The Byzantines came in Naples after the Romans. The city was formed in an independent duchy. The Normans came after five hundred years, conquering all of southern Italy, the Swabians came with Frederick II, the French came with the Anjou, the Aragonese kings followed the Anjou.
Odoacer ruled peacefully throughout Italy from his capital Ravenna since 476, after defeating the Roman Empire and imprisoned Romulus Augustus in Castel dell’Ovo. The Odoacer origins are dubious, maybe he was a young man of miserable condition from Scira (East Germany), who had managed to assert himself, becoming a military commander of his people.
Ostrogoths, led by Theodoric, had put in their horizons the conquest, driven to this by the emperor of the East Zeno who intended to put under his tutelage also the Italian peninsula. In 489 Theodoric was in Italy, and in a short time managed to occupy it, forcing Odoacer to barricade himself in Ravenna. Odoacer surrendered in 493, unable to resist the force of the Ostrogoths. Theodoric to ratify the peace invited the deposed king to a banquet, during the festivities he had Odoacer killed.
In 500 Naples was conquered by the Byzantine general Belisario who, after a bloody siege, conquered the city through a Roman aqueduct tunnel emerging inside the walls. Naples and the surrounding area became a province of the Roman Empire of the East with Narses, the successor of Belisario, who ruled on behalf of the Emperor Justinian. An administrative head, called Ludex Provinciae and a military leader said Dux ruled in the city as any Byzantine dependency .
The Lombards had conquered most of Italy after the dismissal of Narses, they formed the Duchy of Benevento in Campania, subtracting its territory to Byzantine control. They repeatedly tried to take possession of Naples, besieging three times, in 581, 592 and 599, but failed to capture it.
In 578 the Emperor of the East Tiberius II divided the controlled possessions in Italy in two eparchies: Urbicaria which included Rome and Lazio and Campania that were about Naples and its surroundings.
The Duchy (661 – 1137)
Over the centuries the power of the Dux overcame to the power of the Ludex. The dux or Duke became independent and the second half of 600 there was the creation of a real state entity, the Duchy of Naples, although formally subject to the Emperor of Byzantium.
The duchy lasted five centuries, during which 37 dukes ruled. The first was Basil (661-666), the last was Sergio VII (1123-1137). The Dukes resided in the palace of the city government, said “Praetorium Civitatis”, located on the hill Monterone. The hill was the highest part of the city, it was facing the sea at that time came and passed the actual Corso Umberto (Rettifilo), the palace was located where today is the building of University is located.
In 840 the Duke Sergio I transformed the ducal nomination, which until then was elective, in hereditary. The duchy became de facto independent. Duke behaved like an absolute ruler with full military powers, administrative and justice.
Sergio I sought alliances with the Papacy and the Franks to cope the continuous raids of the Lombards of the Duchy of Benevento who had never given up trying to conquer Naples, also the Saracens coming from the sea were a thorn in the side of all the coastal localities which suffered the their raids. In 845 a fleet Saracen burned the ground the town of Misenum (Bacoli). Cesario Console, the second son of Sergio I, put together a powerful fleet to permanently solve the problem of the Saracen pirates. In 848 he faced them in the sea in front of Ostia defeating and destroying numerous pirate ships.
Another battle took place in 915, while the duchy had returned temporarily under Byzantine control. The Byzantines organized a sortie with Neapolitan troops and those of the Duchy of Capua against the Saracens who had a stronghold in Traetto (Minturno) at the mouth of the Garigliano. The allied army defeated them and drove them back into the sea. In those years there were clashes carried out from Byzantium to regain the lands of southern Italy. Naples managed to preserve its independence through diplomatic action and strong in its impregnable walls, despite the offensive of the East Roman Empire.
The Normans (1137 – 1194)
The Norman adventure in the south of Italy began in this confusing period filled with battles, alliances and betrayals.
