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13.09.13, Isenmann, Die deutsche Stadt im Mittelalter 1150–1550

13.09.13, Isenmann, Die deutsche Stadt im Mittelalter 1150–1550

This massive compendium in the German Handbuch tradition will become the standard reference work on its topic, summarizing the vast literature (Isenmann's bibliography of sources and literature encompasses ninety-nine pages). Although he uses only German evidence and rarely provides comparison with towns in other parts of Europe, the book is useful to urbanologists of other regions. The individual topics are footnoted, but not densely. The bibliography is arranged by chapter and subheading within chapter.

The Introduction is a survey of ideal types of "city." Isenmann notes that the medieval and early modern city are not as often now considered "preindustrial" as "premodern," since "preindustrial" emphasizes only one of the city's functions. He explains the chronological limits of the work as because German studies of urbanization have not until recently done much with late medieval urbanization.

Isenmann follows the standard German practice of calling any place with a charter a Stadt (town), since the German language does not distinguish small towns from major cities except by an adjective preceding or compounded with Stadt (as Grossstadt). Isenmann generally uses several examples to illustrate points in the various subject chapters. Although he provides examples from a wide variety of places (in terms of size, economy, legal situation, social structure, and governmental institutions) to achieve a balanced picture, most of his information comes from places that in the context of the time were cities.

The first chapter, "The City and its Inhabitants," begins with the physical appearance of the towns as they struck contemporary outsiders: government, occupations of the inhabitants, ceremonies, and the legal freedom of the citizens. A particularly interesting section deals with how German writers of the late Middle Ages saw cities as a distinct form, giving special attention to the jurist Nikolaus Wurm, who emphasized the town as a community. Isenmann concludes with a discussion of the historical importance of the medieval town and the bourgeoisie, concentrating on the views of Marx/Engels, Weber, and Gierke. Typologies and definitions of "town" are then discussed, followed by demography, where he arranges the towns in order of population size but starts with original sources that have been used by modern scholars for extrapolations of total population figures; his discussion of the late medieval plagues comes here. Isenmann dislikes all models of the town that focus on a single characteristic, finding as do most scholars that most of the criteria also apply, if in lesser degree, to places that were not towns. Urban topography and circumstances of foundation, and the development of specific quarters of the cities, street layouts, the walls, defense, urban architecture, public and private buildings (from both a functional and aesthetic standpoint), and churches, and the social topography of economic life follow.

Chapter 2, concerning citizens, city law, and city institutions, discusses how citizenship was acquired and the rights and obligations that it imposed. This naturally involves a discussion of the inhabitants who were not citizens and how some towns tried to restrict citizenship. Isenmann follows with the great urban charters, their families and derivation, and legal thought. A long section goes beyond the charters to discuss lawgiving by the city councils, and families of urban law that developed from the growing complexity of legal procedures that grew out of the legislation and justice of the councils. He then deals with the urban Verfassung, including composition of the town councils, burgomasters, and administration. Urban leagues are in this chapter, discussed mainly on the examples of the imperial cities of the south and southwest, but he also mentions unrest in the Hanse towns here. He provides more detail on questions of oligarchy and democracy, under which heading he considers the guild regimes. Isenmann discusses the legal questions that had a bearing on resistance to councils that was not guild-based, and whether the guilds broadened public participation in urban government when they were able to gain power. This chapter contains a long subsection on urban Jews.

Chapter 3, "Episcopal Cities, Free Cities, Imperial Cities, Territorial Cities, Seigniorial Cities, and Urban Leagues," provides a clear discussion of how these various forms of urban life differed from one another, more in origin and identity of the town lord than in forms of government in mature cities.

Chapter 4, "City Government and Institutions, Council and Community, Organization of the Conciliar Regime, Defense and Good Order, Justice, Finances, and Educational and Charitable Institutions," has considerable overlap with Chapter 2 but delves more deeply into the details, particularly on the period after the establishment of the town governments. It is the longest of the book. The first section deals with how the councils were chosen and the functions that they exercised. The nature of the urban community, the relations of the councils with it, opposition movements and uprisings, and the lesser administrative offices (including police and chancery, but with most attention paid to the city attorneys) under the control of the council are explained. This is followed by police and peacekeeping, control of markets and economic regulations, moral oversight (prostitution, sumptuary laws), high, middle, and low justice, criminal law, the feud and composition, the public peace (Landfriede), the military organization of the cities, and principles of criminal and civil law. This chapter includes a long section on city finances: how money was raised, tax competence, other sources of income (such as excises, fines, and the sale of rents), and accounting procedures. A section on education follows, starting with elementary schools and moving on to the universities in places that had them. Isenmann gives a particularly full and welcome discussion of historical writing in the cities, often by persons employed as clerks by the council. The chapter concludes with welfare and poor relief, both under communal and private auspices, including the larger question of poverty and how the city governments regulated begging, mainly on the examples of Augsburg and Strasbourg.

