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Municipal problems in mediaeval Switzerland

Municipal problems in mediaeval Switzerland

By John Martin Vincent

John Hopkins University, 1905

16th century map of Zürich, Switzerland

Introduction: By the end of the Middle Ages many European cities had become almost sovereign states. This was not their original condition but was the result of a process extending over long periods of time. Each municipality had its particular history and reached its goal by its own route, consequently none but the most general rules can be laid down for the growth of civic life in this period. No two places passed through exactly the same development. The conditions of their life history were as various as the feudal customs from which they sprang. The towns adapted their courses to their environment and from their original positions of feudal subserviency won for themselves various degrees of independence and self-government.

But, whether obtained by gift, or purchase, or by warfare, it is not the task of this paper to describe the earlier processes of municipal development, but rather to review the situation at the time when the goal of liberty had been reached. It is a matter of considerable interest to observe the conditions under which political and economic life were possible during a period when the destiny of the city was in the hands of its own governors. The task of government was not as complex as it is in a modern municipality, but the burden was by no means light, and the object of this study is to enumerate some of the problems which confronted the city authorities in certain typical towns.

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