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last hundred years of the Western Roman Empire, from the
second half of the 4C, coincided with large migrations of
Germanic peoples (Visigoths, Vandals, Burgundians, Huns,
Heruli, Alemanni etc.) who on different occasions settled
within her territories. At the same time economic conditions
also reflected the political instability of the imperial
government, it deteriorated gradually and was accompanied by
a chronic fall in population.
Already by the 5C the Italian population had been reduced to
some six million inhabitants.
the end of the Western Roman Empire the Italian territory
remained basically united, first under the rule of Odoacer
and then that of Theodoric the Ostrogoth (493-526). Under
the latter, the country had periods of relative economic
prosperity and peace. This was also due to the contribution
of illustrious Romanists such as Boethius, Cassiodorus and
in this period that the influence of the Christian church
began to make itself felt more consistently. This was in
contrast to the progressive orientalization of the Empire,
now focused on its new capital of Costantinople, founded by
the emperor Constantine between 326-330 on the site of the
ancient Greek colony of Byzantium. The Christian church
sought to continue the authority and prestige of Rome. In
particular there emerged the figures of popes such as Leo I
(440-461) and Gregory the Great (590-604) who were capable
of bringing prestige to the institution they represented.
Under the latter in particular, the church also began to
assume political and administrative functions due to
repeated territorial acquisitions (St. Peter's patrimony).
at the end of the 4C there began to flower western
monachism, with its major figure in St. Benedict of Nursia
(480-543). The Benedictine monasteries and abbeys, but also
those of other orders, became already in the early Middle
Ages not only places of religion but centres for the
preservation and spread of culture. In addition, they took
an important economic role due to their schemes for the
drainage and use of lands devastated and depopulated by
recurrent war. The papacy, monasteries and other
ecclesiastical institutions found themselves in possession
of huge estates, often enlarged by further donations, that
contributed to strengthen their political authority and
deterioration in relations between Theodoric's successors
and the Eastern Empire offered the emperor Justinian
(527-565) the opportunity to re-unite the Empire.
he did at the price of a difficult conflict, the
Graeco-Gothic War (535-553), which had grave consequences
for the Italian territory as it was placed under the
government of the Exarchate of Ravenna.
Normans were professional soldiers and rapidly took
control of all Southern Italy, Sicily included. Their rule
lasted for almost two centuries, from 1029 (acquisition of
Aversa) to 1220, which was the year of Frederick II of
Hohenstaufen's accession to the Sicilian throne.
this quest for sea trade, Venice was often in competition
with other marine republics. Genoa, for example, managed at
the beginning of the 11C to conquer Corsica and Sardinia.
Amalfi codified maritime law with its `Tabulae Amalfitanae'.
While Pisa, who beseiged Sardinia (1116), was permanently
defeated by Genoa at the sea battle of Meloria (1284).
Perhaps the most significant factor in their development,
however, were the Crusades (10-13C).
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