Renaissance and Reformation Southern Italy, 1300–1500
Ronald G. Musto
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0483


This article treats the south of Italy (Mezzogiorno), exclusive of the city of Naples. For discussion of Naples, see the Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article “Naples, 1300–1700” by Ronald G. Musto. It also excludes Sicily, following the Italian government’s ISTAT and the European Union’s NUTS designations. Over the past two decades there has been an explosion of research into late medieval and early modern Southern Italy, mostly by Italian scholars in Naples and Rome. Southern Italy during these centuries coincides with the Kingdom of Naples (Regno). Its history reflects constant change, foreign influence, internal turmoil, local autonomy, resistance, innovation, and renewal. While these centuries have been intensely studied in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, the Angevin period (1265–1442) has attracted few Anglophone scholars, and mostly in art history and textual study. The Aragonese period (1442–1504) has been more fortunate as it coincides with Renaissance studies of humanism, the classical art impulse, and the new sciences. This bibliography therefore includes major works from both Anglophone and Continental scholars and divides entries according to these dynastic demarcations. There are three major historiographical issues in southern Italian studies. The first is the overwhelming prominence of Naples as the focus of most modern research, often eclipsing the rest of the South. The second is the fire-bombing of the Neapolitan state archives by retreating Nazis in September 1943 in which Angevin, Aragonese, and many earlier records were destroyed. Given the pan-Mediterranean interests and influence of the Neapolitan dynasties that controlled Southern Italy, however, we have been fortunate in the survival of copies of many records in Marseilles (Angevin) and Barcelona (Aragonese). From 1950 these have been meticulously reconstructed by a team headed by Riccardo Filangieri. Narrative sources were first systematically studied in Bartolommeo Capasso in 1902. Important chronicles, diaries, relazioni, and archival materials survive and have been published, many with recent editions. Italian scholars, largely at the University of Naples Federico II, have also undertaken comprehensive philological and contextual studies placing these works within Latin and vernacular literatures and literacies. The third historiographical issue is the Question of the South, treated in the next section. This bibliography is not exhaustive. It focuses on recent representative editions, monographs, collected essays, and articles. With some exceptions, earlier works and important journals of national and local research can be found within the notes and bibliographies of the works presented here.

The Question of the South

The 19th-century Question of the South, and its attendant movement of meridionalismo, was a by-product of the Risorgimento’s unification of Italy that saw many northern—and some disaffected southern—intellectuals brand the former Kingdom of Naples as backward and primitive, fixed in time, superstitious, unruly, and unruleable. The Southern Question has influenced later historiography, especially among Anglophones, who have carried over the thought of the 19th century in their analyses of the “two Italies.” The most important historiographical—and cultural—issues in discussing the Question of the South are twofold. The first is chorographical, or more strictly geographical: what constitutes Southern Italy, or the Mezzogiorno? Some scholars, especially among Anglophones, consider the Mezzogiorno to be the south of the Italian Peninsula below Lazio and the Marches, including the regions of Campania, Basilicata, Calabria, Apulia, and the Abruzzi (with Molise), which constituted the medieval Regno of Naples; and also including Sicily and Sardinia. Italian discussions frequently separate the peninsular South from the two Mediterranean islands. These include both official government sources and general historical approaches. The chief reasons for this are that Sicily has a well-developed history, culture, and historiography quite distinct from the mainland, deriving as much from its ancient settlements and development, its centuries under Byzantine and then Muslim rule, its Norman history, and its separation from the Angevin Regno in the Sicilian Vespers of 1262. It then developed separately under Aragonese rule into the 16th century, when it was absorbed into the larger Spanish empire. The second major issue is theoretical as noted above. This bibliography provides works essential to the study of Southern Italy as a whole, and offers brief sections of regional studies and sources. Most recently, “neo-meridionalisti” have taken up this Question with detailed studies across the disciplines to argue that the picture of southern backwardness and dependency needs to be discarded in the face of much new research, evidence, and methodologies. The materials below include general studies of the Southern Question and meridionalismo by Teti 1993, Lumley and Morris 1997, Schneider 2020, Dal Lago and Halpern 2002, Moe 2002, Croce 2005, and Andretta 2008. Vitolo and Musi 2004, Abulafia 2005, and Musto 2017 offer analyses of the medieval and early modern Mezzogiorno. Mainoni and Barile 2020 revisits the issue and Abulafia’s formulation.

  • Abulafia, D. The Two Italies: Economic Relations between the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the Northern Communes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    While Abulafia’s aim is to demonstrate the interconnection between the North and South during the Norman period, he posits “two Italies,” the southern agrarian and pastoral, the North demonstrating the early signs of a commercial and industrial economy and society that would soon develop into a separate culture while it continued to exploit the South.

