Protected by interest

In Renaissance Italy, princes tolerated Jews as long as they engaged in banking activities. This interested benevolence constitutes a particularity in a Europe marked by persecutions and expulsions.

Francesco Sforza, by Bonifacio Bembo, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

At the end of 1462, the Jew Manno (sometimes spelled Mano) from Pavia was accused with his son of having helped another Jew who had become a Christian to apostatize. The affair takes place in the Duchy of Milan, held with an iron fist by Francesco Sforza, who inspired Machiavelli's famous pages of Prince.

This Manno is anything but unknown: he is one of the most powerful bankers in the service of the Duke of Milan. The latter provided him with a house and, above all, granted him the monopoly on money lending on the entire dominion Milanese. The documentary trail of rights or more precisely the privileges granted to Manno by Sforza is located in a condotta, settlement charter granted to Jews by Italian princes. This document forms the legal framework guaranteeing their protection, particularly in the face of challenges from the Church, municipal institutions or rival individuals.

For Pierre Savy, the existence of such charters tends to demonstrate the following fact: contrary to the other Christian powers (secular and ecclesiastical) of the last centuries of the Middle Ages which expelled the Jews in order to better reign, the princes of Renaissance Italy not only welcomed, but governed them without seeking to oppress them. For what reasons?

The settlement of the Jews

To answer this question, Savy convenes numerous case of these Italian Jews who, individually or more rarely collectively, benefited from these condotte, term paradoxically absent from the sources in favor of the more neutral term of capitoli (chapters). These contracts had a mainly economic aim, to the extent that the settlement of Jews there was systematically conditional on their possibility of founding a bank (bank) and to lend money, in a context of considerable increase in the financial needs of princes.

These new strong men from central-northern Italy were driven by the desire to make their power shine through the maintenance of an expensive court. This condotta is however not without precedent in Jewish history, since Savy recalls, after the historian Yosef Yerushalmi, the existence of the founding charters of the Ashknaz communities along the Rhine axis and whose origin (partly mythical) dates back to the Carolingian era. These are themselves part of the distant heritage of Roman imperial law and the famous saying of Caracalla (212). They thus reopen the classic debate on the forms of participation citizen of Jews to the political life of societies of the medieval West. Reciprocally, they reactivate the equally classic debate on theagency Jews before the era of emancipation.

This capacity to act politically is illustrated, time and time again, in the documentation pragmatic (judicial and fiscal sources) exploited by the numerous works on which the author relies: the Jews appear capable of mobilizing resources, financial but also social, and useful political know-how to negotiate their privileges and more broadly their place within the city. Pierre Savy draws inspiration from what has already been demonstrated, including outside the Italian space (like Marseille in XIVe century by Juliette Sibon), to talk about a pragmatic citizenship (p. 117). This formula aims to describe the incomplete participation of these Jewish families from northern and central Italy in the civic and economic life of the principalities where they are established.

By focusing on the analysis of the ambivalent relationships of the Italian princes of the Quattrocento their Jews, Pierre Savy thus illuminates a part of history which, seen from France, appears in all its singularity. This, to the point that Italian particularism could be erected by the historiography of the Jews as a paragon of tolerance and of kindnessor even in integration paradigm (p. 107) in an iron century marked, elsewhere in Europe, by expulsions, persecutions, accusations of ritual murder and forced conversions.

Karel Ooms, The Jews in the Middle Ages, 1880

Not that these realities did not exist in central-northern Italy (the affair of Simon of Trent (1472) is there to remind us), but they still hardly give way to the image of a golden agedistributed by Cecil Roth in his masterful although outdated History of the Jews in Italy published in 1946. If the notion of tolerance constitutes a invention of recent centuries (according to the formula of Giacomo Todeschini, on which the author largely relies), Savy generally refutes the reading grid centered on the religious dimension in favor of the political, as a historian of the political culture of Quattrocento Italy.

Owners of Jewish bodies and property

The chapter onJewish self-government recalls the difficulty of identifying the forms of Jewish protest from the available Latin documentation, apart from the affair, well known to historians of Italian Judaism, of the conversion of Caracosa of Cremona in 1468. This difficulty leads the author into the field, slipping , dun hidden Jewish text (p. 141) to which we would, by definition, have no access because it is very exceptionally verbalized and even less put in writing.

