From Gown to Town  – Professional Training for City Magistrates in Thirteenth-Century Italy

Four didactic settings


Against the background of this brief overview of the podestà literature it is now time to turn our attention to the specific communicative situations in which these texts originated and functioned.


During an early, experimental stage (1180s-1220s) the podestà office was still in an embryonic phase and not yet ready to be fully articulated in writing. The figure of the podestà replaced, alternated with or, more exceptionally, was joined to the consulate at the helm of the Italian commune. [1] Up to the 1220s, this podestà was usually a local figure. [2] Sometimes even more than one podestà was appointed. [3]


Moreover, the required number of podestà was relatively limited at this stage. [4] Initially, the podestà could easily be recruited from among the best in the ranks of the militia. [5] Building upon their education as prominent milites, with its stress on military and legal competences (although not necessarily possessed to the same degree), [6] and, in many instances, their previous political experience, these leading personalities discovered the ins-and-outs of this office through direct experience, through trial and error. Furthermore, they were often elected to this position because of their particularly needed expertise and skills, for instance, in the domain of warfare or conflict resolution. In combination with a healthy dose of common sense these first generation podestà had to seek specific educational support only on those topics in which they felt a specific instructional need.


The production of the Oculus pastoralis, a speech collection covering a selection of thematic issues directly relevant to a podestà, fits such a context of topic-specific training. Not only was it useful in boosting its recipient’s oratory skills, but it also cleverly packaged a multi-faceted discussion of some central themes of the profession.


Later family dynasties, or parts thereof, started to specialise in the paid exercise of governmental duties. [7] The prosopographical evidence shows that, as a rule, the fulfilment of this prestigious and coveted office had only an episodic character. Only rarely did a podestà occupy this office more than four times, and, if they did, these appointments were often not consecutively held. [8] However, when one looks at this phenomenon at a family level, it is evident that members of certain families started to occupy these offices on a regular basis. [9] Within these budding political dynasties political expertise and experience was transmitted from one family member to another, from one generation to the next, via oral, one-on-one education, as these families recognised the importance of passing on skills, knowledge and values.


It is easily conceivable that the De regimine potestatis, a didactic poem composed by a father for his son, is a written remnant of this type of family-organised instruction. Composed at the end of his career as a judge in service of the highest imperial circles, Orfino da Lodi felt the need to reflect on the profession he had exercised. He was motivated to transmit his accumulated knowledge and experience to his beloved son, Marco, starting out in a similar career – a true testament to his political and legal expertise.


From the 1220s onwards the podestà office became more complex. Artifoni highlights that the definitive breakthrough of the podestà regime – a single, non-native professional - generated not only the reinforcement of the political autonomy of this top office, but also a broadening of political participation at the basis, accompanied by a formalisation and institutionalisation of political relationships. [10] The podestà institute penetrated the entire spectrum of communal politics and covered a wide variety of local practices and routines. As a result, blood no longer necessarily guaranteed possession of the required traits, skills and values to the same degree as it did for the first and second generations of podestà. [11]


The podestà office also spread more widely, from Northern to Central Italy, and a higher number of persons entered into the office. This increase is clearly visible in the results of the prosopographical study led by Maire Vigueur. [12] For the period 1201-10 the number of appointments is 131. In 1211-20 it climbs to 198, and in 1221-30 it jumps to 309 appointments. Consequently, the proper exercise of the office was no longer self-evident for all new entrants and a need to put into writing what may once have been understood developed in order to secure the appointment of magistrates qualified to govern. [13]


For this type of support and guidance these podestà tended to look to the legal specialists of their staff. None of the surviving texts was written by a podestà. [14] These legal experts were perfectly equipped for this educational task. They were able to commit their governmental know-how to writing in an easily accessible style for non-specialists. They were trained in the recording of practices and customs and steeped in a culture of consumer-oriented writing. In addition, they had access to source texts to be ransacked for useful principles. Moreover, they were highly familiar with the best governance practices in communal Italy through their itinerant lifestyle or daily involvement in governmental affairs. Lastly, the retinue context, with its regularly held, informal meetings, formed the perfect laboratory for such retinue-based training – a true nursery of governmental expertise.


The production of the De regimine civitatum by Giovanni da Viterbo, a fully-active judge, at the request of his Florentine podestà corresponds to this type of training.


