Indispensable immigrants

The wine porters of northern Italy and their saint, 1200–1800

By Lester Little

Indispensable immigrants


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1669-7
  • Pages: 240
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £20.00
  • Published Date: March 2017
  • BIC Category: HISTORY / Medieval, HISTORY / Renaissance, HISTORY / Europe / Italy, RELIGION / History, Humanities / History of religion, Humanities / History, Italy, Humanities / European history, Humanities / Early modern history: c 1450/1500 to c 1700, Humanities / Medieval history, Humanities / Social & cultural history, Early Modern History, History, Medieval History, RELIGION / Christianity / Saints & Sainthood, HISTORY / Social History


Indispensable immigrants recreates the world of peasants who streamed into the cities of late-medieval and early modern northern Italy to carry crushingly heavy containers of wine. Written in an easily accessible and unassuming style, it is solidly grounded in previously untapped archival and visual sources. In this first ever reconstruction of the forgotten métier of wine porter, topography plays a key role in forming the labour market; in the scramble to distinguish professionals from manual labourers the term artist gets divorced from lowly artisan, and wretched diet is invoked to explain why workers are so unintelligent; the wine porters make one of their own their patron saint in thirteenth-century Cremona and other interest groups scheme successfully to get him canonised in Rome five centuries later; and when enlightened despots abolish the guilds, the wine porters' trade fades away just as the candles on their patron's altars sputter and die out.


'The book is a sheer delight, perfect for leisure reading by all historians no matter their chronological or geographic specialization, a testament to the joys of what we do.' - Rudolph M. Bell, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, Journal of Social History June 2016

'It is a welcome contribution to his already-renowned scholarship and a tribute to a little-known Italian medieval saint. As a consequence the book itself will be indispensable to medieval and early modern scholars who work on Italy, saints, cults, the papacy, lay piety, and town life.'
Janine Larmon Peterson, Marist College, The Medieval Review, 2016

'This study, a pleasure to read, should engage a wide range of scholars, of medieval and early modern Italy, of religion and society, of popular piety, of memory and its construction, and of cultural and economic history.'
Thomas Worcester, College of Holy Cross, Renaissance Quarterly Review, Vol LXX, No. 4

'Indispensable Immigrants is a masterclass in the integration of archival work, historiography, rhetorical skill, and imagination, four ingredients indispensable to the craft of writing engaging and informative history.'


Part I: Alberto
1 The legend of Saint Alberto
2 The life of Alberto
3 The afterlife of Alberto
Part II: The wine porters
4 The brenta and the brentatori
5 Topography and migration
6 Porters of the imagination
Part III: Sainthood
7 Making saints
8 Sainthood by community
9 Sainthood by the papacy


Lester K. Little is Professor Emeritus of History at Smith College and a former Director of the American Academy in Rome

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