Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Placitum of Risano

The Placitum of Risano (Italian: Placito del Risano; Latin: Placitum Risanum) is a document issued by an Istrian assembly held at Risano, near Capodistria, in the year 804. It is the most important historical document from Istria in the Early Middle Ages.

Among other things, the placitum is noteworthy for its complaints against Slavic immigrants in Istria. The document is preserved in the National Archives in Venice, Italy.

Historical Background

In the Early Middle Ages, following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Istria successively belonged to the Kingdom of Italy (476-538), Exarchate of Italy (584-751) and Kingdom of Italy (751-952).

Since 774 the Kingdom of Italy had come under the rule of the Carolingian dynasty, who ousted the Longobards from power. During this transfer of power, Istria briefly returned to Byzantine rule. But by 788-789 Istria was fully reintegrated into the Kingdom of Italy under the new Carolingian rulers.

In 799 the King of Italy established the March of Istria, a frontier land within the Kingdom of Italy, designed to protect Italy from invaders – more specifically to keep the Avars, Slavs and Magyars out of Italy. In the following year, Charlemagne was crowned Emperor and the Kingdom of Italy (with Istria) became a constituent kingdom of the Carolingian Empire.

The population of Istria was Latin-speaking and Italian in origin. They clung stubbornly to their Roman laws and heritage. The Slavs had made their first incursions into Istria between 599 and 600. Throughout the first half of the 7th century the Slavs and the Avars made numerous raids into Istria, plundering and destroying many cities, but they never made any permanent settlement in the region.

At the turn of the 9th century Slavs were settled in Istria for the first time; they were brought in as servants to work the land as vassals by John, the Carolingian Duke of Istria. This was fiercely opposed by the native Roman inhabitants. The duke was accused by the Istrians of bringing foreigners into their land, of misusing taxes, and of committing a number of other violations against the rights and privileges they had enjoyed since Roman and Byzantine times.

The Placitum of Risano

In 804 an assembly was convened at Risano, a small town near Capodistria. Here the people of Istria issued a series of complaints addressed to Charlemagne. The acts of the assembly were recorded in a document known as the Placitum of Risano. The document was drawn up by Peter, a deacon of the church of Aquileia, at the behest of Patriarch Fortunatus of Grado.

The assembly was attended by Duke John, by three imperial emissaries, and by 172 juridical witnesses who were selected as local representatives of the Istrian cities and castles. These representatives came from Trieste, Parenzo, Pola, Rovigno, Pedena, Pinguente, Montona, Cittanova, Albona, and several other Istrian towns.

The Istrians swore upon the Gospels and the relics of saints that they would tell the truth, and then proceeded to express their grievances. Among other things, the Istrians complained that Duke John had violated the customs of the country by inviting Slavic immigrants to settle in their land. They further complained that these Slavs usurped their property and threatened to kill the Istrians:
“Moreover he [Duke John] introduced Slavs on our lands: they plough our lands and our clearings, they make hay from our meadows, they use our pasture, and they pay a due to John from these our lands. Now we no longer have cows or horses. And if we say anything, they say that they will kill us.”
The Istrians conclude by saying it would be better to die than to live and be forced to endure such a state of affairs with the Slavs and Duke John:
“For three years we have given the tithes that we owe to the holy church to the pagan Slavs, when John installed them upon the lands of the churches and our people, to his sin and to our perdition. We do all these duties which we have mentioned under violent constraint, which our ancestors never did. And so we are all entering into poverty. And our kinsmen and neighbours in Venice and Dalmatia, and even the Greeks under whose power we formerly were, deride us. If the lord Emperor Charles can rescue us, we can escape; otherwise, it is better for us to die than to live.”
In response to these protests, Charlemagne's emissaries admitted that the duke had abused the Istrian population; they agreed to restore the old Roman customs and to stop Slavic immigration in Istria. Duke John apologized and offered to expel the Slavs back to their own land:
“About the Slavs you have mentioned: let us go to the places where they reside, and let us see where they can stay without damage to you. If afterwards they cause damage to the fields, the woods or the clearances, or any other thing, we shall expel them. Or, if it pleases you better, let us move them to deserted places where they can be of use like other people.”
As a compromise, the Slavs who were introduced by John were settled in some uncultivated districts in the Istrian countryside, where they could work the land as servants, with the permission of the neighbouring Istrian locals. This was the first permanent settlement of Slavs in Istria.

This settlement did not last long, however, as there is no further documentary evidence of any Slavic presence in Istria again until the 12th century.

Full text:
Placitum of Risano (English)
Placitum of Risano (Italian)
Placitum of Risano (Latin)