Every once in a while a long-forgotten work emerges from the shadows of the Middle Ages to be published in English for the first time.
This is the first complete English translation of the prose chronicle named for the abbey of Santa Maria della Ferraria. It was written during the reign of Frederick II, Italy's greatest medieval ruler, early in the thirteenth century about the Normans and Swabians in southern Italy. Based in part on the work of Falco of Benevento and others, it complements our knowledge of a complex era of Italian history. The identity of its author, a monk in an abbey in the Volturno Valley near Naples, is not known.
Discovered in the nineteenth century, his manuscript – which reposes in quiet dignity in a library in Bologna – brings to life the figures who forged the Kingdom of Sicily. First published (in its original Latin) in Naples in 1888 in a limited edition of just 275 numbered copies, the chronicle long remained virtually unknown. As a rarity found in just a few library collections, its very existence was something of an "open secret" among specialized scholars.
The Apulia of the title is not simply Puglia, which in the Middle Ages extended from the heel of the Italian peninsula northward to Pescara and even Ancona, but southern Italy generally, embracing regions such as Basilicata and parts of Calabria.
Although parts of the chronicle are drawn from earlier sources, the span of time from circa 1195 to 1228 is original, based on the monk's firsthand knowledge of the reign of Frederick II, who visited the abbey in 1223, when the chronicler probably met the monarch (the original Latin of the chronicle's last years was written in the present tense). Even for the Norman reigns of the twelfth century, it brings us a few details not found in the surviving codices of other chronicles.
Ms Alio advances the theory that this medieval work, with its style conforming to more than one genre (chronicle, annal), its facts drawn from several sources, and its principal range (1096-1228) spanning several generations, could be considered the first history of the Kingdom of Sicily, which was founded in 1130.
It is the last chronicle written in the Kingdom of Sicily during the reign of Frederick II to be published in English.
As a scholarly work intended for use as a reference, this book contains over 400 informative end notes, five appendices, eight pages of maps and seven genealogical tables, along with numerous (black and white) photographs. It includes an introductory background chapter on the medieval history of southern Italy and its Greeks, Arabs, Lombards and Normans. Also included is an insightful introduction to the chronicle and its author (the longest essay ever published about it in English).
Ms Alio's translation is faithful to the original Latin, yet fluid and understandable.
Alio's work is praised at home (in Italy) and abroad. If you go to consult the Ferraris manuscript at the Bologna Library, it is her book that you'll find as the English translation the staff refers you to. (The catalogue reference appears at the end of this page following the table of contents.)
Her native's knowledge of southern Italy and its people is evident on every page. This volume is a useful resource for researchers and an interesting excursion into the medieval world for armchair historians. Its publication was long-awaited.
Review of The Ferraris Chronicle
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