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Duchy of Gaeta and Docibilis in Southern Italy


I could not resist to post this info because of the two names of the Gaeta and Docibilis (Decebalus?):

The Duchy of Gaeta was a Province of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire (or Byzantium) was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire (Greek: Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, Basileia Rhōmaiōn)[2] or Romania (Ῥωμανία, Rhōmanía) to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State.The Byzantine Empire (or Byzantium) was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire (Greek: Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, Basileia Rhōmaiōn)[2] or Romania (Ῥωμανία, Rhōmanía) to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State.


The square tower of the Castle of Itri, attributed to Docibilis I.

The Duchy of Gaeta was an early medieval state centred on the coastal South Italian city of Gaeta. It began in the early ninth century as the local community began to grow autonomous as Byzantine power lagged in the Mediterranean and the peninsula thanks to Lombard and Saracen incursions.

Our primary source for the history of Gaeta during its ducal period is the Codex Caietanus, a collection of charters preserving Gaetan history better and in greater detail than that of its neighbouring coastal states, Naples, Amalfi, and Sorrento. However, unlike these sister seaports, Gaeta was never a centre of commercial importance. In 778, it was the headquarters from which the patrician of Sicily directed the campaign against the Saracen invaders of Campania.


Rise of the Docibilans


The first consul of Gaeta, Constantine, who associated his son Marinus with him, was a Byzantine agent and a vassal of Andrew II of Naples. Constantine defended the city from the ravages of Muslim pirates and fortified it, building outlying castles as well. He was removed, probably violently, by the Docibilis I, who established a dynasty and made Gaeta de facto independent.

The Docibilian dynasts regularly worked to advance Gaetan interests through alliance with whatever power was most capable of such at the time. They joined forces with the Saracens against their Christian neighbours[1] and with the Pope against the Muslim pirates at the Battle of Ostia. They constructed a massive palace and greatly increased the city's prestige and wealth. The Gaetans remained nominally Byzantine in allegiance until the mid tenth century, fighting under their banner at the Battle of the Garigliano. The chief success of the Docibilians lay, however, in extracting Gaeta from the Ducatus Neapolitanus.

It was Docibilis II (died 954) who first took the title of dux or duke (933). Docibilis saw Gaeta at its zenith but began the process whereby it was chiefly weakened. He gave Fondi to his second son Marinus with the equivalent title of duke and set a precedent for the partitioning of the Gaetan duchy and its encastellation, which corroded ducal authority over time.


Decline of ducal power

In 962, Gaeta put itself under Pandulf Ironhead, the Lombard prince of Capua. In 963, however, only the municipal rulers appeared in the charters. In 976, the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto II, and the pope were the recognised suzerains of Gaeta. A complete revolution had occurred since the assumption of the ducal title and the Western Emperor had replaced the Eastern as overlord.

Gaeta declined in importance in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. In 1012, a succession crisis weakened it further. John IV died, leaving one son by his wife Sichelgaita, a sister of Sergius IV of Naples. This son, John V, ruled under the disputed regency of his grandmother Emilia. His uncle Leo I usurped the duchy only to be removed in a few short months and his other uncle, Leo II, fought over the regency with Emilia. It wasn't until 1025 that the situation was settled. After that, John V sheltered the fleeing Sergius of Naples and aided him in retaking his city with Norman assistance. For this, John V earned the enmity of Pandulf IV of Capua and his duchy was conquered in 1032. The local dynasty, descended from Docibilis, would never recover its duchy.

Lombard domination

Gaeta was conquered by the Lombards in 1032. In 1038, the conqueror, Pandulf of Capua, was deposed and replaced by Guaimar IV of Salerno. Guaimar did not reign personally for long before appointing the chiefest of his Norman mercenaries, Ranulf Drengot, as duke. On Ranulf's death, however, the Gaetans elected their own Lombard candidate, Atenulf, Count of Aquino.

