Caption: This is the coat of arms picturing the seal of the Università of Torricella. On close examination one can in fact read: "Universitas Terrae Turricellae". (By courtesy of the State Archive of Naples: list of supplies 1975).

The Universitas of Torricella

By Domenico Pettinella

Use of the land office registries is unquestionably of great use in examining and understanding the economic conditions and society in the South (of Italy) in the 17th Century. The land office registries are a source for the history of the agricultural and geographic landscapes, for studying place names and for reconstructing the territorial picture by means of the distribution of property.

The Torricellan land office registry of 1743 allows us to analyze many aspects of life:- its population, professional activities, realities such as socio-economic conditions, environment, territory, social assistance, religion (with its churches, chapels, feast-days and religious functions), the activities and obligations carried out by the Università1 – on the one hand to the community’s benefit and on the other hand towards the Kingdom’s2 authorities. The registry describes the goods owned by the Duke of Canosa3, such as property, (called "burgensatici"4), as distinct from feudal goods enjoyed by him.

The relationships between the Università and the Duke also involved quarrels and controversies. During the period of domination by the Austrian Empire5 there was constant conflict in the relationships between the Università, the citizens and the Baron. This period was characterised by disorder and corruption by the State organization and by its administrative apparatus. This era of strengthened power with legal and economic jurisdiction by the Barons was distinguished by arrogant abuse of power over their subjects, who were oppressed by excessive taxation, with serious consequences for social order and for the material conditions of life.

In 1706 the Università of Torricella (according to other sources) had to take on a lawsuit against the Duke of Canosa who was helped by a decree that had allowed excessive taxation, to the damage of the Università.

The appeal for the Università was dealt with by Giovanni Vincenzo Lopez6, who, in discussing the aggravating features, went over the history of the "gabelle"7in the Kingdom of Naples8 between 1144 and 1669. He concluded by maintaining that, not only were the taxes levied for the Università too exigent, but also, having been decided upon abusively, the decree should be nullified, bearing in mind that in the past the feudal Master had made himself responsible for suppression and for usurping various of the rights appertaining to the Università. The history of this period is full of usurpations to the detriment of the Università and even of physical violence against the vassals (Scemi, Popoli, Tocco9 etc). When Charles IIIrd of Bourbon10 became King of Naples in 1734 he inherited this situation. He tried to alter it by reform, assisted by a faithful active collaborator: Bernardo Tanucci11 of Tuscan origin. Amongst other things he set in motion abolition: of vassalage, of excessive Baronial power, of resizing the weight of congregations and of a series of prerogatives of the clergy and of the weight of the mortmain12 on civil society within the Kingdom. He upheld the principle of royal jurisdiction in the controversies involving clerics and religious orders. In 1741 he carried out the concordat with the Holy See on the basis of which ecclesiastical goods that had been exempted, with tax privileges, became instead subject to taxation – in half – and the decision to form the land registry took place in the same era. From the Torricellan land registry we learn that Don Alfonso Alaya, Duke of Canosa, Baron of Torricella13, aged 32 years, lived in a palace that was his own property, situated "in the district of the Piazza/Square close to Saint Angiolo’s" consisting of 41 rooms with stockrooms, cellars, kitchens (4 rooms), stables, an open courtyard and a covered one and a water cistern. The palace bordered "the Church of Saint Angiolo of the said building and others". The Baron enjoyed the goods of the Ducal Chamber, which were feudal goods; amongst these was the feud of Saint Just (S. Giusto) and that called Monte Porrusco in part woodland, but partly cultivable. This Baron also had properties of his own, called "bergensatici" see 4 amounting to many hundreds of "tomoli"14. These goods were to be found in various districts, including Pescara15 or Peschio Tutino (310 tomoli of which 47 uncultivated, 60 of vines and 203 cultivable), Monte Calvario16, Stonchetto17, Valle Gifuni18, etc. In the Colle Cardinale19 district 28 tomoli of land were a benefit in the Baron’s favour. A large part of Torricella was owned by the local Chapels (see "Amici di Torricella" No. 1, December 1988); by the Abbey Refectory; by the Abbot Paglione of Civitella20, rector of the benefit of Saint Mary the Great of Gessopalena21 (S. Mario Maggiore); by Father Giovanni Felice of Roio22, beneficiary Abbot of Saint Mary Caldavali, etc. In 1743 the Università of Torricella had 211 nuclear families with about 1200 people, as against the 188 families of the 1730 census (about 900 people). There was a tax of eleven carlini23 for each family nucleus. In 1743 the Università of Torricella had an income of 1620 ducats24 - amongst the entries there are also those deriving from rent and revenue from market gardens, vineyards, haystacks, fields with a perimeter trench, and coverings for meadows, piece-workers on state lands, which with an outlay of 1619 ducats gave a profit of only 1 ducat. The citizens, subdivided into three classes (civil, middle and lower) were :- "labourers" (the most) who had small properties, a house they dwelled in, but to live they hired themselves out in the fields of large landowners, including the "farmers". Other citizens were manufacturers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, greengrocers, carpenters, tailors, toolmakers, innkeepers, etc. There were :- a craftsman, a doctor, a scholar, two men at arms and wool carders. In the registry we also find listed citizens with physical defects such as a cripple and one impaired by gout (podagra). The presence of so many wool carders should be stressed because the activity derives from the transhumance25 sheep-farming and from the practice of sheep rearing itself on this land, which one supposes must have been developed, in as much as the Università of Torricella paid 4 ducats and 4 carlini each year to the Royal Court for the credit of the sheep; or rather to be precise they paid a fee to be able to graze their sheep in a determinate zone of the Court’s territory. It is worth listing a part of the expenses of the Università, in order to understand the organisation of various aspects of life in those times: - of social, cultural, religious, social assistance and health. The most significant expenses in Ducats – were those in favour of :- the Royal Court = 570; Preachers = 30; Surgeons = 25; Doctors = 60; oven = 30; bread-maker "panatica" = 35; for rent of - tavern = 15; butcher = 32½. The Chancellor was paid 12; whilst the Chapel of Saint Mary of the Rosary (S. Maria del Rosario), Saint Mary of Roseto (S. Maria del Roseto) were allowed 5 Ducats for their festivities. Special mention should be made of the 70 ducats paid to the Marquis of Introdacqua for "enfiteusi"26 and rent of the Abbey Church, for the water mill on the River Aventine, and the 160 ducats paid for renting the windmill, equal to 200 tombolis27 of grain, measured as 8 carlinis per tombolo. The rents undoubtedly were of feudal origin. In the next issue (of this journal) we shall deal with the medieval period and the 1800’s both before and after the unification of Italy28.

