Keeping the Papal Flock in Bounds: Papal Embargo as Pastoral Tactic, 1200–1500

Friday, January 6, 2012: 9:50 AM
Michigan Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Stefan Stantchev, Arizona State University
The study of human interaction in the later medieval Mediterranean has long been seen as marked by continuity of trade punctuated by moments of large-scale violence, such as the crusades. I aim at complicating this picture by focusing on papal embargo as an example of the intricate contextual interplay between economic forces and the way in which popes and canon lawyers sought to reconcile ecclesiastical precepts with the received wisdom of merchants and to embed economic behavior within broader moral concerns. Between 1179 and 1234 papal embargo emerged as a legal discourse that demarcated religious space into two clear-cut, supposedly monolithic categories, the Faithful and the Other. Far from aiming primarily at halting actual trade with well-delineated territories for the achievement of foreign policy goals, papal embargo established that any form of trade with non-Christians was a matter of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and  that such trade was potentially dangerous to the soul, a moral issue. Hence no matter how those who coined the embargo may have conceptualized their actions, the Christians themselves, not the “infidels,” are to be seen as the primary target of papal embargo, with the strengthening of papal authority “at home,” not the debilitation of “others,” as its chief goal. Papal embargo operated on two planes -- the external forum of laws and courts and the internal one of conscience and penance -- engendering a process whereby merchants were continuously ostracized from and re-incorporated into the papal spiritual flock. Fourteenth and fifteenth century material suggests that papal embargo was at least partially effective in shaping merchants’ perceptions and attitudes with regard to non-Christians and that its trajectory was independent from the vicissitudes of papal political fortunes in the late Middle Ages – findings which problematize the traditional trade/crusade dichotomy in Mediterranean history ca. 1200 - ca. 1500.