02.11.01, Jaritz, Die Strasse

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David Nicholas

The Medieval Review baj9928.0211.001


Jaritz, Gerhard, ed.. Die Strasse: Zur Funktion und Perzeption oeffentlichen Raums im spaeten Mittelalter: Internationales Round Table Gespraech, Krems an der Donau, 2. und 3. Oktober 2000. Forschungen des Instituts fuer Realienkunde des Mittelalters und der Fruehen Neuzeit Diskussionen und Materialien, NR. 6. Vienna, 2001: Verlag der Oesterreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2001. Pp. 208. ISBN: 3-7001-3013-9.

Reviewed by:
David Nicholas
Clemson University

This interdisciplinary collection contains eleven papers in German, French, and English, with a brief Foreword by Gerhard Jaritz and a synopsis by Robert Delort. It builds on recent work on perceptions and uses of space in the Middle Ages and on the symbolic and metaphorical meanings of street imagery.

In "Via sive vita. Strasse und Weg in der christlichen Metaphorik," Helmut Hundsbichler notes that while modern concepts of the street focus on its technical possibilities, it was seen in terms of mobility and access in the Middle Ages. He concentrates on four topics: the street as religious metaphor for the human journey, including knowledge and experience, to the final end; terms translated as "street" that involve the journey to salvation; the human journey as a symbol of the corresponding religious matter; and experience as the source of wisdom or foolishness as a result of movement. He argues, on what basis I cannot imagine, that religious and metaphorical uses of "street" are more numerous in the Middle Ages than references to street in public documents and discourse and that the "'self-awareness of the Middle Ages'", whatever that means, "can only be approached from the religious perspective" (11).

Pierre Boglioni, "Via: La Rue et la Route dans les sources religieuses du Moyen Age," covers the same conceptual ground as Hundsbichler, but less theoretically and with less concentration on religious pilgrimage and symbolism. He proposes a catalogue of documentary references to streets, roads, paths, gates, and other public spaces in religious sources. He discusses the metaphorical via, beginning with a survey of the literature of religious practice, then theological literature, then among the "spirituals" and religious mystics, and finally in "general culture," where his two examples are Dante Alighieri and John Bunyan. He then discusses via in folkloric belief, then the via in saints' lives, miracle collections, and pilgrimage narratives. He notes in conclusion the desirability of having discussion of streets from a religious standpoint be informed by anthropological insights.

Gerhard Jaritz, "'Strassenbilder' des Spaetmittelalters" takes "picture" literally in a brief article examining the iconographic representation of the street specifically in the towns. He notes that streets as background of religious paintings are always idealized: clean, white, well paved, but usually without showing the gaps between the paving stones. He connects this artistic motif to the increasing evidence of street cleaning and general concern with sanitation in Germany and Austria in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as had happened in Italy in the thirteenth.

Pierre Monnet, "De la rue a la route: messages et ambassades dans les villes allemandes de la fin du Moyen Age," concentrates on the street as an avenue of communication and an aid in defining public space. Several cities had a centrally located house where all messengers lodged and got information. Strasbourg had a messenger service by 1258 at the latest. The amounts paid for and to messengers is one of the most constant elements, along with street maintenance, in city budgets that otherwise fluctuated considerably; Monnet provides statistics (77-78) on the number of messengers shown by the municipal accounts to have been employed by individual German cities. In a more theoretical section entitled "A New Perception of Space" (81), he uses messenger networks to illustrate the radius within which towns interacted most closely with others; this often corresponds to the map of merchant relations and the routes by which goods passed. The quadrangle Nuremberg-Augsburg-Strasbourg-Mainz was especially important as a central area linking other networks. The "new concept of space" refers to a document of 1422 mentioning five circles, each with a chief city whose task was to inform the others of important news. Monnet argues (84) that the networking of messengers shows as sophisticated an understanding of space as is later associated with the development of maps. The final section, "Routes and Urban Public Character (Oeffentlichkeit)," concerns development of safe-conduct and political control of the roads.

