My first book, A Renaissance of Violence: Homicide in Early Modern Italy, was published in October 2019 by Cambridge University Press. It is centered around a selection of 700 criminal trials for homicide dating from 1600-1700 – about a 1/10 sample of the total volume from across the century in the northern province of Bologna, Italy. This study is important because Bologna, as the northern capital of the papal state, was as developed as states came in seventeenth century Europe, yet suffered rising rates of violence throughout the century. Despite having negotiated with papal representatives to forge an unstable peace in the early years of the century, Bologna’s elite nobility returned to the vendetta and revenge-as-politics in the middle of the century, creating a maelstrom of violence that affected all of Bologna’s population.
The return to revenge-based violence has much to do with the destabilization of local norms in the wake of the “Great Plague” of 1630, the worst round of bubonic to hit north Italy, which left up to 50% of the population dead in place such as Parma and Venice, and 25% in and around Bologna. Despite centuries of experience with plague and a well-developed machinery of communication and quarantine, the Italian cities including Bologna were unable to ward off plague; meanwhile, the papal government and its highly-politicized criminal court moved during the epidemic to expand their authority and further repress local privileges and statuses. In the wake of the plague the dream of a peaceful society was shattered – Bolognese artisans and labourers found themselves in a world bereft of stable hierarchies and lashed out against the elites who sought to preserve their positions, and elites scrambled to increase their holdings of property and wealth in the wake of so much death. In that environment the elite families turned against each other and against the officers of the papal court and violence began to surge.
By the 1650s the situation was grave and should be considered a civil war fought in the streets and countryside of Bologna. Nobles killed one another, and killed judges of the criminal court who attempted to punish them for it; commoners fought for robbery, romance and revenge, and civil order disappeared. It was only with the mass exile of noble heads of household in the latter half of the 1660s that some semblance of quietude returned to the streets. By the end of the century homicide rates were at parity with those at the beginning of the century, but despite this rapid drop north Italy cannot be said to have participated in the large-scale decline of violence that seems to have occurred elsewhere in Europe around the same time.