A group of men, originating in Normandy, at whose command was Gilberto Drengot assisted by his brothers Rainulfo, Asclettino and Osmondo, were exiled from their lands for various reasons. They came in Southern Italy to fulfill a vow to the Sanctuary of the Archangel Gabriel of Monte Sant’Angelo in Apulia. After fulfilled the vote, on the way back to the north, they were noted for their courage and their skill in handling weapons by some local landlords as they crossed the Campania. The Duke of Naples, always at war to conquer new lands, engaged them in his service.
They were brave in battle and were good to take money for their services, they obtained by Duke Sergio IV the town of Aversa as a reward for services rendered. Aversa were soon joined by other Normans from Normandy and Denmark, setting up a large colony in the town.
Roberto (Guiscard), Roger and William Altavilla (Hauteville) were particularly distinguished among the Normans occurred, they established their headquarters in Melfi. Both Drengot and Altavilla managed to consolidate their position with conquests and marriages, strengthening links between the two groups with family crossings.
The Altavilla, as a result of conquest of almost the entire southern Italy and Sicily, created the kingdom of Sicily. The duchy of Naples remained independent until 1137 when the last Duke of Naples, Sergio VII, surrendered to Roger II of Altavilla, who became king of a vast kingdom comprising part of the Mediterranean coast of Africa. The capital was Palermo, but Naples became the economic and cultural center thanks to its port, where the traffic of goods were developed for the needs of the whole kingdom.
The daughter of Roger II, Constance, married Henry of Swabia, son of Frederick Barbarossa and future emperor, it facilitated the smooth transition of the Kingdom of Sicily by the Norman dynasty, which ended in 1194 with the death of Tancredi, the nephew of Roger, to the Swabian dynasty of the Hohenstaufen.
The Swabians (1194 – 1266)
Henry VI, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, succeeded Tancred as King of Sicily by virtue of marriage to Constance. A few years later, in 1197, Henry IV died and was succeeded by his son Frederick.
Frederick of Swabia was born in 1194, he had half swabian blood and half norman in his veins. His Norman half was the gift that had received from his mother who died a year after her husband, leaving the four-year-old son entrusted to Pope Innocent III. In 1210, at the age of sixteen, he entered in full possession of the kingdom of Sicily as Frederick II. On December 9 of 1212 reunited the German diet which opened in Constance where he took possession of the kingdom of Germany. He was crowned emperor by Pope Honorius III in Rome in 1220.
Frederick II, nicknamed “stupor mundi“, is remembered for the wisdom that he showed ruling the kingdom. He lived in Palermo, in the royal palace now known well-called Palazzo dei Normanni, often he was traveling to visit his vast possessions, being also the king of Jerusalem, Duke of Swabia and King of the Romans. He was a lover of art and culture, he possessed a remarkable education, acquired over the years of his youth spent under papal protection.
In 1220, Frederick summoned the nobles of the kingdom into two assizes: in Capua and in Messina, recognizing, in this way, the profound differences between Sicily and southern Italy. In those assizes he revoked all the royal rights acquired by the vassals, bringing them under its power. In 1224 he founded the University of Naples, now named “Università Federico II” and in 1241, with the edict of Salerno, he established that the graduates of the Medical School of Salerno were the only ones permitted to practice medicine. The medical school of Salerno was active for more than three centuries and it was known around the world for the skill of his doctors.
Frederick went to the ancient capital of the Norman, Melfi, electing it as his summer residence and hunting lodge, for the wealth of game which reserved the Volture area, after defeating Thomas of Celano in his possessions in Abruzzo and Molise, because he had rebelled to an order of the king for dismantling of castles and fortifications.
Frederick II elaborated the “Constitutiones Augustales” enacted in 1231 and known as the “Constitutions of Melfi” with cooperation of Pier delle Vigne in the castle of Melfi, in which he had melted harmoniously the principles of the ancient Roman law and the Norman law. The Constitutions restricted the powers of the nobles and feudal lords in favor of the crown, and also they scheduled to women the right of succession in the feudal estates.
The last years of his life were marked by violent clashes with the pope. In 1250 Frederick II died at Fiorentino near Foggia for an abdominal illness, consequences of a poorly treated disease in previous years. Some say that death was due to poisoning, because some time before a conspiracy had been discovered to kill him when also his personal physician was involved.
