Giannone, Pietro (1676–1748)

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GIANNONE, PIETRO (16761748), Italian reformer, historian, and jurist. Born in Ischitella, Italy, and educated at the University of Naples, Giannone cultivated early ties with the Accademia Medina Celi, the famous academy sponsored by the duke of Medina Celi, of which Giambattista Vico was a member. He began a career in law, but his associations with the Neapolitan reforming jurists soon involved him in the antifeudal battle against the local nobility and the jurisdictional battle with Rome. Even his work as a historian took on a powerful polemical tone.

His ideas for the Istoria civile del Regno di Napoli (1723; Civil history of the kingdom of Naples ) developed from his work as a jurist, which he evaluated in the light of the English civil lawyer Arthur Duck's 1653 history of Roman law in Europe. The resulting masterwork was an innovative fusion of legal history, cultural history, and social history. Conceived over a period of some twenty years, it aimed to combine erudition (often borrowed from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors possessing firsthand experience with the documents) and a philosophical outlook in harmony with the virulent anti-ecclesiastical program characteristic of the Enlightenment. A major purpose was to provide the new Austrian rulers of Naples with a basis for correcting the social and political problems caused by what he viewed as the excessive influence of Rome and the Catholic Church in Neapolitan civic affairs. Translated into French in 1742, the work eventually earned the praise of Montesquieu, Voltaire, and Edward Gibbon.

At the time, however, it launched its author into a sea of troubles. Giannone was excommunicated by the local archbishop and forced to leave Naples, while the work was placed on the Index of Forbidden Books. In the Vienna of Emperor Charles VI, Giannone found a secure asylum in which to undertake and publish detailed responses (later issued together in 1755 as Apologia del'istoria civile [Apology of the civil history]) to the many polemics provoked by his writings. Meanwhile, he worked on an unfinished history of the origins of civilization (the Triregno, complete edition of the manuscript published only in 1895), developing many of the themes in the Istoria civile and adding others, in part inspired by Baruch Spinoza, Pierre Bayle, and John Toland, concerning the abolition of ecclesiastical hierarchy and the institution of a natural religion.

The promise of a new regime in Naples under the Spanish Bourbons attracted Giannone back to Italy in 1734. In Venice he found a congenial environment for study and discussion, but he soon became a victim of Italian religious politics. Betrayed by his Venetian associates, chased out of Modena, tricked into leaving relatively safe Geneva and delivering himself into the hands of the Savoy police, he ended up in jail in Piedmont, where he remained from 1736 until the end of his life in 1748, in spite of having submitted to a forced abjuration of his beliefs. In this last period, among other works exploring the themes of politics, philosophy, and religion that had long interested him, he wrote a vivid account describing his intellectual development amid personal tragedy, entitled Vita di Pietro Giannone (The life of Pietro Giannone; complete edition first published in 1904).

See also Bayle, Pierre ; Charles VI (Holy Roman Empire) ; Enlightenment ; Gibbon, Edward ; Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat de ; Naples, Kingdom of ; Vico, Giovanni Battista ; Voltaire.


Primary Source

Opere di Pietro Giannone. Edited by Sergio Bertelli and Giuseppe Ricuperati. Milan, 1971.

Secondary Source

Ricuperati, Giuseppe. L'esperienza civile e religiosa di Pietro Giannone. Milan-Naples, 1970.

Brendan Dooley