Source: the mezzadria system   Leave a comment

An English overview of the mezzadria system from about 1900. Even twenty years later it would have been difficult to find a favourable account such as this one… SY

Of land-leasing in the English sense there is little: on almost every estate is established the system of mezzadria, a division of labour and capital which arouses in the contadini, as part-proprietor, a genuine interest in crops and cattle. Every estate worked upon the mezzadria plan is divided into various farms or poderes, varying in extent from seven or eight to thirty acres, or even more. Upon each podere stands a house, stables, and outbuildings, all provided by the padrone, and for the use of these and the land the contadino gives his work, so that a farm is often handed down from father to son, from one generation to another, and the peasant learns to love the land he cultivates as something of his own. This system of half-and-half tenure was instituted, writes one of its Italian supporters, ‘in the palmy days of the Roman Republic, when the plebeians obtained civil rights, but fell into disuse when slavery became general’. It was re-established in the fourteenth century, and perhaps the peasants’ custom of speaking of themselves as their padrone’s gente (Latin, gens) is a survival of the Roman origin.

It is a system which has many advantages. The people, if poor, have at least a roof to cover them, a piece of land to till. They learn to love the soil they cultivate with something of the old pagan passion for the earth, which is, after all, natural to all men, since we, too, are of the clay from which the Potter shapeth the world. The bitter, grudging feeling, often aroused in a day-labourer towards his master, is unfelt, for the contadino and padrone share both gains and losses, and the former in desiring his master’s prosperity is also desiring his own.

The padrone, in addition to land and house, provides such oxen, horses and donkeys as are necessary, presses for oil and wine making, and tools, carts, and other stock; but if an ox or other beast dies, the loss is shared. The contadino, on his side, pays, instead of rent, one half in kind of every crop corn, grapes and olives; and in money, one half of any profit made by the sale of animals, vegetables, eggs and milk. A bailiff, known as the fattore keeps all accounts, and once a year a professional accountant goes over the books and reads out to each man in the padrone’s presence all the items to his own credit or his master’s during the year, so that either can correct any mistake.

Of course this system, like all others, is capable of abuse, especially when an absentee landlord leaves all in the hands of his facttore, who in such cases, by skilful adjustment of the books, makes his profit from master and peasant alike. ‘Fammi Fattore un anno E se non mi aricco, mi danno’, is a saying supposed to express the usual way of bailiffs, but where the fattore is an honest man there can be little doubt that the system works well.

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Posted September 5, 2010 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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