Biondo Flavio's Italia Illustrata

Text, Translation and Commentary, Volume 2: Central and Southern Italy

By Catherine J. Castner

Subjects: History, European History
Imprint: Distribution Partners
Paperback : 9781586842550, 421 pages, January 2005
Paperback : 9781586842789, 504 pages, August 2011

An English translation of Biondo Flavio’s Italia Illustrata, with commentary.


In 1447 Alfonso of Aragon, King of Naples, engaged the humanist antiquarian Biondo Flavio to compose in Latin a catalogue of famous men of Italy. This commission became Italia Illustrata, the first historical topography. In it, Biondo superimposed upon Italy's classical heritage and her troubled medieval history a panorama of Italy in his own time. Although Italia Illustrata and three other major Latin treatises made Biondo's reputation as the father of modern historiography and archaeology, these works have been accessible only in early modern printed editions to specialists with entrée to rare book rooms.

In 2005, Catherine J. Castner made available in the first volume of this work Biondo's Latin description of the regions of northern Italy, accompanied by English translation and detailed commentary. The present volume completes the regions of Italy in Biondo's treatise.

Italia Illustrata provides important evidence for Italian geography and political history, the intellectual history of the fifteenth century, and the reception of classical antiquity in the Renaissance. This second volume continues attention to Biondo's direct observation of sites as he describes the towns and cities of central and southern Italy, correlating ancient Roman places with their contemporary counterparts. Along the way, notices of their famous men include early appraisals of important cultural figures, for example appreciations of Leon Battista Alberti and Donatello. Historians of classical archaeology will be interested in Biondo's narrations of antiquarian investigations: his location of the site of Horace's Sabine farm, and his patron Prospero cardinal Colonna's attempt to reclaim an imperial Roman ship from Lake Nemi. Although Biondo left the southern regions unfinished, he provides a substantial presentation of the history of the kingdom of Naples culminating in the triumph of King Alfonso, and eyewitness observation of ancient Roman sites in the Campi Flegrei, evocative for early humanists and Renaissance notables, who considered them second only to the ruins of Rome.

Cathering J. Castner is Professor of Classics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.