Aggiungi lista preferiti Aggiungi lista nera Invia ad un amico
A Very Quick History - First part

History of Piedmont and its language

indice casa

Notice to be read (in case you didn't)


These short notes are certainly not exhaustive and probably not completely accurate. I hope, anyway, that possible errors are not so big. As already said, I try to do a good work, in spite of all my limits. My goal is to give something acceptable. Of cours, if someone wants to know exactly or know more on the subject, he would better to find books written by "true experts". Some valuable researchers have written very interestng books about. If these few notes are able to stmulate some interest on the subject, it would already be a good success.

All the piedmontese history, beginning from the most distant ages of prehistory, reveals the Piedmont as a frontier land. Place of meeting and passage, often of fight, among different populations and civilizations, due to its Alpine Passe, but at the same time, in particular in ancient ages, unhospitable and isolated land, due to its cold climate, and the type of its territoryThe region is always the playground of fights and ravages, but mountains offer a refuge, even if not easy, to populations, their traditions and culture.
A good deal of the piedmontese history is linked withthe one of the neighbours beyond Alps. In the facts that we will quickly see, the actual border between the different contenders, or at least between nations, up to less than a couple of centuries ago, is always not precise, and never on the watershed, but instead at the end of walleys, as a demonstration that mountains are not able do divide populations. Too similar is the life on the two slopes, too similar are the problems, and the hard life in mountain require cooperation. On both slopes of the mountain people are the same, with same or very close languages, living in houses made of the same stone, around church towers very similar. Often young men go to find a wife on the other slope of the mountains, where usually live close relatives.
Between Cisalpine and Transalpine lands there is then what for centuries was considered a "no man land", which is instead the land of frontier's people, whose natural vocation is to be rings of connection among nations. In the last centuries mountains divided armies and States, always generated by wars, but borders on mountains, celebrated by rhetorics and triumphalism, are and will be always wrong.

The Palaeolithic period
The man aperas in Piedmont quite late, It is less than 200,000 years ago, during the last but one glacial era, nearly at the end of the priod called "Inferior Paleolithic", which in Africa was initiated about 2 million years before. Traces of "Homo", can be "Homo erectus" but not yet "Homo sapiens", have been found near Trino of Vercelli (Montarolo) where there are stones suitable to be worked. Persons who in that period are moving arond the Piedmont are certaily very few, due to the prohibitive life conditions of the time. the weather is very cold. They are hunters and collectors of natural fruits. In Piedmont, in that period, live elephants, mammouths, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, bears, some cavern lions, but also deers, bisons, wild horses. In the plane lives also the marmot.
Traces of "Homo sapiens" of the type "Neanderthal" appear in Piedmont only about 100,000 years ago, in corresapondence with the last glacial era. We are in the "Middle Paleolithic", when the man continue to be nomadic, and then without a permanent inhabited site in which he could live traces of his presence. Anyway we have some more traces coming from this period, as at the beginning of the Sesia valley, in the caves of the site Monfenera, where has been found also human remains, that can be assigned to a man of Neanderthal.
The first traces of "Homo sapiens sapiens" appear about 40,000 - 30'000 years ago, when the climate begins to be more temperated, even if still inside the glacial era. This is the last phase of the paleolithic or "Superior Paleolithic" when men are still nomad but use more evolved techniques in working of stones. In Piedmont the poor number of finds continues, due to the poor number of in habitants.
The situation starts to go better around 20,000 years ago, when hunters and collectors begin to frequent the lowlands of the Piedmont (alpine valleys are still filled by ice). The vegetation is limited, and lowlands are run by many rivers, and there are lakes and marshes, due to the progressive thaw of glaciers. Sill the environment is hardly liveable Also the fauna is changing, there are stil some mammouth, but there are also deers and wild oxes.
About 10,000 yeasrs ago (8000 b. C.) we can say that the glacial era is over, and vegetation has colonized the lowlands, where forests grow of conifers, oaks, beeches, maples, while the grass is covering the slopes of mountains. The number of herbivorous animals incerases and now there are also wild donkeys, elks, bisons, chamoises, rock-goats. The huntable animals are increasing and then hunters are increasing, still nomads but now equipped with a new hunting tool : the bow, which makes the work easier. This after-glacial period is called "Mesolithic". The Piedmont's inhabitants (even if always nomad) prefer lands at feet of mountains, since the lowlands are still very marshy.
Hunters tend to camp at the feet of mountains, but some traces are find also up to 2000 meters in height, demonstrating that in the summer hunters went up to hunt.
Certainy the demographic development of Piedmont is rather late with respech the remaining of Italy.
The Neolithic period
We can assign at a time a bit before 5,000 b.C. the beginning of the Neolithic in Piedmont, late of some thousand years with respect to areas in Mediterranean Sea more favoured from a climatic poit of view. Only in this perion, in Piedmont, the climatic conditions are no more a problem. The main characteristic of the period is in the fact that men start to cultivate the earth, instead of just collecting natural fruits, and start to breed animals, instead of just hunting them. Tools are always of stone, but their manufacture is more sophisticated, and they begin to product handworks of ceramics. This is not only a change in habits, but also in mentality.
This evolution (in particular the farming) leads the man to stay in a place in a stable way, an there he starts to build a permanent shelter for himself, instead of looking for natural or provisional shelters. In this way the first permanent settlements come, which have left us so much consistent traces, with respect the preceeding camps.
The oldest village in Piemont has been found near the present city of Alba, and comes from an year about 5,500 b.C. Other villages among the oldest have been found toward the Apennins' dorsal and the Tanaro valley, as to indicate that the new way of living arrives from the ligurian coast.
The men start to provide themselves with ceramic furnishing. Just hanworks of ceramics and their techniques and decorations are a powerful indication of culture and cultural excanges, or anyway relationships among populations. Ceramics find in Alba are similar to the ones found on ligurian coast, but also have elements certainly coming from the South of France. From these finds it comes that not only through Apennins but also through Alps the new styles of life entered the Piedmont, more than through the lowlands, still marshy and conered by intricate forests.
In some places of the piedmontese territory should exixt sorts of workshops for production of stone's tools, which then were commercialized, as it is demonstrated by the finding of true storehouses of finished products and semi-finished, in a number too high for a local use. This, for example, near Alba but also in other places, as for example in Chiomonte (Cimon) in Susa valley. Produced things begin to cover a wide range of necessities, like tools for agriculture, for works in general, and for the house.
We become to find tools for the weaving of the wool. In fact the breeding is mainly of sheeps, then cattle and pigs. The horse (quite small in this period) is rare, and also the dog is breeded for alimentar uses. The agriculture produces spelt, barley, foxtail millet, and wheat.
This is the period in which the first indications appear of a spiritual life in populations of Piedmont. In particular they are graphical expressions (engravings and pictures), and the care in burial of dead persons. The activity starts of making rupestrian engravings starts, which are spreaded everywhere on Western and Central Alps. Of them we don't know exactly the scope, and not even an exact dating.
In the meanwhile the metallurgy is discovered, we are about in the years 3,000 to 2,000 b.C., but in Piedmont up to about the years 2,000 b.C. only the copper is known, a metal not so useful by itself and in that period, as it is not usable to product tools due to its poor mechanical properties. It is mainly used for decorations, necklaces, and "jewels". The copper, in fact can be found in Piedmon in good quantities, but there is no tin, the other metal required to produce the bronze.
Starting from this period we can think at a the summer trashumance toward high pastures on mountains, due to finds in mountain of cattle shelters. Still in this perion in Piedmont appears a particular type of ceramic pot, largely spread in Europe, This demonstrates that the Piedmont, even if quite isolated, is inserted in the european echanges, which ave become usual.
The Bronze and Iron Ages
Startinf from the years around the 2000 b. C. also in Piedmont the bronze technology is available. The bronze is an alloy of copper and tin which, on the contrary of its components, has good mechanical properties. The piedmontese population is slowly growing, even if the rate of growing is less than the one of other regions in North Italy, and it begins to be necessary an expansion from the hills toward the lowlands, but these latter are still marshy and subjected to frequent floodings of rivers.
This is the reason for building villages on piles, near or over lakes or ponds, and anyway protected against sudden variation of the river's level, due to the particular climatic conditions of the period. We are around years 1500 b.C. and this imposes the development of new building techniques, tools for working of wood, and at the same time ways for sailing on rivers and lakes.
Tools and veapons are now in bronze, for whse production the tin comes from Spain or even from Cornwall, demonstrating a certain vitality in excanges, still again through the mountains, and the regular use of the alpine passes(certainly Mont Genevre and Great Saint Bernard). All this requires at least some commercial techniques and a sort od "transport service", that has to be at least efficient.
It is indeed the bronze metallurgy that allows us to know a tight connection of piedmontese population with trans-alpine populations, more than with people in peninsular Italy. In Piedmont, in fact, has been found metallurgical tools technologies and equipments known in France up to the territory of Seine and Rhine, and unknown in the remaining of Italy. The same thing can be noted examining the found bronze handworks. The alpine passes of Mont Genevre and Great Saint Bernard start to outline what will be the characteristics of Piedmont along the History. Anyway the bronze does not substitutes campletely an quickly the stone, whose technology has been improved, stones are easily found (even if in Piedmont there are only few places in which a good stone can be found), and certainly is cheaper.
The major finds have been found near the Viverone lake. These finds certifies a civilization made by little groups of people, who occupy the whole Piedmont and even more, who live mainly on pile-villages, who own tools an veapons of bronze, who make valuable jewels, who produce a ceramic with its own characteristics, who practise agriculture and breeding, who knows the catr and the horse, who, as a preference travels by sailing on rivers an lakes. This is the culture (civilization) that takes the name of Viverone's culture.
From this period come the first evidences of some worships addressed to divine entities. It is initiated the custom of burying the dead with objects used during the life, and it seems that also this custom, in Piedmont derives from the other side of Alps.
Between the years 800 and 700 b.C. the bronze age is finished. In Piedmont the climate becomes adverse and cold. The shores of lakes and ponds become dangerous places due to the hydro-geological disarrangement that is a consequence of the climate worsening. Follding are frequent and dangerous. Inhabitants, progressively, go back to live in highlands, but the increasing of population requires works of terracing to provide enough earth to be cultivated.
The newly discovered metal, the iron, has mechanical characteristics that are better than the characteristics of the bronze, and it is a bit lighter, Also the iron is relatively abundant in Piedmont, and this fact open the contacts also toward the Padane lowland, with inhabitants of territories eastward the Piedmont. Also a new cereal is discovered and cultivated which is the rye. This cereal becomes very useful since it can grow in cold climate as it is the mountain, up to 1500 meters about. Then cultivations of peas and lentils are initiated, and then also the hemp and the flax start to be cultivated. Nuts and hazel-nuts are quite diffused. Also the wild grapes are used. The horse is now largely breeded, and the hunting is losing its importance, and it is only used for varying and integrating the food. The iron age is characterized by the arrival of trans-alpine populations and the subsequent mixing with the Piedmont's inhabitants, as we will see in the following.
The first ethnical groups
It is in the period of pile-dwellings that ethnical groups start to take form in Piedmont, distinguished and collected by particular characteristics. In practice, someone sees in the Viverone's culture, the origin of the Ligurian population, which in this period occupies much more than only Piedmont, or at least of the northern part of this population, which occupies also the southern France and arrives on west side, up to the present Trentine.