Under Atenulf and his son, Atenulf II, Gaeta remained practically independent, but Richard I of Capua and his son Jordan subjugated it in 1058 and then again in 1062. In 1064, the Lombard ruler was expelled and a Norman, William of Montreuil, took his place and married the Lombard widow of Atenulf I, Maria, daughter of Pandulf. The place of women in the rule of Gaeta was significant.


Norman domination


The Norman overlords of Gaeta appointed dukes from various families of local prominence, Normans mostly, until 1140, when the last Gaetan duke died, leaving the city to the king of Sicily, Roger II, to whom he had pledged himself in 1135. The first Norman duke after the brief tenure of Ranulf Drengot under Guaimar was William of Montreuil, appointed in 1064. He tried to legitimise his rule by marriage to the widow of his Lombard predecessor, but after his expulsion by his Norman overlord, the prince of Capua, Richard I, it was not necessary for any subsequent dukes to legitimise themselves: the Normans had established their power.

From 1067 or 1068 to 1091, Gaeta was ruled by the Norman Ridello family. Their power was set in Gaeta and Geoffrey Ridello ruled from Pontecorvo, but the Gaetans were not completely weaned from their independent past yet. On the death of Jordan I of Capua, Gaeta rebelled against Norman rule and set up as their duke one Landulf. He ruled successfully until 1103, because the Norman prince of Capua, Richard II, was exiled from his capital. In 1103, William Blosseville conquerored the city and in turn was conquered by Richard of Aquila in 1105. Richard was a de facto independent duke as were his successors. The death of Jordan I had sapped the Norman dynasty of Capua of its authority and this had a great effect on Gaeta. Finally, in 1135, Richard of Caleno was forced to make submission to King Roger, who had forced the last prince of Capua, Robert II, to make submission the same year.


The city of Gaeta was the always the economic, political, and ecclesiastical centre of the duchy. The probable origins of the Docibilan dynasty as Amalfitan merchants perhaps explains the interest they had in amassing movable as well as landed wealth. The Gaetan forum (market) was located near the ducal palace. Warehouses (medialocae), some even owned by foreigners, like Pisans, were commonplace.[2] In the tenth century Gaetans, Amalfitans, and Salernitans were present cum magno negotio ("with great business") in Pavia. At Constantinople the Gaetans had a colony. Liutprand of Cremona even records that the deposers of Romanus II claimed the support of the "men of Caieta" and Amalfi. While it is known that Amalfi imported Byzantine silk, a single reference to "Gaetan silk" in a will of 1028 suggests that Gaeta may have been involved in its production.[3] By 1129 the Jewish community at Gaeta was heavily involved in the industries of cloth-dyeing, salt extraction, and olive oil production.[4]

The replacement of the Docibilan dynasty in the mid-eleventh century caused a municipal power shift which had implications for trade and commerce. The established nobility, whose wealth was based on land, was displaced by the families of the rising merchant class, whose new wealth was got by trade. These new families had established ties with Ptolemy I of Tusculum by 1105. The Crescentii, the traditional rivals of the Tusculani in Rome, had taken over Terracina, formerly Gaetan territory, and were establishing martial ties with the Docibilans still ruling at Fondi in the late eleventh century. These two Roman families were soon vying for influence among the merchant clans of Gaeta; the Crescentii appeared to have had upper hand.[5]

In the twelfth century Gaetan trade expanded, while the duchy's Norman dukes took less interest in the city itself. In 1128 Gaeta is recorded as baying less, only twelve denarii, for docking a ship at Genoa than any other city (Amalfi, Naples, Rome, or Salerno), perhaps suggesting longstanding relations with Genoa.[6] The Gaetan–Genoese relationship had deteriorated by 1140, when, according to Caffaro di Rustico:

. . . adhuc in eodem consulatu galee II Gaitanorum ad depredandum Ianuenses Provintiam venerant. Ilico galee II Ianuensium armate fuerunt, et eas sequentes apud Arzentarium invenerunt, et unam preliando ceperunt, et cum hominibus ac cum tota preda quam fecerant Ianuam adduxerunt.[7]

During the period of the consuls, Gaeta seems to have been heavily involved in piracy, if with little permanent success. The consuls are often recorded acting to restore merchandise to foreigners.[8] There is reference to a war with the city of Salerno and to apparent commercial rivalry, resulting in piracy, with Atrani.