Michael Camille, "Signs on Medieval Street Corners," uses a "performative approach," "how whole streets were apprehended and experienced by their users" (91). While previous work has been dominated by Renaissance ideas influenced by "a post-medieval, unified aesthetic system of urban planning," he prefers "the multivocal marketplace, filled with a cacophony of cries" (92). Competing faces "confront one another" at the corner (93). Camille classifies the extant medieval signs at street corners of French towns and cities on the basis of "sign function rather than the specificity of imagery" (94) -- signs of protection, of power, of publicity, of memory, of location and direction, and of public fantasy -- then provides examples of each type. He dislikes taking the first three of these as private and the rest as public, since medieval towns were "organized . . . to serve specific social groups within a social hierarchy" (94). But the last three (103) "served less to point inward to the occupants of the house and their identities and desires but outwards towards the urban network" (103).

Claude Gauvard, "Rue et controle social en France du Nord a la fin du Moyen Age," is the longest and most substantial article in the book. Based on documents from the Archives Nationales, the paper examines the contribution of the street to "defining individual and collective norms" (120). As the link between the individual and the community. Gauvard illustrates the theme of "street and reputation" (121) with examples from verbal exchange cases, mainly sexual insults, heard before the court of the Chatelet at the end of the fifteenth century. He argues that the street was a "community of interests" and a respository of "collective honor" (125). Renting a house to an undesirable person such as a prostitute dishonored the street. Unfortunately, Gauvard simply takes the fact that the street of residence of the malefactors was cited in the complaint as proof that the residents of the street had a sense of collective identity; yet in none of the cases that he cites do the residents act as a group or neighborhood association. He sees increasing concern with sanitation as a result of pressure from below. The number of separate jurisdictions within the urban area was decreasing. Police apprehended persons guilty of violence and blasphemy, but he admits that even at Paris, the result was still ineffective. Street crime was normally prosecuted only if it was flagrant or if there was a formal complaint. The Chatelet registers have more cases on morals violations than on blocking access to the streets. Gauvard notes the corteges of persons en route to execution as manifestations of group consciousness of inhabitants of the street but admits in conclusion that they were rarely if ever united. Throughout the article he emphasizes "honor" of the town, which proceeded from the honor of the street; but the street was also a construct of the ruling authority, where it promulgated its ordinances. "What certain persons might take as an abasement that consisted of obeying docilely and listlessly the norms that a coercive state defined, is thus actually a glorification of honor" (138).

Barbara A. Hanawalt, "The Contested Streets of Medieval London," notes that the city government's efforts to regulate the streets came into conflict with the desire of citizens to use them as they pleased. She concentrates on three problems: "the struggle over the physical space of the streets, including keeping them clean; the control of behavior in the streets; and the ceremonial space of streets" (149). Building codes regulated the height of pentices above the street and the distance to which signs could jut into the street, in each case to ease circulation. Hanawalt characteristically illustrates general themes with colorful cases drawn from the Coroners' Rolls, Assize of Nuisance cases, and Riley's Memorials. The king as well as the municipal authorities was involved in insisting on proper cleaning and particularly in keeping order in the streets. She focuses on the crisis of 1326-27 and guild clashes, the latter of which began in a neighborhood but often escalated into city-wide disturbances. She discusses the social causes of violence, such as the number of immigrants and the youth of the population, as well as festivals, which tended to degenerate into disorder. Regarding ceremonial occasions, she notes both the carnivalesque public punishments and the dignified official ceremonies. She concludes that the city government was generally able to keep control of the streets except in 1381; and since the city government then sided with the king, London did not lose its charter.

Monica Boni, "Les esclaves dans les rues des villes toscanes aux XIVe et XVe siecles," confines her analysis to a single social group. Slaves dressed exotically and did not speak the local language. They slaves were mainly Oriental and Balkan in origin, and were overwhelmingly female. Boni uses narrative and official references to slaves in the streets, including violence by slave gangs. Her focus is on slaves who accompanied their masters in the streets, but she deals with peripheral issues as well, such as the general desideratum that slaves be unattractive and thus suited for hard physical work; yet some were pretty and had children. The children of slaves and masters were generally raised as citizens, since the father's status conferred this; but most children of slaves and other men were abandoned or survived by petty theft.