About Ligurians it is possible to find in literature different evaluations about their origin. Someone speaks of a pre-indoeuropean population, may be coming from Iberia, and someone instead assigns a sure indo-european origin to Ligurians. In our short history we are not interested in this question, an we limit ourselves to note that in the present piedmontese language there are words and toponyms that can be assigned to a pre-indoeuropean origin, but this is not a demonstration of something. Certainly their language is similar but certainly not equal, to the languages spoken beyond Alps. They are subdivided in little tribes, and probably there are linguistical differences among them. In piedmontese toponymy names of place are usually of ligurian derivation if ending in "...inco, ...inch" and "...asco, ...asch, ...asca" like Revello (Revél), Grugliasco (Grujasch), Beinasco (Beinasch), Revigliasco (Revijasch), Airasca, val Germanasca, Lombriasco (Lombriasch) (in brakets the piedmontese name, out of brakets the italian one).
This civilization evolves toward specific characretistics in the piedmontese area, up to about the year 700 b.C. Starting from this period, it becomes more and more evident in Piedmont a stronger influence of transalpine civilizations, in particular northward the river Pò, where two ethnical groups take form. In the North-East area, in the area of the lakes and the Ticino river, a celtic culture appears, which goes to interest also the western part of Lombardy. In the meanwhile, in the North-West area, that will be occupied by Salassi and Taurini, there are more and more important influences of civilizations coming from transalpine Gaul, but different with respect the ones in North-East. Up to the roman period these differences will be noticeable.
In the nort-eastern Piedmont then, an ethnical group is established which have a celtic base. The culture that is rising is quite independent, and there are many influences arriving from peninsular Italy, in particular coming from Etruscans, and from them it seems that the use of alphabet is acquired. Excanges wuth both northern and southern populations, following the water way offered by Ticino river, seem to be very prosperous. These tribes make together what is commonly defined as "Insubres". To these tribes Leponzii are added, also them coming from the other side of Alps, ant that take place in the high valleys of Ossola. This civilization is usually indicated as Golasecca Culture.
In North-western Piedmont a progressive immigration is noticed of Celts coming from the trans-alpine region, with a character clearly independent from the eastern civilization, and much more close to the trans-alpine customs. Here Celts and Ligurian give rise to the ethnic group that will be defined Celt-Ligurian by Romans, in which it is not possible any more to distinguish apart the two initial components. This fusion happens, in general, in a quite pacific way. In this area there is no trace of etruscan commerce, and writing is not known. Still some difference can be envisaged between Taurins and Salasses, the two tribes (or groups) that take form here, making it suppose that for Salassas there has been also a mixing with tribes coming from Switzerland, through the Great Sant Bernard pass, and certainly they mainain cotacrs through this pass, with Switzerland. Turini are instead in contavr with Gauls thorugh the pass ov Mont Genevre. One of the habits that distinguishes each other these two groups is the way of burying dead persons, sinche for Taurini this is very similar to the gaul habit.
In southern Piedmont Ligurians remain, subdivided in varions tribes, among them Statiels, Bagiens, Venens, Eburiats, etc. who have elements in their civilization that are also traceable in southern France, between Alps and Rhone, zone, besides, inhabited by other Ligurians. Their ceramic products are quite different from the ones of the population at North of the Pò river, and from the ones of Insubres. The demographic development seems to be slower, the zone is much poor, and do not rise inhabited centers geater than a little village. Etruscans, anyway, cross this region for their commerces (the Tanaro valley) and this contributes to an excange of cultures, even if it seems that ligurian tribes remain on a side of this activity, engaged in a poor agriculture and in sheep-breeding.
The Gauls invasion
Starting from years about 500 b.C. the Piedmont is run by groups of Gauls that crosses Alps and generates some drawbacks for excanges. These are not true invasions, but anyway the presence is increased of individuals coming from the region beyond Alps, who behaves like robbers, and in any case they are disturbing.
This is probably one of the reasons for withdrawal of the development in the civilization of north-eastern Piedmont. This civilization continue to be flourishing in its more eastern part (Lombardy), while its piedmontese axis moves westward from Ticino to Sesia river. At the same time the western culture expands in the zone of the present city of Biella.
In the years of the fourth century b.C. we have true invasions of Gauls in Italy, who will arrive up to Rome (Brennus in the year 390 b.C arrives to sack Rome), and who, in different ways, install themselves in northern Italy, but not in the Venetian.
It doesn't seem that in Piedmont this invasion has been particularly traumatic in the North-West area, where only a while ago other Gauls have been perfectly integrated with local population, and in the North-East area inhabitated by poeple quite similar. Some more problem is registered in the South of Piedmont, the poorest, that anyway continues to maintain its own identity, without a valuable ethnical contribution, while it seems to be large the cultural contribution, since many customs coming from beyond Alps have been introduced.
In all the Piedmont, Gauls who remain are well integrated with the population, and certainly they are not a relevant percentage. Sgnificant are instead the cultural influences, and many gallic customs are introduced and become part of the piedmontese culture. Among them certainly there are religious worships, that add themselves to the ones already existing, and the custom of burying dead in the earth, that substitute the former custom of cremation, practised in particular in southern Piedmont.
In Piedmont many toponyms have a celtic origin, among them the names of rivers Varaita, Maira, Orco, Stura and the two Dora (dour, in celtic, just means water) and many places as Cuorgné, Oulx Exilles and the same Susa (from segu as fortified place), etc. while many celtic words appear still today in the piedmontese tongue.
Organisation and tongue of tribes
While northern tribes, with more gallic traditions, tend to form confederations, with oligarchical srtuctures and then few lords having the power, in southern Piedmont tribes appear to be more independent and in a higher number. We have not information about particular wars among tribes.
There is not, then, a political structure that tends to be unitary, as it is for example for Etruscans or the rising Roman civilization that tends to subdue and absorb the conquered populations. The popolation density of Piedmont remains quite low, and the uncultivated ground and forrests are very widespread, while still there are large marshy grounds in the lowlands.
Etruscan coins can be found in Piedmont along the ways followed by etruscan commerce (etruscan coins were coined from fifth to third century b.C.), while also greek drachma can be found, coming from the greek colony of Marseille. Some of the tribes northward the Po starts to coin their own coins in the third century b.C. imiting the greek drachma. These coins have been found also at a great distance from Piedmont, indicating a good vitality of commerce.
It is probable that in each tribe a dialect is spoken with some differences with the dialect of the neighbour, but essentially the components of the tongue that we can suppose is spoken in Piedmont are: Pre-indoeuropen elements (still present). The tongue of Ligurians (probably already diversified by zones), The tongue of Celts (with some difference between west an east). Some influence of the Etruscans tongue (in south an east Piedmont). In the present Piedmontese there are also normally used words there are also pre-indoeuropean words (few), ligurian and celtic words, and the aldeady seen toponyms. The tongue stars to become uniform in all the region.
Piedmont and Romans
Piedmont has the first contacts with Romans with the first Punic War (that starts in 264 b.C) and are at once stormy. Piedmontese populations (but not Taurins) support Carthago, and the Romans replay with some offensive attacks in Piedmont. Afrer having won against Insubres and conquered part of the lombard area of their territory (years from 225 b.C to 220 b.C.), the Romans found the colonies of Cremona and Piacenza, in 218 b.C. (cities in Lombardy and Emilia).
In the same year Hannbal crosses the Alps and is in Piedmont with his army, bringing here the war. The Taurins try to oppose his passing but they are defeated, while the other tribes support the punic action. At the end of the second Punic War, in the year 201 b.C. the action can restart of the roman penetration towards the Piedmont, that happens with different ways and times in the tree areas about which we spoke before.
The North-East regions of Piedmont, after an attempt of military resistence, about in 195 b.C., without success, find a way to reach an agreement with Romans, subduing themselves but maintaining a wide autonomy. The high class of Gauls starts to acquire the roman culture, while roman merchants and functionaries move in the territory. In this way a latinization starts in the area, that anyway does not interest the majority of the population. In particular the western zone of the area, the piedmontese one, remains quite fringe to this phenomenon. Latin culture, then, is mixed but cannot substitute the local culture.
Areas southwards the Po river, populated by Ligurians, are the ones in which the occupation starts in a more traumatic way. Even if in Piedmont there aren't the massacres of Ligurians as instead it happens in Ligury and in North Tuscany, the opposition of tribes in grater, and the fact that each tribe acts by itself makes it difficult any agreement. The first piedmontese city that is founded by Romans is Dertona (nowadays called Tortona) in the years after 176 b.C., the year in which some lands are assigned to roman veterans. It is matter of little areas in the eastern Piedmont.
In the year 148 b.C. the road Postumia is opened, that connects Genoa to the Adriatic sea, and passes in the Scrivia valley, where the center of Libarna (present Serravalle Scrivia) grows. A good development of urban centers takes place starting from 125 b.C. They are anyway former ligurian villages that continue to be inhabited by ligurians and some of them maintain their ligurian name. Among the most known Hasta (present Asti) and Carreum (present Chieri). This is the period in which the cultivation begins of vines on the hills.
The north-western Piedmont remains a long time extraneous to the roman penetration, with just some menacing strike and so much caution. The first fight is agaist Salasses in 143 b.C, who manage to beat Romans. The war continue till Romans manage to obtain the control of the auriferous lands near Biella. It is only in 100 b.C. that Pomans manage to found a colony in the territory conquered to Salasses. The colony is Eporedia (present Ivrea) in concomitancy with the assigning of lands to veterans. It seems that in this period Taurins try to reach an agreement with Romans.
In Rome the Piedmont is described by merchant and soldiers as a land absolutely inhospitable, cold and wild, populated by hostile and stubborn inhabitants, with desertical lands, impenetrable forests, and so on. In this first period Rome is pointing its interest toward Adriatic sea and not toward Alps and its passes. Some Roman colony is then founded on the occupied lands, starting from about 150 b. C., but the two civilizations are basically extraneous each other. For the moment the way toward Gaul is the one along the coast.
The part of Piedmont which is under the Rome's control is not, anyway, part of the roman Italy, but is considered as a province, with a different political organization. Only in the year 49 b.C. a law is prepared that extend the roman citizenship to inhabitants of Cisalpine Gaul, and only in 43 b.C the cities become municipalities in the roman political organization.This is, anywaym only referred to lowlands and part of hills, since the high alpine valleys remains extraneous at these processes, and besides, they have not yet been subdued to Rome. Salasses are still in the position of doing Romans to pay a tribute for crossing the Geat Saint Bernard pass. Only in the years about 25 b.C. Salasses are defeated and subdued.
Also Caesar, in order to utilize the Mont Genevre pass, going toward Spain in the year 61 b.C. has to reach an agreement with inhabitants of the two slopes. The king Donnus, in Susa valley, negotiate with Caesar, and the Donnus' son Cotius in the year 13 or 12 b.C., having realized that would be impossible to keep away Romans, manages to have an agreement with them and becomes "roman prefect" of the area, but local tribes continue to recognize him as king, and so he maintains his power, that lasts with his son, up to 64 a.C. in the Nero's period, when the dinasty ends. Susa becomes a roman stile city and builds the "Arch of Augustus" as a symbol of pacific romanization, but from an administrative point of view Susa remains a gallic city. Only after the dead of the last Cotius the area will be integrated in the Roman Empire (61 a. C. as we have seen).
In any case the inhabitants of high alpine valleys don't become roman citizens, since the borders are established at the end of valleys toward the lowland (for example, in Susa valley the border is at Avigliana (Vian-a) that is 25 km westward Turin. We know that in this period some Venetian entrepreneurs move to Piedmont.
Romanization is mainly related to cities, while in the country it proceeds very slowly, and is nearly absent in alpine valleys, where the previous celtic and celtic-ligurian culture continue to be the most important, and the unique in some zones. Economical and social life, anyway, continue to be improved till about the end of the second century a.C. and this brings to drainage of lands where they are still marshy, to a reduction of uncultivated lands, to the building of aqueducts and roads, canals for watering and drainage. In this period the Piedmont has some independence and some prosperousness, and it is only marginally interested in civil wars that happens at the dead of the Emperor Nero. In this occasions legions of Vitellius, coming from Gaul, generates troubles.
