Martial Culture in Medieval Towns


This project will focus on towns as producers, organisers, and brokers of martial culture within the rapidly changing political world of late medieval Europe, examining how towns helped transform and were transformed by trend-setting military techniques and urban ‘martial culture.’ This martial culture developed at the intersection of legal prerogatives, political requirements, physical skills, knowledge, and the evolving societal significance of the ownership and use of weapons. The project will thus integrate a number of historiographical approaches that are usually explored separately: urban institutional, social, and political history; military history; the history of weapons and weapon use; the history of urban martial competitions; the history of knowledge production and dissemination; the history of fighting expertise, and the transformation of the urban space itself.

The research will be carried out by three independent, but connected subprojects with a common point of reference in the town-dweller who owned and used military weapons. It will concentrate on towns in the centre of the European urban belt in what is today Switzerland and southern Germany, from the 13th to the early decades of the 16th century. Subproject 1 will investigate urban public festivals as hubs of communication on martial knowledge and expressions of urban active self-promotion. Subproject 2 will address how urban military organization changed with shifting political circumstances and analyse the social effects of these changes. Subproject 3 (PhD project Elena Magli) will investigate how buildings and urban space used for military purposes changed the towns’ appearance, and how this, in turn, impacted local martial culture. We anticipate that these subprojects will contribute to an improved and expanded understanding of how martial culture became a driving force of urban development in the late middle ages, and how this, in turn, influenced state building on a European scale.