This book is the published version of a PhD thesis completed in 2012 at Université Paris-I under the supervision of Professor Laurent Feller. It studies the links between kinship structures and matrimonial strategies on the one hand, and political organization on the other hand, in the south Italian Lombard principalities from their late-eighth-century independence up to and including the eleventh-century Norman conquest.
In 774, the Frankish conquest of the Lombard kingdom enabled duke Arechis of Benevento to claim independence and princely sovereignity. The principality was later fragmented with the secession of Salerno in 839, then Capua (from county to independent principality) in 887. From 899 to 981, the Capuan prince also ruled Benevento. In the end, Capua fell to the Normans in 1058, Benevento (the city itself excluded, as papal land) and Salerno in 1077. The three principalites thus shared a common origin, and their ruling families were tightly linked, but with very different kinship strategies and political organizations: Thomas argues (e.g., 199) for a "Capua-Benevento model" and a "Salerno model" very different from each other.
The study rests on sound methodological ground. Making use of all available sources (narratives, private and princely charters and epigraphy), Thomas works out a catalogue of all known princely marriages, from the most detailed to the probable only; she then efficiently draws on this catalogue as evidence for marriage policies. Her interpretative models are built from detailed factual material, and she avoids the pitfall of over-simplification, carefully pointing out all discontinuities in these strategies and policies. The "game" in the title is a metaphor borrowed from Pierre Bourdieu, according to which each aristocratic marriage is a move in a game, the result of a choice by a player among his options at a given moment, aiming at the best possible goal with the good and bad cards in hand and the best possible guess of what can be expected from the other players (4, with no reference, but Bourdieu's Le bal des célibataires, 2002, is featured in the final bibliography). The book is divided into four parts: sources and conceptual definitions (80 pages); the ninth century (108 pages); the "two models," which is the very core of the study (183 pages); and the transformations brought by the Normans (101 pages).
Beneventan princely power in the time of the Arechis dynasty was exceptional, and thus faced with a severe restriction of matrimonial options. Since it was no longer possible to marry with the northern royal family (which was now Frankish), Grimoald III married a Byzantine princess, but then repudiated her and did not remarry. Marrying any southern Lombard aristocrat would have been a dishonorable hypogamy; he thus died without an heir in 806. The princely promotion of 774 thus lead to a dead end: the princely family stood very high above the regional aristocracy, but any matrimonial link aiming at strengthening its social and political position would have been dishonorable. The subsequent family of princes, that of Sico, Sicardus and Siconolf, of Northern origin, chose a very different strategy to assert itself, and succeeded: they formed marriage alliances with both the oldest Beneventan families and the Franks, giving to Beneventan power a much wider political and family horizon.
According to Thomas, ninth- and tenth-century Lombard principalities faced the same problems as any polity in the late- and post-Carolingian world: that of ensuring the legitimacy and transfer of power. Family heritage (substantia, land and wealth) and power were treated in very different ways in the Capua and Salerno "models." In the Capuan family (the Landulfids), the heritage was always divided among a large group of brothers and cousins (and redistributed at each generation), but the ius regnandi was not divided, and was held jointly by all male rightholders in the kinship. In Salerno, the heritage was held jointly, especially the lands offered to the family church of Saint Maximus: all the members of the princely family were co-domini of this church, which was co-heir among them to all family wealth. Princely power itself, however, was the privilege of only one male heir (the eldest) in each generation (patrilinear dynastic succession by primogeniture). Holding jointly undivided power (Capua) or wealth (Salerno) was the key to family cohesion. These two different strategies were the basis for two very different models of relationships between prince and aristocracy. Capua was ruled by an egalitarian aristocracy made up of all the members of the genus. In Salerno, on the contrary, there was a radical gap in status between the prince and the counts of his kin. During more than two centuries, these two ways of legitimizing and handing over power succeeded in preventing the fragmentation of the three principalities, at a time when most of their Frankish counterparts, for instance, split up into independent counties.
