Cover image for Urban Legends: Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250–1350 By Carrie E. Beneš

Urban Legends

Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250–1350

Carrie E. Beneš


$94.95 | Hardcover Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03765-3

$45.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-03766-0

296 pages
6" × 9"
22 b&w illustrations/5 maps

Urban Legends

Civic Identity and the Classical Past in Northern Italy, 1250–1350

Carrie E. Beneš

“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.”


  • Description
  • Reviews
  • Bio
  • Table of Contents
  • Sample Chapters
  • Subjects
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 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.”

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





What is history but the praise of Rome?

—Petrarch, Invectiva contra eum qui maledixit Italie

In 1422, the city council of Montelupo, a small town in southern Tuscany, sent a diplomatic mission to the nearby city of Siena. Its ambassador was charged with the delivery of a gift from the government of Montelupo to that of Siena, and he carried an official letter that read as follows:

Magnificent and powerful honorable lords:

With our citizen Nanni Matteo Lapetti we are sending to Your Magnificences, whom we have always loved, this wolf. And although this animal is naturally fierce and ravenous, nonetheless this particular wolf is even tamer and gentler than a puppy, for our sons have nourished it since it was taken from its mother’s womb. Prepared for your honors and good wishes and given at Montelupo the seventh day of May, fifteenth indiction, 1422.

Your servants, the Council and Commune of the region of Montelupo, in the contado of Florence.

Considered broadly, Montelupo’s wolf-gift certainly reflects medieval Europe’s fascination with unusual and symbolic animals. The kings of England began keeping animals in the Tower of London in the thirteenth century, and Emperor Frederick II’s contemporary menagerie was famous across Europe; Matthew Paris’s English chronicle both describes and illustrates the elephant that Frederick sent to the city of Cremona in 1241 to impress visiting English crusaders, as well as the one presented in 1255 to Henry III of England by Louis IX of France.

But the wolf-gift is still more significant if considered in local context. First, and most obviously, Montelupo is Italian for “Wolf Mountain,” so the wolf was an obvious reference to the city’s own name. Second, as the ferocity of wolves was legendary, a domesticated wolf might have suggested the diplomatic value of friendship over conflict, peace over war, and civilization over brutality. Third, and most important, the wolf had been Siena’s symbol since at least the middle of the thirteenth century, so the Montelupesi were presenting the Sienese with nothing less than a live civic mascot. Evidence suggests that the Sienese had begun keeping live wolves in the Palazzo Pubblico (their seat of government) almost a century before Lapetti’s mission. It probably was not a continuous practice, as captive wolves were relatively rare—but that very fact would have made the wolf from Montelupo a valuable gift indeed.

Hence, the Montelupesi were offering the Sienese an animal that appealed to and embodied the Sienese sense of identity. According to local legend, Siena had been founded by the twin sons of Remus (the brother of Romulus, who founded Rome); the boys, Aschius and Senius, had been banished from Rome as infants by their jealous uncle and suckled by a she-wolf in the wilderness. Upon growing to manhood, they founded Siena and made the wolf that had nourished them the symbol of their new city. Leaving aside the highly suspicious parallels between this foundation legend and that of Rome, it is evident that the Montelupese wolf would have appealed to the Sienese not only because it was a live version of the town’s civic symbol but also because that symbol was rooted in Siena’s venerable past, underscoring its republican roots and association with ancient Rome. The republican regime that ruled Siena between 1278 and 1355 had emphasized this connection strongly, and it was once again a major focus in the years after 1400. Thus, by drawing attention to the features of the city that its citizens thought valuable—its republicanism, political autonomy, ancient foundation, and relation to classical Rome—the wolf both represented Siena and defined its past and present. The Montelupesi would have known this perfectly well. Their choice of offering demonstrated their desire to maintain good relations with Siena despite their official alliance with Florence, Siena’s main rival.

In fact, anyone who heard about the Montelupese gift would have understood its broader implications. Roman foundation legends like that of the Sienese twins and their wolf-nurse were widespread throughout late medieval Italy. The foundation legend was a common and potent source of medieval identity and propaganda; institutions as diverse as monasteries, kingdoms, family dynasties, and universities created origins for themselves that served contemporary moral and political goals. Chronicles recounted how Romulus’s brother, Remus, founded Reims and how Theodosius II chartered the University of Bologna, while Wace’s Brut (c. 1155) recounted the Trojan origins of the Britons on behalf of the Anglo-Norman king Henry II. Such legends bestowed specific historical connections on their subjects—connections to King Arthur, Charlemagne, ancient Rome, or a Christian saint—and these in turn increased the subjects’ pride, legitimacy, and prestige. Constructions of collective identity could celebrate a saint’s foundation of a monastery as well as a hero’s foundation of a kingdom or a dynasty; the phenomenon took many shapes.

