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The Deliberate Destruction of Urban Residences in Medieval Italy (800-1200)



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The deliberate destruction of urban residences is a well-known but little-studied fact of civic life in the medieval period, especially for centres of the Italian peninsula. Most often, it is seen as a corollary to the urban factionalism which characterised life in these cities in the central and later Middle Ages. This thesis investigates the period between the early ninth and the late twelfth centuries, a time for which destructions have been mostly ignored by scholars. Throughout this period, intellectual and social changes transformed conceptions about the very nature of power. Ideas about legitimacy, legality, rightful authority, citizenship, and belonging, which were at the heart of urban consciousness, gave rise to communal governance.

These shifts have been amply studied from an institutional and intellectual angle, but they also had a material dimension. While this has been analysed most often in connection to the construction of architecture, destruction of the material dimension had an equally fundamental part to play in these changes. The extent to which the violent modifications of the urban fabric mattered to processes of social and political change has never been understood fully.

In our sources for these centuries, the practice of deliberate destruction appears as a central concern for kings, lords, bishops, citizen communities, and popes alike. The authors of these sources also often analysed their effects and judged their legitimacy in lengthy passages. This thesis engages with this evidence to demonstrate the ways in which authority, justice, and power depended on the destruction of buildings for symbolic and practical reasons. It looks at the ideology and the application of destruction in its political contexts to demonstrate that it was not always a drastic gesture of resistance (or oppression) as a modern observer might imagine. Instead, it shows that targeted destruction was key to processes of negotiation between urban communities and lay/religious rulers, part of a language of violence which was shared by rulers and ruled. The episodes studied in this thesis outline a phenomenon of social competition which makes use of the urban fabric and of the built environment using demolition, rather than construction, to serve specific political ends.





Goodson, Caroline


history, medieval history, political history, italy, medieval italy, destruction, domicide, history of political violence, urban history, material culture, built environment, medieval cities


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
AHRC (2123469)