The Foreigner and Ownership Rights in Eastern Adriatic Medieval Communes

Birin, Ante (2014) The Foreigner and Ownership Rights in Eastern Adriatic Medieval Communes. In: Towns and cities of the Croatian middle ages. Authority and property. Proceedings. Istituto Croato per la storia, Zagreb, pp. 455-468. ISBN 978-953-7840-30-3

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Research into the legal status of foreigners in East Adriatic medieval urban communities is, unfortunately, hindered by the lack of sources. This insurmountable obstacle does not permit a deeper and more comprehensive insight into this challenging topic. The legal status of foreigners may only be studied for the period from the second half of the thirteenth and, especially, early fourteenth century onwards. It is in this period and thanks to the revival of the Roman law that East Adriatic urban communes, following the example set by their Italian counterparts, began to set down their own collections of written laws (statutes). The statutes paid attention to the regulation of the legal status of foreigners. The statutes are indeed the richest and the most important sources for this topic. Yet it is important to keep in mind that the diversity of the socio-economic and political concerns of each individual commune shaped their individual attitudes towards foreigners. This diversity makes a general appraisal of the legal status of foreigners in East Adriatic communes difficult. The best we can do is to point out certain trends in the statutory legislations. Following the example set by the twelfth and thirteenth century trading contracts, with which the urban communes regulated free trade between them and ensured the personal and material security of its merchants, many of the statutes’ regulations focused on the issues around the property and procedural criminal law, as well as law proceedings. These regulations provided foreigners with legal protection against arbitrary acts committed by the host town and provided a swift legal action in the case of material or personal injury. Yet in order to protect their own interests as well as the interests of their citizens, the communes often applied various exclusions to the regulations concerning foreigners. These exclusions were mostly expressed in the area of the law of obligations (securing obligations, cession, claims, loans, borrowing, purchase contracts etc.) as well as the material law and in particular the property law. The most important exclusion concerning the foreigner’s right to property—indeed one that received the greatest amount of attention in the statutes—was the limitation to their ownership of real estate. Limitations in this area were not as rigid as it may seem at first glance, as the statutory regulations in certain communes did give (conditional) right to own real estate. In most cases, purchase of real estate required the concurrence of the communal body in charge, or the bestowal of residence rights (habitator). Yet foreigners who had been granted residence and then moved away at their own will, in some towns faced punishment by confiscation of their immovable assets. In some cases, the rights of the foreigner-owner of the real estate were limited so that s/he was permitted to bequest their real estate only to the persons not subject to secular authorities—ie the clerics. This prohibition, however, applied equally to the town dwellers and to foreigners. Furthermore, with respect to the acquisition of the property, foreigners suffered explicit limitations. An example is the regulation that prohibited the residents to name the foreigner as their heir, or the prohibition from participating in public auctions. Other limitations to the foreigners’ right to own property specified in the town statutes referred, for the most part, to their movable assets, that is the products and the commodities they traded (wheat, wine, salt, wood). These goods were of vital importance for the economic life of the commune. Similar limitations may be found in regulations concerning exploitation of communal natural resources. As the examples above indicate, the statutory legislation was first and foremost focused upon the regulation of those questions that the commune considered especially important from a long-term perspective. Yet as sources for the history of the legal status of foreigners in East Adriatic communal societies, the statutes are insufficient.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
Depositing User: Dott. Ante Birin
Date Deposited: 07 Nov 2017 09:56
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2019 06:34


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