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

Podestà literature


The podestà literature is the Italian, republican variant of the better-known mirrors-for-princes. [1] It consists of a series of didactic works, exclusively or partially targeted at explaining and exemplifying the duties of the city magistrate and his retinue. [2] After centuries of selection only four representatives of this thirteenth-century discourse still survive. [3]


The first text is the Oculus pastoralis, an anonymous speech collection combined with an introduction to the podestà office. [4] It was probably composed in the 1220s. [5] This text packages a discussion of key issues or debates which are directly relevant to the formation of a podestà and his entourage, such as the advantages and disadvantages of city alliances, the issue of just war or the problem of judicial malpractice, in the form of different sets of speeches.


The second exemplar, the De regimine civitatum, has been written by an experienced, fully-active assessor. [6] This judge is generally identified as Giovanni da Viterbo, and his Ghibelline, pro-imperial compilation took shape upon the request of the Florentine podestà whom he served. [7] Put together during Giovanni’s limited spare time, ‘inter multos labores [...], nocturnas vigilias et rara otia’, [8] this political manual consists of 148 chapters covering the tenure of a podestà from start until end, from selection until departure. Scholars have suggested a wide range of dates with respect to its composition, starting from 1228 until 1264.


Unlike the two preceding works, the De regimine et sapientia potestatis originated in a family context. [9] It is a didactic poem, composed in the mid-1240s, by another judge (iudex generalis), Orfino da Lodi (c. 1190-1250/2), this time approaching the end of his career in service of the highest imperial circles (Frederick of Antioch (1221-56)). [10] It is addressed to his grown-up son, Marco. This work provides a refreshing look behind-the-scenes of the podestà office, describing in detail the luxurious living conditions, rich living habits and corresponding leisure activities of the podestà, and it pays particular attention to the different retinue members and their respective roles.


In contrast to these three works written in Medieval Latin, the language of learning at the time, Brunetto Latini (c. 1220-93/4) composed his Tresor in the vernacular, in Old French. [11] This notary, who played a significant role in the political machinery of Florence under the Primo Popolo (1250-60), had indeed gone into exile in France after the devastating defeat of the Florentine Guelfs at the battle of Montaperti in 1260. [12] He would not return to his beloved hometown until after the successful military expedition of Charles of Anjou (1226/7-85), promoted by the papacy and backed by Florentine bankers, in 1266/7, which not only signaled the beginning of the end for the House of Hohenstaufen in Italy, but also resulted in a fundamental break in the leadership over Florence. The Tresor was composed during this exile and the final part of his medieval encyclopedia - a treasure of knowledge compiled for a patron whose exact identity will probably remain forever elusive – deals specifically with the government of an Italian city.


[1] Hertter put this canon on the map in 1910. See: Fritz Hertter, Die Podestàliteratur Italiens im 12. und 13. Jahrhundert (Leipzig: Von B.G. Teubner, 1910). In the past these works have been a favoured topic of research, but the latest overview studies of the genre date back to the mid-twentieth century. See: Vittorio Franchini, ‘Trattati “De regimine civitatum” (sec. XIII-XIV)’, in Recueil de la Société Jean Bodin, VI: La ville (Première partie: Institutions Administratives et Judiciaires) (Bruxelles: La Librairie Encyclopédique, 1954), pp. 319-342; Albano Sorbelli. ‘I teorici del reggimento comunale’, Bullettino dell’Istituto storico italiano per il medio evo e Archivio muratoriano, 59 (1944), pp. 31-136. Recently, some scholars have questioned the very existence of this canon. For an introduction to the scholarly debate surrounding this literary tradition: David Napolitano, ‘Pleidooi voor een hernieuwde kennismaking met de podestà literatuur’, Incontri. Rivista europea di studi italiani, 28/2 (2013), 22-30. For two overview studies on the Stadtregimentslehre, the counterpart of the podestà literature in the context of the Southern Low Countries and Germany from the mid-fourteenth up to the early-sixteenth centuries, please consult: Heike Bierschwale and Jacqueline van Leeuwen, Wie man eine Stadt regieren soll: Deutsche und niederländische Stadtregimentslehren des Mittelalters (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2005); Eberhard Isenmann, ‘Ratsliteratur und städtische Ratsordnungen des späten Mittelalters und der frühen Neuzeit’, in Stadt und Recht im Mittelalter: La ville et le droit au Moyen Âge, ed. by Pierre Monnet and Otto Gerhard Oexle (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2003), pp. 215-479.

