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Granum Bonum: Grain Distribution and the Emergence of Popular Institutions in Medieval Genoa


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Granum Bonum: Grain Distribution and the Emergence of Popular Institutions in Medieval Genoa

By John Manke

PhD Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2019

Abstract: This dissertation uncovers the role that state debt and grain distribution played in the sociopolitical world of late medieval Genoa. The Genoese became the first polity to experiment with state debt in the twelfth century when wealthy members of the community exchanged money to build a fleet for revenue shares from the salt tax. Over the next two hundred years, this agreement evolved into a pillar of the Genoese state, and investment in the state debt was a means of maintaining political authority among a small circle of elites.

Building on archival research in the Archivio di Stato in Genoa, published legal documents, and medieval legal philosophy, this dissertation demonstrates how state debt was embedded in Genoese society as a means of formalizing the authority of the elites. Building on this point and using the records of an administrative apparatus created to purchase grain for the city, the dissertation demonstrates how a fourteenth-century popular uprising in Genoa, led by Simone Boccanegra and his successors, reshaped the state debt in a long-term effort to reconstitute the political establishment and demonstrate the stability of their regime. Past assessments of state debt in medieval Italy are often testaments to technical writing. They talk about fiscal figures, the rise and fall of prices, but they fail to recognize that medieval recordkeepers had different ideas of what information was relevant to be included. Furthermore, these facts and figures are divorced from the social context.

This dissertation connects the development of state debt to the social world that produced it demonstrates the way grain and grain distribution became a key component of one of the most important of the popular regimes that swept across late medieval Italy. These experiments in state debt allowed for the establishment of the Bank of St. George in 1407, which brings this dissertation to a close. This institution finally settled the organization of Genoa’s finances, many historians have suggested that this was the first state bank and a clear antecedent of the Bank of England. This dissertation adds nuance to the roots of the modern financial system.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Minnesota

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