Politics and Justice in Late Medieval Bologna


This book is the first to investigate the practice of summary justice in a late medieval Italian commune. In delineating the political and social context of that development in late medieval Bologna, it also is the first to study the phenomenon of oligarchy not only at the level of the executive body of a commune, but also in the broader councils of commune and popolo, as well as among the ranks of the enfranchised political class. The dominant popolo party constructed itself through multiple forms of exclusion that deeply affected the administration of justice and led to the rise of new institutions of judicial appeal and equity. Exclusion also led to shifting concepts of the legal status and perceptions of social identity of insider and outsider, of popolano and magnate, as revealed in the testimony of witnesses in trial records. Bologna's rich archival sources make it possible to bring a new perspective to key issues in legal and social history.

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Biographical Note

Sarah R. Blanshei, Ph.D. (1971) in History, Bryn Mawr College, is Dean of the College and Professor of History emerita at Agnes Scott College. She has published a monograph on medieval Perugia and articles on criminal justice in late medieval Bologna and Perugia.

Review Quotes

"Sarah Rubin Blanshei offers a valuable portrait of medieval Bologna from mid XIIth century up to 1327... Sarah Rubin Blanshei provides a deep insight in various procedures and remedies before the courts of the podestà and of the capitano del popolo supported by an impressive array of unexplored documents from the State Archives of Bologna. The history of medieval process, usually seen from the point of view offered by learned ordines iudiciarii, is now investigated, for the first time, from a de facto perspective, as it took its course in a real political and social context...Many extracts from trial records can stimulate new researches inspired by this exemplary model."
Andrea Padovani, Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis/Revue d'Histoire/The Legal History Review, 80 (2012), pp. 214-215
"...The archival work at its core is impressive and the bibliography, which is abundant in rare sources, clearly shows the detailed research on which the volume is based.
In reality, this work contains many books in one; it is very intense and extremely detailed. It clearly demonstrates Blanshei's ability to work in the archives, and her use of archival sources, both technical and juridical, proves extremely rewarding."
Elena Brizio (The Medici Archive Project, Florence), The Edinburgh Law Review, Vol. 16, May 2012, pp. 298-299
"...Il libro di Sarah Rubin Blanshei è senza dubbio un lavoro importante e ricco di spunti interessanti non solo per gli studiosi della realtà bolognese..."
Tomaso Perani, Archivio Storico Italiano, Vol. CLXX, 2012, pp. 356-359
"...Blanshei's very patient analytical work on the leading families... has made a vital contribution to Bolognese history. It also offers a useful contribution to more general discussions on communal history... In Blanshei's work every argument is supported by rich and well-reasoned documentation..."
Mario Ascheri (Università di Roma Tre), Reviews in History no. 1042 (http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1042)
"...the single greatest contribution to Bolognese political history in recent decades... a monumental evidentiary base... the achievement of this work, which is characterized by a rare competence brought about by meticulous archival research and which provides an accessible survey of the city’s myriad and interlocking, guilds, arms societies, officials, and clans...”
Guy Geltner (University of Amsterdam), Speculum, Vol. 86, issue 4, October 2011, pp. 1049-1050

Table of contents

List of Tables
A Note on Usage

I. Part I. Politics of Closure: Setting the Boundaries
Part II. Prosecuting the Excluded

II. Oligarchy: Councils of the Commute
III. Oligarchy: Councils of the Popolo

IV. Part I. Status: Legal Definitions
Part II. Perceptions of Identity and Proofs of Status

V. The Politicization of Criminal Justice

Maps of Bologna


All those interested in legal and social history, medieval history, prosopography, and the history of the Italian commune.

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