Theses Doctoral

Clerics, Courts, and Legal Culture in Early Medieval Italy, c. 650 - c. 900

Heil, Michael W.

This dissertation examines how clerics in the Lombard and Carolingian Kingdom of Italy prosecuted disputes with each other. It argues for and explores two core features of the clerical legal culture of the kingdom. The first regards the judicial institutions that clerics exploited. While the late eleventh and twelfth centuries would see the elaboration of a coherent system of ecclesiastical justice centered on the papal court, distinct from secular judicial institutions, the situation in the early Middle Ages was radically different. Early medieval Italian clerics made recourse to a wide variety of judicial forums, including both "secular" ones such as the public courts and properly "ecclesiastical" ones such as church synods. The dissertation explores these judicial pathways--some of them well-trodden and enduring ones, others more ad hoc--and the ways clerics navigated between them. Second, this study demonstrates that many early medieval Italian clerics displayed considerable skill and sophistication in crafting and delivering legal arguments against each other. Those arguments frequently hinged on substantive appeal to canon law. This finding presents a challenge to a prevailing view in legal-historical scholarship which downplays or ignores practical legal expertise in the early Middle Ages and often dismisses the period itself as an "age without jurists." This dissertation instead argues for an early medieval clerical legal culture that scholars must take seriously as a prehistory to the well-known legal and judicial developments of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This is the first study to explore in depth the diversity of judicial pathways exploited by clerics in early medieval Italy and the legal arguments they constructed. Proceeding on the basis of case studies, it traces the threads of ecclesiastical legal culture through several genres of sources: in addition to diplomatic sources such as judicial notices, papal bulls, imperial diplomas, and private charters, it also examines the evidence to be found in works of poetry, hagiography, and historiography, and in legal compilations. Among the ecclesiastical disputes that receive extended discussion are those between the bishops of Arezzo and Siena, between the patriarchs of Aquileia and Grado, between the abbots of Nonantola and neighboring bishops, and those within the diocese of Lucca.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Kosto, Adam J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 21, 2013