In 1094 a major shift in the government of Gaeta was first recorded. In that year boni homines ("good men") first took part in the political process. In 1123 consuls, four in number, are first recorded, though the dukes had always borne the consular title as an imperial honorific.[9] This makes Gaeta one of the "more precocious cities" by Daniel Waley's criteria.[10] The use of consuls may have been the result of Genoese or Pisan influence, though consuls from Rome were recorded participating in Gaetan affairs in 1127.[11] The record of consular government in Gaeta lasts only until 1135. Two general factions can be defined: those families aligned with the Crescentii and those aligned with the Tusculani. The former dominated the consulate.[12]

In 1123 Duke Richard II confirmed the copper coinage and promised the consuls not to change it. In 1127 the building that housed the curia he ceded to them.[13] The submission in 1135 and death in 1140 of the last Gaetan duke correspond, respectively, with the last consular record and the failed attack on Genoa. It is probably that increased Norman oversight of Gaetan affairs is responsible for the eclipse of both the consuls and the pirates.[13]

See also



  1. ^ Patricia Skinner (1995), Family Power in Southern Italy: The Duchy of Gaeta and its Neighbours, 850-1139 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2–3.
  2. ^ Medialoca was Latin for "middle place" and probably indicated the middle storey of a three-floor structure, where the ground and top floors were open shops and living quarters, respectively, c.f. Patricia Skinner (1995), "Politics and Piracy: the Duchy of Gaeta in the Twelfth Century," Journal of Medieval History, 21, 309.
  3. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 310. A cloak bearing an eagle, a common imperial symbol, mentioned in this same will may indicate the presence of Byzantine textiles industry in Gaeta.
  4. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 314.
  5. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 311.
  6. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 311, cites the Gaetan ship which attempted to transport a group of Cassinese monks to Sardinia in 1063 as the only prior evidence for a Gaetan relationship with Genoa, since the Genoese were in competition with the Pisans for control of Sardinia at that time.
  7. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 315, provides the translation: In this same consulate two Gaetan ships came to plunder thc province of Genoa. So two Genoese ships were armed, and following them found them at Arzentarium, and captured one, taking its men and all its plunder back to Genoa. "Arzentarium" is probably Monte Argentario.
  8. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 316.
  9. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 312.
  10. ^ Daniel Waley (1978), The Italian City–Republics (London: Longman), 35.
  11. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 312, prefers the Genoese answer.
  12. ^ Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 314, provides a table of known consuls and their "factions".
  13. ^ a b Skinner, "Politics and Piracy", 317.

Docibilis I of Gaeta

The square tower of the Castle of Itri, attributed to Docibilis I.

Docibilis I (Italian: Docibile; died before 914) was the Hypatus of Gaeta from 867 until his death.

The sudden disappearance of the co-hypati Constantine and Marinus I after 866 strongly suggests that perhaps Docibilis' assumption of power had been violent. He is first cited as a prefecturius and then as hypatus from 877, when he followed his predecessor's example and associated his son John with him.

In his first years in office, he was faced with the Saracen menace and he fell into their hands. After being liberated by Amalfi, he made peace with the Saracens and was excommunicated by Pope John VIII. In 876, the pope was down in the Mezzogiorno recruiting the princes of Capua and Salerno for the war with the Moslems. Docibilis met the pope at Traetto, but could not come to terms. The pope then interfered in the Capuan succession on the death (879) of Landulf II to impose Pandenulf over Lando in return for Pandenulf attacking Docibilis. Formia was captured and Docibilis called up some Saracen mercenaries from Agropoli. He met the pope at Gaeta itself and made peace. Together they besieged the Saracen fortress on the Garigliano.

