Culture and Political Economy in Western Sicily by Jane Schneider

By Jane Schneider

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In Sicily, especially western Sicily, feudal institutions of the late Middle Ages (that is, after the thirteenth century) had the reverse effect. They helped to un­ dermine and destroy the island's autonomy vis-à-vis more developed (European) core areas and to ensure that, in the future, urban and commercial life would be a mere adjunct to foreign interests. Imports increased astronomically in proportion to commodities manufactured at home, and the island's military defense was assumed by outsiders— exactly opposite to the consequences of feudalism in Europe.

Throughout these dominations Sicily specialized as a producer of primary resources—animal products and, above all, wheat. Foreign merchants exported her golden wheat and they, together with their financial backers in cities like Florence and Genoa, enjoyed the lion's share of the proceeds. Sicily's agricultural resources were not her own. The second theme which emerges from this historical outline has to do with differences in space rather than time: Western Sicily was al­ ways more dependent, more exploited by outsiders than was eastern Sicily.

In the west, agriculture was less diversified, wheat more often a m o n o c r o p . In a parliamentary inquest of 1907-1908, Lorenzoni described wheat as extensively cultivated in t w o degrees. He labeled " p r i m i t i v e " the system he f o u n d at high altitudes and on poor soils. Here, if there were any harvests at all, they occurred every 4-6 years; the intervening years were dedicated to fallow or pasturage. O v e r g r o w n land was cleared by fire for cultivation. M o r e c o m m o n was a system he called the " R o m a n t y p e , " or "attenuated extensive," in which three fields underwent a staggered rotation: 1 year in grain, 1 in fallow, and 1 in pastures (Lorenzoni 1910).

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