City statutes and legal order in medieval Italy

One of the most characteristic features of medieval Italy is the amazing quantity of large and small towns. Within these towns there might be feuds about the supremacy of families or guilds, but to the world at large fierce pride of one’s own town reigned supreme. Many Italian towns had since the twelfth century or even earlier their own city council which issued laws in the form of statuti. Thus medieval lawyers had already to deal with questions about which law had to be obeyed in case of collision of laws. Albericus de Rosciate (Alberico da Rosate) (around 1290-1360) wrote a long tract De statutis, in early editions also appearing under the title Quaestiones statutorum. At Munich the incunable edition Como 1477 of this work has been digitized. Alberico was preceded by Alberto Gandino (around 1240-1305) , mainly known for his Tractatus de maleficiis edited by Hermann Kantorowicz, but also responsible for quaestiones statutorum written around 1284, published by A. Solmi in the Bibliotheca iuridica medii aevi. Scripta anecdota glossatorum, Augusto Gaudenzi and Giovanni Battista Palmiero (eds.) (3 vol., Bononiae 1888-1903; reprint Torino 1962; Gandinus’ text is in vol. 3, 157-214). The way medieval lawyers dealt with municipal laws is the subject of the great study by Mario Sbriccoli, L’interpretazione dello statuto. Contributo alla storia della funzione di giuristi nell’età comunale (Milano 1969). Sbriccoli was not the first to write about this subject. City guilds and confraternities, too, had their own statutes and ordinances. The Italian historiography on statutes has a long and colorful tradition.

Just before Christmas Mike Widener, curator of rare books at the Lilian Goldman Law Library of Yale Law School, blogged about the presentation in Rome on November 23, 2011, of the edition of a manuscript at Yale with the statuti of Montebuono, a town in Rieti, some fifty kilometers north of Rome. Widener gives more details about these fifteenth-century statuti in his post. In 2008 the library of Yale Law School organized an exhibit on early Italian statutes. In the online version of the exhibit you can find a very useful commented overview of editions, bibliographies and online resources. The presentation in November of this year was held at the Biblioteca dello Senato in Rome which undoubted has the largest collection of printed Italian statutes worldwide. You can use a special online catalogue to search its holdings for this field alone.

It is difficult but worthwhile to add substantial information to Widener’s 2008 overview. When you search for statuti in the Hathi Trust Digital Library you will find a few dozen digitized editions of municipal statutes, and also some studies. Using the Internet Archive yields roughly estimated the same number of results. The much more user-friendly interface of digitized books held in the Internet Archive – and now also at the Hathi Trust Digital Library – is a major advantage on using the books digitized by the monopolizing firm at its own book subdomain. Avoiding the name of this multinational firm is a kind of running gag here, but it is very much like not choosing spaghetti when literally hundreds of other forms of pasta exist… The German ZVDD finds also some fifty digitized Italian city statutes, but BASE, the Bielefeld Search Engine, does find more. The Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog (Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue) allows you to search with one search action not only many library catalogues and collective catalogues, but also the ZVDD and BASE.

A few websites presenting municipal statutes from Italy not listed by Widener in 2008 can be added here. The Società Pistoiese di Storia Patria has digitized a number of the statuti of Pistoia published by this learned society. You will find there also the edition of regesta, standardized summaries, of charters for several ecclesiastical institutions in this Tuscan town, and an edition of census records. Mario Ascheri and Silvio Pucci have created a website with a searchable database for the Statuta Reipublicae Senensis, the city statutes and the later statutes dello Stato of Siena. Donatella Ciamponi has created a bibliography of medieval municipal statutes in the Siena and Grosseto area. Her bibliography can be found among the digitized materials at the website of the Dipartimento di Storia at the Università degli Studi di Siena. Here I would single out the bibliography of medieval Siena and the edition of statutes of the Lega del Chianti (1384). The website on municipal statutes in the Liguria region of Rodolfo Savelli at Genoa which features also a bibliography on this subject, mentioned by Widener, does point to a project with digitized texts from Pisa. Among them are juridical texts, foremost the Constitutum Legis Pisanae Civitatis. The Società Ligure di Storia Patria has plans to digitize more editions of medieval sources. I mention this website in particular because you will find here links to the websites of many other regional historical societies in Italy.

Probably more websites with digitized statutes exist but I have not yet found them at any of the Italian biblioteche pubbliche statali, the main state archives (Archivi di Stato) and city archives. Please do not hesitate to share your knowledge if you know more! In this post I have linked the names of Alberico da Rosate and Alberto Gandino to the website of the publisher of the Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani. This company also publishes an encyclopedia and a vocabulary of the Italian language, useful if you want to study Italian history in any real depth. The article on Alberico da Rosate by Luigi Prosdocimi dates from 1960, but the article on Gandino by Diego Quaglioni was originally published in 1999. Both articles have a comprehensive bibliography.

American scholars can benefit from the rich holdings concerning Italian statutes and other juridical books at Yale Law School, at Harvard and at the Law Library of the Library of Congress. In the Netherlands the collection of Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954) contains a number of early editions of Italian municipal statutes, now held at Leiden University Library. In Utrecht, too, you will find some editions of medieval statuti. The Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main has really rich holdings on the history of medieval law in Italy. Its library should be one of the places to visit before you will find more in Italy.


