Stella, Rituals, Customs and Laws of Fiefs in Medieval Italy

Is Feudalism Dead? Rituals, Customs and Laws of Fiefs in Medieval Italy

Attilio Stella (Tel Aviv University)

By examining contextual examples of vassalage rituals and customs in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Italy, it is possible to reassess the origins and the implications of the legal literature regulating the law of fiefs, from the Lombard Libri feudorum incorporated in the decima collatio of the medieval editions of the Justinian Code, to the treatises on fiefs flourishing from the twelfth to the fifteenth century. Still in the mid thirteenth century, the famous Summa feudorum of Iacobus de Ardizzone de Broilo from Verona (written in 1228-1255), appears as intimately connected to local, pre-existing customs of the author’s native city, and not exclusively to the academic milieu of the Bolognese jurists, as sustained by S. Reynolds. Through a comparative analysis of the Summa of the Veronese seigniorial court records attended by Iacobus, and of the contextual strategies developed by generations of vassals, I will show how this opus took a significant inspiration from rituals of local power and from customs of fief, which were less a product of notarial and judicial praxis than the outcome of contextual social practices. This proves that for at least one century after the writing of the Lombard consuetudines feudorum, customs have been influencing directly the production of law. It is therefore possible to reconsider debates on feudalism as an analytical concept, a political system, or as a legal fiction (Brown, Reynolds), and, thus, to bring the phenomenon back to its own social tissue, reassessing it as a native theory.