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  on Monday, May 11, 2009 at 17:30 p.m.

A German Historian Looks at the Italian City-State

Faculty Tower, # 409


Tom Scott

University of St. Andrews

There has been no comprehensive investigation of the city-state in Europe for at least a century. Recent studies which have asserted that European city-states ruled as centres of capital accumulation in contrast to monarchical or princely states which ruled by (extra-economic) coercion have by and large not only marginalized or ignored Germany, the Low Countries, and Switzerland, they have also perpetuated the venerable view of Italian city-states as repositories and practitioners of republican liberty. Yet modern scholarship on Italy has stressed the aristocratic character of city-states and their elites, alongside strong signs of ‘refeudalization’ in the era of the signorie. It therefore makes sense for a historian of German and Swiss cities and town-country relations to bring his own insights and questions to bear on the apparent peculiarity of Italian city-states.

After a comparison of academic-institutional traditions, terminology, and historiography, the paper examines four topics in detail which have especial resonance for German historians: 1. the hinterland as a resource; 2. urban landholding; 3. citizenship, including ‘outburghers’ and new urban foundations; 4. jurisdictional exclusivity. In conclusion, the paper asks what lessons the Italian city-state holds for city-states north of the Alps.

Tom Scott is honorary professor in the Institute of Reformation Studies at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. He is the author of works on town-country relations, regional economic systems, territorial expansion in southern Germany and Switzerland, and serfdom, alongside works on the social and political dimensions of the German Reformation. Currently he is writing a book on The City-State in Europe, AD 1000-1600.

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