In the post-popolo period after 1292 there were equally significant changes in the area of criminal prosecution. External and internal pressures on the government modified the ruling classes’ perception of who and what constituted dangerous individuals and crimes, and this in turn influenced the pattern of criminal prosecution. The first major modification in social control came in 1295 under the pressure of the commune’s war with the Marchese d’Este of Ferrara, a war of much more challenging scope than Bologna had experienced in decades. The war made serious fiscal and public safety demands upon the government and led to revision of the tax rolls and a new estimo to meet war expenses, and also to law reforms to meet the danger to public security. The communal courts themselves were reorganized and placed on a more centralized footing, the investigative process was made less cumbersome, and the scope of the podesta‘s investigative powers in cases of assault was enlarged. In addition, the number of police or beroarii was increased and monetary penalties against foreigners were made double those paid by Bolognese. It was the foreigners who became more explicitly the concern of the courts, and this increased concern stemmed directly from the government’s fear that “foreigners,” especially supporters of the Este, such as the “Whites” from Tuscany, would enter the city and attempt to create disturbances that would subvert the government.

The new preoccupation with the foreigner directly affected the prosecution of crime, and consequently the inquisition records of 1296 differ in pattern from those of the 1280s and early 90s. The number of foreigners and assault cases prosecuted rose: for example, nine of sixteen cases in one notary’s register in 1296 involved foreigners. The pattern of assault cases also changed and reflected the new jurisdictions of the podesta of the fourteen assault cases in that 1296 register, two had taken place in the contado and twelve in the city; seven were by foreigners, one by a magnate and four were the new type of assault case, that is, they did not belong to the pre-1295-categories of assault in which the podesta was authorized to initiate investigation. Finally the prosecution of assault cases rose noticeably: In the inquisition sample for the 1280s and 1290s there were 99 assault cases, 48 cases of theft, and 58 homicide cases. In contrast, in a complete register of 1296 thirty-three of the total of 59 cases were urban assault, three were rural assault, with only six cases of larceny and seven homicides.40 In comparison with the 1280s, the level of prosecuted assault in 1296 increased by 33 percent whereas theft and homicide decreased by 55 and 56 percent respectively.

In part these figures may represent a real increase in assault due to the presence in the city of mercenaries, and the court records do identify a number of such individuals in assault cases, but this only partially explains the data. The higher level of assaults was also due to the conscious desire of the government to investigate any crime that might lead to riots. The government feared that Este agents were encouraging conspiracies with the aim of instigating riots that would topple the government. Because of this concern the government was investigating assault cases that had previously been outside the investigative powers of the podesta and had belonged exclusively to the sphere of private accusations: Twenty-eight percent of the 1296 register’s assault cases fall into the new categories of assault recognized only after the outbreak of the war as within the podesta‘s investigative powers. The ministrales, or parish officials, were, in fact, instructed specifically and personally by the iudex ad malleficia to report such cases. Once the war was concluded, however, the number of such cases in the records diminished. In time of war it was assault rather than theft that was feared more by the government and the pattern of prosecution reflects that fear.

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


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