Many European cities had foundation legends—London, Paris, and Cologne are three well-known examples—but the popularity of the civic origin legend in Italy far exceeded that north of the Alps. Virtually every city in medieval Italy had one, and scholars compiled multi-page lists matching each city with its founder. Nowhere else did myths of civic foundation become so broadly known that their content could be alluded to at will in public art and literature—or with the bestowal of diplomatic gifts.

This focus on the mythic past largely resulted from the Italian peninsula’s unique sociopolitical situation at the end of the Middle Ages (map 1). Italy had been the most urbanized area of Europe since antiquity, and during the eleventh and twelfth centuries it became increasingly wealthy due to the growth of urban activity and commerce. Politically, however, the Italian peninsula grew more and more chaotic. Its traditional overlords were the pope and the Holy Roman Emperor, but their authority, as well as that of the landed nobility, was gradually eroded by distance and inattention. Economics also had a share in this evaporation of power: starting in the eleventh century, commercially successful townsmen and local nobles formed groups called communes in towns throughout central and northern Italy, whose members swore to protect urban political rights and economic privileges. In this they were little different from many other towns in medieval Europe that received charters from a reigning monarch.

However, the situation in Italy was unique because this trend toward political decentralization went much further than it did elsewhere in Europe, so that by the end of the thirteenth century the pope and the emperor had lost all significant influence over political affairs. Effective imperial power in Italy collapsed along with the Hohenstaufen line after the deaths of Frederick II and his three heirs, Conrad, Manfred, and Conradin, between 1250 and 1268. By 1310, the papacy had moved to Avignon, leaving Rome and central Italy at the mercy of local aristocratic vendettas. The Italian towns had essentially become self-governing city-states; the relatively simple communes of the twelfth century gradually developed into complex municipal bureaucracies—republics, as they styled themselves. Nevertheless, the political situation remained volatile because the removal of external pressures led to greater competition within the Italian peninsula. Newly independent city-states began to maneuver among themselves for territorial domination and political influence, each commune seeking any opportunity to improve its position, either real or perceived, at the expense of its neighbors. Needing to define, legitimate, and ennoble their newly gained autonomy, these cities turned to the Roman past for both concrete and symbolic sources of identity.

This book argues that appropriations of the classical past in the Italian city-states attest to a broader interest in classical antiquity than has traditionally been credited to late medieval Italy. Rather than seeing interest in ancient Rome as limited to a small circle of intellectuals, I contend that the use of Roman myths and physical remains in communal ideology indicates a diverse and widespread engagement with the classical past, one fostered by the relatively sophisticated lay urban culture of the late medieval Italian cities. Italy was the only place in Europe where the public notarial system had survived continuously from the time of the Roman empire, enough that lay notaries retained the professional writing function that the church had assumed in northern Europe. The writing required in the complex world of late medieval commerce, however, was increasingly done by members of the middle class, and recent studies have highlighted “pragmatic literacy,” the wide spectrum of possibilities between literacy and illiteracy in the modern sense, depending on one’s knowledge of Latin or bookkeeping, one’s ability to read and write multiple kinds of script, and other considerations. The university-trained lawyers and notaries who maintained communal records were only the most official writers in a society in which some forms of literacy regularly extended into the lower classes. Inhabitants of the Italian cities therefore had a complex understanding of the role played by writing in the preservation of the past. Contemporary education provided the raw material in the form of Roman authors and texts, and city-state government demanded competent diplomats, politicians, and ideologues. As the usefulness of feudal allegiance to the pope or emperor faded, governments were forced to invent their own ideals and ideologies. Hence, each city’s ruling body adapted symbols of classical Rome, used ancient materials, and incorporated Roman myths to create an urban identity both in relation to its own past and in relation to the social and political networks in which it functioned.

Communes used various media to assert and advertise their civic identities—not only texts but also statues, coins, inscriptions, and frescoes. Communal governments propagated such materials widely and deliberately. They commissioned histories, officially approved them, and had them read publicly. They organized events to honor mythical founders, and they incorporated Roman themes into public art and architecture. If the impetus for this trend came from a Latin-literate ruling class, it was nonetheless concerned with spreading the message through as much of the urban population as possible and far beyond the city walls. In an unstable political climate, image was everything. So the Sienese wolf guarded the gates of the city; the Trojan founder of Perugia appeared on the city’s main public fountain; Hercules was stamped onto the Florentine currency; and the arch of Augustus in Fano dominated that city’s municipal seal. These examples suggest that it was just as important to ensure the wide promulgation of one’s civic connection with Rome as it was to establish it in the first place.