While the church role in charity and education and aspects of church-lay interaction are discussed in Chapter 4, Chapter 5, "City and Church," begins with the urban churches, their functions and competence, and their relations and conflicts with the lay authorities. The churches fulfilled functions of charity and poor relief, did jobs for the secular government, and jurisdiction over misdeeds that now are under lay authorities, and conflicts over this issue were sometimes sharp in the medieval cities. Parish organization and the application of canon law alongside urban custom are discussed. The position of the older, "traditional" clergy and its relations within the urban community with newer orders such as the mendicants are discussed. Lay piety, laypeople as patrons of churches, religious brotherhoods, heresy, and the first prosecution of heretics and witches in the cities are provided. The chapter concludes with foundations of the Protestant movement in the cities, extending the discussion to Luther and the other early reformers in the cities.

Chapter 6, the briefest of the book, concerns relations of the city and its environs in terms of power relations, jurisdiction, and economy, the property of rural lords in the cities and of burghers in the environs, and the question of city-states and territorial policy are treated. Central place theory and networks figure prominently in the first section of this chapter. The section on landholding by burghers outside the walls is tied to the extramural territorial policy of the city regimes.

Chapter 7, "Social Structure," deals with the overlapping categories of inhabitant: rich, poor, merchant, rentier, artisan, citizens, knights (a larger group in the early German cities than in the west), wholesale and retail trade, and medieval social ideas, including an eight-page section on Felix Fabri's sociology of Ulm. Isenmann then moves to a discussion of social strata, classes, Staende (where he relies largely but not exclusively on Weber), and social groups more generally, including a discussion of the extent of poverty in the cities and its links to various forms of social marginality. He discusses social strata and how modern scholars ascertain them (most obviously by the extent of tax liability). Begging and alms are found again here. The Jews predictably receive separate treatment here, as in Chapter 2. Isenmann includes the pogroms and accusations of poisoning wells in this chapter rather than in the section on the plagues. He discusses the urban patriciates as part of a broader consideration of family concepts and cohesion and how wealth, landholding, ancestry, and how "honorable" one's profession was as determinants of social rank. An entire section is devoted to the "conciliar lineages" (Ratsgeschlechter). Information for the patriciates is much stronger than for the middling and lower social orders, and Isenmann's examples are numerous enough for him to draw comparisons between some of the most famous patriciates, such as those of Nuremberg and Cologne.

Chapter 8 discusses social forms and social groups, specifically family, kinship and household, societies, and merchant Gilden and craft Zuenfte. For guild origins he uses information from Basel, which has many foundation charters between 1267 and 1271. He considers definitions and concepts, including the ganze Haus notion, then moves to the family as a social form, marriage, and the family's reflection in and occasional rivalry with such institutions as guilds that were to a great extent family based. Isenmann argues that the criticisms of guilds as hostile to technological innovation are overdrawn for the Middle Ages and are based on later examples, but his examples seem to me to show that the critics were right about the medieval guilds. He devotes a long subsection to the journeymen and their associations, wages and conditions of work, and the strikes and rebellions associated with them.

Chapter 9 discusses economic forms and economic life. Isenmann notes the links between production and the guilds (including a discussion of the cartel functions of the guilds), then discusses the various groups of artisans and merchants. The organization of trade, fairs, and business techniques are found here, with specific attention paid to the Grosse Ravensburger Handelsgesellschaft and the family business of the Fuggers. The nature of long-distance trade, its radius (using the example of Cologne) and the Hanse trading networks receive separate treatment. This is followed by a section on credit, payment mechanisms, and circulation of money and payments. Debt, money exchange, and loan techniques, including those used by Italian merchants and Jews in the German cities, and (again) rents are discussed. Regulation of sales and purchases, and the notion of the "just price" are found in this chapter, along with a discussion of moneylending and the church and usury regulations.

An astonishing breadth and depth of scholarship underlines this compendium. No scholar of medieval urbanization (not only in Germany) can afford to disregard it. Inevitably, someone's specialty will be neglected or get an interpretation with which a reader disagrees. Given the complexity of the topics, some repetition is perhaps unavoidable, but I think that Isenmann's organization could have been tightened without sacrificing content. Since aspects of many topics are handled in separate chapters, the separate indices for places and topics are especially valuable. Yet Isenmann does not include separate page references in the Ortsregister to fifty larger towns that are mentioned frequently in the text (he does mention this on p. 1101). Thus for example, while there is a vast amount of material on such places as Nuremberg and Cologne, those who want material about them will have to paginate through the entire book, while the Index suffices for references to places such as Goslar or Dinkelsbuehl.