All what is roman hardly and slowly penetrates among piedmontese populations. Piedmont, after the institution of municipalities, maintains a given administrative independence with respect the Empire. In the Augustus period we have pieces of information about Augusta Taurinorun (the present Turin). about whose foundation we do not have sure information, and not even about the probable existence of a previous Celt-Ligurian center. In this time Turin has about 5,000 inhabitants.
A true romanization of the territory starts only at the dead of the Emperor Nero, and the following civil war (about 70 a.C.). This can happen due to a large number of roman veterans who, left the military service in the army, have assigned lands to cultivate in Piedmont. The Celt-Ligurian language is the base for an evolution given by the assimilation of latin elements in the lexicon and structure. A good deal of the Latin language is adapted to the local way of speaking. The Piedmontese starts to take form as a neo-latin language, while Latin remains a language for a few people.
We have anyway to notice that the center of the latine culture continues to be far away, not only phisically. Veterans who receive lands in Piedmont not always are of latine natural culture, but more easily they come from different parts of the Empire. Cultural Celt-Ligurian elements remain, without any latin influence, in particular towards mountains, in the valleys that do not bring to important passes as the ones of Cuneo (Coni), Lanzo (Lans), Canavese (Canavèis), etc.
New towns arise which assume a roman character, while other towns maintain the pre-roman style. Toponyms ending in ...ano, (, ...ana, ( indicate the derivation from a roman aristocratic name : for example Reano (Rean), Alpignano (alpignan) Orbassano (Orbassan), Avigliana, (Avian-a) etc.
Due to the growth of rural population (veteran assighnees of lands), many uncultivated land are tilled. The use of watering and water briding systems allows a good production of fodder and then a development of breeding of livestock. Production of lumber is good, and handicraft of wood too, while the region produces a good quantity of minerals (not only iron and copper, but also gold and silver). Roads, which are essential to the Empire, are repaired, mantained or rebuilt.
A large difference continues, anyway, to be found between lowlands, cities, Aosta and Susa valleys, and the remaining areas of mountain and country.
Up to the end of second century after Christ the Piedmont experiences a relative quiet. The agriculture is developed and modernized. There are not large landed estates as it happens in other places of Italy, and new cultivations are introduced or developed, on hills and mountains chestnuts are taking the place of high stem trees. The vine is already very cultivated, also olive-trees are widespread. Handicraft activities are improved, and in particular the work of wood. Also mining is developed.
Starting from the end of the second century a.C. a serious economical and demographic crisis takes place in all Italy. It is also the period in which, for a while, militar generals manage to take away the political control on Piedmont from Rome, and it is also the period of epidemics that depopulate countries, that are poorer and poorer. The Diocletianus' reform upsets the political organization and suppresses the municipal autonomies, it worsens the crisis in the countries and favourites the rising of large landed estates, reducing farmers at a slave level. A large province is made in northern Italy that includes nearly all the Piedmont, but alpine valleys are not included, with the only exception of Susa.
In the years 311 and 312 a.C. the Piedmont is involved in the civilian war between Constantine and Maxentius. Constantine wins this war and moves in Piedmont groups of Sarmatians, while a colony of Dalmatians is already present in Augusta Taurinorum (Turin) area. One reason si certainy to strengthen the alpine passes defense, but a second reason is to increase the population of the region, quite reduced by the previous problems. This produces some problems due to different culture and traditions, and introduces, as usual, new ethnic and linguistic elements. These populations are quite few romanized, and so starts a gradual darkening of what the roman civilization was.
Signs can be noted of dissolution of roman system. The State becomes heavily bureaucratic, road conditions become worse and worse. When the Capital city of the West Empire is moved from Rome to Milan, something goes better for a while, but the differences between territories important from a strategical point of view ant the other territories are increased, and the same between cities and countries.
The Christianity in Piedmont
In Piedmont, as in all the Roman Empire, various worships are superimposed to traditional roman and local worships, always accepted without problems by Romans. The Christianity, due to its charge of radical newness and to the principles that are asserted, is instead immediately considered as dangerous and subversive by roman authorities, and then violently opposed.
As in many countries of southern Europe, also in Piedmont there are old traditions that tend to attribute to some christian community a very old beginning, maybe few tenth of years past the Christ's preaching, and possibly directly founded by one of the Apostles. Of course it is usually impossible to find historical grounding for them, and often old documents show more or less large disagreements in times, often made on the purpose of giving importance to some institution, while historical findings often evidentiate the non reliability of these traditions. One of these traditions tells that a nephew of the emperor Nero, christian in secret, to avoid persecutions of the Emperor, took refuge in Piedmont together a number of believers and two "apostolic men". Here in Novalesa (near Susa) started the first Christian community of Piedmont, that was visited by St Peter himself (of course there isn't any historical proof of that, as we have said).
Going back to history, the Christianity starts to enter the Piedmont, often brought by merchants and other travellers, or by roman soldiers thenselves, and some time by ministers of the Church. In the third century we have the preaching of Saint Dalmatius, in the area of Cuneo, who is martyrized, according to the tradition, in the year 254. News about this Saint not always are in accordance. He should be the evangelizer of Pedona (a town now called Borgo San Dalmazzo in his honour), while other news speak of him as Bishop of Pavia, where there is a church dedicated to him.
During various persecutions, also Piedmont has its own martyrs. Among them Avventore, Solutore, Octavius , soldiers of Tebean Legion, are considere as the first martyrs of Turin since, accordin to the usual tradition, they have been martyrized in Turin in the year 286. The bodies of these martyrs, according to this tradition, are collected by the christian matron Juliana and buried in the place where after a little church arises, and then the monastery of Saint Solutore. The monastery will be destroyed by the French in 1536, and so the relics of martyrs will be moved to the church of Consolata, and then, in 1575, in the Church of the Saint Martyrs dedicated to them (Garibaldi street at the corner with Botero street), where they are still nowadays.
Another Saint whose veneration is spreaded in Piedmont is Saint Second. It seems that in Piedmont there are three different Saints with name Second, whose the first is venerated in Turin, where he has a dedicated church in San Secondo street, near Porta Nuova, and the second gives the name to the village of Saint Second of Pinerolo (Pinareul). Both there Saints are supposed to be martyrs of the tebean legion (as Avventore, Solutore and Octavius). The third piedmontese Saint Second is the one of Asti, a patrician who becomes christian and is martyrized already in 119, and so one of the very first piedmontese martyrs.
After the Constantine's Milan edict (in the year 311), the Christianity not only obtains freedom of expression, but also it becomes the official religion of the State. The first christian epigraph in Piedmont comes from yeoar 341 (found in Revello), but other authors place at year 401 the first christian gravestone in Piedmont (found in Acqui). The official documents of the Church make it suppose the beginning of Christianity in preceeding years, since the first Bishop in Piedmont is established in the year 345, in order to organize the piedmontese groups of belivers, already large. He is Eusebius, who established himsalf in Vercelli.
In this period the arian heresy is quite spreaded, that negates or reduces the Jesus Christ's divinity, and at the same type the new Faith often is mixed to preceding worships. This happens in particular in countries, where old worships and superstitions will last still for a long time. The work of great Bishops, like Gaudention in Novara, Eusebius in Vercelli , Maximus in Turin, leads again the new religion to the orthodoxy, not always without difficulties. The work of Saint Maximus in Turin, is developed after the year 380, but news are fragmentary and traces of a Bishop named Maximus can be found up to about the year 460 making it suppose either dating errors or the presence of two Bishops having name Maximus. In 451 we now from the documents of a synod that there are Bishops in Ivrea and in Asti.
Dioceses and their Bishops, after the Milan's Edict quickly gain a great importance, and become reference points also for culture and civilization, in particular in the dark period that is going to start. Notables of the cities become to move to country and live a lack of organization and government. Bishops substitute for them. Indeed Bishops receive true delegations from the State's authorities. In this job later they will be helped by monastic foundations (monasticism starts to propagate in fourth century). Among these foundations we will see quickly as usual, two of the most celebrated abbeys in Piedmont : The Novalesa and The "Sacra" of Saint Michael. In fact, as we will see, barbarians wil not be able to express administrative, commercial and technical capacities which are necessary for a city's life. The only reference which will remain in the city is the Bishop, who slowly will assume all the powers for need, since there will not be a secular power in competition. We will also see that the birth of written Piedmontese (as far as we know so far) will happen by means of monks and for catechetic purposes. This comes from the oldest document written in piedmontese that has been kept, and which we swill speak about. The civil power of dioceses starts to be built, that will be very present in all the Middle Age.
The Barbarians
Problems arise for the Roman Empire in the year 376, in which the Goths, pressed on East by other populations, are authorizet to cross the Danube river and enter the borders of Empire. Goths are object of abuse of power done by local commanders, and this generates a rebellion, which produces an instability that propagates. In the meanwhile, at the end of the fourth century, famines and plagues produce disasters also in Piedmont, where raids start of armies rebelled to the Emperor.
In the year 401 arrives in Piedmont The army of Alarico's Visigothics, which besieges Asti and then is defeated at Pollentius. The roman troops commander is a romanized barbarian : Stilicon. The battle takes place in a zone called Hill of Victory (Colle della Vitttoria - Còl dla Vitòria), the place will be called by tradition Saint Victoria d'Alba. A new barbarian army, the one of Radagaisus, in 405 passes the Montgenevre pass and crosses Piedmont putting it to sack. This army will be defeated still by Stilicon, but in Tuscany. In the following years Piedmont is crossed by roman armies opposed each other, first the one of the general Stilicon and then the one of the usurper Constantine III. These armies are build up with barbarian mercenaries, who always put to sack the places crossed. A new famine happens in the year 411. The Visigoths, having put to sack Rome, go back in Italy, cross the Piedmond scking and destroying.
Still there are some raids of Burgundians, Swabians, Alamans, these latter stopped by imperial army in 435, but then a certain quiet lasts up to the year 450, when a new, dreadful famine goes off in all the Italy, making worse the already critical life conditions. We do not know if Huns of Attila, reach the piedmontese territory, but certainly in Piedmont pass still an army of Burgundians and one of Ostrogothics, always sacking.
In 476 the Erulians of king Odoacer, that form the largest part of the imperial army in Italy, rebel against the Emperor and depose the last western roman emperor Romulus Augustulus. The eastern part of Piedmont is involved in consequent sacks. Odoacer is master of Italy, but the eastern Emperor reach an agreement with Theodoric, king of Ostrogothics, in order to eliminate Odoacer. An army of Visigothics crosses the Piedmont in an year about 490, in support of Theodoric. The year after arrive in Piedmont coming fom western Alps hordes of Burgundians which sack, destroy and take away thousands fo people, for whom freedom will be obtained some years after paying a lot of money. A new dreadful famine appears in 496, as a conclusion of a disastrous century for Piedmont.
The kingdom of Theodoric brings some years of peace in the heavily damaged Piedmont, whith deserted cities where only the Bishop and some few notables remain, whith countries in which there are few farmers reduced to a sort of slavery, and few big landowners installed in their country-houses. Cultivated lands are reduced and roads are seriously damaged. In Piedmont it is difficult to find documents of this period, and from what we have, traces of a german culture are evident. The Latin is still the official language, with some barbarian influences, but it is only the language for high classes. It is not easy to say what is the population's language, now that there is a large presence of people coming from the other slope of Alps and from Germany. We can suppose that alpine valleys, in particular the less important ones, maintain old cultures and traditions, an also old languages, more than what happens in cities and lowlands.
