Rural Policing in the Long Trecento: An Urban Project and Its Obstruction

Guy Geltner

Abstract: The intricacies of urban–rural relations surface with rare detail from the records of Italian field wardens (campari) from the late thirteenth to the mid-fifteenth century. Focusing on the region of Piedmont, in the peninsula’s north-west, this article traces the policing of numerous sites and species by the campari as part of an urban bio- and agropolitical project. The office reflects the growing desire of towns to control their surrounding countryside, not only for military defence, but also as an essential source of calorific and hydraulic energy, a sink for waste and a stage on which to showcase their power before internal and external audiences. Reconstructing the remits, norms and actions of field wardens thus illuminates power negotiations that were shaped by a range of environmental factors and the era’s thinking about hygiene. Yet analysing the activities and responsibilities of the campari also reveals the tactics that rural dwellers devised to contest urban discipline, for instance through self-help, concealment and the embellishment of charges made against them. From the perspective of the area’s historiography, the dynamics captured by these records challenge the centrality of landed aristocracies in narratives of political centralisation. And from a broader perspective, the granular view they afford of middling officials at work invites historians to explore what urbanisation meant at the ground level, on either side of the city walls.

You can read this Open Access article here.

This entry was posted in Publications. Bookmark the permalink.