With this post I reach the end of 2011. In 2010 I wrote 35 posts, this year brought nearly 50 posts, almost one post every week. I hope you have enjoyed reading my contributions. Thanks to everyone who sent comments here, by e-mail and even in tweets! This year I have skipped the seasonal post simply because there has been no snow this month.

A postscript

When I decided to correct a few things here I wanted to have a look at another major gateway to digitized information. The results are different from what I had expected. They qualify for a rather long postscript.

When you add the Europeana portal to the array of possible gateways to digitized editions you might in principle find a lot of Italian statutes. However, much to my dismay I cannot detect anymore the advanced search mode which enables you to search directly for titles and to narrow your search efficiently. The new search mode is to some extent an English version of the old mnemonic maxim quis, quid, cur, quomodo, ubi, quando, quibus auxiliis: of the Five W’s you will find who, what, when and where. The refine search option is not completely useless, but surely more vague than necessary. By all means it is a setback when the carefully developed way to access information is thrown away without any warning. Fuzzy search or associative search would be more welcome as a second search mode, not as an exclusive way to search information at this portal which prides itself on the huge amounts of content from many corners. Some people will want to cast a wide net, but others have very precise search questions, and both approaches should be equally possible.

I would have liked to pass silently over the fact that you will find in a search for Italian statutes at Europeana also results with only the bibliographical data assembled in the EDIT16 project, which is not a digital library, but a bibliographical database. Surely you need to know not just something about bibliography when you search for these old statutes. In a project like Europeana a catalogue is simply not at the same level as access to digitized items, unless you like to swim in an ocean of ill digested information. There is a real need to distinguish between data and meta-data. Luckily Europeana has not deleted the filter function in the search interface. In fact this becomes more important than before. Is Europeana becoming a victim of the old proverb multa sed non multum, a lot of things but not much? The number of subdomains and new branches with interesting initiatives is impressive, as are some results, too, but it seems the core needs all possible care and attention. The Europeana Regia project with digitized medieval manuscripts has no search interface at all, only predefined selections and filters.

David Haskiya of the Europeana team sent a comment in which he explains you can still use the search parameters of the advanced search, such as title and creator. User statistics show only a very small percentage of users did use the advanced search interface.

A second postscript

A salutary warning not to isolate the text and importance of medieval Italian city statutes is provided by the Atlante della documentazione comunale (secoli XII-XIV), a project under the aegis of Scrineum (Università di Pavia) with online editions of texts concerning the administration and government of several Italian towns. The section on statuti contains only a notice about work in progress.

Finding more…

Two months after the second postscript I can add at least one online edition of medieval Italian city statutes, the project Statuti di Vicenza del 1264. The bibliography at this website is not only concerned with city statutes, but also with diplomatics and the technical aspects of digital editions. Patrick Sahle (Universität Köln) mentioned it in his annotated list of scholarly digital editions. Sahle’s list contains also a project for statuti from Grosseto, but alas the link is broken.

A 2015 postscript

Mike Widener (Lillian Goldman Library, Yale Law School) has created an inventory of manuscripts with Italian statutes in the holdings of Yale Law School.

4 thoughts on “City statutes and legal order in medieval Italy

  1. kadmeianletters

    Hi Otto,
    We removed the advanced search option in the interfaces as it was used by less than 0.1% of visitors to the portal.

    You can still perform advanced searches though. To do it just type in the name of the metadata field you want to search followed by a colon and then your search parameter.

    Two examples:

    I’ll notify The European Library that the ICCU records are “empty”.

    Best regards,

    1. rechtsgeschiedenis Post author

      Thank you for you quick and clear answer, David! As a scholar I am really amazed by the fact so few users of Europeana use the advanced search. Has this to do with the intended public of Europeana? It was indeed my silent hope that those wanting to search more exactly can still use search parameters such as title and creator in the search field. In the EDIT16 database of ICCU only some digitized title pages and sometimes a few pages more are given. Anyway, perhaps the removal of the advanced search mode might have qualified for a news item on the Europeana blog, where you could have demonstrated the use of the visitor statistics.

      As for searching manuscripts at Europeana Regia I am thinking of devoting a post to it.

  2. David

    It’s a general pattern for all search sites that Advanced Searches are very rare. In the low percentages at most. There’s some debate though whether that’s not also an effect of badly designed Advanced Search user interfaces. At some point we should make a write-up on advanced searching by fielded queries and boolean operators.

    And yes, in general Europeana is not really focusing on the scholar as user but more the non-professional user: the interested citizen or amateur scholar. Our sister project The European Library will focus on the scholars and researchers. Scholars like you are still very welcome though!

    Europeana Regia is quite loosely connected to us and I’m not sure their own website is really meant to be a long-term search service . In any case, whet we have from them you can get here:

    I’m sorry if the reasoning behind removing the Advanced Search option weren’t communicated properly. For a more full write-up on the latest changes to the Europeana portal I’ll point you to my own blog,



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