Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft

New People, New Systems, New Landscapes: Archival and Paleoecological Witnesses to Migration and Environment in Early Medieval Italy

At local and regional levels, the most profound drivers of landscape change in the past two millennia were those connected to human activities, or their sudden absence. The objectives of this project are to bring together written records (primarily historical and archival and archive-like sources) and archaeological data with paleoenvironment and past-climate records in natural archives to determine the impact of human activities on past landscapes in central Italy, focused primarily on two sites: the Rieti basin and Lucca.  While large scale climatic changes and continental-wide political and demographic disruptions could and did influence both landscapes and human activities, these impacts are difficult to determine at local levels where our sources are the highest resolution.


In the case studies of these two local areas, the strongest drivers of change in the period of the early Middle Ages (500-1000) were associated with the arrival of the Lombards, and the establishment of new political systems, economic priorities, and eventually large landholding institutions under later regimes. While these influenced why a landscape changed, they can also be matched against how it changed in the paleoecological record extrapolated of fossil pollen preserved in late sediment.  In Rieti, these changes were manifested in human-controlled reduced woodland from 600-750, followed with the recovery of secondary woodlands from 750-900.  The first phase coincided with a shift to new models of silvopastoralism and a greater value being placed on livestock (likely pigs), manifested in selective thinning of forest with a preference for keeping oaks for pannage; the second phase coincided with the slow emergence of large-scale institutional landowners in the form of monasteries and churches, which employed longer time horizons for exploitation. Although the data has yet to be systematically analyzed, in Lucca the paleoecological record illuminates different moments where newly cultivated commodities – like olives and cereals – appear in substantial quantity in the eighth and ninth century.  Further investigation of the documentary record may help to explain the human drivers that led to these changes in production, or demonstrate the outcomes of these actions.