Pietro Raciti alias Beekeeper

Let's come back to one of the individuals mentioned in the fifteenth century, a certain man by the name Pietro Raciti also known as Beekeeper from an area between the towns of Randazzo and Linguaglossa in north-eastern part of Mount Etna born between 1420 and 1430's. In english he is also commonly referred to as Peter Beekeeper.
From various links I made so far with the help of notaries, I found out that all Raciti belonging to the Aci Platani's Cluster, that is roughly 75% of the total in the world, are his direct descendants. [1]. On the other hand those belonging to the other 2 clusters, namely Aci S. Antonio and Aci S. Filippo have ancestors belonging to a different lines. Look at Lines

We do know that in 1444 Pietro was living in Randazzo where according to a notary deed written by Manfredo Marotta, he had to settle a purchase of 15 "salme" of wheat for a cost of 24 "onze". 13 "salme" have already been payed for, but he still had to pay for the remaining 2 "salme" [2]. How much is a single "salma" of wheat? Let's try to convert that measure to a modern standard. 1 salma is equal to 16 "tummina". 1 "tummina" is about 17,5 Kg (38 lb). So a single "salma" is roughly equivalent to 280 Kg (617 lb). 15 "salme" are about 4200 Kg (9259 lb) for 24 "onze". How much is a single "onza" worth? Roughly 100 euros that is $137. 24 "onze" are therefore roughly equivalent to $3288 for 9259 lb of wheat. That is about $0,35 for a pound of wheat! We do not know the reason behind this huge purchase of wheat, perhaps for personal reasons, in order to sell it or other. In this period of time Pietro it's not nicknamed "beekeeper", therefore we do not know what was his job.

In 1456 Pietro was apparently living in Linguaglossa where he is explicitly called by the name "apaturi" that is beekeeper [3] while in 1468 he was in Mascali [4], and later from 1500 we find his descendants living in Aci Platani which conventionally gives name to the cluster[5].

Here is a summary of the document from February 13 1456 [6] written by Pietro Marotta:

"Pietro Rachiti alias bekeeper from Linguaglossa sells to Francesco Baxu from Randazzo honey and beeswax which will be produced until August at the price of 14 tarì per cantharus of honey and 9 tarì per roll of wax.The settlement takes place on August 1 VI indiction"

In this particular paper, we are given Pietro's job and place of residence, but we are neither told his age nor his father's name, as is more common in notaries especially the ones from the sixteenth century.

How much is a tarì in modern currency? And one cantharus? One roll?

I believe that the tarì here is the silver one used from the time of King Alfonso of Aragon, which would be equivalent to roughly 6€ that would be $7,75 or £5[7] One cantharus (which is a container similar to a jar) is divided in 100 rolls and one roll is equivalent to 0,79 Kg which is 800g that is 1 ounce [8]. A cantharus is therefore 80 Kg and therefore roughly 100 ounces (6,25 pounds).

From this follows that 100 ounces of honey would cost $108 (£70) while 1 ounce of beeswax would cost $70 (£45). Indeed he made people pay good, but what surprises me is the use of "cantharus" for honey rathar than a smaller unit, why not use a "cafiso" which was roughly 10 ounces? Honey was not a good that could be produced in huge quantities unless his business was a well structured and of a consistent size. Perhaps he was one of the few if not the only beekeeper of his time in the north eastern area around mount Etna, who can say? The fact that in this document he is called "beekeeper" meant that he was know with that nickname by the people.

The area where he lived at that time, Linguaglossa, was surrounded by wood, as well as the whole area from Piedimonte up to the northern suburbs of Acireale[9]; a huge forest where to gather honey and wax. But what were the beekeeping tecniques of the day back then? Did people climb up trees in order to gather honey and wax or did they have some sort of artificial beehives? The latter hypothesys seems the most likely one and I will tell you why.

An interesting article called "Apicoltura, cera e miele"[10] "Beekeping, wax and honey" tells us about the methods used in Norman Sicily. These early beehives were horizontal, most probably made using spools from a plant called "ferula", that is fennel. This same technique is still used in Ragusa province. If such was the case in medieval times, we can expect fennel hives in more recent times such as the XV century, when Pietro lived.