  • Andretta, Marzia. Il meridionalista: Giustino Fortunato e la rappresentazione del Mezzogiorno. Rome: XL, 2008.

    A detailed study of Gaetano Salvemini Fortunato, who along with Pasquale Villari and Francesco Saverio Nittione was among the foremost “meridionalisti” after the Risorgimento. He focused on the economic policies of the Italian government that placed the South in a position of inferiority and dependence.

  • Croce, Benedetto. Storia del regno di Napoli. Edited by Giuseppe Galasso. Milan: Adelphi, 2005.

    Originally published in 1925, Croce’s Storia has had an incalculable impact on the historiography of the Mezzogiorno and remains the best known Anglophone account of the Regno. Croce celebrated the Regno’s cultural and intellectual life but condemned what he saw as its inert economic, political, and social lethargy; and he traced these contradictions from the Normans to the Risorgimento through a series of thematic reflections.

  • Dal Lago, Enrico, and Rick Halpern, eds. The American South and the Italian Mezzogiorno: Essays in Comparative History. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002.

    Collected essays examine parallels between the histories of the American and Italian South, including historiographical and popular stereotypes; elite ideologies; labor; class, gender, and political change. The modern analogy provides useful background for Anglophone readers.

  • Lumley, Robert, and Jonathan Morris, eds. The New History of the Italian South: The Mezzogiorno Revisited. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997.

    Essays by F. Cammarano, J. Dickie, G. Gribaudi, P. Marcy, J. Morris, M. Petrusewocz, and P. Pezzino. How northern thinkers reduced the history of the Mezzogiorno between 1799 and 1915 to a “Southern Problem,” reframed through a series of consistently negative discourses and symbolic images. The contributors argue that the South was not monolithic and unchanging but a combination of regions with divergent social, political, and cultural patterns.

  • Mainoni, Patrizia, and Nicola Lorenzo Barile, eds. Comparing Two Italies: Civic Tradition, Trade Networks, Family Relationships between the Italy of Communes and the Kingdom of Sicily. Turnhout: Brepols, 2020.

    The title recalls Abulafia 2005. This collection of essays aims to enlarge interpretative paths not only about trade networks but about lesser-known interrelations, e.g., the rise of civic tradition, the spread of mendicant orders, the circulation of wealth through family relationships, women, marriage, and patrimonial assets. Essays discuss the universitates, the Franciscans of Benevento, trade between Venice and the Regno, and internal regional trade and economic agents.

  • Moe, Nelson. The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

    The best Anglophone introduction. Moe surveys the history of the Southern Question from the mid-18th century through the Risorgimento and its meridionalisti and into the late 19th century. Geography, political oppression, northern policies of repression, and an emerging image of the South in the popular media all contributed to a longstanding caricature of the former Regno as backward, superstitious, and incapable of rising above its history and geography.

  • Musto, Ronald G. “Introduction.” In Artistic Centers of the Italian Renaissance: Naples. Edited by Marcia B. Hall and Thomas Willette, 1–33. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

    Pages 8–26 apply the Question of the South and meridionalismo to the medieval Regno. Musto proposes a “Black Legend” of the Angevins to place the deep roots of the critique of the Regno in the thought of Petrarch and other trecento writers after the death of King Robert of Anjou and under the rule of Queen Giovanna I.

  • Schneider, Jane, ed. Italy’s “Southern Question”: Orientalism in One Country. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2020.

    Three sections challenge the “neo-orientalist” stereotypes of the South. The Genesis of the “Southern Question” offers essays by M. Gibson, N. Moe, S. Patriarca, F. Rosengarten. Critical Theory from the South includes A. Di Nola, G. R. Saunders, N. Urbinati. Alternative Representations and Realities includes J. A. Davis, R. Dombroski, S. Piattoni, P. Schneider and J. Schneider. M. Blim and M. Pandolfi offer conclusions.

  • Teti, Vito. La razza maledetta: Origini del pregiudizio antimeridionale. Rome: Manifestolibri, 1993.

    A classic in meridionalisti literature. Teti traces the development of the racialist theory of the inferiority of the South from the late 19th into the early 20th century as it became the ideological language of Italian and foreign elites. It influenced magistrates, doctors, psychiatrists, politicians and, more generally, northern Italian public opinion. It ended up generating common and widespread stereotypes still operating today.

  • Vitolo, Giovanni, and Aurelio Musi. Il Mezzogiorno prima della questione meridionale. Florence: Le Monnier, 2004.

    Traces the history of the Mezzogiorno as both region and historical construct from the Norman, Hohenstaufen, Angevin, Aragonese, and Spanish periods into the Risorgimento. Presents its political, economic, and social structures in the context of material culture and collective mentalities. This volume contextualizes the South, highlighting the contributions of the former Regno of Naples and of Sicily to broader Italian, European, and Mediterranean contexts.

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