In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medieval Naples

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Diachronic Assessments
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Economic History
  • Angevin Court Art

Medieval Studies Medieval Naples
Alexander Harper
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0220


Medieval Naples, here defined as the period covering Late Antiquity (beginning 325 CE) through the end of Angevin rule (1442 CE), enjoys a complex history. Founded as a Greek settlement (Neapolis) around the 6th century BCE, Naples was a favorite resort town during Late Antiquity and also one of the earliest bastions of Christianity in Europe. Its location on the Thyrrenian coast contributed to both, and the city’s strategic place within the Mediterranean meant it remained continuously inhabited and cosmopolitan throughout the Middle Ages. During Late Antiquity, Naples was tied culturally, particularly through the Church, to North Africa. By the Early Middle Ages, the city was within the Byzantine sphere but ruled effectively independently as a duchy that included the surrounding islands and contado. Multilayered military and economic interactions with Muslims during the 9th century meant that deep interactions with North Africa continued, however. Naples’s status as an independent duchy, one of a number of duchies on the Tyrrhenian coast, continued until the Norman conquest of southern Italy. From that point it became part of the southern Italian kingdom of Sicily and Naples (the Regno) and in 1224 Frederick II chose it as the site for Europe’s oldest public university, the University of Naples. The city’s strategic position came to see it enter its medieval golden age during the late 13th and 14th centuries. Closer to allies in Rome, Florence, and northern Europe than Palermo, the previous hub, Naples was made capital of the kingdom under the Angevin rulers (1266–1442), a cadet branch of the French Capetians. This period saw the expansion of the city and port; the construction of new churches, monasteries, and castles; the creation of new institutions; the solidification of Angevin administrative practices; and the flourishing of art by Tuscan, Roman, and local painters, Tuscan sculptors, and French metalworkers, among others. The activities of the Neapolitan court influenced a young Giovanni Boccaccio, present in Naples because of his father’s financial dealings, and the institution served as the backdrop for many of his works. Naples’s growth continued beyond the Middle Ages, and it retained its status as the capital of the southern Italian kingdom until Italian unification. All of these issues and more are addressed in this article, a collection of studies from the better part of the 20th century (and some earlier) that examine the political, cultural, economic, social, urban, art, and architectural history of medieval Naples that as of late includes an ever increasing volume of English-language scholarship.

General Overviews and Diachronic Assessments

Ernesto Pontieri’s Storia di Napoli (Pontieri 1969) remains the most comprehensive survey of medieval Naples in both chronological and disciplinary breadth. Its two volumes devoted to medieval Naples examine the history, culture, and the built environment of Naples from the Early Middle Ages through Angevin rule. Other overviews in this section examine Naples diachronically but within a regional context. These works include Feniello 2000, which examines medieval Naples in relation to the rest of Campania, and Gaglione 2012, which discusses the political, economic, and cultural relationship between Naples and Amalfi. Hughes and Buongiovanni 2015 approaches the study of Naples diachronically but along the single theme of the reception of antiquity within the city. Finally, two studies presented focus on Naples and the region as a whole during the later Middle Ages. Galasso 1992 offers a comprehensive view of the region under Angevin and Aragonese administration and rule. Croce 1970, immensely impactful on the historiography of the “Southern Question” (Questione meridionale), a term used to describe southern Italy’s modern social and economic ills, examines Naples and the region from the Norman conquest. In this work Croce argues that the region’s modern issues can be traced back in general to the Middle Ages and specifically to the Sicilian Vespers Rebellion of 1282 that separated the island politically and economically from the mainland. Epstein 2000 and Sakellariou 2012 (both cited under Economic History) challenge Croce’s conclusions to various degrees.

  • Croce, Benedetto. History of the Kingdom of Naples. Translated by Frances Frenaye. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.

    Translation from the original Italian Storia del regno di Napoli, published in 1925. Described in its preface as both “the standard historical account of southern Italy and an authentic application of Croce’s mature philosophy of history” (p. 7), Croce’s history of southern Italy attempts to understand the South’s current economic and social ills. Based in Croce’s philosophy that history writing is informed by contemporary events.

  • Feniello, Amedeo, ed. Napoli nel medioevo. 2 vols. Lecce, Italy: Congedo, 2000.

    The essays in the first volume examine the city of Naples specifically and issues, including fortifications, religious topography, Jewish culture, and attempts to combat malaria. The essays of the second volume offer case studies of cities within the territory of Naples, including the islands of Ischia, Procida, and Capri.

  • Gaglione, Mario. Amalfi e Napoli tra alto Medioevo ed età angioina. Amalfi, Italy: Presso la Sede del Centro, 2012.

    Essay examines the relationship between Naples and the merchant city of Amalfi. It argues that the cities enjoyed close relations from the Early Middle Ages because of economic and commercial interests. In 1190, Naples absorbed Amalfi, and its merchants left a lasting impact on Neapolitan administration and the urban landscape.

  • Galasso, Giuseppe. Il Regno di Napoli: Il mezzogiorno angioina e aragonese. Turin, Italy: UTET, 1992.

    Galasso’s comprehensive volume examines subjects such as conquest, administration, diplomacy, and economy for both the Angevins and the Aragonese. Divided into four parts. The first two, a little more than half of the volume, are devoted to the Angevins. The third and fourth parts cover Aragonese rule.

  • Hughes, Jessica, and Claudio Buongiovanni, eds. Remembering Parthenope: The Reception of Classical Naples from Antiquity to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

    Three essays in this volume focus on the reception of classical Naples during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Subjects include “cultural forgetting” during the Gothic War, the use of architectural spolia, and Hohenstaufen and Angevin reception of ancient Naples.

  • Pontieri, Ernesto, ed. Storia di Napoli. Vols. 2–3. Naples, Italy: Società Editrice Storia di Napoli, 1969.

    These two massive volumes (nearly 1,900 pages total) remain the most comprehensive treatment of medieval Naples from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Volume 2 is devoted to the history of Naples from Byzantine through Hohenstaufen rule. Volume 3 is devoted entirely to Angevin rule and culture in Naples.

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