Case studies - Commons - Italy

Universitas Casalium, Calabria, Italy

   

Type of institution for collective action

Common

Name/description institution  

Universitas Casalium (Universal domain land of Cosenza and its hamlets)

Country

Italy

Region

Calabria

Name of city or specified area 

Cosenza

Further specification location (e.g. borough, street etc.)

The city of Cosenza and the neighboring villages revolving around the uplands of Sila, known as the hamlets.

Surface area and boundaries

980 square kilometers in its most prosperous period as estimated by Fausto Cozzetto (2009) by taking into account the current areas of the following towns in the province of Cosenza: Atilia, Aprigliano, Belsito, Bianchi, Carpanzano, Casole Bruzio, Castiglione, Cosenrino, Celico, Cellara, Colosimi, Cosenza, Dipignano, Figline Vegliaruro, Grimaldi, Malito, Mangone, Marzi, Panettieri, Parenti, Paterno, Pedace, Pedìvigliano, Piane Crati, Pietrafitta, Rogliano, Rovito, San Pietro in Guarano, Santo refano di Rogliano, Scigliano, Serra Pedace, pezzano della Sila, Spezzano Piccolo, Trenta, Zumpano.  

Foundation/start of institution, date or year

approx. 12th century

Foundation year: is this year the confirmed year of founding or is this the year this institution is first mentioned?

The first (probably incomplete) set of rules dates back to 1300 and is only known from a later transcription of those rules. Given the range of subjects mentioned in this oldest set of rules, it appears that the regulation of 1300 either was an integral copy of a previous set, or the first recording of rules, formerly known by heart by all commoners and practiced in the manner of customary law.

Foundation act present?

No. Multiple formal documents however bear witness of the existence of this institution, at least since Frederick II (1198-1212).

Description of Act of foundation

N/a, see also above. The creation of universitas can be traced back as far as the Roman Age, as an attempt to assimilate ancient collective forms of universal customary rights. However, universitas were only legally recognized by Germanic kings in the aftermath of the Roman Empire. In southern Italy, universal domain lands were assimilated by the institutional structure of the Kingdom of Naples, as confirmed in formal acts composed under the reign of Frederick II (1198-1212).  

Year of termination of institution

1806

Year of termination: estimated or confirmed?

Confirmed.

Act regarding termination present?

 

No specific act, see below. 

Description Act of termination

No specific act, see below. 

Reason for termination?

The dissolution of universitas all over the Kingdom of Naples was a gradual process that cannot be pinpointed exactly in time. The law promulgated on September 1, 1806 by the French occupator ('Terre comuni ed usi civici in Sicilia prima dell'abolizione della feudalità') started the official dissolution of the feudal system, endorsing different forms of ownership based on private property and leaving universitas with a marginal role. Despite the Bourbon restauration in 1815 was accompanied by an attempt to reinstate the feudal system, collective ownership never recovered from this legislative blow. Actually, universitates were never officially dissolved, but they changed their institutional structure, becoming modern municipalities as we know them today.

Recognized by local government?

Yes. It was recognized by local government and later incorporated in royal regulations through a series of decrees that acknowledged its existence and recognized its independence (see historical account below).

Concise history of institution

General

The uplands of Sila constitute one of the richest and most bio-diverse areas of the Mediterranean environment, and since 1968 form the pounding heart of the National Park of Calabria, its surface almost completely (about 12,000 out of 13,452 hectares (Ciolli 1982, 155-67)) covered by uplands. Since ancient times, the rich eco-system of Sila provided lively resources for the population inhabiting its surroundings. Numerous human settlements were created around these uplands, which drew their daily sustenance from the rich natural resources through sylvo-pastoral activities deeply enrooted in conviviality (Tallarico 1950, 13; Intrieri 2010, 15). The basic subsistence activities of these people mainly consisted in seasonal cattle farming, as well as wood gathering, fishing, and some small agricultural activities such as the farming of potatoes and rye. While the lands of Sila had always functioned as a common-pool resource for the people inhabiting the area known as Cosenza and its hamlets, during the Middle-Ages collective practices became institutionally recognized and integrated in the local feudal system through a complex judicial structure. Thus, the common lands of Sila began to be managed by a municipal entity of commoners, known as the Universitas Casalium, in charge of organizing material life around social patterns of conviviality. 
Institution: Universitas Casalium