The fourth and last setting deals with private teaching. As Brunetto Latini unexpectedly ended up living in exile in France (1260-66/7), he had to look for new sources of income. In addition to his continued services as a trusted notary to exiled fellow-citizens, [15] he seems to have turned to the private teaching of an unidentified pupil situated in France in order to provide in his living expenses. [16] In the process Latini found a literary outlet for his political commitment, adroitly selling the podestà regime as an attractive power-sharing structure to his French audience, and he managed to condense a library into a single manageable volume, his Tresor.


The production of this Tresor has taken instruction in the art of ruling a step further. The Tresor encapsulates the treatment of the podestà office in a full-blown encyclopaedic project. It is not only intended as an introduction to a political office, but it also provides its recipient with a strong knowledge base, an effective moral compass, and the necessary rhetorical skills to efficiently govern a city in accordance with Italian customs. [17]



[1] Enrico Artifoni, ‘Podestà del comune italiano’, in Federico II: Enciclopedia fridericiana (Roma: Istituto della enciclopedia italiana, 2005), II, pp. 527-29 (p. 528); Emilio Cristiani, ‘Le alternanze tra consoli e podestà ed i podestà cittadini’, in I problemi della civiltà comunale (Atti del Congresso Storico Internazionale per l’VIII° Centenario della prima Lega Lombarda – Bergamo, 4-8 settembre 1967), ed. by Cosimo Damiano Fonseca (Bergamo: Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, 1971), pp. 47-51.

[2] On the difference between a local and non-native podestà: Ernesto Sestan, ‘Ricerche intorno ai primi podestà toscani’, in Scritti vari: II. Italia comunale e signorile (Firenze: Le lettere, 1989), pp. 1-55 (pp. 57-64).

[3] Paolo Cammarosano, ‘Il ricambio e l’evoluzione dei ceti dirigenti nel corso del XIII secolo’, in Magnati e popolani nell’Italia comunale (Quindicesimo convegno di studi – Pistoia, 15-18 maggio 1995) (Pistoia: Centro Italiano di Studi di Storia e d’Arte, 1997), pp. 17-40 (pp. 26-27).

[4] Massimo Vallerani, ‘Le leghe cittadine: alleanze militari e relazioni politiche’, in Federico II e le città italiane, ed. by Pierre Toubert and Agostino Paravicini Bagliani (Palermo: Sellerio, 1994), pp. 389-402 (pp. 390 and 393).

[5] Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur, ‘L’ufficiale forestiero’, in Ceti, modelli, comportamenti nella società medievale (secolo XIII-metà XIV) (Pistoia, 14-17 maggio 1999) (Pistoia: Centro Italiano di Studi di Storia e d’Arte, 2001), pp. 75-97 (p. 83).

[6] Guido Castelnuovo, ‘Bons nobles, mauvais nobles, nobles marchands? Réflexions autour des noblesses italiennes en milieu communal (XIIe-début XVIe siècle)’, Cahiers de recherches médiévales et humanistes, 13 (2006), 85-103 (p. 88); Franco Franceschi and Ilaria Taddei, Le città italiane nel Medioevo: XII-XIV secolo (Bologna: Il Mulino, 2012), p. 172; Gilli, 2005, p. 100; Maire Vigueur, 2001, pp. 80-81; Maire Vigueur, 2000, p. 1097; Daniel Waley, The Italian City-Republics (London: Longman, 1988), p. 14. Menzinger ventures to link the pioneering role of the Milanese podestà to their particular legal competences. Sara Menzinger, ‘Forme di implicazione politica dei giuristi nei governi comunali italiani del XIII secolo’, in Pratiques sociales et politiques judiciaires dans les villes de l’Occident à la fin du Moyen Âge, ed. by Jacques Chiffoleau, Claude Gauvard and Andrea Zorzi (Rome: École française de Rome, 2007), pp. 191-241 (p. 209).