Historians have traditionally studied these uses of the Roman past in terms of the reappearance of classical scholarship prior to the Renaissance of the fifteenth century. To chart the revival of interest in classical remains as part of the history of epigraphy or numismatics, scholars like Roberto Weiss and Remigio Sabbadini recorded instances of early fourteenth-century Italian intellectuals attempting to read and reproduce classical inscriptions or copying classical coins into their manuscripts. Others have followed the history of particular cultural artifacts, tracing the fortunes of the Regisol, a famous classical statue in Pavia, or noting mentions of the Veronese amphitheatre in medieval chronicles. Until recently these classical or antiquarian studies stood in isolation from the larger historiography of late medieval Italy; the resurgence of interest in the classical past was assumed to have been the work of individual scholars exploring subjects out of purely academic curiosity. Petrarch’s interests in the classical past, for example, are presented as having been shared by few of his contemporaries. Similarly, studies of the prehumanist schools of Padua and Verona have tended to document a growing interest in classical Roman subjects without taking into account the source or broader context of that interest.

Rather than considering these manifestations of classical interest in and of themselves, or as precursors of a movement yet to come, I propose a broader scope, examining how classically inspired objects and texts functioned in a late medieval context. I shall address questions such as, what role did they play in the construction and use of communal identity? How was the classical tradition appropriated, manipulated, and reapplied? Who decided that it was necessary, and whose knowledge of the ancient past provided the material for these ideological trends? I incorporate approaches from semiotics and cultural anthropology insofar as they address how particular objects, legends, and symbols acquire cultural significance, and how that significance is used in the articulation of collective identity. Since, for example, the Perugian commune’s use of the Roman SPQR symbol can be understood as a statement of either republican independence or allegiance to the papacy, close attention to social norms, authorial intent, and audience expectations is essential for a proper understanding of late medieval classicism.

In particular, much of my methodology derives from the growing volume of work on historical memory and its relation to the construction of personal and collective identity. In The Past Is a Foreign Country, David Lowenthal stresses the communal nature of remembering: “Historical knowledge is by its very nature collectively produced and shared; historical awareness implies group activity.” Within the field of medieval history, numerous recent studies have analyzed the methods by which medieval people produced and shared their sense of the past. Susan Boynton and Samantha Herrick, for example, are only two of the most recent scholars to explore the social purpose and construction of religious foundation legends—on behalf of the monastery of Farfa in Boynton’s case and the duchy of Normandy in Herrick’s. Gabrielle Spiegel helped to initiate a similar analysis of the rhetorical strategies and goals of secular historiography, such as that provided by Felice Lifshitz and Leah Shopkow for Norman historians. From a more contemporary perspective, Patrick Geary has revealed the similar motivations of modern-day European nationalists who use stories of medieval origins to advance their cause. These studies have emphasized the defining moment of the origin in medieval (and modern) historiography, both how it constitutes a group as a group—whether monastery, diocese, duchy, or nation—and how it frames ideals and aspirations for members of that group.

Taking this approach with the medieval Italian republics will require the consideration of political, economic, and social issues, as well as art and literature. The historiography of late medieval and Renaissance Italy has traditionally fragmented along disciplinary lines, but historians and art historians of the past thirty years have done much to integrate previously separate historical disciplines. Randolph Starn and Loren Partridge, for example, have clearly connected the commissioning and production of art with contemporary political ideology in their study of Italian halls of state between 1300 and 1600, while Quentin Skinner, Diana Norman, and others have analyzed the classicizing political theories underlying communal art. A growing body of work by Italian scholars like Anna Imelde Galletti and Paolo Brezzi has focused on the coscienza cittadina, or civic consciousness, of medieval Italian cities, integrating religious and intellectual changes with political and economic ones. The work of these scholars has produced a better historical understanding of late medieval and early modern Italy on a broad scale, connecting more dynamically the economic and sociopolitical aspects of the culture with intellectual and artistic change. It is within this interdisciplinary paradigm that I wish to locate my study of urban identity formation and communal self-promotion.

In particular, I hope to transcend geographic as well as disciplinary boundaries, avoiding the concentrated approach common in Italian medieval history, where entire books often focus on a single town or province in Italy. While such studies are important for understanding particular areas in depth, they can obscure the fact that trade and communication were extensive up and down the Italian peninsula, as well as into the rest of Europe. The cultural history of Italy in the late Middle Ages should not be too stringently compartmentalized.

