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The transition between late antiquity and the early medieval period in north Etruria (400-900 AD)

Petra, T.F.; (2011) The transition between late antiquity and the early medieval period in north Etruria (400-900 AD). Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The objective of this thesis is to analyse the transition between Late Antiquity and the early Medieval period by examining urban change with regard in the towns of North Etruria in the period 400-900 AD. It is hoped to provide some insight in the debate between historians who view urban change as mainly 'decline' (the 'catastrophist' school) or those who view the change as a 'transformation' (the 'continuist' school). It is also hoped that the thesis will be able to provide some insight into the discrepancy between the documentary evidence which provides some examples of the survival of urban activity associated with the Roman town, and the archaeological evidence which indicates signs of decay, depopulation and abandonment. The area examined consists of Arezzo, Chiusi, Fiesole, Lucca, Pisa, Siena, and Volterra. The evidence consists of literary sources, charters, epigraphy, numismatics, as well as archaeological reports. The town of Lucca was selected as a model with which the other settlements are compared. This was due to the sheer amount of documentary and archaeological evidence available for this settlement. By using Lucca as a model, characteristics involved in the transformation of the Late Antique Roman settlement to the early medieval town could be seen. What is observed can be used as evidence of both 'transformation' and 'decline'. The changes to urban topography consist of fragmentation of public spaces and monumental buildings of the Roman town. This resulted in areas of depopulation, abandonment, and layers of organic matter called 'dark-earth'. But there is also evidence of urban vitality in areas away from the Roman town centre, new urban centres forming around peripheral areas within the town walls, frequently around cathedrals or urban cemeteries, others forming around suburban churches and cemeteries: population centres forming within the former Roman town wall, with areas of abandonment and neglect in between, which paradoxically could be described as 'urban villages'. It is this model which best explains the discrepancy between the documentary and archaeological evidence. The documentary evidence indicates building work, especially the foundation of churches and xenodochia, the re-use and sale of spolia, some of the services associated with the Late Antique city such as bath-houses, and examples of occupations associated with wealth and patronage, for example, goldsmiths and mosaic workers. But this activity only occurs in certain areas within the town walls. The areas where these activities took place very frequently form locations which would later form the hubs of the medieval town. Because these areas are extremely difficult to excavate, the uninhabited areas tend to be ones examined archaeologically and it is unsurprising that they reveal signs of abandonment and depopulation. With regard to the context in which to place these early medieval towns, it is tempting to make comparisons with northern Italian towns such as Trento, or Frisian towns such as Dorestad. An extensive excavation of Trento revealed evidence of glass workshops in what were formerly residential buildings. Excavations of Dorestad also revealed evidence of medieval cranes, but more importantly workshops arranged around a central market place. To be fair, the evidence of similar constructions in north Etruria is scarce. In some ways this is not surprising, as the best excavated town, Lucca, has only had 1% of its present day area excavated. But the thesis has also examined abandoned settlements in the areas surrounding these towns and they reveal some evidence of mosaic and marble-making. The thesis would argue that the towns of north Etruria examined would best fit the description of 'production-cities', not dissimilar to the Late Antique Imperial workshop cities. In other words, the period saw the transformation of the town from a 'consumer-town' to an economically productive entity in its own right, and it was this transformation which was to fuel the prosperity of the Italian towns through the medieval period.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:The transition between late antiquity and the early medieval period in north Etruria (400-900 AD)
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
Additional information:First six pages added from scan of printed copy.
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > History

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