Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Matilda of Canossa (ca. 1100 AD)

Medieval Italy: Matilda of Canossa (ca. 1100 AD)

Matilda of Canossa

By about 900 AD, the Holy Roman Emperors started to lose power over Northern Italy. The Counts of Canossa controlled most of Northern Italy: FlorencePisa, Siena, Genoa.

Matilda of Canossa
Holy Roman Empire
Early Medieval Venice
All our medieval Europe articles

St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, Italy (about 1100 AD)

St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy (about 1100 AD)

Around the year 1000 AD, a new city called Venice, in Northern Italy near Greece, became very rich by trading along the Silk Road. Venice was supposedly under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, but really Venice was strong enough that the Byzantine Emperors couldn’t tell Venice what to do.

Italian city-states

After Matilda of Canossa died without children in 1115 AD, Northern Italy split up into a lot of independent city-states. This arrangement was like classical Greece, or West Asia in the Sumerian period. The cities were republics, with elected leaders.

Republic of Florence
Pisa in the Middle Ages
Genoa and trade
Holy Roman Empire

Italy and the Silk Road

Like Venice, they traded with Islamic merchants, buying steelsugarpaper, and cotton on the Silk Road, and selling wool clothtinsilver, and wine. The cities got rich from all the trade. The Italian cities were always fighting each other and with the Papal States to their south, as well as with the French to the north. The Holy Roman Emperor tried to get control of these North Italian cities, because they were so rich, but he never really managed it.

History of wool
Tin and bronze
History of silver
Wine and wine-making

The baptistery of Pisa, Italy

The baptistery of Pisa, Italy

The Popes in central Italy

In the center, the Papal States were also pretty weak between 900 AD and about 1200 AD. Still they held onto the whole middle of the Italian peninsula. Mostly the Popes were able to stay in power because they had the help of the French kings.

Who were the Popes?
Medieval French kings

The French kings were afraid that the Germans (the Holy Roman Emperors) would take over Italy and become more powerful than France. So the French kings always helped the Popes when the Germans attacked them.

The Normans in South Italy

Constance of Sicily (late 1100s AD) A white woman in a tall headdress

Constance of Sicily (late 1100s AD)

In southern Italy, the Normans, descendants of the Vikings, conquered the Islamic states by about 1100 AD and from then on, the Normans ruled Naples and southern Italy (and Sicily) for many years.

Who were the Normans?
Islamic empire history

Like the other ports further north, Naples was also an important and rich trading port. So in the High Middle Ages, too, Italy continued to be divided into three zones: North Italy with its independent cities, central Italy under the Popes, and southern Italy, under Norman rule.

Learn by doing: build a castle
More about Late Medieval Italy

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Italy:


Late Medieval Italy
Medieval Europe home