Thomas argues that, in the second half of the ninth century, the Beneventan dynasty tried to use its matrimonial unions with Capua to secure its hold on the county (later, the principality), but the accession of the Landulfids of Capua in Benevento in 899 reversed the situation, setting up a new model of power: the prince maintained exclusive personal power in the palace, and his own lineage increased the gap in status with the lesser branches thanks to marriages with external ruling families. Power in the principality was decentralized by the promotion of these lesser branches as a very high and powerful aristocracy of consortes, linked by marriages to the main lineage and endowed with stable local lorsdships, the counties. The rule of Pandolf I Ironhead in Capua and Benevento (961-981) and Salerno (977-981) is an exceptional climax in this process, with vastly expanded horizons: he married three of his sisters to counts in Abruzzo and Tuscany and probably also had very high-ranking marriages in mind for his sons, but he died (and both of his sons died the following year at the Capo Colonna battle) without having secured anything, thus failing to secure the increased hierarchy gap between princely family and aristocracy. In line with this policy, probably of Carolingian and imperial inspiration, his wife, Aloara, stands as an exceptional figure of a female ruler, a genuine consors regni without equivalent in the south at the time. After his death in 981, the aristocratic competition for hegemony over Benevento and Capua resumed, a competition further complicated by external and/or new competitors: Abruzzese counts, emperors, and Normans.
Southern ruling families reacted to the arrival of this last group in different ways, Thomas shows. In Benevento and Capua, the rule of equal inheritance for brothers and brothers-in-law prevented the ruling lineages from accepting marriages with Norman knights, who would thus become competitors; but in Salerno, the princely family was so lofty that Normans were welcome to marry into the aristocracy because they could not threaten the higher princely power itself. This Salerno strategy pays off in the end: the princely family survives the conquest by Robert Guiscard thanks to its daughters, who married Norman chiefs and knights: the highest aristocrats in the ex-principality after 1077 were descendants of Guaimar III through women, the only branches to disappear being those of the direct male heirs, the sons of Guaimar IV and Gisulf II. From the point of view of the Normans themselves, these alliances had different meanings as time went on. In the very first decades (early eleventh century), such marriages secured the knights' fidelity to their princely employers, and marriages among Normans secured the cohesion of their warbands; then, from the 1040s onwards, when the Normans' appetite, after Puglia, turned to Lombard land itself, marriages en gendre aimed at securing the legitimacy of the princes' new sons-in-law to conquest and power. Thomas uses the very suggestive phrase alliances de conquête (conquest matrimonies, 453). It is one great quality of this study to view the Normans not only as an external factor, but also to consider them from within and to study their own motives and strategies as such (chapter IX).
Unfortunately, this book is marred by far too many typos and errors, most being grammar and spelling errors. The term "first name" (prénom) is anachronistic (312). Some typos cause factual confusion: "IXe siècle" instead of "Xe" (229), "961" for "861" (338, and other cases: 346, 348, 359 and 360); the names Roffrid and Madelfrid are sometimes inverted (306-307). There are a few genuine factual errors: the death of bishop and duke Athanasius II of Naples in 898 did not cause a change in ruling family (277-278) and Alfanus was archbishop of Salerno, not Capua (407). Accurate proofreading, both by author and publishers, is clearly lacking.
Even so, the book has many fine qualities. Thomas makes two very good points in particular. The first is to connect the different political strategies with the characteristics of the governed territories. The principality of Capua, on the main road from Rome to the south, is easily reached and threatened: distributing fortresses and counties to members of the ruling family was primarily a way to defend it. That of Benevento is geographically heterogeneous and compartimentalized, and strong and tight links between prince and parent branches were necessary to avoid centrifugal break-up. The principality of Salerno, finally, shows a sharp contrast between the main inhabited area around its capital city, and other, much less populated or indeed deserted areas: there, the settlement of local counts was simply unnecessary (265-266 and 488). The second very good point is the use of the concept of hierarchization between the princely family and the other aristocrats, the relationship and gap in status between the two being always considered as a dynamic. Thomas argues for dé-hiérarchisation (reducing the gap) after the end of the Arechis dynasty, and a re-hiérarchisation (increasing, or trying to increase, the gap) after 849: very successful in Salerno and less so in Capua and Benevento, except in the time of Pandolf Ironhead (201, for instance). Thanks to its sound methodological grounding and detailed analyses of kinship and marriage policies, this very original study of both social and political history can genuinely help historians understand and interpret the series of political events in the ninth- and tenth-century Mezzogiorno, which has much too often been misjudged and dismissed as a meaningless chaos: "L'histoire événementielle, considérée comme une histoire locale, est en effet particulièrement adaptée pour rendre compte des stratégies de groupes familiaux et d'individus, profondément insérés dans des logiques qui sont celles du temps court, de l'instant, du lieu et de la génération" (the history of events, considered as local history, is, in fact, especially useful in accounting for the strategies of families and individuals deeply involved in the logics of the short term, the moment, location, and generation, 489-490).