Since its creation with King Roger the Norman in 1130, the Kingdom of Naples was divided in twelve provinces; the fifth region, was known as Calabria Citra, or land of Bruzi. Its main city, Cosenza, and the hamlets surrounding it – 85 settlements in 1619 – constituted the Universitas Casalium (Enrico Bacco Alemanno 1671, 2). For several centuries, this institution constituted the main management instrument of judicial power aimed at regulating material life, by defining rules for the access to the natural resources of the area, mainly regarding rich woods of the mountains of Sila that was for centuries the source of the raw material for the construction of naval infrastructures within the Kingdom of Naples (Cozzetto 2005, 266). Beyond royal interests, the uplands of Sila served as the main form of subsistence for the population of Cosenza and its hamlets, who organized their material life around activities such grazing, sowing, and wood gathering. 

Although not an explicit judicial entity the institutionalizing of local cooperation is confirmed by documents related to the Kingdom of Frederick II (1198-1212), who created multiple peripheral institutional organs known as bagliva, that were meant to collect taxes, and guaranteed the right to resource access for citizens of Cosenza and its numerous surrounding hamlets, sometimes more populous than the city itself, especially on the Crati Valley. The existence of the Universitas Casalium was formally recognized by a legal document promulgated in 1330 by King Robert of Anjou, addressing the inhabitants of Cosenza and its hamlets as 'universitas et homine'. The same Robert of Anjou later acknowledged the independence of the Universitas Casalium in a decree promulgated in 1333, when he declared the lands of Sila to be a royal domain and officially granted access to its natural resources to the citizens of Cosenza and its hamlets (Cozzetto 2005, 266-67). These legislative acts endorsed collective properties and allowed local inhabitants to exercise their traditional activities in all the territories recognized as common lands, or comuni (Placanica 1999, 166). 

Thus, the creation of the Universitas Casalium was tantamount to the development of representative municipal structures, governing the Cosenza and its hamlets: a system of local parliaments, constituted by heads of local households elected its own representative, known as cedola, who participated in the parliament of the Universitas Casalium. The general assembly – known as Consiglio – reunited in the mother-church of Cosenza and was moderated by four elected representatives, three of them called sindaci and the fourth one mastrogiurato, in charge of security (Cozzetto 2005, 276; D’Alessandro 2015). Accordingly, different were the rights that this institution exercised on local territories according to the specific legal regulation. The lands destined to local commoners were known as comuni and were opened to traditional activities such as cattle farming, sowing and wood gathering. The exercise of pastoral activities was also allowed on partially private lands, known as terre corse, and, together with wood gathering, on territories destined to wood extraction from the Crown, known as camere chiuse (Parrilli, Winspeare, and Giannattasio 1824).

Despite this articulated pattern of land distribution, commoners had to face multiple threats to their rights to access common lands, mainly from illegal expropriations by feudal barons and later on by an emerging middle class. Multiple are the evidence of civil actions and demonstration against illegal expropriations as well as written pleas to the royal institutions, whose ambivalent behavior only partially favored the commoners’ cause. These problems were exacerbated by the beginning of the nineteenth century, more specifically with the French invasion in 1806 that formally abolished the feudal system, redistributing common properties among municipalities and private actors.  

The Bourbon restauration in 1815 was accompanied by the attempt to restore the feudal system and therefore the commoners’ cause found unprecedented institutional support. However, the economic power of landowners was consolidated, as well as their institutional influence, as witnessed by their ability to influence state functionaries, both nationally and locally. Not even the creation of a special organ in 1838 – known as the Civil Commissariat for the Affairs of Sila – explicitly designed in order to monitor expropriations and to guarantee the delimitation of common lands was effective in guaranteeing the functioning of the commons. 

Special events? Highs and lows? Specific problems or problematic periods?