Translator's notes:

1Università – All the inhabitants of a city or a castle; the modern day equivalent would be the Town Council or Municipality i.e. the "Comune"

2Kingdom refers to the Kingdom of Naples, which ruled over the central south region of Italy. This former state, occupying the entire Italian peninsula south of the former Papal States, comprised roughly the present regions of Campania, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, Apulia and Calabria. Naples was the capital.

HISTORICAL NOTE: During the 18th-Century, Italy was divided into separate city-states.  The country did not unify until the Risorgimento, between 1859 and 1870, under the Piedmontese Kings of the House of Savoy.  This was an era of decline for the once powerful country and its numerous city states, many of these were ports. The cities were overcrowded and the majority of the population was poor. This overcrowding was one cause for the famines that occurred between 1764 and 1766, which increased peasant mortality rates.

Italy was also under constant invasion from foreign armies. The Spanish had been in control of the northern regions of Italy since the late 1500's, but finally, during the war of Spanish Succession, after the Treaty of Utrecht, 1714, Spain lost its holdings to the Austrian empire. The Austrians remained in Italy until 1796 when France invaded under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte.  He remained in control until 1814.

3Duke of Canosa – Canosa is a town in Apulia, S Italy, on the Ofanto River, between Bari and Foggia. It is a commercial and agricultural centre. The city was destroyed by the Arabs in the 9th century but was resettled by the Normans in the 11th cent. The Duke was the feudal lord of the city and held territory in Abruzzo.

4burgensatici These are personal goods as distinct from feudal ones. This distinction caused intricate problems when feudalism was abolished, with division of the feudal belongings of the Lord/Master

5Austrian Empire

  • 1700's (early) Italy eventually passed from control by the Spanish Habsburgs to the Austrian Habsburgs. Austria ruled Milan and most of the rest of Italy through local rulers, loyal to the King of Austria. Italy's political role in Europe declined.
  • 1701-1748 Wars of Spanish and Austrian Succession: foreign powers fought over Italian territory.
  • 1713 Spanish ascendancy in Italy was brought to an end with the War of the Spanish Succession. Austria became the dominating power, particularly after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) confirmed her proprietorship of Lombardy and the Veneto.

6Giovanni Vincenzo Lopez – I have so far not been able to identify this man.....