[7] On this phenomenon: Artifoni, 2005, p. 528; Enrico Artifoni, ‘Tensioni sociali e istituzioni nel mondo comunale’, in La storia: I grandi problemi dal Medioevo all’Età Contemporanea: Volume secondo. Il Medioevo: 2. Popoli e strutture politiche, ed. by Nicola Tranfaglia and Massimo Firpo (Torino: UTET, 1991), pp. 461-91 (p. 468); John Kenneth Hyde, Society and Politics in Medieval Italy: The Evolution of the Civil Life, 1000-1350 (London: MacMillan, 1973), p. 103; Waley, 1988, p. 43. See also: Giuliana Albini, ‘Piacenza dal XII al XIV secolo: Reclutamento ed esportazione dei podestà e capitani del popolo’, in I podestà dell’Italia comunale: Reclutamento e circolazione degli ufficiali forestieri (fine XII sec.-metà XIV sec.), ed. by Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur (Roma: École française de Rome, 2000), I, pp. 405-45 (p. 441); Jean-Louis Gaulin, ‘Ufficiali forestieri bolonais: Itinéraires, origins et carrières’, in I podestà dell’Italia comunale: Reclutamento e circolazione degli ufficiali forestieri (fine XII sec.-metà XIV sec.), ed. by Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur (Roma: École française de Rome, 2000), I, pp. 311-48 (pp. 343-44); Andrea Zorzi, ‘I rettori di Firenze: Reclutamento, flussi, scambi (1193-1313)’, in: I podestà dell’Italia comunale: Reclutamento e circolazione degli ufficiali forestieri (fine XII sec.-metà XIV sec.), ed. by Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur (Roma: École française de Rome, 2000), I, pp. 453-594 (pp. 516-17).

[8] For the criterion of four appointments: Sergio Raveggi, ‘I rettori fiorentini’, in I podestà dell’Italia comunale: Reclutamento e circolazione degli ufficiali forestieri (fine XII sec.-metà XIV sec.), ed. by Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur (Roma: École française de Rome, 2000), I, pp. 595-643 (p. 634).

[9] On the importance of the family level: Philip Jones, The Italian City-State: From Commune to Signoria (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004), p. 541. See also: François Menant, L’Italie des communes (1100-1300) (Paris: Belin, 2005), pp. 80-81.

[10] Enrico Artifoni, ‘I podestà itineranti e l’area comunale piemontese: Nota su uno scambio ineguale’, in I podestà dell’Italia comunale: Reclutamento e circolazione degli ufficiali forestieri (fine XII sec.-metà XIV sec.), ed. by Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur (Roma: École française de Rome, 2000), I, pp. 23-45 (p. 42). See also: Cammarosano, 1997, p. 27; Gilli, 2005, p. 51; Milani, 2007, pp. 82-83; Occhipinti, 2008, p. 64.

[11] See also: Menzinger, 2007, p. 196.

[12] Tables prepared by Alessandro Volterra and Laurent Maire Vigueur: I podestà dell’Italia comunale: Reclutamento e circolazione degli ufficiali forestieri (fine XII sec.-metà XIV sec.), ed. by Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur (Roma: École française de Rome, 2000), II, pp. 1101-29.

[13] Stephan Epstein, 'The Rise and Fall of Italian City States', in A Comparative Study of Thirty City-State Cultures, ed. by Mogens Herman Hansen (Copenhagen: The Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 2000), pp. 277-93 (p. 284). See also, on the link between the increasing complexity of the commune and the need for leaders with a certain level of education: Gina Fasoli, ‘Rapporti tra le città e gli studia’, in Università e società nei secoli XII-XVI (Nono convegno internazionale – Pistoia, 20-25 settembre 1979) (Pistoia: Centro Italiano di Studi di Storia e d’Arte, 1982), pp. 1-22 (p. 12); Carla Frova, Istruzione e educazione nel Medioevo (Torino: Loescher, 1973), p. 100; Antonio Ivan Pini, ‘Discere turba volens: Studenti e vita studentesca a Bologna dalle origini dello Studio alla metà del Trecento’, in Studenti e università degli studenti dal XII al XIX secolo (Studi e memorie per la storia dell’università di Bologna. Nuova serie VII), ed. by Gian Paolo Brizzi and Antonio Ivan Pini (Bologna: Istituto per la storia dell’università, 1988), pp. 45-136 (pp. 59-60).

[14] On the tendency of the ruling elite to look upon writing as an activity to be performed by subordinates, see: Franco Cardini, ‘Alto e basso medioevo’, in Lo spazio letterario del medioevo: 1. Il medioevo latino: Volume I. La produzione del testo: Tomo I, ed. by Guglielmo Cavallo, Claudio Leonardi and Enrico Menestò (Roma: Salerno, 1992), pp. 121-43 (pp. 134-35).

