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Campania – History

Campania - History


From a historical point of view, Campania has two identities shaped by the peculiarities of its territory. Geographically speaking, the region is characterized by a low landscape on the coastal strip and the plain of Volturno, and mountainous areas in the provinces of Avellino and Benevento.

The coastal strip represents a unique territory, presenting itself as an intensely urbanized area interspersed by intensive agricultural works, industrial establishments, and resorts of global importance.

At the heart of this coastal region is Naples. The city has been the capital of the largest Italian state and one of the major cities in Europe for a long time. Moreover, Naples has been the point of interchange between the continental Southern Italy and the rest of the world for centuries.

After the development of communications and the implementation of the Adriatic axis, Bari started to threaten Naples’ position. In fact, not only Bari but also other Adriatic ports have reduced, over the time, the hegemonic role of Naples. Nevertheless, the city, despite its problems and structural gaps, succeeded to maintain its appearance and pride of a great capital.

The Neapolitan conurbation, stretching between the volcanic areas of Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei and overlooking a gulf of rare beauty, is the center of the region not only geographically but also historically. In fact, this region has always represented an important interest for the prehistoric civilizations, followed by the Romans and subsequent cultures.

The name of the region has its origins in the classical era, when it was used to designate the Tyrrhenian coast at the south of Lazio, and it fell into disuse in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, the term remained alive in literary use and, after the unification of Italy in the nineteenth century, Campania took its name back for good.

Prehistory of Campania

The earliest artifacts in the region were found on the island of Capri, at a site dated to the Lower Paleolithic age and attributable to the middle-upper phase of the Acheulean era. The influences of the various prehistoric cultures are also visible in the area of Marina di Camerota, more precisely in Cala d’Arconte, Capo Grosso, and Cala Bianca. Some remains referring to two distinct phases of the Aeolian cultures have been discovered in these areas.

Many coastal caves revealed remains of the Mousterian phase, above all in the areas of Poggio and Taddeo. In fact, several teeth and a fragment of a femur bone belonging to a Neanderthal humanoid were discovered in Taddeo cave. Other human remains, more precisely a fragment of a jaw belonging to a child of about 3 years old, were found in the area of Mt. Molare.

The artifacts belonging to the Upper Paleolithic era are also numerous in the region. Some of the most noteworthy sites are the cave of Castelcivita located in the surroundings of Palinuro.

In Capri, the cave delle Felci housed remarkable ceramic objects belonging to the Neolithic age.

The Age of Copper is represented in Campania by Gaudo’s culture. Some important settlements from the lower and middle Bronze Age, such as Palma Campania and La Starza, show traces of a sudden end of the cultural development due to a period of volcanic activity. Nevertheless, it was possible to document a rich stratigraphy containing materials from the Neolithic to the late Bronze Age.

Of noteworthy importance are the remains of the buildings in Buccino, belonging to the lower Bronze Age. These edifices and craft complexes are testimonies of a blooming phase in the area. Another important archaeological site is the inhabited settlement on the island of Vivara where large amounts of Aegean ceramics were discovered.

Last but not least, we should also mention the cultural facets of the Apennine region. The remains belong to the Age of Iron and are primarily funeral sites, including a series of incineration necropolises in Capua, Sala Consilina, and Pontecagnano. The remains show clear relations with the Villanovian cultures.

History of Campania

Since the ninth century BC, Campania became one of the Greek colonies in Italy. In fact, some of the first Greek colonies in Italy were settled in the region, and Cuma affirmed its domination on Vesuvius and on the coast between the eighth and sixth centuries BC. The foundation of Parthenope was also laid in this period.

Naples, originally called Neapolis, was founded in the fifth century BC and shortly after the Cumani and Etruscan civilizations set the bases of Capua to fight for control over the merchant routes in the Tyrrhenian Sea.

In the same century, the region also witnessed the Sannite invasions, and this population ruled over the region for a short period of time. In the fourth century BC, the Romans gained control of the region and settled one of their colonies here.

During the Roman domination, Campania knew a period of economic and social development that started with the construction of Via Appia which linked the southern regions of Italy to Rome.

From the end of the second century BC, especially in the areas of Baia and Miseno, the region transformed into a destination for the noble Roman families. In this period emerged numerous residential complexes, yet, after the social war between 90 and 88 BC, Rome sent a colony of 50.000 legionnaires to Campania.

The Romanization of Campania was concluded by Augustus and, with the exception of a few cities, Campania entered into a period of slow decline. One of the few cities that strengthened the social status and economy during the Imperial Age was Pozzuoli, whose port remained the main base for the Roman expansion towards the East.

The Roman development in the region was suddenly interrupted in 79 AD by the eruption of Vesuvius. The ashes and lava of the volcano literally erased the settlements of Herculaneum and Pompeii. Saved from the disaster, Naples remained an important center for the Hellenistic culture, but its political weight became almost irrelevant.

Following the eruption of the volcano, Campania became a weak region subject to the barbarian invasions, and the region was heavily involved in the Gothic War. In the early Middle Ages the territory was divided between the three ducats of Benevento, Salerno, and Capua, while the Byzantine Empire established three other ducats in Naples, Amalfi, and Gaeta. The religious power in the region was concentrated in the monastery of San Vincenzo al Volturno.

