Prothero Lecture, Cruciform Lecture Theatre I, UCL, 10 July 2013
The ‘feudal revolution’ debate in the 1990s focussed on the years around 1000 and on France, and was an argument about whether or not that rough date marked a major change in political structures, with more privatised local powers focussed on castles and an effectively total breakdown of the ‘state’. It ended in something of a stand-off, with more extreme versions of both sides largely set aside, but no real consensus. Italy was not a major part of this debate; but the crisis years of the late eleventh century produced a similar breakdown of traditional political structures in the centre-north of Italy around 1100, and the emergence of local powers in much the same way as in parts of France. The most dominant of these local powers were, however, not private lordships, but cities. The question is what difference this makes to our understanding of how a version of the ‘feudal revolution’ might work in Italy; and also whether this ought to make us rethink how we interpret the emergence of the bodies which ran these autonomous cities, the city communes.