New fights arise when Theodoric deads, and this time they have a hereditary character. In this situation the Emperor of Orient Justinian tries to reconquere Italy. His general Belisarius is successful in the beginning of the job and run the peninsula from south northward. Piedmontese Goths move in trying to stop Belisarius, but this action leaves Alps without a suitable defense, and this is the reason for new raids of Burgundians and Franks. In this phase Goths take advantages of the burgundian presence against Bizantine. Belisrius makes another attempt in 539, but now the Franks defeat both Byzantines and Goths. The goth king is now without an actual power, and the Piedmont is more and more dependent from Franks. We are in the years around 550. The Goth Sisige, who rules Susa, having realized that he cannot stop Burgundians and Fanks, manages to get an agreement with of the Empire, becoming allied, and assumes the latin name of Sisinnus, maintaining his power position on West of Piedmont for a while, but he has to accept greek soldiers in his territory. One more ethnic group is present on piedmontese territory.
Along all the sixth century there is an attempt in Italy to rebuild the old roman organization, with not so much of success. The war destroy much more of what it can rebuild. In this context of cultural penury of the region, it is difficult to say if and what elements of the culture of population which have passed and have stayed in Piedmont have remained in piedmontese tongue and culture. Certainly the lexicon has been enriched with new words and idioms, and certainly some excanges among cultures, in general, have taken place, but in a way not so evident. From an ethnical point of view, the piedmontese population has received the contribution of many external elements. It can be supposed that the most significant contribution comes from Goths.
Longobards, Burgundians and Franks
Franks and Burgundians have seen, with gothic wars in Italy, that Italy is extremely vulnerable, and so they prepare an occupation of italian lands, but Longobards precede them. In fact, in the year 568 or 569, Longobards start their invasion of the Po valley. It is not just an army, but a complete population which comes from eastern Alps.
Already in the year 570 they cross the Piedmont and pass bejond Alps for sacking, but they do not occupy lands. In fact they come back and establish themselves in the lowland of the Po river, without anyone able to oppose them. Some cities, in order to avoid useless destructions, surrender at once to invaders.
The king of Burgundians has made an agreement with Byzantines, and maintains the control of the Susa valley, that later will become Burgundian, and some Bizantine garrison is, isolated, in South of Piedmont. In order to avoid new incursions, Burgundians occupy the valleys of Susa, Lanzo, Aoste. The jurisdiction on the Susa valley is also moved from the Turin's diocese to the Vienne's (in France) diocese. We are about in 574. In the meanwhile Burgundians themselves, whose kingdom is in the Geneva zone and spans along the Rhone river up to Lyon, fall under the control of Franks.
The piedmontese territory is subdivided by Longobards in Dukedoms, ruled by military commanders controlled anyway by the Longobard king. These Dukes slowly acquire judicial and administrative functions. In this period in Piedmont there are not just Longobards, since we know that there are also Bulgarians, Saxsons, Gepids, Thuringi and colonies of other European populations, and still Goths. This mixing of populations gives rise to some problems. Longobards, as other populations coming otside of Piedmont are not so many, and probably, as a whole, between 100'000 and 200'000 units. They are a minority, in spite of the fact that the piedmontese populetion has been largely reduced but, of course, they occupy strategical positions in the society.
Among them Longobards are often fighting, and in particular there is wrangle between the two parties Catholic and Arian, this in particular at the beginning of occupation. Dukes, as a matter of fact, are very independent on their territory.
From the available findings we can infer that Longobards occupy the territory in little groups of families. At the beginning they follow their traditions, but anyway they are attracted by the latin civilization, or at least by the local civilization. Along the years there is a reciprocal passage of cultures, the Latin becomes the official language, but in practice the tongue spoken by people tends more and more to become what will be the Piedmontese vulgar. Population tends to assume his particular characters, and also the name of persons often becomes longobard (as it will be detected when we will have a larger written documentation).
An imaginary line forms that from the city of La Spezia arrives to the city of Rimini, such as at North of this line tongues and dialects will become the western neo-Latin languages and at South of this line tongues and dialects will become the eastern neo-Latin languages. In the western area this is more evident due to gallic influence and presence.
There are many toponyms in Piedmont that can be assigned to the Longobard period, in particular the ones having ending in ...engo (...engh), like Murisengo (Murisengh), Marengo (Marengh), Aramengo (Aramengh), Odalengo (Odalengh), etc. but also the ones ending in "...igi", like Racconigi, Levaldigi, etc. Also the toponym "Fara " is assignable to Longobards: in gact so is called in their language the group of families forming a "clan" and living in a place. At the beginning the lands are subtracted to owners and to Church, and become ducal property with some large latifundium. With the conversion to Catholicism a part of the Church's properties are given back, and the foundation starts of monasteries, that are provided with large lands as donations. The slavery of glebe for farmers continues, and recall closely the conditions of latine slaves. Cultivations are few, and the fruitful land has retired in front of the advance of untilled lands, of forests and marsh. Commerce is nearly disappeared, as it is for handicraft, which is extremely reduced. Culture is completely neglected.
Anyway, after the first destructive impact of the invasion, something is starting to move, and population starts again to grow. After a while the money circulates again to sustain the commerce, which is starting again. Step by step the population, independently from their origin, tends to grcognize themselves in the longobard laws, and feel themselves part of this nation. This is possible since Longobards have assumed a lot of the latin and local civilization and culture. After the conversion to Catholicism, the religious life improves, and in this context rise the first monasteries.
In the meanwhile fights an raids across the Alps, made by both Longobards and Franks, continue without rest and the piedmontese territory is still again border's land and land of fights, and it becomes more and more strategic. The border, as we have seen, is put at the end of valleys toward the lowlands, and here defensive works are prepared, while the complete alpine zone is in Franks' territory.
Franks are quite aggressive, and manage in imposing to Longobards a sort of year tax for avoiding attacks. Both in Susa and in Aoste Franks mint coin in order to underline their authority.
Another piedmontese border runs over Apennine, defended by byzantine garrisons. Byzantines, in fact occupy the territory of the present Ligury, which will be later conquered by Longobards. In this context the territory in in a strategic position and the Duke of Turin assumes a particular importance.
If we see what the situation is about language around the year 650 a.C. (summarizing from the beginning) we have an original Celt-Ligurian base which Latin has given its general structure and an enrichment of lexicon. This language evolves in a quite isolated and autonomous way, with influences coming from transalpine languages. To this the Longobard language is superimposed, even if Longobards tend to assume the Latin as their "official" language. But Latin is less and less known by population. In alpine valleys the influence is dominant of gallic languages. From an ethnic point of view, piedmontese population is now very "hybrid" and made up by half-castes that can praise their origins in half Europe. In the genealogical tree of each Piedmontese, as an average, there are Ligurians, Celts, Gauls, Latins, Sarmatians, Dalmatians, Goths, Bulgarians, Saxsons, Gepids, Thuringi, Byzantines, Burgunds, Franks (and some other European populations). With what is going to happen this list will be increased.
Franks and Longobards counterbalance each other, but always in an unstable way, and after some years the war restarts. The cause is the fact that Longobards, in their attempt of expanding in Italy, arrive to menace the papacy's territory, and the Pope Stephen asks Franks for help. Franks intervene trying to occupy Piedmont and from here Italy. Fights between Franks and Longobards take place in successive stages, with alternate fortune, in a period of many yeard (with the frank king Pipinus). When Pipinus deads, Longobards try again the expansion in Italy in the papacy's lands, and also the Pope Adrian asks Franks for help. This time Franks invade the lowland, in the year 773 (with Charlemagne), and establish their control. The Longobard kingdom diappears quickly, and a good deal of Dukes submit to Franks. Franks have extended their dominion over a large part of Europe, and their Empire begins (Carolingian Empire) as we will see.
Piedmontese people and Franks had a common Celthic root, and in better times, commercial contacts were frequent between the two populations. Quite easily there is an excange of linguistic, cultural and ethnic elements. The official language is still the Latin, adopted also by Franks, since latin culture is recognized as superior, but more and more people do not understand it any more. At the same time Latin itself is having deep modifications. Local languages are starting to grow and spread.
Charlemagne at first assumes the title of "King of Franks and Longobards" and then, due to his expansion in Europe (in particular Germany, France and Italy) in the year 800 founds the Holy Roman Empire, and is crowned Emperor by the Pope. We will see later implications of that, and the organization of the Empire. We have to note that Franks are not more civilized than Longobards, on the contrary their level of illiteracy is higher that the one of Longobards, they don't have written laws and they have absorbed less the roman civilization.
Spirituality and culture in Piedmont - The Novalesa Abbey
The date of foundation of the Novalesa Abbey was January 30th 726. Novalesa is a village in Susa walley, in the side branch going toward Moncenisio (Montcenis - Monsniss) pass. We can suppose that in that period monastic experiences already exist in Susa walley and, even more, they have already suffered some form of decadence, due to a weakening of spirituality, stifled by too many earthly worries. Even if in this period an Abbey can have also a political importance, we can think that the Abbey is founded with the intention of renewing monasticism in the walley.
A document which is an important source of information about the first centuries of the Abbey is the "Chronicon Novalicense", that is written by a monk after the year 1000. Not always the document is historically reliable, with evident "errors" made more or less on purpose, for apologetical reasons. Anyway it provides important pieces of information. During the last restorations of the Abbey (started in 1973) other finds have been obtained that help in put into history something of what has been handed down about the Abbey.
In these times the Susa walley is under the control of Franks, and the governor is Abbone, having a Gallic-Roman root (or Provençal ?), old friend of Franks' king. He founds the Abbey of Novalesa and he wants to do it in a secluded place, far away from power and corruption centers. His unique male son deaded very young, and so he, being without heirs, leaves to the Abbey a large part of his properties and rights, so that the monks don't have to worry for a living, and can pray, study and attend at God' service. Novalesa is established autonomous, depending only for the doctrine from Roman Church and, for sacerdotal orders and consecrations from the Bishop Walcuno of Maurienne, without any other control. An agreement of reciprocal assistance is made with the monastery of Saint Mary, near Grenoble. The Abbey has the protection of Franks' king, and enlarges quickly its power (a son of Charlemagne will be monk in Novalesa). The Abbey becomes very soon not only an important spirituality center but also a reference point for culture in the whole Europe. It has a very important library, enriched by the writings of relevant monks. One of its Abbot is Saint Eldrade, whose veneration is still very spread in Susa valley, with many churches dedicated to him. Novalesa is on the way of the Moncenisio pass, run by pilgrims going from Europe to Rome. This is the nineth century.
All this is suddenly interrupted at the beginning of the Xth century, due to the menace produced by robberies and incursions of Saracens coming from their base in Provence. Monks leave the Abbey (year 906?) and take refuge in Turin. After some years (year 920?) the Abbey is actually destroyed by Saracens. These facts bring at the loss of the greatest part of the cultural heritage and the complete loss of the library.
As institution, it is transferred to Breme in the year 929, while the Novalesa buildings remains abandoned, as well as the lands of the Abbey in Susa walley, up to the end of the century, when it is decided to rebuild the Abbey .
The rebiulding works go on very slowly, and the monastery remains a Priorate, that means a dependence of the main centre of Breme. In Novalesa there is not anymore an Abbot but a Prior who have to respond to the Anbbot of Breme about the management of the monastery.
Also the relations with civil power are quite different, since the Marquis of Turin, who has restored order and safety in Susa walley after the expulsion of Saracens, also takes for him lands and rights of the old Abbey, in contrast with the revendications of the monastery. Besides, in that period two other important Abbeys are founded in Susa walley i.e. San Michele della Chiusa (years 990 - 1000), and San Giusto (year 1029), and also the Oulx' head parish. These are in some way in competition with the Novalesa monastery. Anyway, in that period the monastery has good relations with Savoy's Counts beyond Alps (The Savoy's are not yet Lords in Piedmont) and it manages to enlarge its power in France. When Savoy and Piedmont will become a unique state, with the marriage of Adelaide of the Turin's Marquises with Oddone of the Maurienne-Savoy's Counts, the importance of Novalesa monastery is again high, in spite of the more and more theoretical dependence on the Abbey of Breme.
