In what ways were bishops publicly commemorated in historical and other texts, in inscriptions and/or architectural patronage, etc. in Byzantine Italy? When did the veneration of certain bishops as saints manifest itself, and in what ways (hagiography, churches)? Finally, what can this tell us about the role of the bishop in these cities? We will see that in several cities during the time of the Byzantine reconquest of Italy, including Rome, Ravenna, Naples, Canosa, and Poreč, bishops actively promoted their predecessors through church-building and the creation of lists of bishops in both text and portraiture. However, after the year 600, aside from Rome and Ravenna (for specific political reasons), most sees did not pay much attention to their episcopal heritage until the 9th and 10th centuries, when new political and ecclesiastical configurations were reshaping the roles of bishops within the peninsula.
Over the course of five centuries, Byzantine civil and military administration in Italy constituted an extremely variegated reality. Two main fault lines can be identified in order to portray it schematically. The first is chronological, with a system directly born from the Justinianic wars, which was established alongside another that was set up after the reconquest of large parts of southern Italy at the end of the 9th century. The second line separates mainland Italy from the island of Sicily, along with its Calabrian appendage. As such, this article successively presents the civil and military administration of the periods of time between the 6th and the 8th centuries in peninsular Italy, the 7th and 10th centuries in the thema of Sicily, and lastly, in the southern Italian imperial possessions constituting the thema of Longobardia and later the duchy of Italy. The situation in Sardinia, a part of Byzantine Africa, is not addressed in this article.
The paper examines the history of Apulia from late antiquity to the late 11th century, when it formed part of the Byzantine Empire, through an assessment of archaeological discoveries, many of which were made over the last few years. The emerging picture is that of a relatively poor land in the Italian peninsula that, despite the political and economic upheavals of late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, continued to remain of great and intrinsic importance to the Byzantine Empire and sustained evermore rapid economic growth from the later 8th or 9th centuries, acting as a middleman in contacts throughout the rest of Italy and the west.
The region was is closely united in terms of political, economic, and social history. Despite the scarcity of written sources, the prolonged Byzantine dominion in Calabria has facilitated the study of certain long-term phenomena and the archaeology of the early Middle Ages has made great progress over the last thirty years. Calabria, rich in precious metals and iron, and a producer of wine, grains and silk was of great interest for Byzantium, who built or refounded urban episcopal kastra centered around defensive praitōria against the Lombards and Muslims, as well as highly fortified rural refuges for the inhabitants of the villages. After the elimination of the pontifical massae in the 8th century, the dialectic state/local elite ended in victory for the notables who dominated the cities, appropriated praitōria and chōria, and relied on private castles. After the peak of the crisis in the 740s, the settlements multiplied from the mid-10th century onward.
The Maltese micro-region played an interesting role in the context of the Byzantine commonwealth, quite out of proportion to its size and to its remote geographical setting. The surviving written sources referring to Byzantine Malta provide some insight into the character and development of Byzantine society and settlement between the 6th and the 9th Century. In particular they provide information on the political and military classes that ruled the islands in these centuries, and on their relationships with widespread centres of power, from Sicily to North Africa, from Rome to Constantinople. Byzantine Malta would have naturally tended to rely on the resources that could be obtained from the sea and from navigation. Archaeological investigations have furthermore highlighted the importance of long-distance trade for Byzantine Malta. Recent work has also started investigating the varying relationships that bound the urban centres with the rural settlements over the three and half centuries of Byzantine rule over the islands. The sum of the evidence suggests that Byzantine Malta was a territory which was well integrated with events in neighbouring regions, but which was also capable of individualistic social and economic developments.
Within the general framework of postclassical Italy, early medieval Naples and Gaeta represent (along with Venice and Amalfi) an almost unique case of long-lasting survival of an independent city-state. Despite their ties with the Byzantine Empire becoming increasingly formal than substantial, the two cities managed to maintain not only their independence vis-à-vis the powerful Lombard states of the interior, but also a remarkable cultural diversity. Their main strength was indubitably their capability to build a strong network of trans-Mediterranean commercial ties both with the Byzantine and the Islamic world which proved to be extremely fruitful. Neapolitan and Gaetan aristocracies built their fortunes not only on the outcome of commercial activities but also on the exploitation of the fertile hinterland of their regions. Whereas Gaeta lost its independence during the first half of the 11th century, Naples succumbed to the Norman invaders in 1137.
During the period when Sardinia was part of the Vandalic Kingdom, and the centuries when it became a province of the Byzantine diocese of Africa, the island’s landscape remained substantially unaltered. It was characterized by a limited number of urban settlements, a remarkable regularity of very small rural settlements coexisting alongside villas tied to the agricultural exploitation of the territories and by villages connected to the road systems. Considering that rulers’ (Vandals and Byzantines) fiscal systems must have inherited a substantial amount of its character from the Roman scheme, it could be reasonably asserted that the economic structures related to the levy system may have remained unaltered at least until its equilibrium was breeched by the arrival of the Arabs in the Mediterranean. However, there is increasing evidence which proves the existence of settlements devoted to an economy of self-consumption from the 8th century onward.
In recent years, studies on Byzantine Sicily have renovated our knowledge of the island’s history, emphasizing the centrality of the island’s relations with Constantinople even during the 8th and 9th centuries. Archaeological research also made it possible to better assess the process of territorial diversification that is the basis of medieval Sicily. This paper identifies a long first stage (6th-7th century) in which we witness a rural settlement expansion and the formation of large villages; a second phase, during the 8th century, characterized by a demographic crisis, particularly evident in the north eastern and the western part of the island; and a third phase during the first decades of the 9th century in the southern and eastern areas which concerned a settlement recovery that prefigured the strategic interest in the restocking and economic exploitation of the lands near the capital, Syracuse. Finally, it highlights the strategic importance of the north eastern territories during the 10th century.
The relationship between the Byzantines and Lombards in Italy during the 6th and the 8th centuries was exceedingly complex. Firstly, it is not clear whether some kind of agreement preceded the Lombard’s entrance into Italian territory. Secondly, it is extremely difficult to deduce exactly what was the aim of the Lombard invasion of Italy. On the basis of this confused background, the Lombard settlement in the Italian peninsula at first experienced a moment of freewheeling expansion that lasted until the early 580s. Slowly hostilities paced down, and the 6th century was substantially a period that witnessed long moments of balance between the two parties, although the Lombards managed on two occasions (under Rothari and Grimoald) to further expand their territories. Yet it was only towards the mid-8th century that the Lombard kings tried their best to achieve the conquest of what was still in imperial hands, eventually gaining Ravenna in 751.
The central Mediterranean is one of the regions where the transition and relations between Byzantium and Islam can best be studied, although it is too often neglected in spite of its importance in this respect. This paper concentrates on these themes, with a special focus on Sicily and the southern part of the Italian mainland from the 8th until the 11th century. In particular, it opposes the traditional idea according to which piracy was the main Islamic maritime activity in southern Italy during the 9th–10th centuries. It also argues that the long frontier war (9th–10th centuries) that took place in these areas did not preclude other types of relations (commercial, cultural, religious) and circulation. It ends by evoking the Fatimid maritime policy in this region during the 10th and 11th centuries.