Italian History VI: Curtain Going Down: The Dark Ages

San Michele Maggiore (Pavia), Italian Romanesque Architecture, from History of Architecture (Fletcher), pg 332, Italian History VI: Curtain Going Down: The Dark Ages, Italy, Italy (Photo by Sir Banister Flight Fletcher)
San Michele Maggiore (Pavia), Italian Romanesque Architecture, from History of Architecture (Fletcher), pg 332, Romanesque architecture (AD 800–1100), General

Medieval Italy languished and diminished after the fall of Rome

As the AD 6C opened, Italy was in chaos.

Waves of barbarians from the north poured in while provincial nobles engaged in petty bickering and Rome became the personal fiefdom of the papacy. The Goths continued to rule nominally from Ravenna but were soon driven out by Constantinople.

It was the Roman Catholic church, beginning with Pope Gregory I late in the AD 6C, that finally provided some stability. In AD 731, Pope Gregory II renounced Rome’s nominal dependence on Constantinople and reoriented the Roman Catholic church firmly toward Europe—in the process finalizing the empire’s division into east and west.

During the Middle Ages, northern Italy fragmented into a collection of city-states. The papacy’s temporal power shrunk considerably (mainly encompassing only Rome and its province), and its political concerns turned to arguing with the German (Gothic) emperors over the increasingly irrelevant office of Holy Roman Emperor.

The southern half of the country went a different road when, in the 11C, the Normans invaded southern Italy, wresting control from the local strongmen and, in Sicily, the Muslim Saracens who had occupied the region throughout the dark ages.

In the south, the Normans introduced feudalism, a repressive social system that discouraged individual economic initiative, and the legacy of which accounts in large part for the social and economic differences between north and south that have continued into the 21st century.

In the mid-14C the Black Death ravaged Europe, killing a third of Italy’s population.

Despite such setbacks, northern Italian cities grew wealthy from Crusade booty, trade with one another and with the Middle East, and banking.

These wealthy principalities and pseudorepublics ruled by the merchant elite flexed their muscles in the absence of a strong central authority.

 
 

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San Michele Maggiore (Pavia), Italian Romanesque Architecture, from History of Architecture (Fletcher), pg 332 (Photo by Sir Banister Flight Fletcher)

Romanesque architects concentrated on large churches with rounded arches and wide aisles to fit the masses

 
Milan Cathedral, Italian Gothic, from History of Architecture (Fletcher), pg 602 (Photo by Sir Banister Flight Fletcher)

Soaring ceilings, pointed arches and spires, stained glass windows, gargoyles, statue-festooned facades, and those flying buttresses

 

The static, iconographic art of the Eastern Roman Empire dominated Italian art in the early Dark Ages

 
12C Romanesque frescoes in the Chapelle des Moines at the Abbaye de Cluny in Berzé-la-Ville (Photo by Uknown)

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