A little history
In ancient times, the region was inhabited by a people of Samnnite origin, though in the 8th century B.C., with the foundation of Cuma the coastal zones became Greek colonies. At the time of the founding of Capua (6th century B.C. ) and the contemporary Etruscan domination, the name Campania came to apply to its inhabitants. In order to defend its population, Capua united with Rome in 338 B.C., an act which resulted in its acquisition of Roman culture, its establishment as a colony and in 180B.C. the use of Latin as its official language. Only Naples retained lasting Hellenic characteristics.
Among the Augustan divisions of Italy, Campania together with Lazio constituted the most important region. After Diocletian, it fell under the dependency of the corrector Campaniae. Following the fall of Imperial Rome in 476 A.D., Campania preserved its unity under the Ostrogoths and the Byzantines until the Lombards annexed Capua and much of the inland plains to the dukedom of Benevento in 570 A.D. Later on, Salerno suffered the same fate: in 846 A.D., however, it separated from Benevento which lead to the creation of a new Lombard principality, while in Capua another was being created which, in 900 A.D. took possession of Benevento.
Continuing conflict characterises the history of Lombard Campania, while the Byzantine dukedom of Naples, from which broke away that of Gaeta (899-933 A.D.), became increasingly liberated from Imperial domination.
It followed a course common to the region, especially to Amalfi; first subjugated to the Lombards, then having freed itself to establish, at the end of the tenth century , its own autonomous dukedom. During this time, it surpassed every other town with the blossoming of its economy.
The divisions in Campania facilitated the Norman conquest which established itself firmly under the rule of Ruggiero II when Naples was also taken over in 1139 A.D. From then on, the history of Campania is joined with that of Sicily which became integrated during the Norman and Swabian periods. However, during the reign of Carlo I d’Angiò (1266-85), the Neapolitan state became predominant, provoking a violent uprising in the island which led to its separation and its passing to the Aragonese dynasty (Sicilian Vespers 1282; Vespers War 1282-1302). From this moment onwards, it is possible to talk about the Kingdom of Naples.
Under the Angevins, the Kingdom of Naples emphasised its feudal vassalage towards the Holy See and saw the introduction of the French barony. Its finest period occurred during the reign of Roberto (1309-43) but with his death civil strife broke out which concluded in 1443 with the entry into Naples of Alfonso d’Aragona, and which secured the territory a peaceful interlude. This even though the kingdom was undermined the great power of the barons to which was soon to be added the threat of expansion by the French king Charles VIII. The struggle between the French and Spanish finally settled the question of possession, and from 1504 to 1707 the Neapolitan state became a Spanish dependency losing all economic prosperity together with its political autonomy. There remained to the citizens only the futile outlet of conspiracy. There were, in fact, frequent intrigues between the baronial opposition and the French, or the Savoyans together with hunger riots by the populace which have been recorded by Masaniello (1620-1647), a figure who enters our country’s history by virtue of his heroism and personal tragedy.
Masaniello was illiterate, a fishmonger’s helper, quick and acute but violent on occasion to such a degree that he spent much time incarcerated in the admiralty cells where he became acquainted with the doctor Marco Vitale who helped him to contact the bourgeois supporters of the violent revolt brought about by the re-establishment of the hated ‘fruit tax.’ Between June and July in 1647, there were several incidents in which Masaniello was involved. On July 7th, he incited friends and other shopkeepers related to him to refusing the payment of the tax at the market: this resulted in a brawl which aroused the population in all the quarters adjoining the market place.
The rioters, headed by Masaniello, invaded the Royal Palace, broke open the prisons and destroyed the excise offices.
Masaniello organised the revolutionary militia which lost against the soldiers of Filippo IV and which reorganised the town’s administration on a popular basis, though in fact these actions were promoted by Vitale and others acting behind the scenes. An attack on Masaniello on July 10th failed, thereby increasing his prestige to such a degree that the following day the Viceroy, having attempted bribery in vain, had to confer on him the title ‘Captain General of the Most Faithful Neapolitan People.’
But this unexpected turn of fortune coupled with his inferiority for this high status led to a mental breakdown and within two days to a raging madness. On the July 16th, his friends put him to death.
This tragedy of Masaniello’s is significant of a marked decline and wearing out of the Spanish dominion. In 1734, after various events, the Neapolitan state was constituted as an autonomous kingdom entrusted to Charles of Bourbon, son of Phillip V of Spain, who was succeeded by Ferdinand IV (1759-1825). An intelligent and enlightened reform, carried out essentially by the Tanucci ministry, inspired by the political ideals on the Giannone and the social economic s of the Genoans made this initial Bourbon period a happy one for the town, brought about by a close collaboration between the monarchy and the enlightened bourgeoisie. The accord was only broken by the approaching crisis caused by the French Revolution and the division between king and nation was completed with the former’s flight into Italy (1798), the French invasion and the proclamation of a Neapolitan Republic in January 1799. For fifteen years, the fate of the kingdom was determined by French military events. The European coalition’s victories over the French led to the fall of the Neapolitan Republic (June 1799) and the bloody restoration of the Bourbons. Napoleon’s victory at Marengo (1800) reduced the king’s situation to that of a vassal, and 1806 saw the second flight of the Bourbons into Sicily and the formation of an independent kingdom under Joseph Bonaparte (1806-08) and then under Joachim Murat (1808-15). Extensive work was carried out on the kingdom’s structure during the French decade, continuing and completing the reforms of the first Bourbon period which brought together the break up of feudalism, new regulations concerning landed property and the transfer of ecclesiastical possessions into private hands.
With the decline of the Napoleonic fortunes, the seeds of independence grew once more, finding their best sponsor in that same Joachim Murat.
On the June 17th 1815, Ferdinand IV entered Naples once again, while Sicily lost its autonomy by entering into the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The abolition of many French reforms and the acceptance of the principles of the Holy Alliance provoked an open hostility in the most educated and generous part of the population, facilitating the entry and workings of political factions.
On the July 1st 1820, a military insurrection opened up a brief period of constitutional life (July 7th 1820 to March 21st 1821) which was ended by Austrian intervention and which finally established the divorce between the Bourbon dynasty and the population of the Kingdom. The reign of Francis I (1825-30) was noted for its ruthless repression of the Cilento rebellion.
Ferdinand II (1830-59) started his reign with a liberalisation policy against all Austrian authority and with the grant of a broadly based amnesty. But as much as the necessary liberties matured and consolidated, so much more did Ferdinand II reveal himself to be in fact an absolute sovereign, averse to all forms of political innovation. Thus, conspiracy returned (Guipero 1844: the Bandiera brothers enterprise).
The 1848 crisis, opened up in a revolutionary and separatist manner in Sicily, and in Naples developing itself in the direction of constitutional reform, failed to change the situation and ended with the sudden and brutal reaction on the 15th May 1848 and the subjugation of Sicily in May 1849.
Under the reign of the new king Francis II (1859-60), owing to Garibaldi’s conquest and the intervention of the Piedmontese, it ceased to be an autonomous state in order to become a part of the Kingdom of Italy. Here it had to face up to a marked change of approach in the fields of politics, economics finance and culture, placing it at the centre of the «Southern question».
It is a history and a culture which even in an Italy so decisively split into regions, is so distinctive in its ways, customs and mental outlook that only a slow and long cultural process would be able to resolve.
In this review, the history of the region’s cuisine is largely determined by the distinction between popular cookery and that of the courts, poverty characterising the first, and luxury the second; this was, in fact, the legacy of the Spanish court’s ostentation.