History of Bitonto


See Bitonto guide for highlights and historic monuments

Inhabited since Prehistoric times, the area of Bitonto underwent an Illyrian invasion in the Iron Age, and populations from the opposite shore of the Adriatic formed in Puglia the ethnic area of the “Japigi” (called the “Apuli” in Classic Age) with Dauni and Peucezian.

At this time “Bitontum”n as it was called, was a town of Peucetii, along with Metapontum, Hidruntum, Tarentum and Sipontum. Sharing the cultural influences of the “Magna Graecia” people, the “Bitontini” retained intact their independence until the Roman invasion.

Early centuries in Bitonto

The town was an ally of Rome in the 3rd century BC, and it minted its own coins with the image of the Goddess Athena. Bitonto was a “municipium” in both the Republican and Imperial Roman Ages.

With the decline of the Roman administrative structure, the area suffered from invasions by the Goths, Lombards, Slavs and the Saracens, who left their mark in the town's customs, traditions and artistic tendencies.

In 975 AD the “catapano” (derived from ‘katà and ‘epanos’, or the “commander in-chief”] Zaccaria of Byzantium, defeated the Saracens in Bitonto. The greedy Byzantine Government created discontent and around the year 1000 Bitonto joined the League of the municipalities of Puglia, captained by Melo and Argyros.

It was in this period that many inhabitants of the surrounding countryside took refuge in the town, giving life to a true artistic and civil flourishing for Bitonto. In 1098 William of Altavilla [died 1127] was the "Dominator civitatis Botonti" (“ruler of Bitonto”) and he established a feudal County.

Having regained its autonomy with the Normans of Sicily (Ruggiero II, William I and II), Bitonto became an important centre and initiated the construction of the new cathedral on the remains of the early Christian and medieval Church. With Frederick II (1194-1250) Bitonto retained its status as "Civitas specialis" (“special town”) and was one of the places where taxes were levied by the Swabians.

In the 13th and 14th centuries Bitonto was a rich and populous Royal Town, the second most important city in the “Terra di Bari” region after Barletta.

Battle for control of Bitonto, 15th to 18th centuries

In 1412 it was conquered by Giacomo Caldora, Duke of Bari, who became Lord of Bitonto (1369-1439). During the 15th century there followed the dominations by the Ventimiglia, Orsini, Acquaviva d'Aragona and the Cordoba, the heirs of the Great captain who in 1503 conquered the South of Italy for Spain.

In the 16th century the noble families of Spanish origin celebrated their power and prestige, realizing civic and religious buildings in Bitonto. In 1647 the people rose up against the harassment of the nobles but the rebellion was crushed.

After the Spaniards came the Austrians during the 18th century: it was near the town in 1734 that the famous battle between the Austrian and Spanish army that resulted in the advent of the Bourbon dynasty took place.

Origins of the name Bitonto

The ancient name of the city, as we can see in the coinage, was "Bituntus". Among the early references to the town are those  of 'Anonymous' from Ravenna [between 6th and 7th century AD]: "there is also a town called 'Bituntus'" [1] and Bernardo Guidone [14th century): "Bari (…) along an ancient road not far has the fertile soil of Bitonto, once a noble and rich town" [2].

It seems that the city name is pre-Latin, with likely links with "Butua" in the Balkans and “Bohotros” in the Illyrian area, but the etymology is very uncertain; some scholars derive its name from "bonum totum", alluding to the prosperity of the place that welcomed people from surrounding areas since ancient times.

In fact this might be possible, taking into account what the ancient and modern authors wrote about the fertility of the site where the town is situated. For example, C. Rasche writes:

"[...] Bitonto, a town of Peuceti in Puglia, was situated in a particularly fertile plains...In ancient times it was a town of no importance, and in ‘Tabula Peuntingeriariana’ it was called ‘Butuntus’" [3].

See also the Bitonto travel information and visitor guide.

References

1. See Anonymous from Ravenna" Cosmographia ", 4-35, 282-283;

2. Guidone," Geographica ", 25, 47-48 in A. Riccardi," The ancients Peuceti in Bitonto ", Edipuglia, 2003:  35

3. See J. Rasche, C. Heyne, “Lexicon Universae Rei Nummariae”, in Libraria Gleditschia, 1785:  1631, column 1