90033 - History of Justice from the Late Middle Ages to the Early Modern Age (1) (LM)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in History and Oriental Studies (cod. 8845)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the module the student understands the plural character of justice and law from the late Middle Ages to the early modern age; he knows the systems of repression, the rites of justice and the categories of crimes and knows also how to evaluate the contribution of religious culture, of the classical legacy and of the growing state organization on the practices of justice of the ancient regime. The student is familiar with the juridical and theological vocabulary of the early modern age, knows how to place and compare his expressions in different European contexts and knows how to recognize the impact that the juridical tradition of the early modern age had on the following centuries. He is also able to critically organize his research work on sources and historiography using appropriate language

Course contents

The course aims to reconstruct the history of justice in the Western world from the late Middle Ages to the early modern age. Particular attention will be devoted to the history of criminal justice and the religious and moral transgressions. The final part will be dedicated to the representations of justice in literature and the arts.

These are some of the topics that will be covered during the lessons:

Legal pluralism after the 11th century

Justice and the city

The justice of the Church, heresy and the inquisitorial procedure

Enormous crimes, exceptional crimes, political crimes

"Hegemonic" justice and the formation of State

The birth of the centralized Catholic Inquisitions

Justice, honor and crime in the early modern age

Justice and evidence: law and medicine

Rituals and practices of peace and mercy

The penalties: death, confiscation, infamy, galleys, prison

Rituals of condemnation

Representations of justice: literature and the arts


All students, whether attending or not, should study the following two texts:

António Manuel Hespanha, Introduzione alla storia del diritto europeo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1999

Leonida Tedoldi, La spada e la bilancia: la giustizia penale nell'Europa moderna (sec. 16-18), Roma, Carocci, 2008

They will also have to study one of the following texts:

Paolo Prodi, Una storia della giustizia. Dal pluralismo dei fori al moderno dualismo tra coscienza e giustizia,Bologna, il Mulino, 2000, capitoli I-VI

Marco Bellabarba, La giustizia nell’Italia moderna, XV-XVIII secolo, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2008

Elena Brambilla, La giustizia intollerante. Inquisizione e tribunali confessionali in Europa, secoli IV-XVIII,Roma, Carocci, 2006

Adriano Prosperi, Delitto e perdono: la pena di morte nell'orizzonte mentale dell'Europa cristiana, Torino, Einaudi, 2013

Brian Levack, La caccia alle streghe in Europa agli inizi dell’età moderna, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2012

Alessandro Pastore, Il medico in tribunale. La perizia medica nella procedura penale d'antico regime (secoli XVI-XVIII), Bellinzona, Casagrande, 2008

Ottavia Niccoli, Perdonare. Idee, pratiche, rituali in Italia tra Cinque e Seicento, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2007

Michel Foucault, Sorvegliare e punire. Nascita della prigione, Torino, Einaudi, 1976

Irene Fosi, La giustizia del papa. Sudditi e tribunali nello Stato pontificio in età moderna, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2007

Natalie Zemon Davis, Storie d'archivio. Racconti di omicidio e domande di grazia nella Francia del Cinquecento,Torino, Einaudi, 1992

Mario Sbriccoli,Crimen laesae maiestatis. Il problema del reato politico alle soglie della scienza penalistica moderna, Milano, Giuffrè, 1974

Paolo Broggio, Governare l'odio. Pace e giustizia criminale nell'Italia moderna (secoli XVI-XVII), Roma, Viella, 2021;

Guido Dall’Olio, Nella valle di Giosafat. Giustizia di Dio e giustizia degli uomini nella prima età moderna, Roma, Carocci, 2021

Dennj Solera, La società dell'Inquisizione, Roma, Carocci, 2021

Marco Albertoni, Storia delle colonne infami. Giustizia e memoria in età moderna, Napoli, Bibliopolis, 2023

Helen Rawlings, L'Inquisizione spagnola, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2008

Students who do not attend should add the following text:

Diego Quaglioni, La giustizia nel medioevo e nella prima età moderna, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2014

Teaching methods

The teacher will use texts and images to get the students able to reading the sources and to understanding the representations in history. Any teaching materials will be made available online in the appropriate section of the University's website

Assessment methods

Students who attend at least 75% of the lessons are considered to be attending. The oral examination will take place in the exam sessions provided at the end of the course.To evaluate the exam, the teacher will take into account the student's ability to master the contents of the course, to understand the historical concepts, to orientate himself in the bibliography, to know how to read a source, to connect the informations acquired, to expose what he has learned in a synthetic way and with an appropriate language. The student who will meet these demands will have an excellent mark. The student who will simply repeat the informations acquired in a mnemonic way and with a language not entirely adequate will have a discreet evaluation. The student who will show that he knows the contents superficially and with some gaps, using an inappropriate language, will have a sufficient evaluation. The student unprepared and incapable of orientation in the subject will have a negative evaluation.

Instead of studying the texts adopted for the exam, attending students can choose to write a paper (max 50,000 characters) on a topic covered in this part of the course or in the entire integrated course (in this case the topic must be agreed upon with the two teachers, Lavenia and Sofia). The evaluation of the essay will depend on its originality and its critical depth.

This course (6CFU) is part of the integrated course "History of Justice C.I. LM". If the student has chosen the integrated course (12CFU) as part of the study plan, the final mark will be the arithmetic mean of the marks obtained in the two component courses ("History of justice from the late Middle Ages to the early modern age" and "History of modern and contemporary justice").

Teaching tools

Attendance of the course may also include participation in seminars promoted by the teacher and visits to archives and libraries to contact the sources on the subject kept in the city of Bologna and its surroundings. The Internet will be used to access sites that contain manuscript sources, images, texts and materials of interest.

Office hours

See the website of Vincenzo Lavenia


Reduced inequalities Peace, justice and strong institutions

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.