In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medieval Bologna

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Reference Works
  • Primary Sources and Databases
  • Archival Inventories and Bibliographies
  • Journals

Medieval Studies Medieval Bologna
Rosa Smurra, Francesca Bocchi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0294


The medieval period in Bologna spans from the end of the Gothic War in 553 CE to 1401, when Giovanni I Bentivoglio proclaimed himself signore of Bologna. After the Gothic War, in the mid-6th century, at first Etruscan and later Roman settlement of Bologna came within the sphere of influence of the Exarchate of Ravenna and subsequently in the hands first of the Carolingians and then of the kings of Italy (9th–10th centuries). The city was governed by a count, like the other regions under Carolingian dominion, and then by a duke. From the 10th and particularly the 11th century, a period of economic recovery, Bologna expanded beyond the city walls, with modest dwellings housing artisans who were moving in from the countryside. At the end of the 11th century, Bologna reached a turning point in its history, with the emergence of the university—in particular, the law school. In the following centuries, students converged on Bologna from all over Europe, and the city managed to meet the needs of large numbers of students. In the 12th century the merchants, artisans, and professional classes established an autonomous form of government, the commune. Together with the other cities of northern Italy, Bologna was part of the Lombard League, and it fought against the emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who laid claim to the government of the city. The city emerged from that conflict in a state of full autonomy. In the 1150s, the second circle of defenses was constructed, the Torresotti walls, but it proved to be inadequate. In the late 1220s, a much more extensive circle of defenses was constructed, which to this day marks the limits of the historic city center. During the 13th century, various forms of city government were adopted. At the beginning of the century the government was controlled by aristocrats and entrepreneurs, giving way to a popular government (Comune di Popolo) from the middle of the century. The political tensions between the various social strata gave rise to a period of insecurity, resulting in a government intended to safeguard the economy. Various forms of government were set up in the 14th century by internal and external rulers: the local Pepoli family, and Milan’s Visconti. But the greatest threat to Bologna’s autonomy was the papacy, and the regimes of Cardinal du Pouget, Cardinal legate Guillaume de Noellet. In 1376 there was a reassertion of the Commune.

General Overview

Hessel 1975 may be said to provide the first important overview of the history of medieval Bologna based on documentary sources. The 20th century was marked by a growing interest in the history of the medieval city, including studies by Amedeo Benati and Gina Fasoli, published in Ferri and Roversi 1984, along with studies by other Bolognese scholars that though somewhat dated are still indispensable. Political and social history as the backdrop for urban development provides the basis for the multivolume Atlante storico di Bologna 1995–1998 (with an English translation), including texts by numerous authors and many historical maps and reconstructions of many aspects of social and urban history. Later, in a more readily available and accessible format, mention should be made of Capitani 2007, which reexamines many of the topics already dealt with in the numerous studies dedicated to specific aspects published in the 20th century. In addition, this study analyzes the results obtained from the publication of previously unpublished documentary sources about the 11th century, and from the results of recent archaeological studies. A study that is dedicated to examining underresearched topics is Blanshei 2018, which contains a series of chapters on particular topics, including urban history, public health, the layout of the city, demography, the political and financial institutions, political conflicts, and criminal justice.

  • Blanshei, Sarah Rubin, ed. A Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Bologna. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2018.

    The editor of this volume manages to deal with the most important aspects of the history of medieval Bologna, which were not necessarily analyzed by local historiographers. It deals with topics concerning history and society, but also literary culture, material culture, public health, civic religion, the interaction between the university and the city, the vernacular, painting, and miniature painting.

  • Bocchi, Francesca, ed. Atlante storico di Bologna. Atlante Storico delle città italiane. 4 vols. Bologna: Grafis Edizioni, 1995–1998.

    This study, with full English translation, examines urban development in response to the emerging needs of society. Part of the first volume deals with the period from late Antiquity until the end of the 12th century. The second volume is dedicated exclusively to the 13th century; the third volume to the 14th to the 16th centuries.

  • Capitani, Ovidio, ed. Bologna nel Medioevo. Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2007.

    This volume consists of twenty-one studies examining various aspects of political and institutional history, the economy and society, religious and cultural life, and the university.

  • Ferri, Antonio, and Giancarlo Roversi, eds. Storia di Bologna. Bologna: Edizioni Alfa, 1984.

    This volume, intended for the general public rather than the specialized reader, deals with the history of Bologna from the Etruscans up to the Second World War.

  • Hessel, Alfred. Storia della citti di Bologna dal 1116 al 1280. Translated by Gina Fasoli. Bologna: Alfa, 1975.

    Alfred Hessel interpreted the history of Bologna mainly in terms of the actions of the German emperors (the Hohenstaufen dynasty) vis-à-vis the city, a perspective that was reconsidered by later historiography. This work is still a valid starting point for historical research. Originally published in German in 1910, the Italian translation contains an extensive introduction and an updated bibliography by Gina Fasoli.

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