[2] For this definition: Franchini, 1954, p. 319; Franchini, Saggio di ricerche sull’instituto del podestà nel comune medievale (Roma: Spithoever, 1912), p. 233; further developed by Dora Franceschi, ‘L’Oculus pastoralis e la sua fortuna’, Atti della Accademia delle Scienze di Torino: Classe di Scienze morali, storiche e filologiche, 99 (1964-65), 205-61 (p. 205).

[3] Although occasionally included in this canon, Fra Paolino minorita’s De regimine rectoris is not discussed in this article. See: Trattato de regimine rectoris di Fra Paolino Minorita, ed. by Adolfo Mussafia (Vienna: Tendler, 1868). Not only does this work fall outside of the temporal scope of this article since it was composed by a Venetian Franciscan, Fra Paolino, between 1313 and 1315, but it was also written in a fundamentally different spirit. The podestà was no longer a political figure in the fourteenth century, but he had turned into an administrative officer within a signoria framework. Moreover, this work strongly built upon an Aristotelian tradition – a tradition absent from the podestà literature until Brunetto Latini’s Li Livres dou Tresor.

[4] For an edition: Oculus pastoralis sive libellus erudiens futurum rectorem populorum, ed. by Ludovico Muratorio, in Antiquitates Italicae Medii Aevi (Mediolani: Typographia Societatis Palatinae, 1741), IV, coll. 93-128; Oculus pastoralis pascens officia et continens radium dulcibus pomis suis, ed. by Dora Franceschi, in Memorie dell’Accademia delle Scienze di Torino: Classe di Scienze morali, storiche, e filologiche, 4/2 (1966), 1-74; Oculus pastoralis, ed. by Terence Tunberg (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto, 1986). See also: Terence Tunberg, Speeches from the Oculus pastoralis (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1990). These editions are based upon the only then known copy of this text (Cleveland (Ohio, USA), Public Library, MS Wq 789.0921 M-C 37). Following up on a lead in a footnote in an article by Quaglioni and information generously shared Giordanengo I have however confirmed the existence of a second copy of this text (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 4686). I discuss this newly found copy, and its implications for our understanding of this text, in: David Napolitano, ‘Verborgen schatten in een Parijse bibliotheek. Nieuw licht op de Oculus pastoralis’, Madoc. Tijdschrift over de Middeleeuwen, 27/4 (2013), 242-50. I am currently working on a new critical edition of this text.

[5] For an introduction to this work: Franceschi, 1964-65, pp. 205-61; Eva Matthews Sanford, ‘The Lombard Cities, Empire, and Papacy in a Cleveland Manuscript’, Speculum, 12 (1937), 203-08; Diego Quaglioni, ‘La “civitas” medievale e le sue magistrature. L’Oculus pastoralis (1222)’, Il pensiero politico, 40/2 (2007), 232-41; Diego Quaglioni, ‘Politica e diritto al tempo di Federico II. L’Oculus pastoralis (1222) e la “sapienza civile”’, in: Federico II e le nuove culture (Atti del XXXI convegno storico internazionale – Todi, 9-12 ottobre 1994) (Spoleto: Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 1995), pp. 1-27.

[6] For an edition: Giovanni da Viterbo, Liber de regimine civitatum, ed. by Gaetano Salvemini, in Bibliotheca Iuridica Medii Aevi (Bononiae, 1901), III, pp. 215-80.