7Gabelle (rural taxes)Vassals were forced to submit to several vexations and above all to the gabelle, forcefully imposed, often excessively, even illegally or with corruption, by the various succeeding Masters through the centuries. There were gabelle on items such as milling, salami, meat, game, baking of bread, cheese and even on death – there was a tax to have the right to be buried in the church (the Municipality only began to build cemeteries in the late 1800’s)

The gabelle were taxes brought to Italy from France by Charles of Anjou when he became the ruler of the Kingdom of Naples; although gabelle had started as general taxes, in 1259 he levied a "gabelle" that was a salt tax, to finance his conquest of the Kingdom of Naples.

Later gabelle was specifically a tax on salt and it continued until the 1800’s.

8Kingdom of Naples – see note 2 above

9Scemi, Popoli, Tocco - historians

10Charles IIIrd of Bourbon - A young prince from the Spanish branch of the House of Bourbon drove the Austrians out of Naples and upon acceding to the throne of Naples in 1734 he became Charles IIIrd of Bourbon. (The Kingdom of Naples after the War of the Spanish Succession (in the early 1700’s) had been in the hands of the Hapsburgs, the royal house of Austria.)

Charles made Naples an independent kingdom again for the first time in two hundred years. Charles ruled for 25 years and then abdicated, in 1759, on the death of his father, Philip V of Spain, to become King of Spain. They say that before he left he was careful to return the crown jewels. He even gave back a ring which he, himself, had found while digging around Pompeii, saying, "Even this ring belongs to the state". This story, true or not, shows the regard, even veneration, that has attached itself to this first Bourbon king of Naples. He was an "enlightened monarch". 

Charles left impressive accomplishments: he restored order to public finance, curtailed church privilege, built many spectacular architectural features, such as the royal palaces at Capodimonte, Portici and Caserta. He also started the National Library, the Archaeological Museum, a National Academy of Art and was responsible for beginning the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum (where his workmen digging a well had found Roman remains).

By the middle of the century, he had made Naples into a capital of Enlightenment in Europe, and Antonio Genovesi, lecturing at the University, could freely speak of redistribution of property and agrarian reform. Also, Naples developed into a music capital of Europe, much of it performed in the most splendid theatre of its day, San Carlo. 

Charles encouraged growth of a new commercial middle-class and sought to move his subjects out of the lingering middle ages of anachronistic class privilege with baronial abuse. When in 1759 Charles returned to Spain to take the throne, he left Naples in the hands of his eight-year old son, Ferdinand IVth, and his regent, Bernardo Tanucci – see endnote 11 below. 

Ferdinand ruled until 1825. It was a dynamic period: the Industrial Revolution, the social and political theories of Rousseau and the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. Primarily, it was the French Revolution, Napoleon, and armies ranging over Europe on an unprecedented scale.

11Bernardo Tanucci -

Marquis Bernardo Tanucci (born Stia, near Arezzo, Tuscany, February 20, 1698 – died Naples, April 29, 1793) brought enlightened government to the backward Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for Charles III and his son Ferdinand IV.

Born of a poor family, thanks to a patron, he was educated at the University of Pisa, was appointed professor of law there in 1725; he attracted attention by defending the authenticity of the Codex Pisanus*.

When Charles, Duke of Parma, son of Philip V of Spain, passed through Tuscany on his way to conquer the Kingdom of Naples, Cosimo III de Medici, encouraged him to take Tanucci with him. In Naples Charles appointed Tanucci first councillor of state, then superintendent of posts, minister of justice in 1752, foreign minister in 1754, finally prime minister and then made him a marquis.

As Prime Minister Tanucci reformed laws and established the supremacy of the State over the Church. He abolished the feudal privileges of Papacy and the nobility, restricted the jurisdiction of the bishops, eliminated medieval prerogatives, and reduced the taxes to be sent to the Pope. These progressive innovations were sanctioned in a Concordat signed with the Papacy in 1741.

When Charles of Naples became Carlos III of Spain in 1759, Tanucci was made president of the council of regency instituted for the King’s nine-year-old son, Ferdinand IV, who, even when he reached his majority, preferred to leave the government in Tanucci's capable hands.

In foreign affairs, Tanucci kept Naples out of wars and entanglements.

