Recent excavations at Comacchio as well as archaeological research in the Venetian lagoon are defining the northern Adriatic region as an especially dynamic area in demographic rather than economic terms during the early Middle Ages. This dynamism is best expressed in the form of new centres of settlement with specific characteristics, principally associated with short- and long-distance trade. This phenomenon possesses a strong resemblance to the emergence of similar places along the North Sea coastline from more or less the same period. This phenomenon has been much debated by historians and archaeologists, who have ascribed the source of these new specialized centres (defined as emporia or wics) as prototypes for future mercantile cities and the rebirth of the medieval economy.
The scope of the congress at Comacchio was to evaluate the most recent evidence, in a historical and archaeological context, addressingthe importance of these new Adriatic centres as well as considering comparisons for the first time with the more familiar northern European trading centres.