A little history
Historically, Basilicata was not a region in itself, but rather a part of a vast territory occupied by the Lucani people who ranged from the Ionio in the east to the Tyrrhenean Sea in the west. In Roman times, too, Basilicata was part of the third Augustinian region of Lucania-Bruzio. One can say, however, that Basilicata was severely troubled during ancient times, with the possible exception of some coastal cities, by the struggle between Greeks and the Indigenous people (Sannites and later, Romans) and then by Romans against the Invaders (Pirro and Hannibal), such that it was unable to raise itself to any social or cultural importance even during the long and peaceful centuries of the Roman Empire. Towards the end of ancient times, barbaric invasions, anarchy, and devastation with the subsequent diffusion of malaria, forced people from the plains to higher ground: as a result, the populous Italian-Greek towns disappeared, and the region slowly took on its modern day characteristics; populated towns on high ground, communal land, flooded areas and malaria on low ground.
The first centuries of medieval times were characterised by the conflict between the Greeks encamped along the coast lines and the Goths and, at a later stage, the Longbards pushing out from the interior: in the division of the Benevento Duchy, Basilicata was transferred almost entirely to the new Principality of Salerno (847): and from this transfer came profound transformations in the area’s political and civil institutions; while smaller areas remained under the control of the Benvento Duchy or under Greek dominion. The Norman conquest brought about a further division of the region, which was only reunited after the reorganisation of the monarchy (1130). The capital of the Norman State was, from the beginning, Melfi, the oldest municipality in the region (1044). Successive Swabian monarchies to which the region was tied, resisted fiercely to Angiņ domination, which, at the time of the Vespro war, found in the Basilicata born, Ruggero di Lauria, one of its most fearful adversaries.
In successive centuries, Basilicata’s history was marked by dynastic conflicts, as well as those between the Crown and feudal lords, until in the first half of the fifteen hundreds, like all of the Neapolitan kingdom, it came under Spanish control; this was characterised by a century and a half of general peace, only interrupted in 1647-48 by the repercussions of the Masaniello Movement, which saw the insurgence of all of Basilicata and its surrounding areas lead by Matteo Cristiano da Castelgrande. Fiscal burden, bad administration, legal uncertainty and feudal arrogance characterised Spanish dominion which, nonetheless, with the lengthy peace it ensured, permitted a certain growth in the population. This is notable only starting from 1700, and saw the ensuing and virtual conclusion of the long victorious struggle of the Basilicata population to liberate itself from feudal servility.
The democratisation of Basilicata had, at its heart, the agitation of the people against the nobility for the reclamation of communal land, tax concessions and cheaper bread. But quickly, “democratic” violence was equalled by that of Sanfedist activity. The endemic disorder, which lasted for all of the subsequent French domination (1806-15), was fuelled by Brigantry and Bourbonic subversion.
After 1815, the Carboneria movement was notably widespread and in 1820-21 there was another insurrection, which took-up the old battle cries of 1799: but this was again met by a quick and harsh response. In ’48, a liberal and moderate bourgeoisie was at the centre of events but were incapable of controlling the situation, being squeezed between the absolutist nature of the monarchy and a reactionary peasantry; up until it, too, was able to join with Garibaldi in 1860. Soon, however, from the ruins of the old Bourbonic world, and above all from the social hatred of the peasantry toward the landed and cattle-owning bourgeoisie, exploded a violent Brigantism, which lasted for five years (1860-65).
Taxation, centralisation, being unprepared for the new regime and economic competition from the north, affected Basilicata along with all of the South after unification, but here with even graver consequences as it was the poorest and most infertile region in all of the south.
Changes for the better came by way of laws such as the state quinine law, and, above all, as a result of emigration, which, being faced with great courage by the people, even if certain areas were almost totally depopulated, nonetheless, it brought with it an influx of capital that was the first effective boost to the region’s progress.