Some clarifications of scope will be necessary. Despite my emphasis on community, city, and society, I think it important to note that the choice and propagation of civic foundation myths were not democratic or grassroots events. In most cases, a city’s image, both to its own citizens and to external observers, was the conscious result of actions taken by the group in power in that city, and the image projected was intended, consciously or unconsciously, to bolster that group’s claim to legitimate authority. In the republican city-states, the groups in power were usually oligarchies made up of the wealthy and educated members of society, consisting of the local nobility and successful commercial classes in varying proportions. My point is not that these groups were merciless manipulators of public opinion but that the parameters of any collective identity are to a large extent set by those in charge of the collective. The people, events, and stated ideals of Roman history served as material by which ruling groups could define collective identity and foster unity among their citizens, as well as express their cities’ power, legitimacy, and ancient right to self-government in the political chaos that was late medieval Italy. Roman history was an ideological tool.

I do not mean to suggest, however, that it was an exclusive tool. Much has been made of the imperial and monarchic ideologies surrounding imperial rulers or claimants like Frederick II, Henry VII of Luxembourg, and Ludwig of Bavaria—all rulers whose reigns fall within the scope of this study. Likewise, Hans Baron advanced the idea that republicanism was essentially unknown in Italy before its revival by Florentine intellectuals on the eve of the fifteenth century. The basic difficulty with both of these theses is their assumption that there was only one understanding of the Roman past at any given point in late medieval Italian history. I argue the contrary: the details of Roman history were flexible enough, and its perceived utility great enough, that it was used by proponents of every type of political system. Brendan Cassidy’s recent book on civic ideals in medieval Italian sculpture addresses republics, signorie (petty lordships), the kingdom of Naples, the papacy, and the Holy Roman Empire alike. For republican Florence and Siena, ruled by citizen oligarchies, to glorify their city’s real or manufactured Roman roots was to support the existence, goals, and ideals of the present republican regime, as well as to argue on historical grounds for the city’s right to self-government. In exactly the same way, however, to emphasize the ruling family’s noble and illustrious Roman roots was to support hereditary authority in cities that were ruled by local lords, like Verona under the della Scala (especially Cangrande) and Ferrara under the Este. Finally, emperors and imperial claimants could cite the precedent of five hundred years, if not fifteen hundred years, of Roman emperors before them. Frederick II’s legal, artistic, and political claims to the role of a second Augustus are only the most dramatic example of this trend. All of these examples were essentially contemporary; Roman roots were clearly considered an asset regardless of political allegiance.

Likewise, this was not an intellectual trend pursued only in the biggest, most influential, and most “culturally developed” cities in Italy. Florence and Venice have received much attention from historians for their cultural achievements, but this greater attention has tended to give the impression that they were unique in adopting classicizing self-images by which they represented their republicanism. This is misleading; the promulgation of origin myths lauding a city’s supposed Roman or classical roots was a general trend visible on every level, from Venice and Genoa (populations circa one hundred thousand in 1300) to comparatively small cities like San Gimignano and Asti (circa eight to fifteen thousand in the same period). A broad cultural interest in city foundations is evident in the lists of civic origins that frequently appeared in both Latin and vernacular historiography; these lists only became more popular as the fourteenth century progressed. They tend to be organized alphabetically or chronologically for ease of reference, and they frequently include origin information for forty or fifty different Italian cities.

Thus, my focus on the use of Roman history in the republican cities of northern and central Italy is not intended to identify a unique historical episode. Rather, my study examines a significant part of a larger cultural phenomenon—namely, the adoption, appropriation, and reuse of Roman history by virtually every political entity in medieval Italy over the course of five or six hundred years—ending, in the fifteenth century, in the concentrated revival of Roman literature, art, and culture generally called the Italian Renaissance. Here, I limit myself to a range of autonomous city-states throughout northern and central Italy, excluding the cities of southern Italy and Sicily, which remained under reasonably effective feudal control (e.g., that of Frederick II or Charles of Anjou) and do not show these trends to the same degree. Furthermore, my chosen time span of 1250 to 1350 reveals the republican cities of northern and central Italy at a crucial moment with especially strong ideological incentives: during those hundred years, the absence of strong imperial and papal figures on the Italian peninsula encouraged self-government, but at the same time the instability of the political situation saw the rise everywhere of local lordships, or signorie—and not all experiments in republican government proved internally successful. City-states that wished to retain their autonomy had to defend it, which meant providing good ideological and historical reasons for independence, to both the involved citizenry and potential aggressors. Sometimes this “armoury of ideological weapons” was insufficient, but it was inevitably considered a crucial part of any city’s arsenal.

