Imperial Cities and Violence

Mühlhausen|Thüringen, 24th February – 26th February 2020

Eighth academic conference of the Mühlhausen-based Working Group “History of the Free Imperial Cities”, in cooperation with the Friedrich Christian Lesser Foundation and the Historical Society of Mühlhausen (Mühlhäuser Geschichts- und Denkmalpflegeverein e. V.)


Confined living spaces, diverging economic interests, and the struggle for power and status – the potential for violence in cities was particularly high. Therefore, already the earliest legal documents from Imperial Cities contain regulations prohibiting or limiting physical violence, often by threatening violence in return.

If we look just at the legal sources in early modern times, they seem to indicate that physical violence was gradually restricted and monopolised by a (non-violent) authority. However, other sources lend themselves to the conclusion that physical violence had a continuing presence in the urban spaces and was tolerated at least to some degree.

The conference attempts to bring together two perspectives, by taking into account physical violence over persons – as a particular variant of enacting authority – as well as violence against individuals or groups of persons. We will discuss the power struggles between the council as an authority on the one hand, and on the other hand the actors in the cities, both sides enacting physical violence or being affected by it. Our main focus lies on the Imperial Cities between 1250 and 1800 since they typically had high court jurisdiction and therefore could exercise the full penal power, including physical punishments and executions. At the same time, however, there were quite a few cases in which the authority’s high court jurisdiction limited the autonomy of the Imperial Cities.

Historians from academia and archives will explore questions such as: What were the interrelations between the force of law and physical violence in the city? Was physical violence used when exercising legal authority? When and to what degree was physical violence tolerated by the city councils?

To the conference program

Table of contents and foreword of the conference publication
Studien zur Reichsstadtgeschichte (SRG) are published by Michael Imhof Verlag.

Here you can find an overview of all conferences.