The city of Naples was placed under the protection of Pope Innocent IV after the death of Frederick. Conrad IV, son of Frederick, besieged the city to bring it back under its power. Naples surrendered to siege. Corrado made pull down the walls, he imposed new and exorbitant taxes and moved the university, founded by his father, from Naples to Salerno to punish the betrayal of the citizens of Naples. Conrad died in 1254 and the city began again under papal protection. Naples suffered yet another defeat by the Swabian Manfredi, brother of Corrado.
The Angevin dynasty (1266 – 1442)
Charles of Anjou, brother of King Louis IX of France, had been appointed by Pope Clement IV as king of the kingdom of Sicily. On 7 March 1266 the citizens of Naples received him triumphantly, hopeful that the city could become the capital of the kingdom, instead of Palermo, which had been the seat of the Swabian king.
Charles of Anjou had to counter the dynastic pretensions of Conradin, son of Conrad IV and therefore nephew of Manfredi. At age fifteen Conradin, conscious of not being able to aspire to the prestigious throne of Germany, rests his hopes in the reconquest of the kingdom of Sicily, which, from his point of view, was usurped by Charles I of Anjou.
In 1267 he came to Italy with a small army of 1,000 men from Bavaria where he had spent the youth. The lines of his group of armed increased along the way with men of Ghibelline side, in contrast to the Guelphs who were sympathizers of the French. Conradin was well received in all the cities where he stopped, including Rome which had been abandoned by the pope a few days before, who took refuge in Viterbo. On August 23, 1268 Conradin clashed with Charles I of Anjou in the battle of Tagliacozzo. He was defeated and during his retreat he was captured along with his companions. He was taken prisoner in Naples, where he was beheaded in the Piazza Mercato on October 26 1268.
Sicily was conquered by the Aragonese as a result of the Sicilian Vespers, after two distinct kingdoms were formed: the kingdom of Naples or “Kingdom of Sicily on this side of the lighthouse” (Messina), governed by the Angevins, and the “kingdom of Sicily to beyond the lighthouse” (Sicily), ruled by the Aragonese.
In 1285, after the death of Charles I, it succeeded by a period in which Pope Honorius IV directly involved in the government of the kingdom. Charles II, son of Charles I, prisoner of the Aragonese after a defeat, was released following the intervention of the pope and was able to take possession of the kingdom.
The city enjoyed a happy time during which was built the Maschio Angioino castle was built. In 1294 the Pope Celestine V, the hermit Pietro da Morrone, remembered in history for having abdicated the office of Pope, settled the seat of the papacy and his court in Maschio Angioino. The Maschio Angioino was the heart of the city enlargement to the west, where many noble buildings were built in the immediate vicinity of the new castle. Also the royal palace of the “casa nova” was built during the Angevin dynasty, in the area where today is via Casanova (district Vicaria), where Charles II of Anjou died in 1309. In the vicinity of the port were built neighborhoods that housed many foreigners who lived in the city: the Genoese, Florentines, Provencal. Even today there are place names that remind the ancient inhabitants of those places: piazza Francesi, Rua Catalana, via Loggia dei Pisani, via dei Fiorentini.
Robert of Anjou succeed Charles II, he had a long reign, during which continued economic development and social of the capital. During the reign of Robert, Giovanni Boccaccio spent 13 years of his youth in Naples. He lived in the Florence neighborhood. In the church of San Lorenzo he met Fiammetta, her real name was Maria d’Aquino and she was the illegitimate daughter of Robert of Anjou. Boccaccio wrote some of his early works during his stay in the city, he was inspired by the rowdy life of the Neapolitans for some stories of the Decameron.
Francesco Petrarca was repeatedly in Naples in that time. On the night of 25 November 1343, while the poet was staying in the convent of the Friars Minor of San Lorenze church, a storm broke over the city. Francesco was awakon when a violent earthquake shook the walls of the convent. People rushed into the dark streets in search of safety. But the earthquake did not make victims. The morning after Petrarca saw a crowd heading for the sea. He followed the people and, came on shore, stood before a tremendous show. High waves destroyed everything that was near the beach. The shore, where hundreds of people were spectators of the tragedy, suddenly collapsed into the sea, taking many unfortunates persons in the sea. Many boats and ships were sunk. He was a witness of the only tsunami to concern the city in living memory.