[15] Traces in the archives show him travelling to and from Arras, Paris, and Bar-sur-Aube. For a detailed discussion: Roberta Cella, ‘Gli atti rogati da Brunetto Latini in Francia (tra politica e mercatura, con qualche implicazione letteraria)’, Nuova rivista di letteratura italiana, 6/1-2 (2003), 367-408. See also: Irene Maffia Scariati, ‘Gli atti rogati da Brunetto Latini in Francia (tra politica e mercatura con qualche implicazione letteraria)’, La Rassegna della Letteratura italiana, 109/9/2 (2005), 459-61.

[16] The conundrum of the exact identity of the patron of this work has given rise to much speculation and hypotheses generally point to someone living in France, either an exiled Florentine or a member of the royal court - including Charles of Anjou, or someone in his entourage. For an introduction to this debate: Beltrami, 2007, pp. xx-xxi, footnote 34. For the hypothesis of an exiled Florentine: Carmody, 1948, p. xviii (referring to Davizzo della Tosa); Irene Maffia Scariati, Dal “Tresor” al “Tesoretto”: Saggi su Brunetto Latini e i suoi fiancheggiatori (Roma: Aracne, 2010), pp. 26-27, footnote 2; Pierre Swiggers, Le “Tresor” de Brunetto Latini et l’usage du français (Leuven: Departement Linguïstiek KUL, 1998), p. 9. Contra: Cella, 2003, p. 403; Brigitte Roux, Mondes en miniatures. L’iconographie du Livre du Trésor de Brunetto Latini (Génève: Droz, 2009), p. 50, footnote 31; Wendelien van Welie-Vink, ‘Was Charles d’Anjou Brunetto Latini’s biaus dous amis? De openingsminiaturen van Li Livres dou Tresor nader bekeken’, in Representatie: Kunsthistorische bijdragen over vorst, staatsmacht en beeldende kunst, opgedragen aan Robert W. Scheller, ed. by Johann-Christian Klamt and Kees Veelenturf (Nijmegen: Valkhof, 2004), pp. 315-41 (pp. 319-23). For the link to Charles of Anjou: Julia Bolton Holloway, Twice-Told Tales: Brunetto Latini and Dante Alighieri (New York: Peter Lang, 1993), pp. 60-61; Welie-Vink, 2004, pp. 321-22, and 332. Contra: Roux, 2009, p. 50. Some scholars even hint that both categories are not mutually exclusive. According to them, Brunetto Latini may have produced the work for a wealthy Florentine living in France who, in turn, presented it as a gift to the French royal court. Bolton Holloway, 1993, p. 60; Welie-Vink, 2004, p. 332.

[17] On the tripartite structure of the Tresor, see especially : Christel Meier, ‘Enzyklopädischer Ordo und sozialer Gebrauchsraum: Modelle der Funktionalität einer universalen Literaturform’, in Die Enzyklopädie im Wandel vom Hochmittelalter bis zur frühen Neuzeit, ed. by Christel Meier (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2002), pp. 511-32 (p. 518); Christel Meier, ‘Organisation of Knowledge and Encyclopaedic Ordo: Functions and Purposes of a Universal Literary Genre’, in Pre-Modern Encyclopaedic Texts, ed. by Peter Binkley (Leiden: Brill, 1997), pp. 103-26 (pp. 110 and 113); Christel Meier, ‘Vom Homo Coelestis zum Homo Faber’, in Pragmatische Schriftlichkeit im Mittelalter, ed. by Hagen Keller, Klaus Grubmüller and Nikolaus Staubach (München: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1992), pp. 157-75 (pp. 173-75); Christel Meier, ‘Cosmos Politicus: Der Funktionswandel der Enzyklopädie bei Brunetto Latini’, Frühmittelalterliche Studien, 22 (1988), 315-56 (p. 349). See also : Bernard Ribémont, De Natura Rerum: Études sur les encyclopédies médiévales (Orléans: Paradigme, 1995), pp. 81-85; Roux, 1993, pp. 48-49.

Empfohlene Zitierweise
David Napolitano, From Gown to Town – Professional Training for City Magistrates in Thirteenth-Century Italy: Four didactic settings, aus: Andreas Speer, Andreas Berger (Hg.), Studentengeschichte zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit, in:,
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Erstellt: 18.03.2015

Zuletzt geändert: 22.05.2015