The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book Urban Legends

Urban Legends

Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250–1350 Carrie E. Beneš
  • Copyright: 2011
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 296 pages
  • Illustrations: 22 b&w illustrations/
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-03765-3
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-03766-0
“Carrie Beneš has emerged, through a series of important articles, as a leader—in fact, a pioneer—in a new and fruitful field of scholarly endeavor: the medieval history of classical, which is to say Greco-Roman, symbols, myths, and objects. While the manifold uses of the ancient world have long been recognized and seen as characteristic of the Italian Renaissance, Beneš shows that high and late medieval Italian city-states made use of the ancient world in interesting and often surprising ways. She blends the acumen of a specialist in documentary culture with the scholarly imagination characteristic of the best cultural historians. This book—as thorough, information packed, and clearly written as it is—will help redraw the picture of the history of medieval Italy, and it will serve as a model for engagement and debate regarding a period and a region often overlooked.”
“Well before the Renaissance’s ‘discovery’ of the classical past, Carrie Beneš finds, medieval Italians at all social levels made extensive use of that past to forge their own corporate identities. This book illuminates an important aspect of Italian city-state history and describes how people in turbulent times sought a usable past in order to define and strengthen them. Beneš makes deft use of a wide range of source materials and methodologies—architectural, literary, archival, and anthropological. Urban Legends offers a fascinating glimpse into the formation of memory in the late medieval world.”
“Following a useful introduction establishing the four cities’ classical connections, Beneš presents four chapters in a parallel fashion with background to and specific examples of chronicles or monuments.”
“Beneš’ study allows us intimate access to the heart of the North Italian city-state, to the aspirations, fears, and passions, not only of the elites but of the wider urban community. . . . [This is] a magnificent piece of scholarship and a highly valuable contribution to a subject full of modern-day resonance.”

Between 1250 and 1350, numerous Italian city-states jockeyed for position in a cutthroat political climate. Seeking to legitimate and ennoble their autonomy, they turned to ancient Rome for concrete and symbolic sources of identity. Each city-state appropriated classical symbols, ancient materials, and Roman myths to legitimate its regime as a logical successor to—or continuation of—Roman rule. In Urban Legends, Carrie Beneš illuminates this role of the classical past in the construction of late medieval Italian urban identity.

Carrie Beneš is Associate Professor of Medieval and Renaissance History at the New College of Florida.


List of Illustrations


Note on the Text


1. Appropriating a Roman Past

2. Padua: Rehousing the Relics of Antenor

3. Genoa: Many Januses for Civic Unity

4. Siena: Romulus and Remus Revisited

5 Perugia: Adopting a New Aeneas

6. Classical Scholarship and Public Service


Biographical Appendix




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Chronicling History

Chroniclers and Historians in Medieval and Renaissance Italy