Consolidation of the Institution

  • 14th-15th century: major consolidation and territorial enlargement of the Universitas Casalium
    • 1381: encounter of three inhabitants of the universitas with the Queen Joanna I of Naples, resulting in achieving better tax conditions directly to the Crown. Shortly after this event, some reforms were implemented by Ladislaus of Naples, enlarging the borders of the Universitas Casalium and adding several towns located South-West of Cosenza, increasing its overall amount by 40 percent (Cozzetto 2005, 271-73).
    • 1416: Queen Joanna II of Naples conceded universal citizenship rights to all inhabitants of the Universitas Casalium – and therefore free access to all the common lands located in the area – in an democratic political move unprecedented in the kingdom of Naples (Cozzetto 2009, 70).
    • second half of the 15th century: Universitas Casalium was one of the most advanced institutions of southern Italy with a population of over 25,000 people and 69 hamlets in total – only second to the municipal area of Naples.
  • second half of the 15th century: low point was the Aragonese monarchy occupying territories of the Universitas Casalium in order to suppress popular revolts against the increase of bagliva tax (Cozzetto 2005, 283; 2009, 69). Although a rather tragic moment in the history of the institution, this revolt also demonstrated the substantial autonomy of local communities and of their representative organs, whose deliberations could manifest radical opposition to the crown rule.
  • 1662: Another very important event was the physical delimitation of common lands in the uplands of Sila, following the protests of local citizens against illegal expropriations. This action led to the delimitation of the most important local commons of the Universitas Casalium, using 87 pillars and condemned expropriators to compensate the crown for the damage inflicted (Parrilli, Winspeare, and Giannattasio 1824, 26-27). The combination of local mobilizations and institutional intervention succeeded in preserving the interests of the local communities and managed to contrast this increasingly problematic phenomenon, at least temporarily.


Decline of the Institution


  • end of the 18th-beginning of the 19th century: land expropriations steadily multiplied, causing social unrest and increasing economic division (see ASN, Minstero di Polizia). Expropriations did not only come from local barons – so far the rivals par excellence of the commoners – but from an emerging middle-class that embodied the rising class, known as i galantuomini, literally “the gentlemen”. The pronounced amount of expropriations during this time was confirmed by the inquiry carried out by judge Giuseppe Zurlo in 1791, assessing the delimitation of common lands and exposing every expropriation phenomena occurred since 1662 (Zurlo 1791)
  • 1806: As already mentioned above, the abolition of feudality proclaimed in by the French king Joseph Bonaparte and perpetrated by his successor, Joachim Murat, signaled the official dissolution of the Universitas Casalium, in spite of the attempts to reinstate collective properties in the Kingdom of Naples in the aftermath of the Bourbonic Restauration.

 

Membership

 

Numbers of members (specified)

All citizens belonging to the Universitas Casalium, involving Cosenza and its hamlets, were represented by this institution.

Membership attainable for every one, regardless of social class or family background?

As illustrated above, every head of household could take part in local parliaments and become representative of its own town, becoming a cedola in the parliament of the Universitas Casalium. This meant a certain openness to citizens from different social classes and family backgrounds, although gender bias must have been very pronounced given the times.

Specific conditions for obtaining membership? (Entrance fee, special tests etc.)

Being an official resident citizen of Cosenza or one of the villages included in the jurisdiction of the Universitas Casalium.

Specific reasons regarding banning members from the institution?

No evidence points out people being banned from the institution. Naturally, the access to the commons being restricted to people inhabiting a specific territory, relocation could be a reason for losing membership rights and therefore be prevented from certain activities or be compelled to pay a higher usufruct tax, as pointed out by state functionaries Parrilli, Winspeare, and Giannattasio in a legal reconstruction of the commons of the Universitas Casalium in 1824. However, given the complex system of land division, trespassing both from feudal barons and from commoners was a frequent issue. Several early laws promulgated between the twelfth and thirteenth century proclaim the need to pay a fine for free-riding and trespassing (Barletta 1864, vol. I). Moreover, land expropriation was surely the main issue, as demonstrated by an early edict decreed by Queen of Sicily Constance in 1198 that possible abuses needed to be monitored by local communities upon demand of the monarchy (Barletta 1864, 15-6).

Advantages of membership?

Free access to resources of the Royal domain lands of Sila, according to normative territorial specificities, as illustrated above.

Obligations of members? 