Robert died in 1343 and became granddaughter Joanna I of Anjou became Queen, she was married to Andrew of Hungary. his kingdom was very controversial. She was also accused of making kill her husband, who wanted to replace it in state affairs. The life of Joanna I is often confused with that of Joanna II, who was equally profligate.
The penultimate Angevin king of Naples was Ladislao I of Anjou-Durazzo, who ascended the throne of Naples in 1386 at only 10 years of age, under the regency of the mother, Margaret of Durazzo, niece of Joanna I.
Ladislao, come of age, tried to unify Italy under his crown. He had to first fight the feudal lords that put his power in danger, particularly he fight against the principality of Taranto. Almost he succeeded in his undertaking of reunifying the peninsula when he died in 1414 due to syphilis or, as it was said, poisoned by a sweet girl of Perugia.
He was replaced by his sister Giovanna II as Queen of Naples, who had many hardships in the defense of the kingdom by the French ambitions. she tried to overcome them by contracting two marriages and having many lovers, he also had to form an alliance with the Aragonese. She had called Alfonfo V of Aragon for help against Louis III of Anjou, who aspired to her throne.
She left the throne inherited to brother of Louis of Anjou, Rene at his death in 1435. A war of succession was between Rene d’Anjou and Alfonso V of Aragon, who claimed the kingdom. The June 12, 1442 during the siege of Naples, some soldiers of Alfonso V managed to enter the town from an ancient tunnel that came out in a poor house of a tailor in Santa Sofia church area. The raiders of Alfonso opened one of the gates of the city by bringing the bulk of the army. In 536 the Byzantine of general Belisario had used the same tunnel to enter the city which was besieged.
The Aragonese kings (1442 – 1501)
In 1442 Alfonso I became king of Naples, beginning the Aragonese dynasty in Naples, which lasted until 1501.
Naples had a remarkable urban development during the Aragonese period. The population exceeded 100,000. Alfonso surrounded himself with officials of Catalan origin, making enemies Neapolitan nobles who saw themselves ousted from their lucrative positions. In 1486 this matter resulted in the “conspiracy of the barons“. The growing discontent of the Neapolitan nobility was concluding in open revolt against the king Ferrante (Ferdinand) of Aragon, the illegitimate son of Alfonso I died in 1458. He was replaced on the throne of Naples. Ferrante gathered the rebellious barons in the Maschio Angioino castle with a cunning ploy, in the room today called the Sala dei Baroni, where he made prisoners condemning them to death.
The Last King of Aragon in Naples was Frederick I, who reigned from 1496 to 1501. He was betrayed by his cousin Ferdinand II the Catholic who agreed secretly with King Louis XII of France to divide the kingdom of Naples between themselves. Frederick, who was unaware of the agreement, confidently opened the doors to Spanish army led by his cousin.
He knew the treason perpetrated behind him when the French army entered the kingdom, supported by the Spanish who were quartered in Calabria. The two armies, Spanish from the south and French from the north, squeezed Naples in a vise-like grip. Capua was besieged by the French, it began negotiations for surrender. The troops entered the city Treacherously and killed more than seven thousand inhabitants. Cesare Borgia, commander of the French, held at his disposal the 40 most beautiful women in the city.
Frederick, having no other way out, agreed with Louis XII for the transfer of the kingdom in exchange for the county of Maine. In 1501 he left Naples without the agreements were respected by the French. He died at Tours in 1504.
(Top picture: Federico II di Svevia – Max Barack 1832 – 1901)
Alfredo D’Ambrosio: Storia di Napoli, Ed. Nuova E.V. Napoli 1993
Storia di Napoli, Com.to Sc.co pres. Ernesto Pontieri – Ed. Storia di Napoli 1975
Michelangelo Schipa: Storia del ducato Napolitano, Napoli 1895
Vittorio Gleijeses, La storia di Napoli dalle origini ai nostri giorni, Napoli, 1977