Sovereignty and Debt in Late Medieval Mediterranean Europe

Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:50 PM
Room 104 (Hynes Convention Center)
Daniel L. Smail , Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
The history of the construction of sovereignty has been erected around the supposition that the emerging states of late medieval and early modern Europe sought to repress violence and build a monopoly on the exercise of coercion within their territorial boundaries. Much has been made of spectacles of punishment and spectacle of grace, of the rise of policing, of the emergence of the prison. There is truth to this model. Using the archives of fourteenth-century Lucca and Marseille, however, I will show that processes of debt recovery were far more common, and far more visible, than spectacles of coercion and punishment in criminal contexts. What is more, debt recovery allowed numerous opportunities for the coercion of both goods and bodies. Sovereign power gradually crystallized around the countless acts of debt recovery of late medieval Europe. The driving interest in this process, however, belonged to the innumerable private creditors who generated acts of debt recovery, not sovereign states.