When the Marchland of Turin ruins, the Susa walley remains to the Savoy Counts (Humbert II). Afterwards, the Count Amadeus (in 1129) confirms all the rights to the monastery of Novalesa that receives also the job of assisting pilgrims on Moncenisio pass, with the management of that Hospice and others on the "via Franchigena" (the Moncenisio Hospice has been wanted by Ludwig the Pius in the years from 810 to 820 and before it was not managed by Novalesa). So, under protection of Savoy's, the monastery, even if dependent from Breme, becomes actually independent.
But, starting from years about 1200, monastical institutions have a progressive crisis, due to changing in social and political conditions, and also Novalesa loses more and more its importance, with less and less own rwsources for surviving. It has for a while no more a Prior but administrators appointed by the Counts of Savoy and approved by the Pope. Not always there is agreement between monks and administrators. Nevertheless the monastery, with only few monks, survived up to 1798 when, as a consequence of French revolution and occupation, it was suppressed by French who occupy the Piedmont. The management of the Hospice on Moncenisio is the only thing that remains at monks, being considered as a public utility.
After re-establishment of Savoy monarchy the monastery was re-opened, and then again suppressed by Savoy kings, the buildings were used for other purposes, and then it was abandoned. Finally it was acquired by the province of Turin in 1973 and restored. Now it is again a monastery.
Context at the birth of the Holy Roman Empire
As we saw, in the year 773 king Charlemagne enters the Piedmont, occupies the Longobard territories and reorganizes the government of them. His occupation interests a large part of Europe and in the year 800 the Holy Roman Empire is founded, which gives to Europe a new organization.
This very large Empire, due to the possibilities of that time, can not be governed in a centralized way, and so territories, in particular the peripherical ones, are subdivided into Counties that are assigned to Vassals, persons skilled and faithful, choosen by the Emperor, in charge of governing the lands in his name.
The imperial investiture constitutes title of nobility. Together with Counts of frank origin there are also Counts od longobard origin. In areas having a particular strategical importance these Counties are grouped in Marquisates, and one of the Counts receives a power, mainly of military tipe, over the other Counts, and he is establishes Maquis over quite a large territory (anyway this will happen later). In this way a hierarchical structure is established, having on top the Emperor, who has some Vassals who have to respond to the Emperor himself. In turn, Vassals can give part of their rights and lands to other people, so called Vavasours, which has to govern in name of the Vassal. Still Vavasours can do the same, generating the further power level of the Vavasour's Vassals. The power over a territory implies also to have unlimited authority over people living in that territory. All the beneficiaries of these rights should govern on behalf of the Emperor, whom they are tied by a oath of allegiance, but there are some Lords that are holders of rights of which they don't have to respond to anybody.
The starting point is that all the territory is property of the Empire and then submitted to the Emperor. There are two different ways to invest somebody of the power on a territory. The first one is to give the territory as a fief (to enfeoff a Count of his County), and in this case the territory remains property of the State, it is ruled by the Count and contributes with its revenues to the goods of the Empire. The second one is the alodium, in which the territory becomes property of the invested person. It will happen that often Counts will deal with State properties as if they were their private properties.
The highest recognizer authority, not only moral, is the one of Pope, who confirm the power of the Emperor by crowning him as for ratifying that the Emperor's power is accordinding to the God will. If the Emperor were excommunicated, his subjects would no more obliged to obej him.
All these investitures, rights and privileges are, in theory, revocable but, in practice, it is demonstrated that a revocation is usually not possible. Indeed Counties (comitatus) are not hereditary and a Count is just a Emperor's functionary. At the death of a Count, or in case of revocation, the Emperor can confirm the County to the heir or choose another Count. As a matter of fact the Counties very soon tend to become hereditary and not revocable, and in fact this happens according to the "Salic law", that could then be applied only to regnant families, or the "Longobard law". Seldom the primogeniture law is applied (it is valid for kings and dukes). It will happen that, each one interpreting this law on his advantage, more than one Lord claims rights on the same territory.
Also the Church has a hierarchical structure, with at the top the Pope and then Bishops who rule the various dioceses. Bishops have already substituted the civil power when this latter was not in the position of rely on the required knowledges, and soon they obtain rights over territories, as if they were true feudatory Vassals. Some Bishops, beyond the jurisdiction over what the diocese has received as donation, will obtain true County titles. Besides, also Abbeys, founded by nobles, receive jurisdiction over lands, and other rights, donations and so on. An interlacement of powers is rising, that quickly brings to fights between Church and Empire, between Pope and Emperor.
Tere are not general written laws that regulate the relationships of power, and these latters soon become based on force, on deception and on slyness. No power has enough power to make it hierarchies respected, and fights among Vassals are continuous, with alliances that bear and dead, and are betrayed very easily, marriages done for obtaining rights or for estabilsh alliances, in a more and more complex interlacement.
Among population there are few free persons, who have to be owners of lands. Others, who work, have a status of partial freedom, with many restrictions. Then there are servants and farmers who are in a status similar to slavery, tied to the land they work. The only possibility of freeing himself is to join a monastic order.
Piedmontese situation in Holy Roman Empire
In his expansion in Italy, Piedmont is the first land occupied iby Carlemagne, in 773. According to what we've seen above, Piedmont was subdivided in various Counties, some of them founded directly by Carlemagne, and other by his successors. We don't know all the Counties that are made in Piedmont and their extension, but among them we know Aosta, Ivrea, Novara, Turin, Alba, Asti, Vercelli, Acqui, Tortona, and others. The Turin County spans up to Mongenevre. Afretwards, when Piedmont will be considere as a border land and then a strategically important zone due to its alpine passes, the piedmontese Counties will be collected in a unique Marchland, that will be the Ivrea Marchland, as we will see later.
Still a situation happens similar to the one related to the longobard occupation, in which Counts are mainly franks, and move to their Counties with the family and a crowd of Vassals, guards and functionaries that make the local apparatus of the State. Still again is not a matter of many persons, since they are always a little minority, but they go to occupy the key places of administration, and they represnt the Emperor and his laws. The Longobard kingdom is not, in reality, completely suppressed, but under the name that starts to be used of kingdom of Italy, maintains a given administrative authonomy. The distance of the central power, then, gives as a matter of facts, to Counts a very large indepoendence in their administration.
From an economical and social point of view, for the Piedmont, this is, initially, a quite bad period, and the situation continues to go worse for a while. The vassalage system that we've seen before takes place, and this brings to the forming of the fiefs. This system will last for centuries. Nobiliary privileges and advantages, taxes and duties, the poor status of roads and communication ways do not allow in no way a development. The decay of cities, started with the ruin of the Western Roman Empire, continues and becomes worse.
On the piedmontese territory large areas property of the State are established, so called "curtes", some of them consisting of forest, others of lands tilled by glebe serfs and tenants, which form an unique large agricultural concern. There are also "curtes" devoted to hunt reserve. Blocks of farms are built in agricultural "curtes" that give rise to many municipal communities that now are the piedmontese towns. Also donations to monasteries produce a similar effect. Among the towns that rise in this period there are, for example, Romagnano (Romagnan), Trecate, Mathi, Revello (Revel), Cortemilia, Gavi, etc.
But something starts to change, and with time passing, notables arise who become agricultural undertakers. They hire lands to make them yield, and give them to till to dependants, the commerce begins to recover vitality when Bishops and Counts start to organize and employ some merchants. Some initiative is taken in favour of education. Of course certainly not popular education, but about ecclesiastical preparation and for public officers, always in ecclesiastical environment, where there is the monopoly of education.
Social relations are changing, and the old subdivision into free, freedman, slave, stats to disappear, substitutrd by a dependence and enslavement relationship of workers versus the big land owners. These latter interact with power according to the equation rights in change of support. This is the feudal system that we saw.
The Church as well frames its organization, and inside dioceses the curacies or rectorates are established, as local churchs that have jurisdition still over a large territory, but that initiate the walk toward the present parish, and generate a level of clergy colser to people. The rectorate has anyway an its own endowment that produces incomes.
Carolingian Empire, during which there is at last some peace, does not last long time, and is soon torn by internal fights, for succession reasons. and the contending parties, attempting to find support by local Lords, continue to distribute to them rights to the detriment of population.
Already in the year 841 the sons of Ludwig the Pious (son of Charlemagne) are fighting against each other. Infightings continue, and Piedmont, with all the Empire, is becoming poorer and poorer. In this period Saracens' incursions are starting to produce an involution in commerce and in many activities, and the Empire is not in the position of reacting. The last Carolingian descendant, Charles the Big, is deposed in 887.
For the Piedmont a very long period of fights begins, as we will see, that will bring to the achievement of the region as an independent nation, ruled by the Savoy's dinasty. This dinasty, coming from a country beyond Alps, connectes its history with Piedmont first and then with Italy, beginning from years around 1000, and then will ruin with the horrible events of Fascism and Second World's War.
With the deposition of Charles the Big, the Empire is initially subdivided inop five kingdoms : Germany, France, Italy, Provence, Burgundy. Local Lords have to elect the King (or better, to ratify the occupation of the place by the stongest or the most astute pretender). In particular, as far as Italy is concerned, there are Kings without a true legitimation, and this is reason for other wars, as we will see.
Before dealing with the facts related to the Piedmont's Lords, we see separately, the raids that take place in the region, of Saracens and Hungars invaders, which characterize this period.
The Hungars and Saracens
Already some years before the end of the Carolingian Empire, and for a good part of the Xth century, the problem in Europe is represented by raids and invasions of Hungars, coming from East, and Saracens, who from North Africa have occupied the South of the Iberian peninsula. In Piedmont first appear Hungars. They are half-nomadic shepherds who live in the Danube's lowlands. Groups of Hungar marauders start their raids in Italy in the year 899, when they arrive first up to the eastern borders of Piedmont. Defeated and rejected a first time, they attack again later without finding any opposition. This is also thanks to their extreme mobility. In the year after they put to sack Vercelli and kill the local Bishop, then they arrive up to the Aosta valley.
These marauders are not equipped for sustaining a war or for conquering territories, but they plunder all what they find, included women. They attack villages, isolated churches and monasteries, and arrive to put to sach Susa and Turin (if we rely on some chronicler). In the fight among princes for taking possession of Italy, no one is able to oppose Hungars in an efficient way, and there are even Lords that come to an agreement with Hungars against an oppositor.
In this context Hungars can continue their raids up to the last, in 954. After this date they are definitively defeated by Otho the first (we will see him later).
Already in the year 842 Saracens manage to occupy an area in Provence, called Fraxinetum, on the coas that is now known as "Côte d'Azur". In doing this, they too are favourite by internal contentions in Europe. From this starting and supporting point, along the Xth century they make their raids in the piedmontese region, in particular west an south, with occupations that in some cases last some year. Still today the western Alps and the Apennins toward Liguria are sprinkled of "Saracen's towers" and toponym that can be referred to Saracens. In some alpine areas up to few time ago, ethnical elements could be found strongly associable to Saracens. Some piedmontese words, today as well, directly derive from the Saracens' language of that time.
Saracen marauders are, in reality, not only Arabs, but also arabized Spanishes and Christians, criminals and disbanded, of various type, which are joined by local brigands.
According to some sources, incursions in Piedmont start in the year 903, according to others they start later, in 921. Alpine passess become impracticable, while commerce and economical activities strongly regress. Saracens, as already Hungars, are not equipped for conquering lands but mainly make raids in which bejond material goods, they take away some times also people, in particular young, for selling them as slaves. Villages and towns are put to sack, with dead people and destructions. But, in places in which their presence lasts for a while, Saracens bring also new working techniques, ways to bridle water for watering, and new cultivations that then will result as precious. We have to suppose, anyway, that often chroniclers of the time tend to enlarge the rascalities of Saracens, and so it is not easy to reconstruct a authentical history. Sometimes then chroniclers confuse Hungars with Saracens, and in this period many tales arise on these marauders.
