Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2005.

Source: Melita Historica. [Malta Historical Society]. 7(1978)3(290-291)

ANTONIO GIUFFRIDA, Il Cartulario della Famiglia Alagona di Sicilia: Documenti 1337—1386. Acta Siculo-Aragonensia, n.s.l (Fonti per la Storia di Sicilia). Palma Editrice, Palermo 1978, pp. 129; lire 13,000

The first publication in a new collana of sources for Sicilian history directed for the Institute of Medieval History at the University of Palermo by Francesco Giunta is based on 117 original documents preserved in the Aragonese Crown Archives at Barcelona, and includes what was apparently a part of the Alagona family archive. A few texts are printed in their entirety but most of the items are given in summary; very usefully, however, the lists of witnesses to numerous notarial deeds appear in their full original form. The presentation [p.291] is attractive, the index is efficient, and the brief introductory sections are excellent; some confusion over dates may, however, be noted at pp. 80—82. The publication unfortunately stops in 1386 just be­fore the years of Alagona domination in Malta during the 1390's. The only reference to Malta is contained in a partial copy of the will of Frederick IV of Sicily by which he left the County of Malta to his natural son Guglieimo; this fact is already well known. There is no mention of the Gatto family, but the Alagona were strong in south-east Sicily and the Santa Sofia of Catania, who had fiefs in Malta, and the Landolina of Noto, who bequeathed lands near Siggiewi to the Benedictines of Catania, are documented.

In some ways this work comple­ments E Mazzarese Fardella's more juridically-minded study of the Sicilian feudi comitali which was re­viewed in Melita Historica, vi no.4 (1975), 455—456. The Alagona docu­ments illustrate the political and economic workings of one of those great noble houses which dominated fourteenth-century Sicilian affairs. Giuffrida argues that the wilful prepotence of the Sicilian barony was not entirely anarchical in spirit but was directed quite positively towards the construction of quasi-legitimate independent lordships or signorie of a type found in contemporary Italy and, he might have added, throughout much of the Latin West. It was also aimed, according to some Sici­lian historians, at keeping Sicily

"Italian" rather than "Spanish", a hopeless project as the triumph of the power of the Aragonese Crown made clear at the very end of the century. Two hundred years earlier Henry Count of Malta had tried to use Malta as the nucleus of a maritime lordship but in reality the island was too small and too dependent on the foreigner to become a self-ruling signoria on its own, even if it could serve as a useful point of resistance against royal power in Sicily, as Artale Alagona demonstrated in the 1390's. The Maltese themselves had found direct attachment to the weak royal demanium preferable to the predominance of royal cadets or overbearing magnates. Before 1400 they experienced both these kinds of government in alternation; after 1400 the era of the great baronial Counts of Malta, the Chiaramonte, Alagona and Moncada, gave way to the age of lesser exploiters, the Inguanez, the Monroy, the De Nava and suchlike "Spanish" hench­men of "Spanish" kings.

Anthony Luttrell