local inhabitants were peasants and the vast majority remained so.

The only cases of major migrations of country folk were in Sicily, where the Normans encouraged Christian peasants, especially from Calabria, to settle. But the mass exodus of Moslem peasants from the island did not take place until the end of the Norman period.
On the mainland, it is worth noting how, in a context of political anarchy and growth of their kingdom despite periods of political crisis which occasionally brought the imperial armies down the Norman influx took place against a backdrop of population and economic growth buoyed up by agriculture.

However, three periods should be distinguished in this period of growth. During the 11th c., rural labour was still rare. In the 12th c. the plains were fully developed, with drainage and irrigation, and the population spread out towards the uplands and lower plateaux, with new towns springing up, while others expanded thanks to the income from their agricultural output. Finally, in the late 12th century and the 13th century, land clearance went as far as it could and the strain of overpopulation began to be felt.

It was a contrasted situation, however, depending on the geography and relief of the country, and it was preferable to settle in the fertile plains of Campania than to obtain a seigniory in an arid Calabrian rocca, as Robert Guiscard did on first starting out.

 

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