Anu Maend, "Avenues of Approach: The Street as Ceremonial Space in Late Medieval Livonian Festival," deals with a critical area of research on the example of the largest Livonian cities, Riga and Reval (Tallinn). The streets were not merely an avenue of access to other places, but were themselves "festival venues." The street was also important for the corporate identity of the groups that marched through it, as they demonstrated their power and standing to the people in the street. The selection of one route rather than another was important and generally symbolic. Both Riga and Tallinn were dominated by German merchants, who in each city had two associations, the Great Guild (wealthy men in both wholesale and long-distance trade), which monopolized seats on the city council; and the Black Heads confraternity, which consisted of younger and often unmarried merchants, journeymen including sons of the members of the Great Guild, and also some resident foreigners. Each guild had four major festivals each year, as well as Corpus Christi processions and other minor festival days. Maend relates the routes to the location of the guild halls, on main streets near the main market square, with good access to the harbor by a main street. The processions did not take the most direct route from external gate to market, but rather meandered in front of the houses of important citizens in the merchant parts of town; they were not general parades through the town that included the poorer quarters.

The last two articles concern activities that were an important part of the street's function in establishing neighborhood cohesion. The streets were places to have fun and carouse, often in despite of the same public authorities who used them as a locale for inculcating authority. Gherardo Ortalli, "Games in the Street," concentrates on "why the dialectical relationship between games and the street changed during the late Middle Ages" (p. 183). While games had held an honored place under the Romans, they were marginalized in the Christian early Middle Ages. In the late Middle Ages ludicity was restored to an appropriate place in the value system. Ortalli sees the streets being used less often in the late Middle Ages for spontaneous games and more for publicly sanctioned festivals. He starts with Fitzstephen's description of London in the late twelfth century, which has an entire chapter on the games played by the citizens. In the thirteenth century the authorities became more suspicious of games of chance, which generally involved dice until playing cards came into general use around 1400. But realizing that they lacked the means to prohibit the games entirely, the authorities in the thirteenth century tried to confine them to specific days, times, and highly visible places, such as gaming houses licensed by the city government. By the fifteenth century, however, gaming was being confined to places that were less visible and liable to detract from the city's image. He also discusses war games, including sporting competitions between teams, which also were subjected to stricter controls after 1300 and the fifteenth century yielded to city-wide festivals that in imposed the ideology of more stable regimes. Little changed for "small" games, "children's amusements and adults' legal pastimes," where "the street continued to be an extension of the house" (193).

Mark Peterson, "Drinking in the Streets: The Street as a Public Space for the Sale and Consumption of Alcohol," discusses the ubiquity of brewing and the development of the alehouse. Until the late Middle Ages most people drank in their homes. Thereafter the festivals gave a more public dimension to it. The development of beer brewing made the port areas of some cities important, given the need for water. Some breweries not only took up the length of a city block, but the brewers tried to channel into fresh water through pipes. Although drinking in the street was increasing, most people simply bought a pot of ale that they could take home. In the German towns the brewers sold to hucksters, who in turn sold on the street. Town governments tried to regulate drinking in the streets, not only for moral considerations, but also as a means of controlling the market. There is little evidence of concern over public inebriation, probably because the alcohol content of ale was so low. Peterson links this concern to the increase sense of the street as public space, where people had to be on "their proper social behavior," while at taverns, banquets, and festivals "people could socially interact without the full constraints of public life" (202), contrary to the situation in the street. Most articles in this collection are summaries of the authors' longer works, although with Peterson and Maend these are unpublished. Except for the first three, all concern urban streets. Each author uses original sources to deal with a specific aspect of street life or the street more generally in one place, but all are familiar with the main currents of the growing secondary literature on public space generally and streets in particular. Taken as a whole, these papers thus make a balanced and engaging book, ranging from the theoretical sense of the street to its official character to the sorts of behavior tolerated there.

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David Nicholas

Clemson University