After the pope's death, he turned around and attacked Capua, according to Erchempert, with Saracen mercenaries in 900 and 903. He then began to turn and form alliances with the Lombard rulers, marrying his daughter Megalu to Rodgipert of Aquino and Euphemia to the prefect of Naples. Docibilis appears for the last time in 906 and may have died then, though it is only certain that his is dead by 914. His long career was the golden age of Gaeta in Dark Ages. He began construction on the great palace whose ruins still stand in the city and he spent profusely on churches and ecclesiastic endowments for the sake of his soul. He was a warrior-prince as well, whose quarrels with all his neighbours, Moslem and Christian, Lombard and Greek, ecclesiastic and secular, fill the chronicles of the age, especially Erchempert's. For this, it is likely that after 906, he was either dead or retired.

By his wife Matrona, he had two other sons besides John, Leo and Anatolio, whom he made duke of Terracina. He had two other daughters besides Megalu and Euphemia: Bona and Maria. John succeeded him and immediately associated his son and his father's namesake, Docibilis II, in the dukeship. It is just possible that all three were associated together, but it cannot be proven.


  • Caravale, Mario (ed). Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani XL Di Fausto – Donadoni. Rome, 1991.
Preceded by
Hypatus of Gaeta
866 – 906
Succeeded by
John I

















San Giovanni a Mare, Gaeta, X c.

San Giovanni a Mare, Gaeta

Gaeta, Chiesa di San Giovanni a Mare (abside)La chiesa di S. Giovanni a Mare si trova nell'estremo tratto peninsulare di Gaeta che, sin dai primi secoli dell'Alto Medioevo, fu sede politica e militare di primo piano dell'impero bizantino. Fu edificata nel X secolo dal duca di Gaeta Giovanni IV ed era conosciuta anche come chiesa di San Giuseppe, poiché vi si riuniva una piccola confraternita di falegnami.
L'edificio, una costruzione romanica che fonde lo schema basilicale con quello della chiesa bizantina, presenta la facciata rivolta a nord, l'abside a sud: è stata costruita in tal modo per obbedire ad esigenze del paesaggio e del luogo che non consentivano libertà nell'orientamento dell'edificio religioso. La facciata si restringe a triangolo all'altezza del rosone centrale e termina con un campanile a vela. Non vi è decorazione esterna, al di là della policromia del tamburo cilindrico finestrato.
Chiesa di San Giovanni a Mare, internoL'interno è a tre navate divise da otto colonne romane con capitelli formati da preziosi e variegati intrecci di rami, foglie, fiori e rosette. Sia le colonne che i capitelli sono di recupero. Appena si entra non si può far a meno di notare la pendenza del piano di calpestìo, voluto in tal modo per consentire il deflusso delle acque dopo l'alta marea ma anche come espediente per ingrandire lo spazio interno, in realtà estremamente piccolo. Mattonelle in cotto hanno sostituito gli originari mosaici della chiesa. Vi è un unico frammento musivo superstite, visibile di fronte all'altare.
Il paliotto dell'altare è ricavato da un sarcofago di II-III secolo d.C.. Al centro della lastra è scolpita una croce greca con nastri intrecciati all'interno dei bracci. Ai lati della croce, due ippogrifi sostengono, con le zampe anteriori, due candelabri con fiaccola.
In origine vi erano, all'interno della chiesa, anche dei dipinti murali dei quali, purtroppo, non si conservano che pochissime tracce che non permettono di stabilire se vi fosse o meno un ciclo pittorico. Per certo si sa che nella prima campata sinistra era rappresentata l'Incoronazione della Vergine. Alla fine della navata laterale sinistra, entro una piccola abside, vi è l'unico dipinto visibile di tutta la chiesa. Al centro, seduta su un trono privo di spalliera e braccioli, vi è Maria con il Bambino, contornata da quattro Santi. Del santo all'estrema sinistra si conserva solo parte del volto con l'aureola. I due santi posti all'interno sono stati identificati come San Michele Arcancgelo e San Gabriele Arcangelo. L'ultimo santo è stato identificato come San Giovanni Battista.



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