Around the year 980, at last. the Europe finds the way of forming a coalition against Saracens and the base of Fraxinetum is destroyed. In the liberation of the Susa valley Arduin Glabrion, Marquis of Turin, put himself in evidence, as we will see. Certainly when the region is delivered from incursions, its economical and social situation, not good before, is now quite difficult, in particular in the West part, but anyway there are symptoms of a recovery, in some cases aldeady started.
Development brought by monasteries
When Saracens are drived from Piedmont, the general situation is very damaged. In particular the situation in countries is extremely critical : the untilled land and the forest have conquered a lot of space, and the rural population is strongly reduced. The mean life of farmers is very short and the infant mortality very high, food is scarce and very poor in nutritional level. The basic food is a sort of bread made by acorn meal, mixed with rye or barley, chestnuts, few vegetables, extremely rare the meat, and always of pork.
Agrarian tools are mainly made of wood, since iron is rare and expensive, the used plough is still the roman one. Manuring is very poor, rotation of crops is not in use, few or none the irrigation techiques. Due also to the difficulties of transport and the few exchanges, in each place people are trying to produce all what they could need, and this to the detriment of the yield. In this context, arond the year 1000 or immediately after, a number of monastic foundations arise in the countries of Piedmont, favoured or wanted by local Lords. Around these ones new villages appear, or old ones are renewed, and country population starts to grow again.
The work of monks is patient and systematic, the lands received as donations are tilled, forests are stopped. Canals for water are built for irrigating the land, using also techniques introduced by Saracens, lakes and marshes are drained (we note that in that time the channelsto bridle water are called "bialere" as they are called nowadays in Piedmontese). The landscape startes to change its aspect. The farmer life restarts around monasteries, which soon reach the functions of true agricultural undertakings. Also the new cultivations, introduced by Saracens, are implemented and improved.
As we have already said, to this development contribute the Lords of the time, with donations often accompained by the imposition of abbots belonging to the Lord's family, in order to maintain the control over the territory. All this work is possible thanks to the hard monastic rules, which impose not to surrend in front of any toil.
Together the agricultural development, a large number arises of artisans, builders, unknown artists and architects who work at building monasteries, churchs and chapels, that are quite a number. Sometimes the monks themselves are architects, and they give rise at a particular style, characteristic of that period. The "Sacra" of St . Michael is of this period, and we will see this later.
At a given time some monasteries assume a job similar to the one of modern banks, but very soon the activity of various monastic orders rises to a great importance in the field of assistance of poor and ill people. So many hospital orders arise.
In XII century an illness diffues in Europe, and in particular in Provence and in Piedmont, that hardly hurts ands destroys the skin (we now know that this was due to a food contamination produced by the "horned rye"). In this occasion, in Piedmont has rise the hospital order of Saint Anthony, with an abbey and an hospital in Ranverso, under the protection of the Coun of Savoy Humbert III. The hillness is called "Holy fire" or "St. Anthony's fire" (this name was after assigned by people to the Herpes Zoster, luckily another thing).
In this time there is a significant innovation in agricultural tool. The spade for digging is introduced as well as a new modern type of plough, with a blade for turning the sods (which is called, in the period, "slòira" as it is now in Piedmontese), and techniques to shoe animals for work. Also the rotation of crops is introduced in order to increase the yield of the ground and avoid the periodical stop of one year fir fields. To answer to the demographical increase, cultivation of cereals is improved. In the country many water mills are built.
The first Lords in Piedmont
The medieval history of Piedmont, in particular in its first part, is extremely complex. A short summary is difficult to do and hardly it could be acceptably precise. In spite of this we'll try to do it. We've seen that in 887 finishes the Holy Roman Empire, and this gives rise to five kingdoms, respectively of Germany, France, Provence, Burgundy and of Italy. They are kingdoms where the king, at the beginning is elected by Vassals, but this is not a qiuet thing, at least in Burgundy and in Italy, where kings have not an actual true power, such to predominate over the other Lords. In the cities, due to lack of other authorities, Bishops assume a relevant power also civilian, and keep the culture. Nobles, usually, stay outside cites and strenghen their power on countries.
As a first King of Italy, the Noble Lords elect Berengarius (that will be the first, so, Berengarius I), but other Nobles advance their rights on the kingdom. These are Guy of Spoleto, Ludwig of Provence and Rudolph of Burgundy.
Guy of Spoleto occupies Ivrea first, and then Turin, he establishes the Marchland of Ivrea (i.e. more or less all the Piedmont and part of Liguria) and entrusts it to one of his Vassal named Anscarius, who is a Frank. In 891 Guy is effectively recognized and crowned as King. Anscarius should assure him the support of Piedmont.
The Marquis should be a King's functionary but, due to the extension of the Marchland, he acquires soon a large power and tends to found a heredirary dinasty, taking possession of the accorded rights. In fact, Anscarius has the son Adalbert who inherits the Ivrea Marchland. He has, in his turn, a son called Berengarius (the second) from the first wife, and a second son Anscarius (the second) from the second wife. Marquis Adalbert signs "Marquis in Italy" and this title will be claimed later also by Savoy family.
Berengarius the second will become King of Italy, but later, since in the meanwhile Hugh of Provence becomes king, that liquidates Anscarius the second and forces Berengarius the second to escape in Germany, The King tries to reduce the power of the Marquis, by dismembering the Marchland in four parts.
One part forms the Turin Marchland, which the Frank Arduin Glabrion is invested with, another part becomes the Monferrato (Monfrà) Marchland entrusted to the Frank Aleramus, the third part is the Liguria Marchland, which in Piedmont includes the territory of Tortona, and this one is entrusted to the Longobard Obert. The fourth part is still the Ivrea Marchland that remaind to Anscarics, but with a very reduced importance and territorial extension. In spite of this operation, all the entitled Marquises, afret having enlarged their dominions, will found hereditary dinasties.
After Hugh, his son Lothario becomes King, and Berengarius (the second) becomes his counsellor. At the death of Lothario (950), Berengarius the second becomes at last King. The Ivrea Marchland passes to the King' son Adalbert, then to Guy Conrad and then, in 989, to his cousin Arduin.
Considering old Nobles, families which in the meanwhile have become powerful and obtain investitures in change of supports, and Bishops, the power's map becomes fragmentary. Matrimonial interlacement that have taken place make it is the contentions about hereditary rights, fights are continuous. In Italy the King of Germany Otto I intervenes, asked by Lothario's widow who feels to have been cheated, and by Pope. The power of Berengarius II fades away, defeated by Otto I, in 956. The same Otto I becomes King of Italy, unifying italian and german crown.
In this context Bishops of piedmontese curias continue to increase their power and importance. They have jurisdiction over wery large estates, coming from donations along the time, and they have the control of many citizen activities coming from preceding assignments and customs, that are more and more prosperous. Among the latters there are the "immunities" corresponding to the right of dealing with contentions and of keeping the order without the intervention of civilian power. Large parts of the Marchland's territory is, in this way, is removed to the Marquis' control. The support given by the King, who anyway tries to maintain Bishops under his conrtol, favourites the enlargement of the Bishop's power.
Arduin, Ivrea Marquis in 989, finds himself at the head of a Marchland in which large part of the territory is passing under the bishop's control. Arduins tries to have back the control of many lands, and related rights. As a consequence he find himself fighting against the Bishop of Vercelli. The Bishop is killed, and Arduin is excommunicated, and so also Otto III is now against him, but in spite of this he continues to rule the Marchland, having the support of some Vassals who have received from him many goods removed to the curias.
At the death of Otto III, Arduin attempts, relying on these supporters, to be elected King of Italy, and actually he reach is porpose in 1002. But the new german King Henry II, who is supposed to be also King of Italy, intervenes and defeats Arduin. In spite of this Arduin takes refuge on mountains, and continue to behaves as a King, issuing laws, minting coin, and intervening with his soldiers in many situations. The Vercelli Bishop, Leo, is his very fierce enemy, but also the Bishops of Ivrea and Novara are against him.
In the year 1014 Arduin tries to stop Henry II who is going to Rome for being crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire, which include Germany and Italy. Arduin fails in this attempt and is defeated for good. His Kingdom then lasts from 1004 to 1013. He deads in 1015.
The Ivrea Marchland is taken by Olderic Manfredi in 1034, who is a descendant of Arduin Glabrion, and so the Turin Marchland is enlarged to include the Ivrea's one. The daughter of Olderic Manfredi, Adelaide, inherits the Marchland of the father, she is left a widow repeatedly, and the last of her husbands is Oddon, the son of Humbert Whitehand (whose we will speak) which is Count of Savoy, of Maurienne and of Tarantaise. We will see below what this fact will imply for Piedmont.
In the meanwhile, in southern Piedmont, what will be the Marchland of Monferrato (Monfrà) is growing. This Marchland will have great importance in the Piedmont's history. The first family invested with this Marchland is the one of Aleramics, by the founder Aleramo, whose origins are quite not clear, beyond the tales. What is certified by historical documents is that he is a son of of a not better identified William, come in Italy following Guy of Spoleto. Aleramo puts himself in evidence in defending the city of Acqui from Saracens in 939. As a consequence he is invested Count of some territories. He becomes Marquis as we have seen and deads in 991, leaving the two sons Anselm and Oddon.
The Marchland is not subdivided, but ruled together by the sons, and also by the sons of the sons, up to the first years of the century XI, when it is subdivided. From the sons of Oddon will derive the Monferrato Marquises, while from the sons of Anselm will derive the Savona Marquises. One of the sons of Anselm, called Boniface, manages to organize his dominion in area most ruined by Saracens. The area is called "the Vast" and Boniface is now known as Boniface of Vast. We will find later this Boniface. One Boniface's son , Manfredi, will give rise to the Marchland of Saluzzo (Salusses), while the other sons will continue to have the title of Marquis, but they will be holders of rights over not relevant territories.
In fact the title of Marquis time by time loses the meaning of imperial functionary who carries a public office on behalf of the Emperor, but becomes an ereditary title only supporten by personal possessions, which sometimes are stolen to the bublic property, with a more or less formal acceptance by the imperial authority.
The "Sacra" of Saint Michael
We see quickly the vicissitudes of this abbey which is an important and impressive monastery-fortess that still nowadays dominates the ingress of the Susa valley from the top of mount Pirchirano. We've seen that Arduinus Glabrione is the Marquis of Turin beginning from an year between 942 and 945. His action is determinant in the elimination of Saracens in Susa valley. In this operation the Marquis takes possession of many lands that are also claimed by the Novalesa Abbey, according to old decrees, even if the Abbey isn't able to manage these lands, that actually are abandoned. In fact the Novalesa monastery is abandoned, and in this time it has lost its importance and power.
When Saracens leave the Susa valley, only few monks live on mount Caprasio, and they try to foster the religious renewal of the valley. Two of these monks remain famous, Leo and John Vincent. We do not have many sure news about them, but it is assigned to the second, if not the true foundation of the "Sacra", at least the will and the engagement of bringing on mount Pirchirano the monks who are living on mount Caprasio as hermits, in natural caves.
