Duchy of Amalfi

Duchy of Amalfi
Motto: Descendit ex patribus romanorum
Italy, and the Duchy of Amalfi (a small state in bright yellow), at the close of the tenth century.
Status Independent state
Capital Amalfi
Common languages Greek, Neapolitan
Government Duchy
Manso I of Amalfi
Historical era Middle Ages
 Duke elected
 Sacked by Pisa
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Duchy of Naples
Kingdom of Sicily
Today part of  Italy

The Duchy of Amalfi (Italian: Ducato di Amalfi) or the Republic of Amalfi (Italian: Repubblica di Amalfi) was a de facto independent state centered on the Southern Italian city of Amalfi during the 10th and 11th centuries. The city and its territory were originally part of the larger ducatus Neapolitanus, governed by a patrician, but it extracted itself from Byzantine vassalage and first elected a duke (or doge) in 958. During the 10th and 11th centuries Amalfi was estimated to have a population of 50,000 -70,000 people.[1] It rose to become an economic powerhouse, a commercial center whose merchants dominated Mediterranean and Italian trade for a century before being surpassed and superseded by the other maritime republics of the North, like Pisa, Venice, and Genoa. In 1073, Amalfi lost its independence and fell to the Normans, from whose yoke it failed in two separate attempts to free itself.


The city of Amalfi was founded as a trading post in 339. Its first bishop was appointed in 596. In 838, the city was captured by Sicard of Benevento with help from traitors within the city, who led him in through the waterward defenses. Many of the Amalfitans in Salerno sacked that city and left. In 839, Amalfi freed itself from Lombard domination and elected a prefect. Nearby Atrani participated in these early prefectural elections. Subsequently, Amalfi helped to free Siconulf to oppose the ruling Prince of Benevento. In 897, the self-governing republic, still nominally tied to the Byzantine Empire, was defeated in a war with Sorrento, supported by Naples, in which her prefect was captured, later ransomed. In 914, the prefect Mastalus I was appointed first judge. In 903 the Amalfitans joined forces with Naples to attack the Arabs that had established them selves on the banks of the Garigliano river.[2] However the combined forces of Amalfi and the Naples were driven back by the Arabs and their allies, the Italian city state of Gaeta. In 915 Amalfi did not join the Battle of Garigliano to fight against the Arabs. This was most likely due to the fact that since 909 Amalfi had been heavily trading with the Fatimid Caliphate and did not want to jeopardize relations with this powerful trade partner.[2] In 958, Mastalus II was assassinated and Sergius I was elected first duke (or doge). From 981 to 983, Amalfi ruled the Principality of Salerno. In 987, the Amalfitan bishopric was raised to archiepiscopal status.

From 1034, Amalfi came under the control of the Principality of Capua and, in 1039, that of Salerno. In 1073, Robert Guiscard conquered the city and took the title dux Amalfitanorum: "duke of the Amalfitans." In 1096, Amalfi revolted, but this was put down in 1101. It revolted again in 1130 and was finally subdued in 1131, when the Emir John marched on Amalfi by land and George of Antioch blockaded the town by sea and set up a base on Capri. In 1135 and 1137, Pisa sacked the city and the glory of Amalfi was past.

The Arab traveller Ibn Hawqal, writing in 977 during the great reign of Manso I, described Amalfi as:

The title "Duke of Amalfi" was revived in the later 14th century as a title used within the Kingdom of Naples.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these lines in a poem[3] titled Amalfi in 1869.[4]

Where are now the freighted barks
From the marts of east and west?
Where the knights in iron sarks
Journeying to the Holy Land,

Where the merchants with their wares,
And their gallant brigantines

Vanished like a fleet of cloud,
Like a passing trumpet-blast,
Are those splendors of the past,
And the commerce and the crowd!

The poem is about medieval Amalfi. and it references the crusades and its important maritime history.


After the Amalfitans broke free of Lombard control they did not return to Neapolitan control but instead stated their independence.[2] After 839 Amalfi was an independent entity and created a strong maritime presence. Amalfi had strong ties with both the Byzantine Empire and the Fatimid Caliphate.[5] The Amalfitans had a permanent and important presence in Constantinople during the 10th and 11th centuries. Amalfitans also created Latin Christian outposts in the Levant around 1040 and hostels for Christian pilgrims in Jerusalem and Antioch.[5] During the 10th and 11th centuries Amalfi was dominating trade and commerce with North Africa and the Levant,[6] and one of the major exports from Amalfi during the Middle Ages was the chestnut.[7]

The legacy of the Duchy of Amalfi

While The Duchy of Amalfi never regained its independence after 1137 the city of Amalfi was still important to maritime trade for the next 200 years until 1343 when an earthquake and a storm destroyed most of its harbor.[1] Probably the most important contribution Amalfi made during those 200 years before its harbor was destroyed was the perfection of the modern day box compass. Between 1295 and 1302 the Flavio Gioia turned the compass from a needle floating in water to what we use today, a round box with a compass card that rotates 360 degrees attached to a magnetic element.[1]

See also



  1. 1 2 3 D., Aczel, Amir (2001). The riddle of the compass : the invention that changed the world (1st ed.). New York: Harcourt. ISBN 0151005060. OCLC 45102891.
  2. 1 2 3 1965-, Skinner, Patricia, (1995). Family power in southern Italy : the duchy of Gaeta and its neighbours, 850-1139. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 052146479X. OCLC 30112695.
  3. "Longfellow: Amalfi, Masque of Pandora and Other Poems". www.hwlongfellow.org. Retrieved 2018-05-01.
  4. Willard, Henry M. (1973). Abbot Desiderius and the Ties Between Montecassino and Amalfi in the Eleventh Century. Montecassino.
  5. 1 2 R.,, Mathews, Karen. Conflict, commerce, and an aesthetic of appropriation in the Italian maritime cities, 1000-1150. Leiden. ISBN 9789004335653. OCLC 1007067413.
  6. Medieval Italy : texts in translation. Jansen, Katherine Ludwig, 1957-, Drell, Joanna H., 1965-, Andrews, Frances. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 2009. ISBN 0812206061. OCLC 828621064.
  7. Ecologies and economies in medieval and early modern Europe : studies in environmental history for Richard C. Hoffmann. Bruce, Scott G. (Scott Gordon), 1967-. Boston: Brill. 2010. ISBN 9789047444572. OCLC 671307987.
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