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The Rhythms of Vengeance in Late Medieval Marseille

The Rhythms of Vengeance in Late Medieval Marseille

By Daniel Lord Smail

La vengeance en Europe, XIIe-XVIIIe siècle, ed. Claude Gauvard and Andrea Zorzi (Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 2015)

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, Pieter Bruegel 1559, Den Bosch

Introduction: Interpersonal violence was common in late medieval Marseille, as it was everywhere in Europe. In the fourteenth century, the city was riven by warfare between two great factions involving some of Marseille’s leading families.

Court records and deliberations of the city council from the 1340s and 1350s reveal episodes of tit-for-tat violence involving members of the two parties, temporarily halted by the occasional act of peace. Lesser families, loosely affiliated to the major factions, carried on their own intermittent acts of mutual violence. Common brawling was a daily occurrence on the streets of Marseille. Many of these conflicts began and ended with insults; others graduated to blows and injuries, and a few led to a great effusion of blood, ending, at times, in death.


Hundreds of brawls show up annually in fiscal accounts and records of the criminal court, a pattern in keeping with cities and communities throughout the Mediterranean and the north. How much of this violence was inspired by vengeance? Although violence was common enough in Marseille’s records, episodes explicitly characterized as vengeance are rare. The passages below are among the few extant from fourteenth-century Marseille in which we can find the words vindicare or vindicta in sources.

Click here to read this paper from Harvard University

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