4 June 2020

Flavio Biondo – historian and archaeologist

Writer reconstructed ancient Roman topography


Flavio Biondo was the first historian to write about the period known as the Middle Ages
Flavio Biondo was the first historian to write
about the period known as the Middle Ages
Flavio Biondo, the first historian to write about the concept of the Middle Ages, died on this day in 1463 in Rome.

Biondo, who is also sometimes referred to as Flavius Biondus, his Latin name, wrote Historiarum, which ran to 32 volumes. It was a comprehensive treatment of both Europe and Christendom from the sack of Rome by the Goths in AD 410 to the rise of Italian cities in the 15th century.

His work provided a definite chronological scheme, from ancient Rome up to his own time, which started the idea of the 1000 year period we now refer to as the Middle Ages. It is known that the writer Niccolò Machiavelli often consulted this work.

Biondo was born in 1392 in Forlì in Romagna, which is now part of the region of Emilia-Romagna. He was educated well and during a brief stay in Milan he discovered, and was able to transcribe, the only existing manuscript of Cicero’s dialogue, Brutus.

Biondo trained as a notary before moving to Rome, where he was appointed as an apostolic secretary.

The cover of Biondo's history of the years after the decline of the Roman Empire
The cover of Biondo's history of the years
after the decline of the Roman Empire
After embarking on diplomatic missions throughout Italy, he wrote De Roma instaurata (Rome Restored), a three volume work that reconstructed ancient Roman topography. At the time Biondo was living in Rome, the ancient ruins were still overgrown and unexplored. It is because of this achievement that he is regarded as the first archaeologist.

A few years later, he wrote De Roma triumphante, a discussion of pagan Rome as a model for reform in administrative and military institutions. The book suggested a new concept of the papacy as a modern continuation of the Roman Empire. This reawakened Roman patriotism and respect for antiquity.

One of Biondo’s greatest achievements was Italia illustrata (Italy Illuminated), written between 1448 and 1459, which was based on his extensive travels through Italy. The book described the geography and history of the peninsula and the contemporary internal divisions between secular and papal power. It also covered the classical revival during the first half of the 15th century.

Biondo died in Rome in his 71st year.


The Abbey of San Mercuriale in Forlì was a  familiar sight in Biondo's time, as now
The Abbey of San Mercuriale in Forlì was a
familiar sight in Biondo's time, as now  
Travel tip:

Forlì, in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy where Flavio Biondo was born, is a historic city that still has some beautiful, medieval buildings he would recognise. In the main square, Piazza Aurelio Saffi, the Abbey of San Mercuriale and the Church of San Domenico that overlook the square are both well preserved medieval buildings. There is a statue of Aurelio Saffi, the politician the square is named after, who was an important figure in the Risorgimento movement that led to the unification of Italy. This formed a country from the many city states of the peninsula Biondo had explored.


The Forum in Rome, overgrown and neglected in Biondo's time, is now a major tourist attraction
The Forum in Rome, overgrown and neglected in
Biondo's time, is now a major tourist attraction
Travel tip:

In the 15th century, while Biondo was living in Rome, many of the city’s ancient ruins were covered in weeds and he would have seen cows grazing in the once glorious Forum, which is now one of Rome’s major tourist attractions. The Forum, situated between Piazza Venezia and the Colosseum, was at the heart of all the business and political affairs of the Roman Empire. It was where elections were held and important speeches were delivered. Biondo’s writing helped reawaken interest in Roman antiquity, although it was not until the 19th century that the process of uncovering and restoring the ruins began. The Forum site opens at 8.30 am and closes one hour before sunset and visitors should allow about two hours in order to explore the ruins fully.

Also on this day:

1604: The birth of Claudia de' Medici, Archduchess of Tyrol

1966: The birth of opera singer Cecilia Bartoli

1970: The birth of Olympic skiing champion Deborah Compagnoni


Home


No comments:

Post a comment