The modern prison is commonly thought to be the fruit of an Enlightenment penology that stressed man's ability to reform his soul. The Medieval Prison challenges this view by tracing the institution's emergence to a much earlier period beginning in the late thirteenth century, and in doing so provides a unique view of medieval prison life. G. Geltner carefully reconstructs life inside the walls of prisons in medieval Venice, Florence, Bologna, and elsewhere in Europe. He argues that many enduring features of the modern prison--including administration, finance, and the classification of inmates--were already developed by the end of the fourteenth century, and that incarceration as a formal punishment was far more widespread in this period than is often realized. Geltner likewise shows that inmates in medieval prisons, unlike their modern counterparts, enjoyed frequent contact with society at large. The prison typically stood in the heart of the medieval city, and inmates were not locked away but, rather, subjected to a more coercive version of ordinary life.
Geltner explores every facet of this remarkable prison experience--from the terror of an inmate's arrest to the moment of his release, escape, or death--and the ways it was viewed by contemporary observers. The Medieval Prison rewrites penal history and reveals that medieval society did not have a "persecuting mentality" but in fact was more nuanced in defining and dealing with its marginal elements than is commonly recognized.
G. Geltner is professor of medieval history at the University of Amsterdam.
List of Illustrations ix Acknowledgments xi A Note on Dates and Money xiii Prologue xv Introduction 1 Chapter One: Italian Prisons: Three Profi les 11 Venice 12 Florence 17 Bologna 21 Conclusions 27 Chapter Two: Aspects of Imprisonment 28 Urban Development 28 Administration and Bureaucracy 33 Finance and Economy 38 Punitive Imprisonment: Jurisprudence, Legislation, and Practice 44 Conclusions 54 Chapter Three: Prison Life 57 The Terror of Arrest 58 First Nights 61 Familiar Order: The Wards 63 Daily Life: Order and Dissidence 67 The World Outside 71 The Journey's End: Death, Escape, Release 74 Conclusions 80 Chapter Four: The Prison as Place and Metaphor 82 Early Imaginaries: Martyrdom, Monasticism, and Purgation 83 Excursus: Jail-Breaking Saints 86 From Purgation to Purgatory: God's Great Prison 88 This World and the Next: The Urban Prison 89 Conclusions 98 Conclusion: "Marginalizing" Institutions, Instituting Marginality 100 Appendix One: A Prison Inventory from Bologna, 1305 110 Appendix Two: Poems from the Prison 112 Appendix Three: Le Stinche, a Reconstruction 122 Abbreviations and Archives 125 Notes 131 Bibliography 171 Index 195