The Mass Conversion of 1495 in South Italy and its Precedents: a Comparative Approach

In: Medieval Encounters
Author: Nadia Zeldes1
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  • 1 Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva, Israel
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Forced mass conversions were relatively rare in the Middle Ages but they have a central place in both medieval narratives and modern historiography. A distinction should be made between conversions ordered by Christian rulers, and pressure to convert coming from popular elements. Some well-known examples of the first category are the baptism ordered by the Visigothic rulers in Spain and the forced conversion of the Jews in Portugal. The mass conversion of the Jews of the kingdom of Naples in 1495 belongs to the second category.

The article proposes to analyze the causes leading to the outbursts of violence against Jews in 1495 and the resulting mass conversions by making use of primary sources such as contemporary Italian and Hebrew chronicles, rabbinic responsa, and Sicilian material. Finally it proposes a comparison with other events of mass conversion, and principally that of 1391 in Castile and Aragon.

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