Tanucci worked to establish the kind of controls over the church for Bourbon Naples that were in effect in Bourbon France: revenues of vacant bishoprics and abbeys went to the crown, superfluous convents were suppressed, tithes abolished and the acquisition of new Church property by mortmain (see endnote 12 below) was forbidden. Royal assent was required for the publication in Naples of papal bulls** and concessions were no longer considered eternal. The king of Naples served at the pleasure of God only. Appeals to Rome were forbidden without royal permission. Marriage was declared a civil contract. And by the order of Charles III the Jesuits were suppressed and expelled from the Kingdom of Naples in 1767, following Tanucci’s enlightened political moves.

Pope Clement XIII responded with excommunication, whereupon Tanucci occupied the monasteries at Benevento and Pontecorvo. One of his last acts (1776) was abolition of the chinea, (that is the annual tribute which the kings of Naples since the time of Charles of Anjou had paid to the pope as sovereign).

Tanucci’s unfortunate policy in finance and in regard to the food taxes provoked popular revolutions on several occasions.

In 1774 Caroline, the Habsburg queen of Ferdinand IV, joined the Council of State, and Tanucci’s power began to decline. In vain he endeavoured to neutralize the queen's influence, but in 1777 he was dismissed and retired.

* Codex Pisanus – bilingual laws in Greek and Latin dating from 533 AD written by Justinian.

** A Papal bull is a written communication from the Vatican Chancery, originally sealed with lead (sometimes with precious metal, now more commonly with red ink). The term derived from the Latin bulla referring to the boiled appearance of the seal.

12Mortmain (from the French for "dead hand" to mean impersonal ownership) lands held inalienably by ecclesiastical orders; ownership of land by a perpetual corporation. The term originally denoted tenure by a religious corporation, but today it includes ownership by charitable and business corporations.

In the Middle Ages the church acquired, by purchase and gift, an enormous amount of land and other property. The struggle over this accumulated material wealth was an important aspect of the conflict between church and state. Moreover, lands held by monasteries and other religious corporations were generally exempt from taxation and payment of feudal dues, which greatly increased the burden on secular property. Attempts to limit ecclesiastic mortmain began as early as Carolingian times, (The Carolingian Era was from 8th Century to early 11th Century A.D.), and by the late 19th Century the right of religious bodies to own land was in general highly restricted. In many countries the prevailing principle limited such ownership to absolutely necessary holdings. In the United States ecclesiastic mortmain was never a serious problem; remaining statutes on the subject are essentially inoperative vestiges of former law.

13Don Alfonso Alaya, Duke of Canosa – various spellings e.g. Celaya, Celaia.

A Baron or Duke was a person who owned a "castro", a vast piece of territory with ample authority over it - such as rights of war, of justice and of minting money

14Tomolo – ancient measure used both for area (6,300 square metres) and for volume (55.54 litres)

15Pescara - The main town and resort of the Abruzzo coast - a bustling, modern place that's probably the region's most commercial and expensive city; there are 16km of crowded beaches; ferries cross the Adriatic from Pescara to Croatia and the islands of the Dalmatian coast.

16Monte Calvario – there are several Mountains called Monte Calvario in Italy, but the one in the Abruzzo region, near Pescocostanzo, is probably that which is referred to here - Pescocostanza is an ancient Abruzzan village situated on the slopes of Monte Calvario.

17Stonchetto – no geographical reference found

18Valle Gifuni - no geographical reference found

19Colle Cardinale - no geographical reference found

20There are now at least 5 villages called Civitella in the Abruzzo region (? Which is the one referred to as place of origin of the Abbot Paglione?) :-

  • Civitella Alfedena – Province of L'Aquila, 280 inhabitants, lies in the Upper Sangro Valley at the foot of the Monti della Meta, on a gentle hill overlooking Lake Barrea, right in the heart of the Abruzzo National Park
  • Civitella Messer Raimondo - Province of Chieti, 970 inhabitants, is a medieval citadel situated on a ridge that divides the valleys of the Aventine and Verde Rivers, the beautiful Verde River flows just below the village and in its later course it joins the Aventine River. The name of the village derives from it having been owned by Raimondo Caldora, a member of one of the most important noble families in Abruzzo
  • Civitella del Tronto – Province of Teramo, 5.217 inhabitants, this medieval village is dominated by its fortress, founded in Medieval times and made famous by the siege of 1860-61, when this northernmost Bourbon citadel was the last to surrender to the armies of Vittorio Emanuele I. From the top of the Citadel it is possible to see the Montagna dei Fiori, Campli, Monte Ascensione and the Adriatic.
  • Civitella Casanova - Province of Pescara, 2.057 inhabitants
  • Civitella Roveto - Province of L'Aquila, 3.318 inhabitants