In the ninth century, the Normans moved the political and economic center of the Southern Italy to Sicily, attributing administrative and control functions to the feudal aristocracy. The region somehow became secondary for a long period of time, until a new state was constituted in 1220 by the Swabians. By ordinances and conception, this was one of the most modern states of the time.

After Frederick II’s death in 1250, the region passed through a period of bloody struggles that inflicted the power gained by Campania. In the battles of Benevento and Tagliacozzo, Manfredi and Corradino were defeated by Charles of Anjou who decided to move the capital from Palermo to Naples in 1282.

Under the Anjou dynasty, Campania knew a period of recovery, although the economic token was rather high. Unfortunately, the Anjou decided to engage in a series of conflicts against the Aragon dynasty. These political struggles had devastating effects on the region’s economy, and Naples, in particular, became a shelter for a dense group of people belonging to the lower class, especially peasants.

This massive migration of the lower classes to Naples resulted in an aggravation of the sanitary conditions of the dwellings, but also of the city as a whole.

Campania passed under the rule of the Aragon in the fifteenth century. In this period the region was subject to a profound administrative restructuring that was contrasted by the local barons. As a result, Naples became the most important political and economic center in southern Italy.

In 1495, the descent of Charles VIII and the intervention of Ferdinand of Aragon made Campania the scene of continuous battles that ended in 1503 with the Spanish conquest of Naples. The Spanish kingdom entrusted the government to a viceroy, and in the first half of the sixteenth century, through the actions of Pedro de Toledo, the Emperor Charles V implemented a policy of censorship aimed at the liquidation of the region’s autonomous remnants, whose fates were increasingly closely linked to Spain.

Naples consolidated its role of capital of the South right before the greatest crisis of political and administrative identity of the region. At the same time, the city also became a source of contradictions. Nevertheless, in the second half of the sixteenth century, the region enjoyed a period of economic improvement that ended in 1585 with the agrarian crisis.

The conjunction of the region’s economy with the agrarian crisis was dramatic. The shortcomings of the economic and administrative structure weakened the position of the region, and the situation worsened when the predatory tax policy implemented by Spain put new weight on Campania.

During the seventeenth century, this economic crisis caused many revolts, including the one of the Masaniello that ended up with the abolishment of the viceroy. During this revolt, the economic and political situation strengthen the baronial power and, in the countryside, the revolt targeted the symbols of feudalism.

The feudal aristocracy was victorious; nevertheless, it showed its inability to control the territory shortly after the victory, and in the second half of the seventeenth century, a “civilian class,” favored by the policies of Madrid took over the lead.

This civilian class was constituted by public officials, lawmakers, bourgeois and intellectuals who assumed a significant political and administrative role.

After a short period passed under the Austrian dominations, Campania returned to the Spaniards in 1734. At the same time, Charles III of Bourbon inaugurated a period of moderate reforms in southern Italy. However, in 1759, the throne of Spain was given to the successor of Charles, Ferdinand I of Bourbon, who at the time was only eight years old.

In the same year a spread of pests had a negative impact on the agricultural production of the region, and without a proper leader, Campania entered into a new period of decline. Ferdinand I gained full powers over the throne in 1767, but he left the government of Campania to this wife, Maria Carolina of Hapsburg-Lorraine.

During the minority of Ferdinand I, namely between 1759 and 1767, Bernardo Tanucci ruled over Campania and continued the reformist policy delineated by Charles III. This policy, based on the rebirth of the local power against barons and feudal nobility, together with an intensive intellectual work, led to instability in the region.

However, thanks to the numerous intellectuals, the first universities and Masonic lodges were developed in Campania, concluding with the uprising of the Neapolitan Republic.

The profound divisions between bourgeois and the intellectual class on one hand, and between peasant farmers and the proletariat, on the other hand, favored political reactions and the return to the throne of Ferdinand.

In 1806, shortly after the constitution of the Kingdom of Italy by Napoleon, Giuseppe Bonaparte was appointed king of the Two Sicilies, succeeded in 1808 by Gioacchino Murat. The main reform adopted by the French was the abolition of feudality, while other reforms helped to form a new urban class of officials, primarily constituted of nobles and bourgeois.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Campania welcomed Garibaldi who, after the victory in the battle of Volturno, marked the end of the Bourbon dynasty.

After a short period of development favored by the export of agricultural products, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the region re-afflicted the economic crisis, which resulted in a massive emigration.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the misery of the hinterland was reflected in the development of the coastal area and especially of Naples which, with the establishment of the steel plant in Bagnoli, became the largest labor center in southern Italy.

The fascist phenomenon in the region was somewhat marginal. The Second World War mainly affected Campania since 1943 and it heavily involved the areas of Naples and Salerno. Reduced in a disastrous state by the war, Campania faced significant economic and social problems. In 1980, after a devastating earthquake struck the region and following the economic struggles, the region faced the up rise of the organized crime phenomenon.

Archaeology of Campania

From all Italian regions, Campania is one of the richest in archaeological evidence that documents the various phases of development of its civilizations from prehistory to the successive colonization by the Greek, Etruscans,and Romans.

The passage of these people is attested in various centers, especially in those that were originally buried under the ashes of Vesuvius.

Some of the best-preserved sites are Pompeii and Herculaneum. The remains of classical art are documented in many other centers as well. Among them, we can mention Paestum, Naples, Capua, Nola, Baia, and Stabia.

Moreover, numerous artifacts are exhibited in the many archaeological museums present throughout the region.