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Was a lease effective as a weapon of lordship? The use of documents in the principality of Salerno (10th-11th Century)

Was a lease effective as a weapon of lordship? The use of documents in the principality of Salerno (10th-11th Century)

By Yoshiya Nishimura

Reti Medievali Rivista, Volume 18, Numver 2, 2017

Ploughing – British Library MS Additional 42130 f. 170

Introduction: It is well known that private charters such as leases in early medieval Italy are characterized by highly structured forms and fixed formulas. This formalism of the “private charters” tends to obscure the reality of Italian countryside and conceal the transformation of the economic climate and social structures that might have happened. Vice versa, the change of the forms and formulas of documents may express only change in the documentation culture of notaries.

However, the production of charters was not only the result of the mere writing of documents by notaries. The scribes elaborated the legal instruments through their day-to-day documentation practices, in order that the charters might correspond to the demands of various actors such as the publicum and landlords, who were concerned with estate management and socio-economic ties with peasants. In particular, landlords could, in certain cases, intervene in the choice, as well as in the elaboration, of documentary forms and terms, because charters could become, in certain circumstances, effective means both to strengthen social controls over tenants or to increase revenue from their lands.


In this paper, I will try to find any clues to overcome the barrier originating from the rigid formalism of charters, through an examination of the leases of the tenth and eleventh centuries preserved in the monastic archive of the Holy Trinity at Cava dei Tirreni. Special attention will be given, on the one hand, to the characteristics of the leases in southern Italy under the Lombard traditions and, on the other hand, to the strategic use of these documents by landlords, especially by the church of San Massimo in Salerno. Then, the effects of such strategies will be evaluated, i.e. if, and to what extent, their aims concerning land management and control over tenants were achieved.

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