After the weakening of the popolo/Geremei government in 1292 and under the impact of factional conflict and the institution and expansion of “privileged” status in 1306, 1310 and 1319, however, the use of private accusation procedure changed dramatically. Assault cases had been, as we have seen, the type of case that dominated the private accusation court procedure and had been the means by which families controlled their feuds in the thirteenth century. Accusation procedure was the specific area still reserved for “private justice,” the area in which the podesta, representative of “public justice,” did not have the authority to initiate an investigation, except under certain specified circumstances. But the function of assault charges in the private accusation judicial process had changed – from a means of controlling feuds to a means of vengeance, protection, and control by the ruling faction. In the early fourteenth century one increasingly finds only the charges of the privileged against their enemies. There are no counter- charges since the law of privilege effectively prevented the opposition from using the courts.

A complete register of accusations has survived from January, February and March of 1319, the year of yet another factional coup that further narrowed the power base to those who supported the growing authority of the Pepoli family, and the evidence from that register indicates a pattern startlingly different from the popolo-dominated 1280s. Increasingly in the early fourteenth century private accusation procedure came to be monopolized by those of “privileged” status. In the complete 1319 register, which is typical for accusation records of that period, there are thirty-four cases, (of which thirty concern assault and four concern trespass or property damages). What is startling is the number of cases in which the accusor invoked his privileged status: Twenty-eight of the thirty-four cases, a figure in sharp contrast to the low number typical of the 1280s pattern. The “privilege” referred to was popolo status of accusor and magnate status of accused or that of simple privilege (that of 1306) and “new” privilege (that of 1310). Of the remaining four cases, two of the accusors were titled individuals from the city, which would put them in the elite category. In not one case is there a counter- charge by the accused as was typical of the 1280s. By 1319 accusation procedure was the preserve of the privileged and elite of society. The courts were being used not so much to contain the vendetta as to further it. Criminal justice, which had been depersonalized in theory, but not in practice, during the popolo dominated 1280s, became an even more manipulated and personalized system in both theory and practice in the early fourteenth century.

The nature of social control thus had changed significantly by the early fourteenth century. To be sure, in both the popolo reform years of the late thirteenth century and the post-1306 faction-dominated period the courts were manipulated and to an extent that manipulation can be interpreted within the framework of “conflict theory.” Thus, during the 1280s, as we have seen, the entire community had used the courts to protect itself against “outsiders” and the popolo party had also utilized the courts, probably less successfully, as a means of pursuing its conflict against the magnates. After 1306 manipulation took the form of one faction of the popolo party using the courts in its struggle against another faction. But there is a major difference between the nature of social control in those two periods that cannot be explained within the limitations of conflict theory. In the 1280s the courts not only served as a vehicle for conflict, but they also functioned well in minimizing disputes and helping to control the vendetta. This role, however, was severely reduced in the new kind of social control that dominated the post-1306 period.

Moreover, the role of ideology had changed as well. Ideology, which had served as the ethos binding together the popolo party and its sympathizers and which did have an impact on criminal justice in the 1280s, had become a mask for the self- interests of a narrow group…The criminal court system of the early fourteenth century had lost any trace of pretensions to impartiality and impersonality and had become a blatant instrument of factional conflict, protection, and revenge. The legal reforms of the late thirteenth century and the popolo ideology of law and order, with its ideals of abstract justice, were only a temporary reality in the thirteenth century and were submerged in the factionalism of the early fourteenth century. The dream of justice remained unfulfilled in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and remained so for centuries to come.

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


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