This study frames four case studies with two more thematic chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the classicizing foundation legend as forged in the urban culture of late medieval Italy. I attempt to give a sense of the phenomenon’s breadth in the century between 1250 and 1350, not only citing evidence from a wide variety of cities but also elaborating on the many ways in which a commune could characterize its relationship to its classical past, real or invented. It might argue that the city was founded before Rome or by the Romans, or it might identify with specific Roman virtues or heroes. It could advertise its chosen myth through physical monuments, works of historiography, or public art. Chapter 1 demonstrates generally why foundation legends were considered important and why Roman foundation legends were considered better than other kinds.

Building on that, each of the next four chapters examines in depth a city with a well-defined classical foundation myth from the turn of the fourteenth century: Padua, Genoa, Siena, and Perugia. These four cities vary in size and are geographically distant from one another. Further, depending on the cities’ particular circumstances, each chapter focuses on a slightly different span of years between 1250 and 1350. I have chosen these four cities, first, to show that they represent a general phenomenon rather than exceptional occurrences; second, because they demonstrate effectively the wide range of the phenomenon in subject, method, and purpose; and third, because they have not received extensive historiographical attention, particularly in English-language scholarship—as compared, for instance, with Florence and Venice.

Padua (chapter 2) claimed to have been founded by Antenor, the only Trojan besides Aeneas to have escaped the burning of Troy; in the late thirteenth century, locals claimed to have dug up Antenor’s bones, which were then treated with all the reverence due a holy relic. Genoa’s long tradition of municipal historiography resulted, also late in the thirteenth century, in the production of two long and popular histories of the city (chapter 3), both of which attest to its foundation by a third escaped Trojan named Janus, who gave his name to the new town—hence Janua, the medieval Latin spelling of Genoa. In contrast to Genoa, Siena’s foundation myth (chapter 4) did not appear in written form until the fifteenth century, but a number of visual sources attest its importance from the late thirteenth century onward: the twins Aschius and Senius and their nurturing wolf appear not only on the wall of the Sienese communal council chamber, at the feet of the personified commune, but also on the town seal and in civic sculpture. Finally, in 1293, Perugia’s ruling council commissioned a long epic poem on the deeds of its founder, Eulistes (chapter 5), who also appears on the monumental public fountain that was built at the same time in Perugia’s main piazza.

Each of the four central chapters traces the origin of a given story or myth, as well as its adoption and reappropriation for use in the late medieval period. At the same time, each chapter correlates the development of its city’s classicizing myth with its particular sociopolitical and economic circumstances. The evidence available for each city varies, and each city’s purpose in propounding its myth was different; hence, these studies demonstrate the wide variation within the larger phenomenon. Although each of the myths analyzed in these chapters emphasizes a different aspect of the Roman past, they all served a similar contemporary function: to articulate each city’s sense of historical identity and legitimate its current regime as a logical successor to, or even the continuation of, Roman rule.

Returning to a broader perspective, the final chapter investigates the human side of the phenomenon—specifically, how classical foundation legends were invented, delineated, and propagated, and, as far as possible, who was responsible. It explores the connections among authors, scholars, lawyers, notaries, merchants, and politicians, as part of an educated elite that shared classicizing ideas and priorities across the Italian peninsula and beyond. It then focuses on the urban community, investigating how local elites influenced and were influenced by the rest of the city’s population—how their knowledge of Roman history was transmitted to the less educated through political processes, public events, and popular literature, but at the same time how the existing oral culture could affect the ways in which the elite shaped their vision of their city’s origin myth. Finally, the chapter considers the competitive implications of audience: if each city had its own foundation myth and such myths were widely known, to attack a city’s founding hero was to attack its civic honor on a regional or peninsular scale.

Like better-known polities of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, therefore, the late medieval city-republics of northern and central Italy attributed their foundations to legendary classical heroes and historical figures; they uncovered and remounted Roman inscriptions; and they displayed ancient images on their coins. This study situates those efforts as part of the conscious identity-formation of the Italian city-states. At the same time, it contextualizes the wider relevance of the classical tradition in the society that brought forth early humanism, and it characterizes the Italian cities’ use and knowledge of ancient Rome as a dynamic engagement with the classical past that was more wide-ranging than historians have traditionally recognized.

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