When the popolo/Geremei regime was progressively weakened and finally overthrown in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century, the key reforms of the popolo party were seriously eroded. Revisions of the Popolo Ordinances and program of 1292, 1311, and 1318-19 essentially re-established the primacy of the pre-popolo legal concepts and practices of composition (expiation by payment of a fine) and the use of the pax, or peace agreement between offender and victim, to cancel bans. The revisions of 1292 reinstated the fine and pax by altering the concept of perpetual banishment. “Perpetual” was to mean a ten year minimum period during which bans for major crimes such as homicide, robbery, kidnapping, and rape, could not be cancelled, but at the end of ten years, a person banished for homicide could have his ban cancelled by paying a fine and obtaining a pax from his victim’s family.

The 1292 revisions also reinstated the use of the pax to mitigate the harshness of penalties, but that provision was cancelled in 1311, probably under the pressures from renewed factionalism incited by emperor Henry VII’s journey to Italy. Nevertheless the new legislation of 1311 did confirm that the pax was required before a ban could be cancelled. This issue was also prominent in 1318, and although the new statutes of that year are lost, we have references in the 1318 legislative records that reaffirm the ban rubric. It is in 1319, when the new statutes were to go into effect, that the formulae in the “perpetual” murder bans begin to include consistently new language specifying that the ban was perpetual until a fine of 1000 pounds has been paid “according to the new statutes.” Bans against foreigners and magnates, however, retained the original significance of permanent banishment and could not be cancelled by the pax in major crimes. Nor could the pax be used in the case of hired assassins or notorious thieves, individuals perceived also in the pre-popolo period as being outside the community and concepts of honor. The revisions of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century thus marked a shift in the locus of criminal law away from the harsher and depersonalized emphases of popolo criminal justice and back to personalized, vendetta-based criminal justice.

Sarah Rubin Blanshei, “Crime and Law Enforcement in Medieval Bologna” (1982)


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