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The Feudal System

With first the Normans and then the Hohenstaufen (1220-1266), besides the institution of particularly efficient state structures that formed a network of control throughout the territory, there was introduced into Italy, with all its juridical implications, the feudal system. This further favoured the expansion of large establishments, whether civil or ecclesiastical, but conserved for the towns sufficient independence to guarantee the development of economic activities.

Frederick II also made a notable cultural contribution. He founded the University of Naples and encouraged the formation of the Sicilian School, which made a fundamental contribution to the development of the new Italian language, alongside the contemporary Tuscan poets and prose-writers. The enlightened absolutism of Frederick II was however accompanied by an administrative reform (Constitution of Melfi, 1231) favouring bureaucracy and tax collection. The latter, in particular, imposed restrictions on economic activities.

Northern and Central Italy after the bitter contests of feudal lords, like Guy of Spoleto and Berengar of Friuli, was conquered, after the collapse of the Carolingian Empire, by Otto I of Saxony(951). He was crowned Holy Roman Emperor (962) by the pope, thus uniting the crowns of Italy and Germany in a relationship that was to last for some thousand years.

Again in Northern Italy, the city of Venice had managed to become independent. Founded on the lagoon by refugees from Aquileia destroyed by the Huns of Attila, it had initially developed under the protection of Byzantium.

Lacking a hinterland for centuries, the city was governed by a Maggior Consiglio presided over by a doge, supporting itself essentially by sea trade. It managed to achieve a monopoly over Eastern Mediterranean traffic by establishing permanent commercial bases (fondachi) that were often transformed into colonies.

In this quest for sea trade, Venice was often in competition with other marine republics. Genoa, for example, managed at the beginning of the 11C to conquer Corsica and Sardinia. Amalfi codified maritime law with its `Tabulae Amalfitanae'. While Pisa, who beseiged Sardinia (1116), was permanently defeated by Genoa at the sea battle of Meloria (1284). Perhaps the most significant factor in their development, however, were the Crusades (10-13C).