21Gessopalena - Province of Chieti, Abruzzo - This small town takes its name from the chalk quarries of the area; it has many medieval monuments. The castle had a strategic position dominating the Aventine River valley and blocking the entrance onto the Majella. During World War II Gessopalena was completely destroyed

22Roio del Sangro -Province of Chieti, Abruzzo, a small mountain village perched on a rocky spur, situated on the slopes of the Acessola and La Rocca mountains, in the middle of dense woodland. There are splendid panoramic views of the River Sangro

23Carlini - The Carlino was a coin first issued in 1278 by Charles I of Anjou; it was abandoned in the 16th Century but brought back in 1747 by Pope-King Benedict XIV with coins of ½ Carlino, 1 Carlino and 2 carlini; the rate of the unit was 7 ½ biochip

1 carlinopapetto) = 1 ½ grossi = 7 ½ baiocchi
4 carlini (2 papetti) = 3 giuli = 1 testone

This currency system was discontinued in 1866, four years before the Papal State came to an end. The last Pope-King Pius IX, introduced the more practical decimal currency (1 Lira = 20 soldi = 100 centesimi) that was already being used in other parts of Italy.

24Ducats - formerly a coin of various European countries either of gold or silver

[Middle English, from Old French, from Old Italian ducato, from Medieval Latin ductus, duchy (a word used on one of the early ducats].

Ducat - from dux leader or commander; a coin struck in the dominions of a duke.
Note: The gold ducat is generally of the value of nine shillings and four pence sterling, or somewhat more than two dollars. The silver ducat is of about half this value.

25 Transhumance - For centuries, local shepherds in this area of the Abruzzo have practiced the custom of "transhumance," moving their flocks down to the warmer pastures of Apulia (Puglia) in the fall and back in the spring, following the same age-old "tratturi" trails. A good example is the titolo trail that starts from the Santa Venere bridge in Pescasseroli.

26Enfiteusi – a type of rent used in the age of feudalism; a royal right of enjoyment of something belonging to somebody else and because it gives the holder the same powers of enjoyment as are due to the owner, it is the widest of limited royal rights; there is an obligation on the holder to improve the property and to pay an annual fee, in goods or money.

It can be obtained

  • by contract
  • by usucaption (acquisition of title or right to property by uninterrupted and undisputed possession for a prescribed term)

Enfiteusi originated and became diffuse because of the need to cultivate immense extensions of woods, swamps and otherwise uncultivable land. It distinguishes between the direct ownership of the proprietor and ownership by use of the person who is managing the property.

The right of enfiteusi became regulated in law in Italy in 1942, under article 957-977, in order to motivate productivity of the land thanks to the activity of agricultural workers.

27Tombolo – unit of measure - ? the same as the Tomolo?

28Unification of Italy - A series of political and military events resulted in the unified kingdom of Italy being formed in 1861. A brief summary is given here - for further details see

During the 18th century, many changes broke down traditional values and institutions. Liberal ideas from France and Britain spread rapidly, and from 1789 "liberal Italians" were influenced by the French Revolution. 

Until the Unification, in 1861, Italy was composed of several states with differing nationalities for the rulers; at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, some settlements were reached but the situation was still complicated:-

  • The Kingdom of Sardinia included Piedmont (Piemonte), Nice, Savoy and Genoa
  • Lombardy and Venice in the north were occupied by the Austrians
  • The Papal States, under the sovereignty of the pope, controlled the centre of the Italian peninsula
  • The Kingdom of Sicily occupied the island of Sicily and the entire southern half of the Italian peninsula
  • Other small independent states were the Duchies of Toscana (Tuscany), Parma, and Modena.  In each of these states, the monarchs (all relatives of the Habsburgs, the ruling family of Austria) exercised absolute powers of government.

People having great influence on the Unification included:-

  • Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian patriot spearheaded a national revolutionary movement.
  • Giuseppe Garibaldi went to the United States in 1848, settled in Staten Island, New York, and later became a US citizen; the same year he returned to Italy and participated (again) in the movement for Italian freedom and unification, which became widely known as the Risorgimento (Italian for "revival").
  • Count Camillo di Cavour became prime minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1852. His leadership and accommodating policies led to the unification of Italy in little more than a decade.

 Rome did not unite with Italy until October 1870 and, in July 1871, Rome became the capital of the united Italy.

© Amici di Torricella

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca

  <=Back to Index