A news that arrives us from an old chronicle of the Abbey, puts its foundation in the year 966. But, as already seen for the Novalesa Abbey, these sources are often not reliables since they can report more or less big errors in time. The date is then not probable, also because in that period Saracens are still a serious danger. From other pieces of information the foundation can be placed during the papacy of Silvester III, the episcopate of Aminzon, and the empire of Otto III, and then between the 999 and the 1002. The ground on which the Abbey rise have been probably donated by one of the Arduinics. The actual foundation and the initial building are probably due to Hugh of Montbossier, who comes from France, and who entrusts the direction of the first group of monks to Avert, already Abbot of a monastery in the diocese of Toulouse, and tied to the monastic community of Cluny. Elements coming from beyond Alps are then prevalent and deeply influent at the beginning of this Abbey.
In few tenth of years the Abbey, called "Sacra" of Saint Michael, became important and famous. Its main mandate is of hospice and refuge. The Abbot is appointed by monks, and he don't live in the Abbey but in a residence in the Saint Ambrose village in the valley (Sant'Ambreus) at foot of mount Pirchirano.
Ruled by the Benedictine rule "work and pray" (ora et labora), the Abbey has a particular organization. The Abbot is more or less a Feudatory, and the organization, rigidly hierarchical, is similar to a "monastic monarchy". With the time duties are better defined. Then the library of the monastery becomes important, wild lands are cultivated, and for defense purposes, the monastery becomes a powerful castle, with towers and bastions. Some artists work for the building and paintings.
The power over the surrounding territory increases. Thanks to many donations, and rights granted, soon the Abbey becomes powerful, and rules many lands in Susa valley, but its properties are also in many parts of Italy and France. The Abbey receive donations not only from Lords but also from people of every social conditions. The monks run also a hospice for pilgrims. The monastery is Feudatory in Susa valley of the villages Saint Ambrose, Chiusa, Vaie Saint Antonine, Celle, Caprie, Novaretto, Valgioie, Giaveno, Coazze.
As long as the rights over the lands are granted and as long as there is availability of servant agricultural work-people, the prosperity of the monastery is assured. But when, due to wars and changed social conditions, these start to fade, then also a decay of monastery starts as well.
Piedmont and Savoy
We have the first pieces of information about Savoy in the IV century a.C., when a territory called "Sapaudia" was described between Alps and the river Rhone, from the lake of Geneva to Dauphinate. This territory was invaded by Burgundians first, and then by Franks. During the Carolingian Empire also this territory is subdivided in County, and one of them is called "Saboia". When the Holy Roman Empire ruins, also the burgundian kingdom has problems. The Nobles elect as a King Rudolph, but there are various revolts and usurpations, and Rudolph cannot reign.
A heir of Rudolph, the Count Humbert (who after will be called Whitehand - Biancamano) who is at the service of the Emperor Conrad II, conducts an alliance of Vassals, and conqueres the area in name of the Emperor. This latter recognize Humbert (I) as Count of Savoy, Maurienne and Tarantaise in the year 1034. Humbert I Whitehand (Umberto Biancamano,as it will be called later) is the first member of the Savoy family whose we have reliable news. He is the Count of Savoy, Maurienne and Tarantaise in the year 1034
Oddon is the son of Humbert I and he is the heir of the titles related to County. Oddon marries Adelaide, the daughter of the Turin Marquis Olderic Manfredi, who hasn't masculine sons. With this marriage and a particular hereditary situation, and with the agreement of the Emperor, Oddone obtaines the rights over the Counties of Savoy, Maurienne, Tarantaise, and the Marchlands of Turin and Ivrea (including the Aosta valley). In fact Oddon is not the first son of Humbert I, but the first son Amadeus I deads and other two brothers become Bishops. This was the first Savoy's state spanning on both slopes of Alps, even if the most relevant part, at the moment, is on the French slope.
The first son of Oddon and Adelaide, Peter I, deads without sons. The second son Amadeus II has on his turn a son, named Humbert II. Adelaide is left again a widow, and then also Amedeus II deads. The heir is now Humbert II, but he is still under age, and so Adelaide, as a regent, has to administrate a quite large state, and this up to 1091 when she deads, and Humbert II becomes the Count.
Adelaide is a very important figure in the history of the period, very skilled in politics, in these hard times manages to keep the state with decision and to have an European relevance. When the Emperor is excommunicated by the Pope, she is appointed to be guarantor of the Emperor, while the cousin Matilde of Canossa acts as a counsellor of the Pope. They, together are able to solve this question, obtaining also some advantages.
The Piedmont after Adelaide
After the death of Adelaide there are some Lords that claims rights over the territories of her State. Among them there is Boniface of Vast who is the son of Bertha, lower sister of Adelaide, with father descendant from the Marquises of Savona, cadet branch of the Marquises of Monferrato. Boniface occupies many territories of the Turin Marchland claiming on them rights as a nephew of Adelaide. Boniface manages to appropriate of half Piedmont.
In the meanwhile the Emperor is porsuing a politics of disruption of the piedmontese Marchlands and assign the Turin's one to his son Conrad. The attempts of Humbert I of Savoy of asserting his rights turn to be useless, and he has to retire in Savoy. In Piedmont Humbert I manages to maintain only Susa and the Aoste valley.
From a son of Boniface of Vast, called Manfredi, takes origin the Saluzzo Marchland, as we've already said, and the Marchland will become officially recognized with his son Manfredi II in the year 1173. Other sons of Boniface give rise to other little dominions, as we've seen.
In the years after 1000, in the meanwhile, rises on Alps the little dominion of the Lord of Bardonecchia, that occupies in the high Susa valley, the side valley that from Oulx climbs to Bardonecchia and the Frejus pass. We don't know so much on the origin of this family, that seems to have as a founder a certain Witbald, dead in 1050.
Beyond Alps, instead, the family of the Counts of Albon assert itself, and it acquires a certain importance and will interfere with the polics of Savoy. For a long time this family will dominate over a part of the piedmontese alpine territory.
Lords of Albon will keep under their influence also the Lords of Bardonecchia, even if these latter will remain independent. Probably the Counts of Albon take origin by a Guigo who leaves signs of himself in 932, year in which he makes a donation to the monastery of Cluny. In the century XI we know about a Count Guigo the Old, who takes as a title the name Delphin, that was the name of an uncle of his wife. The County takes then name of Delphinate. The Delphin takes advantage of the Savoy's situation for occupying the high valleys of Susa and Chisone, that for a long time will belong to the Delphinate.
The death of Adelaide allows also the Turin and Asti Bishops to aspire of obtaining the investiture of the related Counties, as it is already happened to the Vercelli, Ivrea and Novara Bishops. As a matter of fact the Asti Bishop obtains from the Emperor Henry IV the investiture of the Asti County. But the conflict between Church and Empire is increasing. The Church is attempting to free itself from the civil power, that tries to impose its men on the top of episcopal curias. The fight, started quite before the death of Adelaide, is between the Emperor Henry IV and the Pope Gregory VII.
For expansion attempts, or for need of survival, these Marchlands, Counties and little Lordships will be engaged in nearly continuous wars and fights. In these wars also the Visconti of Milan will participate, who will try to enlarge the Milan Ducate toward the Piedmont. The borders, aways uncertain, will continuously moved. We will see this later. In the meanwhile we arrive to the age of Communes (or municipalities). The opposition to that experience and its growing produces new fights to which fights among communes themselves are added.
Changing in the society after the year 1000
Starting from the first years after 1000 and in some cases also before, farming starts to develop quickly, and there is a quick demographic growth. The relationships between farmers and Lords of the lands changes and gradually the category disappears of the glebe serfs, working in conditions of actual slavery. This category is substituted by farmers who rent the lands on which they work and make them prosper. As for the Lords, they are no more directly interested in agriculture, but they let the lands of their property, that some time are public but under their jurisdiction (and that they tend more an more to consider as private). Lords prosper on rents, franchises (like pasture-lands, water, forrest, ovens, mills) and on their rights to put taxes and duties.
The Lords build castles, symbol and means of their power, and farmers tend to aggregate their houses next to the castle. They deal with the Lord about the use of common resources, and in this way they discover the value of cooperation, and a civic sense of belonging arise in them. We have seen that also the monasteries produce this aggregation, an in this way nearly all the villages and town (sometimes also large) forms that are now in Piedmont. So we have various Castelnuovo (Castelneuv - New castle), Villanova (Vilaneuva - New village) and so on, while many little villages disappear.
As far as Lords are concerned, they exert their power a more and more independent way. Not all of them are invested of a County, but often are persons who have collected enough richness to be able to build a castle. They obtain concessions and titles from the superior levels of hierarchy over public (imperial) lands, often usurped, which, step by step, are subtracted to the control of the Marchlands and of the Emperor. On the other hand Lords are very contentious (in particular the secular ones) and they do not hesitate to use weapons for claiming rights over contended lands.
Also in the cities there is a remarkable demographic increment, and there is someone who becomes rich thanks to his acrivity. These latter become to make business oh behalf or with the Bishop who has a great need of people whom rely on. Bishop indeed has need of people having money and soldiers for any possible circumstance, and so he is compelled to make concessions, also of feuds outside the city, that remain anyway as episcopal property. In any case in the cities important and powerful families become to arise.
Over this fragmented map of the power in Piedmont remain, as true hegemonic dinasies, the Marquises of Monferrato, the Marquises of Saluzzo, the Counts of Savoy and the Counts of Biandrate. These Lords, having military forces and very large possessions, are able to condition the politics of the Emperor in Italy. Bonds of relationship ties these families to european sovereigns and the families themselves have a great international prestige. In this period the Marquises of Monferrato are in the best position for enlarge their power over all the region. This will happen, instead, some century after, to the Savoy family. The Biandrate's Counts will not survive at the Communes period, and their possessions, in eastern Piedmont, will disappear.
Origin of piedmontese language
From what we have seen so far, we note that Piedmont is a "border land", where many different people passes and stays. The starting base of the language of its population is, at the beginning, a mix of Ligurian and Celtic. On this basis the Latin is inserted, even if Piedmont is always a fringe area to Rome's culture. In Piedmont then stay retired legionaries coming from different parts of the Empire, with their own dialects and languages. Northern and german languages (e.g. Gothic and Longobard) and then French cultural and linguistic elements are added, as well as, but a lower level, Saracens elements (Hungarians probably do not have an influence in this sense).
The structure of the language is taken from Latin, which is "adapted" to the previous Celtic-Ligurian language, enriched with many other linguisical elements coming from North Europe, and the most important influence comes from Franks whose tongue has a common celtic root with the language of the region. The history that we've seen so far arrives to the year 1100 more or less. The official language is still Latin, but people don't speak anymore Latin. In the region, probably, different languages are spoken, but they have a common structure. Latin words are changing, and the way in which they change in Piedmont is deeply different from the way these words change in Florence or in Rome. Certainly in Piedmont there is a strong French influence, but it is not possible to conclude that French, Provençal and Piedmontese could be the same language, not even in the year 1000. Even more there is difference between Piedmontese and Italian, and this will appeared later, when written documents can be compared. At that moment the only known writings are in Latin, but very few people is able to write (in the documents of foundation of some Abbeys, not all the signatures are autograph, to indicate that not even all the Lords are able to write).
Few years after 1000 some piedmontese words appear in some mosaic, and this indicates that piedmontese is already commonly used in this period. If in this period Latin is unknown to the great majority of people, even more Italian is unknown. Probably this is the reason for the first piedmontese writing we know. It is written in some year around 1150, or a few after, and it is a collection of Sermons (see the section "Literature"). They are 22 long sermons, written in the tongue of people in order to be understood, that are commentaries to Gospels of the liturgical cycle.
The language is an archaic piedmontese (some characters are already evident, and some words are still in the lexicon of modern piedmontese), and it seems, due to fluency of expression, that the author has already written in piedmontese something that has been lost. Maybe it is written by a monk of the St. Solutore convent, or a monk of Turin's diocese, or taking also into account the lexicon used, some author of Oulx' church. It is anyway, without any doubt, Piedmontese and not Provençal.
