Lanciano, its Fairs, the Mastrogiurato
Lanciano is a small town that has been renowned ever since Roman times and has always managed to reinforce its crucial position within the surrounding area, so as to turn into a fundamental reference point of a large territory.
In the wide mosaics of medieval Italy, its enviable geographic location (a junction of important North/South and East/West sheep tracks ('tratturi') gave it a key role in commerce, as it proposed itself as the privileged venue for fairs attended, twice a year (May and September), by dealers coming from everywhere in Continental Europe and many Mediterranean countries. The remarkable growth in importance of fairs led Charles II of Anjou to establish, much as he had done before and did later for other towns in the Kingdom of Naples in 1304 the figure of the Mastrogiurato. The town needed to bring together the judgement and the operational powers in the hands of its representative who could wield them firmly and skilfully during the fairs.
Over the whole period of the fair, he, with his escort, was the only one who could carry weapons and had the power to arrest immediately anyone who caused trouble to the guests. His main tasks included, to mention but a few: to give a warm welcome to his guests, to strictly control weights and measures and to perform the administration of civil and criminal justice. The magnificent investiture ceremony took place as follows: the chosen Mastrogiurato, suitably dressed for a figure of his rank and accompanied by an armed escort, entered the town hall - where the town representatives, the Royal Governor and the Garrison Commander ware waiting for him – and received, after swearing an oath of allegiance, the Town banners and the ensigns of the powers conferred upon him. The regalia and the Town banners were then taken to the fair grounds (Prato della Fiera) and were hoisted in the Mastrogiurato’s presence who first read out the notice and the Fair regulations and declared it officially open.
In the golden age of Lanciano’s fairs, given the few and secure town-access roads and the slow means of goods transport, in an attempt to counter banditry, steps were taken to establish armed changeovers along the main routes - initially from Ortona’s port and then from San Vito – to guarantee the safety of anyone who wanted to reach Lanciano.
Lanciano also set up maritime fleets to provide patrol and escort in the Adriatic Sea, by way of protection against Saracen raids, to merchants in their journeys to and from the town.