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Amalfi (1 of 3)
by
Bill Austin, Barry Nelson, Jon Kaiser
Ital333, Prof. Barbara Nucci, March 1999
     

 Of all the places one can choose to explore in Italy, Amalfi is certainly one of the most interesting, if not the most beautiful.  According to myth, the god Hercules built the city on the spot where he buried the nymph Melphe, whom he loved (Matonti, 18).  More likely, Amalfi was the settlement of Romans who were shipwrecked during a journey to Constantinople in the 4th Century AD while escaping Barbarian attacks on Rome (Converso, 114).  In this respect, Amalfi is truly a product of the decline and disintegration of the Western Roman Empire.  Amalfi is a medieval city, and its historical pinnacle was during this era. 

A Chronology of
Events in Italy

60,000 BC - 1300 AD

1300 AD - 1998 AD

      Amalfi comes to our attention for several reasons, not the least of which is its shear beauty.  It was the first of the four Maritime Republics of Italy (De Vero, 40).  It was through Amalfi that paper is introduced to Europe (De Vero, 64; Senzanonna, 2).  Through its prowess of the seas and dominance in international trade, Amalfi drafted the most effective code of maritime law of the time, the ‘Tabula Amalphitana’, which was adopted by all the maritime powers of the area.  The compass was reportedly first used by Amalfi ships and invented by Flavio Gioia of Amalfi, whose statue can be seen between the sea and the entrance to the city (Matonti, 28) 
       From its beginning, Amalfi was economically strong (Matonti, 18), a testament to what a community can do if left to its own design.  Although officially ruled by the Byzantine Empire for three centuries from 533 AD, it was in practice autonomous, even electing its own leaders.  The Longobards in Salerno captured Amalfi in 838 and transported much of the population back to Salerno, but they rebelled and with the help of Arab mercenaries, regained their freedom the next year and returned to Amalfi, but not before burning Salerno to the ground and killing their leader (Converso, 116).  From 850 to the 11th Century, Amalfi was an independent republic with control of a vast territory adjoining the Duchy of Naples (Matonti, 18)

        In 849, the Amalfi fleet was instrumental in the defeat of an Arab invasion moving toward Rome, and in 872 the fleet rescued the Bishop of Naples whom Duke Sergio had imprisoned in Castel dell’ Ovo (Converso, 117).  In 1039 internal disputes gave Salerno an excuse to invade Amalfi again.  They regained their independence 15 years later, however, with the help of the Normans, who were only too happy to march into the city, ostensibly as allies.  Not surprisingly, in 1131 the Normans took their turn at dominating Amalfi, and it was never again to be an independent state (Converso, 118; De Vero, 48).  The town was attacked and looted by Pisans in 1135 and 1137.  Even the sea, the conduit of Amalfi’s commerce and wealth, ravaged the town in 1013, 1270, and 1343, washing away perhaps as much as half of the town.  Finally, with the close of the Middle Ages and by now a part of the all powerful Kingdom of Naples, The King of Naples, Ferdinand I, gave Amalfi away as a dowry to his daughter, Maria (Converso 118).

 

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