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Patronage and commissioning of public events and buildings was a key tool in the attainment and replication of social status in antiquity. In the early Middle Ages, new ideals emerged around Christian forms of wealth and support, and different values were attached to the acquisition of agricultural land. Urban properties took on new relevance, and agricultural property became socially valuable in new ways. Cultivated spaces within cities came to be newly prestigious. This chapter considers the principal means by which aristocrats and rulers performed status and power within the late antique and early medieval cities of Italy, marshalling the new evidence of urban cultivation to inform our understanding of power in the built environment. It then develops three examples of this process from the mid eighth century to the early tenth, in Rome, Ravenna, and Naples. These examples show clearly the sophisticated strategies employed by rulers, ecclesiastical institutions, and families alike to control cultivated spaces, and the social status which came with successful strategies.
This chapter considers the economic context of urban food production of the Middle Ages and situates household-scale production within its wider context. It explores the emergence of evidence for urban markets for foodstuffs and suggests ways in which we might understand the absence of that evidence for the period prior to the eleventh century. In the absence of commercial-scale farming of foodstuffs, household-level cultivation was the principal means of acquiring food for most city-dwellers. The possession of food gardens and their exchange through horizontal networks of families or social groups allow us to see the prominence of family links in the management of urban property and the control of urban food production. The systems which emerged to permit the feeding of urban populations in the early part of our period arose in the context of new ideas about wealth, and emerging communities, such as religious households and priestly households, which required new solutions to feeding urban populations.
This chapter presents the overall shape of the phenomenon, situating urban food cultivation against the backdrop of rural agriculture for urban provisioning which characterised the majority, though not the totality, of Italian agronomics. Examples from Lucca point to key issues in urban food cultivation: urban topography, relations between neighbours, and relations between landholders and larger institutions such as churches. In small, densely populated cities such as Lucca, as well as in larger cities, we can see tightly controlled cultivated spaces within the walls. Archaeobotanical evidence is providing new information about what was grown, where, and how much. Here I use it to demonstrate the radically changed cerealiculture in Italy for the fifth to seventh centuries, and then analyse in detail the floral remains of two urban gardens, one from ninth-century Rome and one from tenth- to eleventh-century Ferrara. These case studies reveal the wide range of foodstuffs cultivated in cities and the prevalence of polyculture, when growers planted many different food crops with varying harvest cycles for household consumption rather than single crops for market production.
This is a brief consideration of the cities of early medieval Italy and the role of urbanism in social and political forms. It summarises the main discoveries and claims of the book, situating the strands of research within different disciplinary contexts and in terms of broader questions about the early medieval past.
Both the urbanism and agriculture of the early Middle Ages broke from the past. A picture of food cultivation and urban density of the cities of Roman Italy is sketched in order to gauge the transformations of late antiquity, which included the reduced population of Italian cities and the fragmentation of urban settlement. The changed urban landscape created possible spaces for food cultivation where there had not been any before. These are apparent in the archaeological record as early as the fifth century and in the textual record in the later sixth century. A key piece of evidence for the transformation of cities is the presence of Dark Earth, humic soil formed in urban contexts after the end of the Roman empire. Dark Earth in Italy is shown here to have been transformed from deposits which were formed deliberately and which underwent a number of different, related processes of waterlogging, accretion, and weathering. The broader economic shape of early medieval Italy, in terms of both regional networks as well as Mediterranean connections, provides a sense of how strategically important urban cultivation became in post-Roman Italy.
Reflection on food cultivation in modern cities opens up new lines of inquiry into the past, showing examples of civic authorities on the one hand, and community groups and individuals on the other, creating cultivated spaces for food production in periods of social and economic transformation. Examples from tenth-century Rome introduce the different kinds of evidence available for a study of the phenomenon, both material and textual. The material evidence of the cities of Italy (roads, houses, public buildings, and parks) provides the backdrop of urban change, the gaps in the urban fabric into which new gardens were placed. The available documentary evidence comprises charters of land sales, rents, and donations of urban properties, and there is discussion here of how those sources were produced and what they can tell us about the fabric of early medieval Italian cities as well as the people who lived in them. The chapter then sketches the historiographic landscape of the subject. Urban cultivation and gardening has long been recognised to have existed in early medieval Italy, but its relevance to broader pictures of social and economic history has not yet been evaluated.
New cultural attitudes towards horticulture and gardening emerged in the early Middle Ages, and these structured the new economies and ways of life. From antiquity, land management was nested in several different clusters of ideas and values: ancient Roman cultural esteem placed upon effective estate management; emerging ideas about self-sufficiency of religious households, such as monasteries; and ideas about health and medicine. Some of these ideas were rooted in different genres of literature from antiquity, from agronomic treatises to medical theory, some of which were continued into the early Middle Ages. New, early medieval writings about monastic communities, about places where gardens grew, and about the use of plant material for medicines emerged. Each of these genres of writing is considered here for the light they shed on agricultural practices and consumption of urban produce. This chapter also considers the movement of cultivated urban spaces into ecclesiastical hands and explores how new cultural values attached to food provisioning for certain groups, such as the dedicated religious, informed habits of charitable or pro anima donations of cultivated land.
Food-growing gardens first appeared in early medieval cities during a period of major social, economic, and political change in the Italian peninsula, and they quickly took on a critical role in city life. The popularity of urban gardens in the medieval city during this period has conventionally been understood as a sign of decline in the post-Roman world, signalling a move towards a subsistence economy. Caroline Goodson challenges this interpretation, demonstrating how urban gardens came to perform essential roles not only in the economy, but also in cultural, religious, and political developments in the emerging early medieval world. Observing changes in how people interacted with each other and their environments from the level of individual households to their neighbourhoods, and the wider countryside, Goodson draws on documentary, archival, and archaeological evidence to reveal how urban gardening reconfigured Roman ideas and economic structures into new, medieval values.
Early medieval Italy was the most densely urbanized part of western Eurasia until the eleventh century. This chapter examines the practices of urbanism in the Italian peninsula, considering the social and political implications of living in cities and how they shaped the ways of life and patterns of governance in Latin- and Greek-speaking areas of the Italian peninsula. Special consideration is paid to how the Carolingian conquest and Frankish control of parts of Italy might have challenged the roles played by cities in economic and political life in those areas. Urbanism and investment in cities were tools for Carolingian rulers of Italy and their contemporaries.