The history of the sheep breeding in the Abruzzi Region unfolds through a period of several millennia, starting from the Apenninian Civilization during the Bronze Age (beginnings of the II Millennium B.C.) up to our days. This productive activity has inevitably articulated through alternate phases of increase and involution during such a long period of time, but at least until the industrial development of the second postwar period, it constituted a notable and important aspect in the economic and social picture of the region.

Pre-roman age
The Appenninian culture developed during the Bronze Age from the fusion of the Neolithic civilization devoted to agriculture and breeding, with nomadic tribes of metals seekers originating from the Middle East; this culture is characterized, already in 1700 A.C., by a mixed agricultural and breeding economy as a form of adaptation to the environmental and climatic conditions and to the morphology of the territory. It is especially during the median phase of this culture, that sheep breeding becomes prominent in agriculture, as proved by the discovery of archeological remains of breeding sites; with findings of crockery used exclusively for milk processing dated to this period.

Roman age
Under Roman domination, in a situation of peace and political stability, territorial divisions were overcome and different ethnic groups were unified under a central government. At the end of the Punic Wars, new territories for pastures were made available by the depopulation of the country side and by seizure of land belonging to several italic communities that supported the Carthaginians. Contemporarily, the positive outcome of Roman-Carthaginian war promoted the constitution of new capitals and created the availability of a conspicuous number of servile workers. Such favorable political-economic conditions proved to be determinant for the affirmation of a consistent herding industry founded on alternate utilization of pastures in Abruzzo and in the Apulian plateau.

From the Middle Ages to the ‘700
After the first centuries of the Middle Ages, during which one may clearly denote a crisis in transhumant sheep breeding due to general political instability and insecurity of journeys, the first signs of resumption are noticeable under the Norman and Sveva domination. But, above all, it is the work of the Benedictine Monks that bring back the regular use of the “tratturi” (sheep-tracks). Their entrepreneurial abilities start an important economic rebirth in the whole region and they favor the building of numerous Abbeys, still characterizing the Abruzzian landscape today.
In 1447, Alfonso I of Aragon institutes the “Dogana della Mena delle pecore in Puglia” (Custom claims of sheep herds leading to Apulia), with it’s headquarter in Foggia, and sets precise fiscal and guardianship norms regarding the use of “tratturi” (sheep-tracks) and pastures in Apulia. Thus begins the great season of transhumant sheep-breeding that became a thriving activity, at least up until the first years of the 1800’s. This generated a flourishing increase in commercial and artisan activities, tied up to breeding and the relative production of wealth. Some of these activities are still present in the territory. The maximum expression of this economic rebirth is the foundation of the city of L’Aquila, toward the middle of the thirteenth century as a point of meeting of mercenaries and owners of herds and the starting point of the “Tratturo Magno” (The Great Sheep-track), that connects the capital city in Abruzzo with Foggia.

From '800 to today
The beginning of the 1800’s shows a progressive decline of transhumant sheep-breeding due to the promulgation of laws that favor farming use of the Apulian lands instead of using them for pasture, along with industrial development imposing economic-social transformations; which develops a crisis, especially during our century, on the previous and secular system of integration among agriculture, pasture and craftsmanship. Today, among the owners of livestock still active in Abruzzo, only those who own low altitude pastures in Puglia and Molise, keep on practicing the long “transumanza”. All the other breeder/farmers practice breeding in permanent sheepfolds or the migration to mountain pastures with seasonal moves between the mountains in Abruzzo and the adjacent lowlands.

Transhumance means migrating sheep breeding...

The routes of the sheep tracks...

From "Museo delle Genti d’Abruzzo" of Pescara...

Gabriele D’Annunzio’s poem


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