The particularly fragmented configuration of the Italian political landscape played a determining role in the formulation of the said Jewish policies of the princes, sometimes liberals (p. 105), sometimes repressive, but always limited to a given territory. These intermediate political entities (p. 217) that constitute the Italian principalities attempt to extract pieces of sovereignty and legitimacy from the pope, the emperor, even the king of France. All these sovereigns, if not always always in protectorsat least as exclusive owners of the bodies and property of the Jews.

on a more subregional scale, the competition is played out with the oligarchic republics (Florence, Venice and many others), directly threatened by the territorial appetites of the Visconti then the Sforza Milan, the Este Ferrara, the Feltre Urbino, or even the Gonzaga Mantua. Savy recalls that the cardinal axis of the political action of the latter, essentially coming from the world of condottiere, resides in the maintenance of public order and their personal authority to, ultimatelyattempt to anchor a principle of dynastic succession.

Public order and not public good and even less common good (common benefit), the latter value being particularly celebrated by the Republic of Florence before it was abolished by the Medici. It is no coincidence that the official historiographer of the Florentine Republic, Giovanni Villani, helped to disseminate the repulsive figure of the Jewish lender to which the institution of the pawnbroker would have responded.

As Savy points out in a somewhat didactic passage, we must be wary of the anachronism assimilating these republican values our contemporary republican values ​​stemming from the universalism inherited from the French Revolution. Florence, like Siena or Venice, the Jews represent a threat to the social and even more religious cohesion of societies stiffened by mendicant preaching in their excretion of the Jew, real or imaginary.

Express and innovate

Conversely, the religious policy of the princes, much more sinuous and marked with the seal of pragmatism, even utilitarianism, allows Savy to point out the heuristic character of the study of the Jewish policy of the princes. This constitutes a significant variable (p. 224) clarifying their ambivalence in matters of Christian piety, distancing themselves from the conventional discourses of the prince's mirrors and other theoretical treatises.

Highlighting the Italian case allows Pierre Savy to nuance the image of a genesis of the modern state forged exclusively in the rejection of minorities, particularly religious ones. He also intends to restore politics, and even politics, to its full importance in the question of the management of Jewish populations in the West between the end of the XIVe and the end of the next century.

Jews are not ready-made subjects like the others, not only because of their ambivalent status as witness people and the religious particularism that they embody within Christian society, but also because of their demographic weight. Reduced without being insignificant, their presence is an opportunity for the princely authorities to experiment, or even innovate, in terms of tax policy and, more broadly, the decree of standards.

It is also, paradoxically, the sign of the position of uncertainty which permeates their condition. In which Savy hardly innovates compared to the reflections of his predecessors at the end of the XIXe century which, already, pointed to the condition of uncertainty as the defining feature of pre-mancipatory Jewish societies.

A wobbly position

Let us return, finally, to the conversion affair in which Manno of Pavia was involved. This led not only to the exoneration, by ducal decision, of the two main accused, but also to the order given to the Duke's lawyer not to show anyone the registers and copies of the trial. Double victory therefore for the Jew Manno which results in a rather extraordinary sort of documentary erasure (p. 208).

This last notation is all the more interesting since these pieces, which were hidden from Manno's contemporaries, are accessible to us today. This paradox of the surprisingly rich documentation on the Jews of Italy, it is clear that Pierre Savy does not get all the honey out of it. More precisely, the book cultivates an ultimately shaky position.

On the one hand, the author displays the almost surgical concern to stick as close as possible to fragmentary stories taken from the archives, which depict bursts of life fragile of these Jewish families in a connection with the work of Arlette Farge. But, on the other hand, we can only be struck by the fact that in rare exceptions, the author has attached himself to what he repeatedly calls the documentation available.

An ambiguous expression, since it designates the summaries (in English), the quotations, sometimes brief, sometimes more extensive, of archival documents relating to the Jews which were collated by the historian Shlomo Simonsohn and his collaborators between the years 1970 and 2000 in volumes which are without equivalent in Europe. Simonsohn's monumental undertaking has undeniably facilitated the work of historians of Italian Judaism. It has also led to a form of distancing from the pieces and archival funds which provide information, through their very historicity, on the way in which the Archival Jews (archival Jewsaccording to the beautiful formula of Yerushalmi) were perceived by the local political powers and their administrations.

failing to be totally innovative, the subject of the book constitutes an elegantly arranged synthesis with great educational clarity inviting the lay reader to delve into the political history of the Jews of Italy before the establishment of the ghettos which concludes the chronological sequence studied by Savy. Full of surprises and twists and turns, this story tells us as much about the history of the Jews as it does about the history of power and the inventions of politics at the crossroads of the medieval and modern worlds.