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The management of the commons in north Italy, 12th - 18th centuries


Start project


End Project


Main topic



This project intends to study the north Italian commons by means of an interdisciplinary approach. The scholars involved in the project are specialists of different disciplines, including social and economic historians, specialists of the Medieval and Early Modern period, and economists.


The project has two main objectives:

  1. to provide an accurate and detailed picture of the many different kinds of commons existing in north Italy, not only in the mountains or in marginal areas but also in good farming lands of the Po plain. The intent is to overcome the current situation, characterised by the focus being placed on specific situations that consequently tend to be unduly considered as “representative”. The kinds of commons studied by project members include woods and pastures placed on hilly and mountain areas; good arable lands, paddy fields and water streams placed in the plains; water mills, forges and other productive buildings; and many others;
  2. to analyze with particular attention the issue of how the commons were managed, providing comparisons in time and space. In this regards, there is currently a clear need for more studies on Italy, as this area has been largely missed by recent European surveys on the management of common lands in the early modern period.


A fundamental characteristic of this project is the very long period it intends to cover, from the late Middle Ages when the rules regulating access to the common resources were codified by the communities, up until the eve of the nineteenth century. During this period, the commons were intensely “used”, to the benefit of those having right to using them. Also throughout the period, the commons were progressively eroded; the hypothesis suggested by the project is that such long-term erosion of the commons (as opposed to specific moments when their very survival was at stake) should be considered as intrinsic to the way in which they were managed. Related to this, the project is also particularly interested in the complex social and economic dynamics related to the commons, which brought to attrition or conflict between different groups within the communities (nobles vs commoners; rich vs poor; “original” inhabitants vs immigrants…) and between different institutions having claims on a specific territory.



  • Bocconi University, Milan: Prof. Guido Alfani
  • University of Bergamo: Prof. Riccardo Rao

Funding body



  • Bocconi University, Milan: Prof. Guido Alfani
  • University of Bergamo: Prof. Riccardo Rao
  • Contact details

    Prof. Guido Alfani


    Prof. Riccardo Rao

    Links to project

    Alfani, G. and Rao, R. (eds.), 2011. La gestione delle risorse collettive. Italia settentrionale, secoli XII - XVIII. Milan: Franco Angeli.



    See also information on Italian commons on this website, click here.