This hypothesys is confirmed by different notaries from Palermo in which do appear beekeepers from the XV century and also the "fennel hives" [11]. Citing from the article: "The fennel hive consisted in a parallelepiped (box like shape), less than 1 meter in length and roughly 20 centimeters in height and width, whose walls are formed by a series of fennel spools assembled together"[12].

Do we have proof that Pietro used fennel hives? We do not. However in that same notary paper from 1456 we are given a clue that makes us believe so:

"honey and beeswax which will be produced until August"

If Pietro's beekeeping was based on hunting and gathering honey and wax from the wood, or another technique in which at the end of the season the artificial hive were to be destroyed with the bees, he could not "produce" them continuously. Also the august honey extraction presumes a double honey extraction a year (the first in spring), which can be obtained only with horizontal hives that can be opened sideways. In the other techniques this is not possible and therefore honey is extracted once a year, in autumn, after the destruction of the bee colony. Besides, as previously said, the use of a big measuring unit such as "cantharus" rather than a smaller one "cafiso" makes us imagine an abundant production of honey. Such large scale activity must have required a well organised system which could be obtained only with artificial hives and well timed honey extractions.

After this time, what happens with Pietro? Luckily we find him again twelve years later in 1468 mentioned in a grant made to him by the Diocese of Catania. This second document, among the only two surviving ones that testify his existance, had the greatest impact on him and the history of our Family since I believe it contributed, to some extent, to the way in which we are currently distributed in Sicily (at least those of you that belong to Aci Platani's Cluster).

So here is the transcription of that grant:

"VI Julis XV Ind. 1468

Coram Venerabilis Domino Nicolao Caropipi, nob. Ximenio Russu, Magistro Antonio Lalicata et Magistro Joanne de Bernardello

Nobilis Nicolaus de Paternione tamquam rector maioris Catanensis Ecclesiae spontes ad emphiteusim seu ad annum censum inperpetuum a primo die mensis septembris anni proxime future prime Indinctionis dedit et concessit ae per tactus penne mei nt predicti traddidit et assignavit Petro deRachiti dicti apaturi habitatori Casalis Mascalarum presentavi certa casalena nominate la casa di Lu Ienuisi cum terris et tenimentis suis circum circa sita in eodem Casale coniuncta cum domo Chicti de Sancto Cono ex parte occidentis cum via pubblica ex parte meridei et vallono ex parte orientis et aliis confinibus cum iuribus suis par ratione census rotulorum duorum cere assignandorum. In Primo die novembris cuius libet anni incipiendo ab anno 2nda Indictione Inanthea et quia locus predictus est fractinosus et indiget sfrutti nari propterea Idem nobilis rector voluit dictum emphita in predicto anno prima Indictione adducere sub pactis et Conditionibus Infractis et primo quod teneatur eades bona aumentare et reparare et conciare et ad domum abitabile redducere et continuo solvere dictum ius census et non cessare saltem biennio alias cadat a presente concessione et liceat eidem nobilis Rectori dicta bona addicta ecc.az advocare presente concessione ne abstante Item mensualie rationis teneatur eumdeb nobile rectorem requierere qui si volverit et ni liceat alienari potentionibus personis et idem adeo..."[13]

Here is a translation in English of the firts part at least:

"6 July 1468 XV indiction

In our presence Don Nicolaus Caropepe, noble Simone Russo noble, Sir Antonio La Licata and Giovanni Bernadello

Noble Nicola Paternoò great rector of the church of Catania, spontaneously gives and grants in perpetual lease on the first day of the month of September, first indiction to Pietro Raciti aka beekeeper, resident of the hamlet of Mascali, a certain house called the house of Genovese house with its annexed lands and tenements situated in this hamlet joined with the house Cicco Santo Cono at the western part, with the public highway at the south and the valley at the east and all other borders with its jurisdictions for a fee of two rolls of wax."

