Ancient origins of Manfredonia
Strabo attributed the foundation of Siponto (the ancient town now called Manfredonia) to Diomedes, the hero of the Trojan war. There is also evidence of dwellings from the Neolithic age found nearby.
In ancient times Siponto was an important centre for the so-called “Dáunia” people (the people of the “Dauni”, of Illyrian origin). Siponto was then conquered by Pyrrhus [319-272 BC] in 330 BC, and subjugated by the Romans, who founded a colony here in 194 BC.
Siponto in the Middle Ages
The city was long contended between the Byzantines and the Lombards, then later occupied by the Normans in 1039. In the late Middle Ages it lost importance due to the port becoming overrun by the marshes.
The first bishop of the city was San Giustino, a local noble, and Siponto was a major Archbishopric of Italy, joined to Benevento from 668 to 1034. Pope Alexander II (1061-1173) definitively divided the two dioceses, and at that time appointing Gerardo di Siponto, a German Benedictine monk, as the Archbishop.
Important traces of the 'old town' include the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (consecrated in 1117 by Pope Pasquale II [1099-1118]) which is one of the most important buildings of Romanesque and Apulian style from the early decades of the 11th century. Adjacent to the church there are the remains of a Pale Christian Church and catacombs. The Saint Leonhard's church dates back to the 11th-12th century - with a sculpted portal it was owned by the Teutonic Knights.
A combination of pirates and the earthquakes of 1223 and 1255 ruined 'old Siponto'. The inhabitants was therefore collected by Manfredi, son of Frederick II of Swabia (1194-1250), in a new city a short distance to the northwest. This was called Mandredonia, in honour of Manfredi, who, like his father, had an important strategy for Manfredonia, that he wanted to become the administrative capital of Apulia. As part of this goal he built a Mint in the city which coined the so-called "Golden tarì".
Manfredi reigned in practice, as Regent, from 1250, when Frederick II died, until 1266, when he was defeated near Benevento by Charles of Anjou (1226-1285), who so hated Manfredi that he attempted to erase his memory, even changing the name of Manfredonia, calling it "Novellum Sipontum" ("New Siponto").
This fact was recorded by the chroniclers such as Salimbene da Parma (1221-1288), who wrote that:
"to King Charles of Anjou the name of Manfredonia was so detestable that he have would that it were called ‘Novellum Sipontum’ [‘New Siponto’]."
Anyway even King Charles understood the strategic importance of the city, and the Anjou completed the city walls that had been started by Manfredi. In the following centuries, due to its strategic importance, Manfredonia was the subject of sieges and lootings.
Charles III of Bourbon 1740 instituted the commercial court of the province in Manfredonia and the city became part of the Kingdom of Italy with the unification in 1861.
Origins of the name Manfredonia
The first historical writer who spoke about Siponto was Strabo (58-25 BC), who proposed an etymology of the city which still enjoys a broad consensus. Strabo thought that Siponto was a Greek town ("Sipous"), with a name derived from the Greek "Sepion" which means "cuttlefish":
"the Greeks called Siponto from 'Sipus', because of the cuttlefishes shot onto the beach by the waves of the sea".
Of course some ancient and contemporary scholars thought that the hypothesis of Strabo was a "false etymology". According to G. Semerano , the toponym refers to a "place rich in waters"; indeed, he asserts that:
"the name of Siponto, in Greek ‘Sipous’, is explained with the phenomenon of the ‘cuttlefishes’, in Greek 'Sepion', thrown from the waves onto the shore, while the term 'sipous' refers instead to the good original habitat, filled with water and wetlands."
Which is obviously true, because in the Middle Ages Siponto was abandoned because of these marshes to found the "New Sipontum", i.e. Manfredonia. In fact, as explained Giovanni Villani (1276-1348), a famous Florentine chronicler:
"Manfredi (1232-1266) made undone the city of Siponto in Apulia, because, for the marshes that were around, it wasn't healthy". This is amply demonstrated by contemporary studies, which underline the fact that the swamps "are a traditional physical character of the coast of Salento" .
In fact the Greek word "Sipous" maybe, as has been noted, a misleading etymology, because, in reality, the suffix "Sip-" might be "Ydr"; if so it would not "Sip-ous", but "Ydr-ous", the root of the Greek word "Ydor" ("water"), which confirms that "Sipontum" was born in an area rich in water and marshes .
See the Manfredonia guide if planning a visit.
1. "The Origins of European Culture", 1984: 811
2. See " The man and his environment in the Norman-Swabian ‘Mezzogiorno’ of Italy", Dedalo, 1989: 29
3. see "Studi Etruschi", Rinascimento del Libro , 1965, vol. 33: 704