Every universitas had to collect money from its members in order to pay a tax to the Royal government, known as bagliva. People appointed to collect this tax were known as baglivi and they assured institutional protection in case of illegal expropriations of common lands (Parrilli, Winspeare, and Giannattasio 1824, 61). The bagliva was complemented by a territorial tax on sowing, known as granetteria. Transactions from every universitas of the kingdom were later double-checked by a royal organ known as Regia Camera della Sommaria. Given the relative low value of these taxes, whose combination reached about 20 ounces per year, it appears evident that this obligation mainly existed in order to guarantee stability and protect local communities. The bagliva was however substantially reformed in 1618 and divided in different taxes, related to different uses, such as those on cattle farming and wood gathering (both known as fida), and other jurisdictional rights such as hunting and transhumance licenses (Parrilli, Winspeare, and Giannattasio 1824, 24). A thorough account of these transactions can be found at the National Archive of Naples (ASN, Regia Sila, Conti della Bagliva).  

Literature on case study

  • Basile, A. 1961. La questione silana dal 1838 al 1876. Atti del 2° Congresso Storico Calabrese: , 463-79.
  • Basile, A. 1958. Moti contadini in Calabria dal 1848 al 1870. Excerpt from the Archive for Calabria and Lucania XXVII, fasc. I-II.
  • Bulgarelli Lukacs, A. 2015. I beni comuni nell’Italia meridionale: le istituzioni per il loro management. Glocale. Rivista molisana in storia e scienze sociali. 9-10: 119-38.
  • Ciolli, M. 1982. Parco nazionale della Calabria. In: Parchi e riserve naturali in Italia. Milan: Touring Club Italiano, 155-67.
  • Corona, G. 1995. Demani ed individualismo agrario nel regno di Napoli (1780-1806). Naples: Edizioni Scientifiche Italiane.
  • Corona, G. 2009. The Decline of the Commons and the Environmental Balance in Early Modern Italy. In: Nature and History in Modern Italy, eds. Armiero, M. and Hall, R. 89-107. Athens: Ohio University Press.
  • Cozzetto, F. 2009. Cosenza e i suoi casali nella prima età spagnola. In: La Calabria del viceregno spagnolo. Storia arte architettura e urbanistica, ed. Anselmi, A, 69-92. Roma: Gangemi.
  • Cozzetto, F. 2005. Una grande università: Cosenza e i suoi Casali. In: Città e contado nel Mezzogiorno tra Medioevo ed età moderna, ed. Vitolo, G., 261-86. Battipaglia: Laveglia & Carlone.
  • D’Alessandro, E. 2015. Il progetto Universitas Casalium – 3000 posti letto in 30 paesi albergo. L’esperienza dei Casali di Cosenza. Atti del XXVII Convegno annuale di Sinergie -. Heritage, managemente impresa: quali sinergie?.
  • Intrieri, L. 2010. La ripartizione delle terre fra i comuni silani nel 1889. Periodico dell’Istituto calabrese per la storia dell’antifascismo e dell’Italia contemporanea, 1, 5-30.
  • Meluso, S. 1997. La Sila e la sua gente. San Giovanni in Fiore: Edizioni Grafica Florens.
  • Placanica, A. 1999. Storia della Calabria dall’antichità ai giorni nostri. Rome: Donzelli.
  • Tallarico, G. 1950. La Sila ed i suoi valori. Roma: Ramo Editoriale degli Agricoltori S. A.

Sources on case study

Archival sources


  • National Archive of Naples (ASN), Conti delle Università
  • National Archive of Naples, Regia Sila
  • National Archive of Cosenza (ASC), Demanio Silano
  • National Archive of Naples, Ministero delle Finanze, fascicolo 11706, Corrispondenza tenuta col Commessario Civile dall’anno 1838 al 1850, volumi I-IV.
  • National Archive of Naples, Ministero di Polizia, fascicolo numero 2298, anni 1840-1841 volume IV.

