The landscape of Latium in the south and east of Rome is caracterized by small walled towns, mostly located at the top of the hills or tufaceous cliffs.
In the areas of the colonial settlements where the population density was particularly high, the small towns were constructed upon pre-existing ruins, by reusing the ancient residues and adapting them to their daily needs and defense. The territory was therefore reorganized in a way that it preserved its arrangement throughout the following years thus conditioning its political and economic history.
At the end of the 11th century Rome reacquires its function as the universal centre of Christianity through the Church Reform. At this point, the freedom of the Church from local disputes was an absolute necessity and could only be attained through the acqisition of absolute sovereignity over St. Peter’s Patrimony. As the urban planner Luigi Piccinato observed: ”...if, on the one hand, the papacy had inherited such imperial patrimony and called it ducatus, on the other, the Praefectus had inherited it with the investiture of the Senate, as a district over which he had authority. This only led to struggles between the Duke and the Praefectus or between the Pope and the democratic feuds: the first was keen on the moral and political power, the second seeked economic and fiscal influence. This struggle led to the development of a new municipal growth through mutual aggregation.”.
Giuseppe Tomassetti, a historian of the Roman country, called these communities "civic feuds". They were not completely free but derived from the feuds; they spontaneously organized themselves in guilds and were constantly supported by the city of Rome.
As we cross the threshold of the thirteenth century there was a remarkable reconstruction activity, both in Rome and in the country and in those small towns which fought for their identity and sphere of influence. During the 13th century the feudal policy imposed by Pope Innocenzo III (1198-1216) onto the fortified castles in the country, became insufficent in safeguarding the right of the Papal State against the self-centered tendencies of the local nobles, on which the emperors had relied upon during the most severe phases of their struggles against the Papacy. The feudal families distributed their property, through acquisitions and usurpation, in order to gain the complete control over the road system.
As reported by Tomassetti, the Roman country had as many castles and baronal fuedal estates as no other place in the world. Consequently, the feudal system, rigidly structured within the castle centres, was in contrast with its demographic growth, with the need for renewal and its want for a central power, leading to continuous struggles upsetting, but not modifying, the organization of the territory. During the Avignon Popes period (1305-1377) Rome only had 17,000 inhabitants and the territory of its province was fractioned according to the different spheres of influence: the Colonna family, descendants of the Counts of Tuscolo, who distributed their possessions from the borders of Abruzzo to the town of Anzio; the Savelli family confined themselves on the Colli Albani.In the south and east of Rome, the Patrimony of St.Peter became an heterogeneous aggregate dominated by the struggles to defend the borders and mountain passes. With the reorganization of the central State,the province of Rome became part of the capital district.
"Once the Roman country attained its own agricultural economy -- Piccinato points out -- it continued its Medieval life-style for six centuries, up until now, organically and spontaneously. If we want to have an idea of medieval Rome,we must deduce it from the Roman country life".
The large hamlets, the small feudal communities and agricultural villages constitute the three main types of communities testifying the colonization of the Roman territory. The hamlets which were once castles, farms or towers, helped the management of estates. The feudal communities, as that of S.Vittorino, for example, were constituted by tiny villages living off their courtly economy which helped the management of the larger feudal estates. The agricultural towns (there were 57 of them in the Middle Ages)represent the expression of a richer and more complex organization going from civic feuds to independent districts, contributing to and preserving the ancient economic structure.