Note the use of the name "aka beekeeper". Pietro here mentioned must be the same one mentioned in that notary of 1456, twelve years earlier when he was said from Linguaglossa, but if you notice here he is from Mascali. Most likely in those twelve years Pietro moved from Linguaglossa to Mascali (they are roughly 8 miles apart from each other) and in 1468 he was granted a piece of land and a small house in lease by the bishropic of Catania for a fee of two roll of wax. This land was located in Mascali County which belonged to the bishop himself. This County was a vast and waste territory that the bishop wisely decided to split into many plots and grant them at low price to attract farmers who could work, drain and improve it. Pietro is one of the leaseholders, and he had to pay just two rolls of wax a year. We have already learned how to calculate that amount, right? It's roughly 2 ounces of worked beeswax a year. A really small amount compared to the opportunity of having a piece of land for one own use with a small house on it where to grow crops and produce the precious wax. In all this I see a form of indipendence, a milestone being reached , a new phase of Reneissance. It is a time for great opportunities where it is the individual alone with his strenght that counts, not the individual within the community as it was for Guglielmo three hundred years before in the Middle Ages. This is the driving force of this particular period of history we call Reneissance.

You will notice that this piece of land and therefore the grant will have a profound impact in the future because it will be the same one used by various Raciti families even at the beginning of the seventeenth century for its own needs. And to have a land in which to grow crops especially in times of famine is essential, especially if the very survival depends on it.

So far this is all I have been able to discover about Pietro who could be considered the first modern era Raciti and the link between the remote past and our sixteenth century family in Acireale till present day.


ASP - Archivio di Stato di Palermo
ASC - Archivio di Stato di Catania
ASDC - Archivio Storico Diocesano di Catania

Sources and Bibliography:

[1] ASP, Tribunal del Real Patrimonio, Riveli, Vol.783, c.77r - "bastiano rachiti petrum apaturi" "sebastiano rachiti of pietro beekeeper". Sebastiano was son of Giovanni who was son of Andrea son of Pietro. In 1600 Raciti from Aci Platani had all land in Mascali, in the same place where 150 years before a land was given to Pietro beekeeper. The only logical explanation for such coincidence is to believe that Raciti from Aci Platani are direct descendants of Pietro from whom they inherited the lands.
Look at Riveli from volume 781 to 829.

[2] ASC, Notarile Randazzo, Notaio Manfredo Marotta, Vol.2, c.21r, 11 Febbraio 1444 - Consultabile anche su http://www.archividelmediterraneo.org

[3] ASC, Notarile Randazzo, Notaio Pietro Marotta, Vol.5, c.110r-v, 13 Febbraio 1456 - Can view it on http://www.archividelmediterraneo.org

[4] ASDC, Mensa Vescovile, Carpetta 14, Fasc.2, c.188r-v

[5] Vedi Nota 1

[6] Vedi Nota 2

[7] http://www.laltrasicilia.org/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=569

[8] http://www.smfn.unical.it/files/fl78/6381sistemametricosiculo.pdf

[9] http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bosco_d'Aci

[10] Irma Naso, "Apicoltura, cera e miele", p.203-240, in Uomo e ambiente nel Mezzogiorno normanno-svevo: "Atti delle VIII giornate normanno-sveve", Bari 20-23 ottobre 1987, edizioni Dedalo

[11] ASP, Notai Defunti, A. Bruna 554, 8 giugno 1417; ibid., ..novembre 1431; A. Bruna Spezzone 193, 14 settembre 1445.

[12] Vedi Nota 9, pag.225

[13] ASDC, Mensa Vescovile, Carpetta 14, Fasc.2, c.188r-v


[1] - ? [2] - Zur Geschichte der Kostüme or The History of Costume , Plate # 24 Nro. # 437, Munchen, 1800’s
Questa immagine non raffigura i veri personaggi, ma cerca di dare un idea dell'evento.

[3] - http://www.beeclass.com/dts/briefhistory.htm

[4] - http://www.mieliditalia.it/aspromiele/storia_marletto.htm

[5] - Città del Vaticano, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Exultet Barb. Lat. 592: le api

[6] - Tacuinum Sanitatis

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