In thist period, probably some documents written in piedmontese have get lost, since the "culture" in Piedmont is usually associated to provençal, and it is not considered to worth while conserving piedmontese documents. Other documents written in the period or immediately after (about 1200) are enough to study the language evolution (about this subject see also the section "literature"), as in the writing "Saying of the King and the Quees" (Dita dël Rè e dl'Argin-a), written by a preacher friar some time after. At the beginning of '300 we have the first written work in a completely characterized piedmontese, even if still archaic. This is " constitution of the society of Saint George of Chieri".
Dante Alighieri, the most relevant italian writer of the beginning, it his work "De vulgari eloquentia" speaking shortly about piedmontese, said that it was a dreadful ununderstandable language that couldn't be considered an italian language being too similar and "conaminated" by french languages. For the characteristics of this language see the section "An independent language". In fact, the piedmontese culture, up to that period and also later, has had a strong relationship with the provençal culture.The piedmontese Courts have given wide hospitality to provençal (and piedmontese) troubadours (without mentioning the transalpine origin of Savoy family, with a state spanning on both slopes of Alps). Following the crusade against Albigenses, in Provence, and then the Waldesians persecution, many of these persecuted persons have taken refuge in Piedmont, where the persecution is softer, and in this way the cultural transalpine contribution has been increased. But now let's go back to our history.
The period of Communes
Already in the past (Roman Empire), some italian cities had experienced forms of popular participation to the government, about some questions of common interest. Starting from XII century, in a context in which in the cities a new middle class is bearing of merchant and undertakers that become quite rich, in particular those of them making business with Bishops, while feudatories, abbeys, curias, noble families are always in fight among them, without an actual power center able to rule the situation, the most active, rich and educated part of the cities' people discovers to have an effective big power, and begin to claim freedom and independence. In this way the experience arises of Communes. In fact, thanks to the weakness of Lords, some Piedmontese cities and other cities of northern and central Italy experience a type of self government, more or less democratic (as far as we can speak of democracy in that period) and different from city to city. Always fond of money, Lords are choking commerce and development with taxes and duties, but at the same time they have to look for the support of important and rich burgess families. The cities, then, are growing also thanks to the immigration of farmers from from countries, who want to avoid the obligations imposed by the local Lord.
Of course the Nobles and the Bishops are basically against this experience, but they do not have the power required for preventing this.
At the times of Adelaide, the city of Asti already have rebelled to the Bishop who ruled it, but Adalaide has restored "order". Still Asti rebels when the Lords are fighting among them for dividing the Adelaide's inheritance, and appoints its consuls, who assume the power. This happens in many piedmontese cities, but with different aspects, and in a more or less democratic way, according to the local situations. We don't have, of course, to think that the majority od people can decide on political questions. In these times the important families, a narrow oligarchy, take the power subtracting it to the Bishop or some secular Lord. This power, anyway, is always legitimated in some way by the collectivity
The city of Asti, already in 1095, has ten "consuls" who are interlocutors of the Bishop, and then, in the order, Tortona, Novara, Vercelli, Turin become Communes. Turin has a communal organization in 1147. It is not completely clear, in this period, what are the actual powers of the Commune, and certainly the Bishop's power remains, but at least the city becomes interlocutor of the power. Also the Emperor, in this fase, is inclined to recognize as interlocutor the communal organization, but always intended as an organism submitted to the imperial authority,. Communes arise also in Pinerolo (Pinareul), Chieri (Chér), Ivrea, Aosta, Susa.
The development of the communal organization, anyway is neither simple nor pacific, and bloody fights happen, in particular in the first period, against the Bishop, the Emperor, the Princes. At the death of the Emperor Henry V, and in front of the enlargement of this experience, the new Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, crowned in 1152, comes in Italy with his army, resolved to re-establish in the cities the Bishop's power, in order to have them, according to his intentions, as unique interlocutors.
Barbarossa must anyway realize that the Communes are stronger than what he has imagined, and where the Bishop has still some political authority Barbarossa has to try to reach an agreement with the Commune. This is not possible in the city of Asti, which has evolved very much in the communal freedom. Asti is destrojed by the Barbarossa in 1155, but the same Emperor is compelled to recognize the autonomy of the city in 1159. The same Commune obtains territories and privileges by Lords in orded to oppose the powerful Marquis of Monferrato, who is the major enemy of the city.
Indeed in Piedmont the strongest oppositor of Communes is The Marquis of Monferrato William V, who tries many times to overwhelm Asti, which is becoming stronger and stronger on his expenses. In spite of this none of the involved subjects, not even the Emperor, has power enough to solve the situation alone. Alliances arise that are very inconstant. In general Communes try to oppose to the Emperor, but some Commune prefers to take advantage of the imperial offers. Changes of side are very frequent, and changes of the borders even more. Communes have all the advantages on their side in looking for support of that Lords who try to reduce the imperial power on them. So there are Communes which are recognized by the Feudatory, who undertakes to respect the constitution, while the Common undertakes to recognize the rights of the Feudatory.
Also the lombard Communes are involved in this play, and form a coalition (Lombard League) against the Emperor. This latter is trying to impose his authority on piedmontese Communes, by imposing regents whom he can rely on, by limiting the autonomies and imposing a duty. In the year 1165 the Lombard League is recognized and blessed by the Pope Alexander III. The Emperor leaves Italy in 1168 while the imperial front that he has built in Piedmont is starting to break. In practice only the Marquis of Monferrato remains in favour of the Emperor, in all the Piedmont.
The city of Alessandria (Lissandria) is founded, and there are two different version of facts about. According to one of them the city is built by the inhabitants of villages who collect together in order to avoid the heavy control of the Lord and constitute themselves as a Commune, under the protection of the Lombard League. According to the other one The Marquis of Monferrato have previously brought in the zone some soldiers and built defences, and the city arises around this first nucleous. Indeed the area of Alessandria is particularly important from a strategical point ov view, and it will remain a military stronghold for a long time.
In 1174 the Barbarossa comes back in Italy and finds in Piedmont a very changed atmosphere, so much more hostile with respect the time he left the region. Then he tries to re-establish the imperial authority, he manages to take the control of Asti and besieges Alessandria. The city holds out against him, and in the year 1176, Barbarossa moves toward troops that are coming from Germany as reinforcemen of his army. In this situation the Lombard League attacks and defeats him at Legnano. This victory has been very celebrated, but actually does not solve so much, and just it slows down a bit the action of the Emperor. In fact soon in Piedmont on the side of the League only remain Vercelli, Novara and Alessandria, but this latter, in 1183, accepts the imperial protection.
Immediately after the Count of Savoy Humbert III risks of losing any future for his State. Relying on the fact that the Emperor has the need of having free passage on Alps through the Susa valley, the Count has not taken a position in the fights, keeping a sort of neutrality. In the meanwhile the Bishop of Turin is worried about the aims of the Count over the city. In this moment the atmosphere is in favour of the Emperor, who has also obtained free passage on central and eastern Alps, and the Turin Bishop charges the Count of various usurpations. In 1185 the Emperor, in Turin, summones the Count, but the Count does not want stoop to dealing with the Bishop, and he does not come to the meeting. The Count is convicted, outlawed and deprived of his feuds. The son of the Count, Thomas I will approach again the Emperor. Thomas I is a relative of Boniface I, Marquis of Monferrato, and he has the support of the Marquis in reconquering his importance.
Thomas I is anyway compelled to allow communal constitutions to some cities, for example at Aoste, where he remains the Lord but he is engaged in respecting the espablished rules. Thomas I tries to strengthen in Piedmont (he lives in Chambery - Savoy-) by granting constitutions and communal freedoms, with not so much success. Besides the Delphinate has extended its occupation in the Susa valley up to include the village of Gravere, few chilometers from Susa, on Savoy expenses.
In any case Lords, for a long time, are compelled to allow constitutions (or better, to accept and ratify them) or to ratify constitutions granted before by others. The three Lordships of Savoy, Monferrato, Saluzzo fail against Communes, while the Lordship of Biandrate disappears.
In the meanwhile, and quite early, Communes manage to be endowed of a judicial organism, first Asti in 1161, and then Tortona and Vercelli, and in this way the Bishop's authority (in Vercelli the Bishop is also Count) is rather reduced. In the first years of '200 Communes are at last accepted by Bishops as a "fait accompli" that cannot be eliminated, and in some cases Communes receive as feud some rights from Bishop. This system allows the Bishop to maintain formally his appointments and the Commune to govern. Still later, at the middle of century XIII, cities begin to claim jurisdictions by themselves, without the need of further legitimations.
In 1228 a League arises against the cities of Alba and Alessandria, which also the Count of Savoy, Asti and the Marquis of Monferrato participate to. The two very fierce enemies (Asti and Monferrato) now allied show how changes in side are easy in this period. At the same time the Lombard League attacks Asti and Monferrato. The Marquis of Monferrato is then compelled to adhere to the Lombard League, while Asti manages to save itself thanks to the support of Genoeses. Facts as this one are very common in this period, while wars are continuous. It would be too long, in the scope of these notes, even just a list.
At the death of Thomas I of Savoy, his State is strengthened and expanded tovard the lowland, with a good relationship with Marquis of Monferrato and Marquis of Saluzzo, and in accordance with the Emperor.
The Emperor Frederick II defeats the Lombard League in 1237, and the Piedmont is all Ghibelline. Also the rebel Alessandria becomes Ghibelline in 1240. Amadeus IV of Savoy, and his brother Thomas acquire some feuds and fight for taking Pinerolo (Pinareul) which has the support of Turin, They manage doing it in 1243.
But, as we have seen, humours and alliances change quickly, and already in the same year Guelphs take again possession of Vercelli and Novara, and all starts again from the beginning. The situation is complicated by the fact that Frederick II is excommunicated by the Pope Innocent IV. In 1250 the Savoy's occupy Turin, but already in 1253 a League rises against them. After various events Thomas, who is the regent of the Savoy County after the death of the brother Amadeus IV, is taken prisoner, released on very harsh conditions, and he loses Turin. Then he deads in 1259.
The Commune of Asti, in 1258, occupies also the city of Alba, but the too large power that Asti is acquiring starts to worry the other piedmontese Lords. We will see how this fact will favourite the enlargement in Piedmont of Charles d'Angiò, whom we will speak about in the following.
Indeed, among the piedmontese Communes, Asti acquires quickly a great importance, mainly for its restlessness and its expansionistic aims before, and then for the internal fights between two groups of families, Solaro and De Castello, who alternatively look for support of some near Lord, in the attempt of obtaining the control of the city and the territories on which the city itself extend its power. These territories ar growing continuously. As for the near Lords (Monferrato, Saluzzo, Savoy) they are very interested in participating at the fights, in order to obtain advantages.
Many of the piedmontese Communes are worn out by internal fights among powerful families, often opposed in Guelphs and Ghibellines, but with a clear trend to change the party if required by the opportunities.
In the meanwhile the cities express powerful families, having an origin anything but noble, which buy Lordships and titles, which become related to rural aristocracy, and which later will form the piedmontese aristocracy.
In addition to Alessandria, in this period are also founded the coties of Cuneo and Mondovì, as cities built starting from nothing by inhabitants of villages who unite for subtract themselves to the control of Lords and constitute themselves as Communes. Since these foundations always go to impair many nobiliaty rights, and are not agreed by the great dinasties, the fact that they are possible is an index of the weakness and fragmentation of the forces in the field.
Communal freedoms, in this period, favourite the use of the piedmontese vulgar as a language also for administrative acts. Some writings of this period have arrived up to us, and they contain regulations and constitutions of Companies and Brotherhoods (mainly of mutual aid) which arise in free Communes. In these writings the Piedmontese is more evolved towards what the present language will be, and contains already all the characters of it.

casa indice

Created using: Lightning HTML Editor Version 2.20.1997