Italy: Medieval history

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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The fall of the Roman empire did not put an end to viticulture in Italy, but barbarization and economic collapse meant the disappearance of the market for fine wines. With Goths, then Lombards, in Rome and most of the north, and the remains of the empire administered precariously from Ravenna, Falernian, and Caecuban had become distant memories. Yet the Italian diet remained based on bread, olives, and wine, and so wine continued to be grown as one of the necessities of Mediterranean life.

The Dark Ages were a period of economic stagnation; except for the importation of luxury goods from the Near East, trade was local. We know little about the wine that was grown until the 11th century, when population, production, and exchange increased, and Italy, particularly northern Italy, became politically and economically the most important part of Europe (see genoa and venice). Between the 11th and the 14th centuries, the population of Italy doubled to between 7 and 9 million inhabitants. People of all social classes migrated to the towns, including members of the nobility. As a result, urban communes came to govern the countryside. South of Tuscany, however, the aristocracy lived near the land and the feudal system, with its lack of distinction between trade and agriculture persisted.