Emperor to Emperor: Italy before the Renaissance, was published in London by Constable in 1991.
Medieval Italy was the crucible of modern western civilisation. In a memorable sentence Edward Gibbon observed that in the period from 840 to 1017 “the three great nations of the world, the Greeks, the Saracens, and the Franks, encountered each other on the theatre of Italy.” The ultimate consequence of this encounter, together with the base provided by the civilisation of ancient Rome, was the Italian Renaissance. Common wisdom has it that between the 'fall' of the Roman Empire, traditionally dated as 476 AD, and the Renaissance of the 15th century, there was a ‘middle’ or 'dark' age lasting some thousand years. Such a view implies a lack of continuity of social and cultural life during the 'Middle Ages' which the humanists and artists of the Renaissance then recovered. It is not of course quite as simple as that. Yet while the precise degree and nature of continuity between the Roman and the late medieval worlds, especially the transition from a slave economy to a serf economy, still generate controversy among scholars it is apparent that there was some kind of continuity in legal structure and administration.
This book was written to explain and illustrate that continuity for the general reader, because no book then in print provided the necessary background. The places chosen to represent the story were also included because they were not as well know as other place sin Italy and could therefore stimulate interest.
Various elements of what we think of as classical Rome - architecture, poetry, law, the senate, the toga, slavery - in fact enjoyed separate chronological existences and therefore demises. They did not all suddenly cease to exist in a given year. Furthermore the concept of Holy Roman Emperor persisted from Charlemagne to Frederick II. They saw it as we sometimes don't, and in no place is it more perceptible than in Italy. A city like Pavia incarnates the transition perfectly: in its history we can see the legal and administrative structures of the ancient world undergo change as Roman laws are Christianised under King Liutprand of the Lombards, and then adapted during the new process of urbanisation which heralds the beginning of fresh growth throughout Europe.
The structure of this book is designed to avoid the problems of parallel chronology and geographical diversity which would bedevil a complete and presumably multi-volumed linear history of medieval Italy. It was suggested by one of the most distinctive traits of medieval Italian society, its predominantly urban character. The history of the peninsula is necessarily a mosaic made up of the histories of individuai cities, castles (in the sense of fortified villages) and monasteries (often seen as prototypes of urban development); so the idea is to provide a panoramic view of Italy during the period 600-1300 by means of a jigsaw made up of a series of representative places. The choice of five cities from the many Italian cities of historical and cultural importance together with two monasteries, a cathedral and a castle is naturally a master of personal taste. The first criterion was to include examples of the cultures of invading peoples which formed an integral part of post-medieval ‘Italian' society, the Lombards, Carolingians, Muslims, Byzantine Greeks, Normans and Germans. To accommodate these, some of the most important Italian cities have been deliberately excluded: Rome, for example, which is covered in many histories; Venice, because a single and lesser known maritime republic, Genova, was chosen to illustrate a general pattern; some cities, like Cremona, once a very powerful city with an interesting double cathedral are personal choices representative of a generai situation which others could illustrate equally well; last of all, cities such as Florence and Milan have been excluded because they enjoyed their greatest prosperity and importance after 1300 - when the Medici and Visconti/Sforza respectively rose to power. It was with the development of a culture associated with the Tuscan cities that, as I hope to show, the adjective 'Italian' began to assume a clear and useful meaning.
The castle chosen, Castel del Monte in Apulia, represents the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, whose role as the last great medieval emperor is vital to the story since the complexity of his political role and his multiple cultural interests anticipate the concept of 'Renaissance man'. Here his life is viewed from the perspective of a single castle, which does however represent the essence of his being; he was an itinerant king and emperor, and never created a real capital of his own. The cathedral, Cefalù, stands as symbol to King Roger 11 of Sicily just as Castel del Monte does to his grandson Frederick II. The two monasteries chosen, one world famous and one almost totally unknown and indeed in ruins, illustrate the different function of the monastery in the two periods into which the book is divided; to simplify, it would be possible to argue that in the first period (600-1100) Montecassino (and the Benedictines) had a predominantly spiritual function while in the second (1100-1250) Santa Maria del Monte (and the Cistercians) had an equally important economic function.
The division of the volume into three parts also reflects this shift: Part I deals with a series of invasions and influences, each of which had to come to terms with Benedictinism in some way (two of the invading peoples destroyed Montecassino and two contributed to its splendour): Part II deals with the new forces which paved the way for the economic achievement of Italy in later centuries. The cultural mosaic created by the blend of so many apparently heterogeneous forces in Part I and the socio-political and economic thrust of the cities in Part II, together constitute the foundation of the Italian Renaissance. Part III offers a brief account of how they carne together.
The original edition was illustrated with maps and photographs of each place. A new, revised e-book edition will be published later in 2016