 

Historical documents


  • Bacco Alemanno, E. 1671. Descrittione del Regno di Napoli. Eds. by Ottavio Belrano e Novello de Bonis. Naples.
  • Barletta, P. 1864. Leggi e documenti anteriori all’anno 1806. In: Leggi e documenti antichi e nuovi relativi alla Sila di Calabria, I-III.
  • Bisceglia, D. 1791. Per li possessori di difese nel tenimento della Sila di Cosenza. Naples.
  • Branca, A. 1883. Relazione del commissario comm. Ascanio Branca, deputato al Parlamento, sulla seconda Circoscrizione (provincie di Potenza, Cosenza, Catanzaro e Reggio-Calabria). Atti della Giunta per la inchiesta agraria e sulle condizioni della classe agricola 9(1).
  • de Rivera, A. 1828. Memoria relativa allo scioglimento della promiscuità delle proprietà nella Regia Sila, Naples. Legge e regolamento sulla Sila Regia, Roma 1877.
  • Lombardi, L. 1885. Delle origini e delle vicende degli usi civici nelle provincie napoletane. Naples: Tipografia Municipale.
  • Marenghi, E. 1909. Calabrie: relazione del delegato tecnico prof. Ernesto Marenghi. In: Inchiesta parlamentare sulle condizioni dei contadini nelle province meridionali e nella Sicilia  5(2)
  • Parrilli, B., Winspeare, D., and Giannattasio, G. 1824. Dritti e Ragioni de’ Comuni di Cosenza e de’ così detti suoi Casali sul Demanio della Sila. Naples.
  • S.a., 1806. Sulla divisione dei demani di qualsivoglia natura, feudali o di chiesa, comunali o promiscui (September 1, 1806).
  • Zurlo, G. 1791. Stato della regia Sila liquidato nel 1790 da Giuseppe Zurlo, Naples. 

Links to further information on case study:

https://sites.google.com/site/documentinelcassetto/altavilla-di-lappano-storie-leggende-tradizioni-cultura/il-quadro-storico

Case study composed by

Claudio de Majo, Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich)

 

Consolidation of the Institution

The moment of major consolidation and territorial enlargement of the Universitas Casalium can be traced back between 14th and 15th century. First, as demonstrated by a document of 1381, the inhabitants of the universitas were able to negotiate better tax condition directly to the Crown, as witnessed by encounter of three citizens with the Queen Joanna I of Naples. Shortly after this event, some reforms were implemented by Ladislaus of Naples, enlarging the borders of the Universitas Casalium and adding several towns located South-West of Cosenza, increasing its overall amount by 40% (Cozzetto 2005, 271-273). Moreover, in 1416 the queen Joanna II conceded universal citizenship rights to all the inhabitants of the Universitas Casalium – and therefore free access to all the common lands located in the area – in an democratic political move unprecedented in the kingdom of Naples (Cozzetto 2009, 70). However, although by the second half of the 15th century it was one of the most advanced institutions of southern Italy with a population of over 25.000 people and 69 hamlets in total – only second to the municipal area of Naples – the second half of the 15th century also signed a low point in the history of the Universitas Casalium (Cozzetto 2009, 69). In fact, the Aragonese monarchy had to occupy its territories in order to suppress popular revolts against the increase of bagliva tax (Cozzetto 2005, 283). Although a rather tragic moment in the history of the institution, this revolt also demonstrated the substantial autonomy of local communities and of their representative organs, whose deliberations could manifest radical opposition to the crown rule.   

Another very important event was the physical delimitation of common lands in the uplands of Sila, following the protests of local citizens in 1662 against illegal expropriations. This action led to the delimitation of the most important local commons of the Universitas Casalium, using 87 pillars and condemned expropriators to compensate the crown for the damage inflicted (Parrilli, Winspeare, Giannattasio 1824, 26-27). The combination of local mobilizations and institutional intervention succeeded in preserving the interests of the local communities and managed to contrast this increasingly problematic phenomenon, at least temporarily.

Decline of the Institution

Between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, land expropriations steadily multiplied, causing social unrest and increasing economic division (see ASN, Minstero di Polizia). Expropriations did not only come from local barons – so far the rivals par excellence of the commoners – but from an emerging middle-class that embodied the rising class, known as i galantuomini, literally “the gentlemen”. The pronounced amount of expropriations during this time was confirmed by the inquiry carried out by judge Giuseppe Zurlo in 1791, assessing the delimitation of common lands and exposing every expropriation phenomena occurred since 1662 (Zurlo 1791)

As already mentioned above, the abolition of feudality proclaimed in 1806 by the French king Joseph Bonaparte and perpetrated by his successor, Joachim Murat, signaled the official dissolution of the Universitas Casalium, in spite of the attempts to reinstate collective properties in the Kingdom of Naples in the aftermath of the Bourbonic Restauration.