The Middle Ages  (6th to 14th c.)




 map of Italy in 1050



The Lombards were a Germanic people originally from

Northern Europe who invaded Italy and ruled large parts of the Italian

 Peninsula from 568 to 774.


In 476, the last Roman Emperor was overthrown by the

Germanic general Odoacer who ruled Italy until 493, largely

maintaining Roman customs and culture. Odoacer's rule came

to an end when the Ostrogoths under the leadership of

Theodoric conquered Italy. This led to the Gothic War during

which the armies of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian won a

pyrrhic victory over the Goths in Italy.

Italy re-united to the Empire, 539-563. Justinian seized the

opportunity of regaining the oldest and noblest province of the

Empire, which had become detached in all things save in

name. The chief strength of the Ostrogoths lay in North Italy,

for they were not sufficiently numerous to colonize the whole

land. The descendants of the Greek colonists in Sicily and

South Italy gladly welcomed Belisarius the general of the

Emperor. The Greek city Naples was forced by the barbarians

to resist: at its fall Apulia and Calabria were restored to the

Empire. After a long struggle the Imperial armies, first under

Belisarius, and afterwards under Narses, destroyed the name

and nation of the East- Goths. Italy was thus again made in

reality a subject of the Emperor


The Giovanni degli Eremiti in Palermo founded by Roger II,

the first Norman King of Sicily shows a fusion of Moorish

and Byzantine architecture.



video of the Giovanni degli Eremiti




The Gothic War destroyed the infrastructure of Italy and

allowed the more barbarous Germanic tribe, the Lombards to

take control of Italy. The Lombards established a kingdom in

northern Italy and three principalities in the South. After the

Lombard invasion, the popes (for example, St. Gregory) were

nominally subject to the eastern emperor, but often received

little help from Constantinople, and had to fill the lack of

stately power, providing essential services (such as food for

the needy) and protecting Rome from Lombard incursions; in

this way, the popes started building an independent state. In

751 the Lombards seized Ravenna and the Exarchate of

Ravenna was abolished. This ended the Byzantine presence

in central Italy, although some coastal cities and some areas

in south Italy remained under Byzantine control until the

eleventh century. Facing a new Lombard offensive, the papacy

appealed to the Franks for aid. In 756 Frankish forces

defeated the Lombards and gave the Papacy legal authority

over much of central Italy, thus creating the Papal States.

The age of Charlemagne was therefore one of stability for

Italy, though it was generally dominated by non-Italian

interests. The 11th century signed the end of the darkest

period in the Middle Ages. Trade slowly increased, especially

on the seas where the four Italian cities of Amalfi, Pisa,

Genoa and Venice became major powers. The papacy regained

its authority, and started a long struggle with the empire,

about both ecclesiastical and secular matter. The first

episode was the Investiture controversy. In the twelfth

century those Italian cities which lay in the Holy Roman

Empire launched a successful effort to win autonomy from the

Holy Roman Empire; this made north Italy a land of

quasi-independent or independent city-states until the 19th


In 1155 the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnenos attempted

to invade southern Italy. The Emperor sent his generals

Michael Palaiologos and John Doukas with Byzantine troops

and large quantities of gold to invade Apulia (1155). However

, the invasion soon stalled. By 1158 the Byzantine army had

left Italy, with only a few permanent gains.



By the late Middle Ages, central and southern Italy, once the

heartland of the Roman Empire, was far poorer than the

north. Rome was a city largely in ruins, and the Papal States

were a loosely administered region with little law and order.

Partly because of this, the Papacy had relocated to Avignon in

France. Naples, Sicily, and Sardinia had for some time been

under foreign domination. The Italian trade routes that

covered the Mediterranean and beyond were major conduits

of culture and knowledge. The city-states of Italy expanded

greatly during this period and grew in power to become de

facto fully independent of the Holy Roman Empire.






 The Romans