GIANNONE, PIETRO (1676-1748), was born at Ischitella, in the province of Capitanata, on the 7th of May 1676. Arriving in Naples at the age of eighteen, he devoted himself to the study of law, but his legal pursuits were much surpassed in importance by his literary labours. He devoted twenty years to the composition of his great work, the Storia civile del regno di Napoli, which was ultimately published in 1723. Here in his account of the rise and progress of the Neapolitan laws and government, he warmly espoused the side of the civil power in its conflicts with the Roman Catholic hierarchy. His merit lies in the fact that he was the first to deal systematically with the question of Church and State, and the position thus taken up by him, and the manner in which that position was assumed, gave rise to a lifelong conflict between Giannone and the Church; and in spite of his retractation in prison at Turin, he deserves the palm - as he certainly endured the sufferings - of a confessor and martyr in the cause of what he deemed historical truth. Hooted by the mob of Naples, and excommunicated by the archbishop's court, he was forced to leave Naples and repair to Vienna. Meanwhile the Inquisition had attested after its own fashion the value of his history by putting it on the Index. At Vienna the favour of the emperor Charles VI. and of many leading personages at the Austrian court obtained for him a pension and other facilities for the prosecution of his historical studies. Of these the most important result was Il Triregno, ossia del regno del cielo, della terra, e del papa. On the transfer of the Neapolitan crown to Charles of Bourbon, Giannone lost his Austrian pension and was compelled to remove to Venice. There he was at first most favourably received. The post of consulting lawyer to the republic, in which he might have continued the special work of Fra Paolo Sarpi, was offered to him, as well as that of professor of public law in Padua; but he declined both offers. Unhappily there arose a suspicion that his views on maritime law were not favourable to the pretensions of Venice, and this suspicion, notwithstanding all his efforts to dissipate it, together with clerical intrigues, led to his expulsion from the state. On the 23rd of September 1735 he was seized and conveyed to Ferrara. After wandering under an assumed name for three months through Modena, Milan and Turin, he at last reached Geneva, where he enjoyed the friendship of the most distinguished citizens, and was on excellent terms with the great publishing firms. But in an evil hour he was induced to visit a Catholic village within Sardinian territory in order to hear mass on Easter day, where he was kidnapped by the agents of the Sardinian government, conveyed to the castle of Miolans and thence successively transferred to Ceva and Turin. In the fortress of Turin he remained immured during the last twelve years of his life, although part of his time was spent in composing a defence of the Sardinian interests as opposed to those of the papal court, and he was led to sign a retractation of the statements in his history most obnoxious to the Vatican (1738). But after his recantation his detention was made less severe and he was allowed many alleviations. He died on the 7th of March 1748, in his seventy-second year.
Giannone's style as an Italian writer has been pronounced to be below a severe classical model; he is often inaccurate as to the facts, for he did not always work from original authorities (see A. Manzoni, Storia della colonna infame), and he was sometimes guilty of unblushing plagiarism. But his very ease and freedom have helped to make his volumes more popular than many works of greater classical renown. In England the just appreciation of his labours by Gibbon, and the ample use made of them in the later volumes of The Decline and Fall, early secured him his rightful place in the estimation of English scholars.
The story of his life has been recorded in the Vita by L. Panzini, which is based on Giannone's unpublished Autobiografia and printed in the Milan edition of the historian's works (1823); whilst a more complete estimate of his literary and political importance may be formed by the perusal of the collected edition of the works written by him in his Turin prison, published in Turin in 1859 - under the care of the distinguished statesman Pasquale Stanislao Mancini, universally recognized as one of the first authorities in Italy on questions relating to the history of his native Naples, and especially of the conflicts between the civil power and the Church. See also R. Mariano, "Giannone e Vico," in the Rivista contemporanea (1869); G. Ferrari, La Mente di Pietro Giannone (1868). G. Bonacci's Saggio sulla Storia civile del Giannone (Florence, 1903) is a bitter attack on Giannone, and although the writer's remarks on the plagiarisms in the Storia civile are justified, the charge of servility is greatly exaggerated.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)