[7] For an introduction to this figure and his work: Mario Sensi, ‘Giovanni da Viterbo’, in Enciclopedia dantesca (Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1971), I, p. 194; Andrea Zorzi, ‘Giovanni Da Viterbo’, in Dizionario Bibliografico degli Italiani (Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2001), LVI, pp. 267-72.

[8] De Reg. Civ., p. 217 (prologue).

[9] For an edition: Orfino da Lodi, De regimine et sapientia potestatis: Comportamento e saggezza del podestà: Introduzione, testo, traduzione e note di Sara Pozzi, in Quaderni di studi lodigiani, 7 (1998), 1-241; Orfino da Lodi, De regimine et sapientia potestatis, ed. by Luigi Castelnuovo, in Archivio storico lodigiano, 2/16 (1968), 1-115; Orfino da Lodi, De regimine et sapientia potestatis, ed. by A. Ceruti, in Miscellanea di storia italiana (Torino, 1869), VII, pp. 29-94.

[10] For an introduction to this figure and his work: Edoardo d’Angelo, ‘Orfino da Lodi’, in Federico II: Enciclopedia fridericiana (Roma: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 2005), II, pp. 423-25; John Dillon, ‘Orfino da Lodi’, in Medieval Italy: An encyclopedia: Volume 2. L to Z, ed. by Christopher Kleinhenz (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 800. See also: Castelnuovo, 1968, pp. 3-4; Pozzi, 1998, p. 17. For the most extensive historical reconstruction: Alessandro Caretta, ‘Contributo ad Orfino da Lodi’, Aevum, 50/3-4 (1976), 235-48 (pp. 242-48).

[11] For an edition: Brunetto Latini, Tresor, ed. and transl. by Pietro Beltrami and others (Torino: Einaudi, 2007); Brunetto Latini, Li Livres dou Tresor, ed. by Spurgeon Baldwin and Paul Barrette (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2003); Brunetto Latini, Li Livres dou Tresor, ed. by Francis Carmody (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1948); Brunetto Latini, Li Livres dou Tresor, ed. by Polycarpe Chabaille (Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1863).

[12] The classic work on the life and work of Brunetto Latini remains: Thor Sundby, Della vita e delle opera di Brunetto Latini, transl. by Rodolfo Renier and appendices by Isidoro del Lungo and Adolfo Mussafia (Firenze: Le Monnier, 1884). The standard work is: Bianca Ceva, Brunetto Latini: L’uomo e l’opera (Milano: Riccardo Ricciardi, 1965). For other discussions of this topic: Arnaldo D’Addario, ‘Latini’, in Enciclopedia dantesca (Roma: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1971), III, pp. 578-79; Julia Bolton Holloway, Twice-Told Tales: Brunetto Latini and Dante Alighieri (New York: Peter Lang, 1993); Francis Carmody and Françoise Fery-Hue, ‘Brunetto Latini’, in Dictionnaire des lettres françaises: Édition entièrement revue et mise à jour, ed. by Geneviève Hasenohr and Michel Zink (Paris: Fayard, 1992), pp. 213-15; Amedeo De Vincentiis, ‘Le parole di ser Brunetto’, in Atlante della letteratura italiana: Volume primo. Dalle origini al Rinascimento, ed. by Amedeo de Vincentiis (Torino: Einaudi, 2010), pp. 41-47; Giorgio Inglese, ‘Brunetto Latini’, in Dizionario biografico degli Italiani (Roma: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 2005), LXIV, pp. 4-12; Francesco Mazzoni, ‘Brunetto Latini’, in Enciclopedia Dantesca (Roma: Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Italiana, 1971), III, pp. 579-88.

Empfohlene Zitierweise
David Napolitano, From Gown to Town – Professional Training for City Magistrates in Thirteenth-Century Italy: Podestà literature, aus: Andreas Speer, Andreas Berger (Hg.), Studentengeschichte zwischen Mittelalter und Neuzeit, in:,
URL: (Datum des letzten Besuchs).

Erstellt: 18.03.2015

Zuletzt geändert: 22.05.2015