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Ritualizing citizenship in fifteenth-century Barcelona

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 August 2022

Carolina Obradors-Suazo*
Independent Scholar
*Corresponding author. Email:


This article analyses the ritualistic aspects of medieval citizenship through the example of fifteenth-century Barcelona. The unique citizenship sources of Barcelona allow for a detailed study of the negotiations between urban dwellers and their institutions in the making of citizens. Accordingly, the article examines how the witnesses of citizenship candidates and municipal authorities framed these negotiations in terms of ritual by promoting a codified notion of belonging that helped them all navigate the ambiguities of status and identification.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press.

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1 ‘Et nichilominus juravit ad Sancta Dei Quattuor Evangelia manibus suis corporaliter tacta, predicta omnia et singula attendere et complere, tenere et observare et in aliquot non contrafacere’, Historical Archives of the City of Barcelona (AHCB), 1C-V,4 Registre, fol. 31r.

2 On the articulation between formal and informal forms of belonging in different contexts, see the inspiring works of Herzog, T., Defining Nations. Immigrants and Citizens in Early Modern Spain and Spanish America (New Haven and London, 2003)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Cerutti, S., Étrangers. Étude d'une condition d'incertitude dans une société d'Ancien Régime (Montrouge, 2012)Google Scholar.

3 For a more detailed background on fifteenth-century Barcelona and an exhaustive description and analysis of the corpus of citizenship sources (the Informacions de la Ciutadania), see C. Obradors-Suazo, ‘Immigration and integration in a Mediterranean city. The making of the citizen in fifteenth-century Barcelona’, European University Institute Ph.D. thesis, 2015.

4 Previous estimates in ibid., 91–2.

5 J.P. Lévy, ‘L’évolution de la preuve, des origines à nos jours’, in La preuve II. Moyen Âge et temps modernes (Brussels, 1965), 9–70; and idem, ‘Le problème de la preuve dans les droits savants du Moyen Âge’, in ibid., 137–68.

6 I take the image of an ‘audience of witnesses’ from Taylor, J.K., Fictions of Evidence: Witnessing, Literature, and Community in the Late Middle Ages (Columbus, 2013), 2Google Scholar.

7 Offenstadt, N., ‘Le rite et l'histoire. Remarques introductives’, Hypothèses, 1 (1998), 9CrossRefGoogle Scholar; C. Gauvard, ‘Le rituel, objet d'histoire’, in O.G. Oexle and J.C. Schmitt (eds.), Les tendances actuelles de l'histoire du Moyen Âge en France et en Allemagne (Paris, 2003). Available online at, 9/21 (accessed 11 Nov. 2020).

8 Gauvard, ‘Le rituel’, 9/21; Offenstadt, ‘Le rite et l'histoire’, 9. On the historical relevance of the early modern period for the conceptualization of rituals, see Muir, E., Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1997), 79Google Scholar.

9 Offenstadt, ‘Le rite et l'histoire’, 10, which mainly refers to Erving Goffman and his Interaction Ritual. Essays on Face-to-Face Behavior (New Brunswick, 2005).

10 For a critical and polemical approach to the anthropological analysis of pre-modern rituals, see P. Buc, The Dangers of Ritual. Between Early Medieval Texts and Social Scientific Theory (Princeton and Oxford, 2001).

11 On the anthropological literature on rituals and their use by historians, see M. Fantoni, ‘Symbols and rituals: definition of a field of study’, in S. Cohn, M. Fantoni, F. Franceschi and F. Ricciardelli (eds.), Late Medieval and Early Modern Ritual. Studies in Italian Urban Culture (Turnhout, 2013), 15–34.

12 Muir, Ritual, 2; Offenstadt, ‘Le rite et l'histoire’, 10–11.

13 Fantoni, ‘Symbols and rituals’, 18.

14 In his Public Life in Renaissance Florence (New York, 1980), Richard Trexler frames social life in terms of ritual.

15 Fantoni, ‘Symbols and rituals’, 20.

16 Muir, Ritual, 5.

17 In his seminal work on the history of citizenship, Pietro Costa described the plurality of forms of pre-modern citizenship: ‘Non vi è una cittadinanza, ma una pluralità di condizioni suggestive differenziate e gerarchizzate. La cittadinanza non è uno status uniforme: I suoi contenuti sono determinati da parametri volta a volta diversi che danno luogo a complicate tipologie: cittadini originari o acquisiti, cives ex privilegio o de gratia, cittadini di antica o recente immigrazione; ancora: cittadini che abitano prevalentemente in città o cittadini residenti per lungo tempore fuori città, e allora dotati di minore tutela’, P. Costa, Civitas: Storia della Cittadinanza in Europa (4 vols., Rome, 1999–2001), vol. I, 15. For a recent review of pre-modern citizenship, see Prak, M., Citizens without Nations. Urban Citizenship in Europe and the World, 1000–1789 (Cambridge, 2018)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Cerutti, Étrangers, 18.

19 On witnessing and community-building and the power of witnessing to reveal how members of a community conceived their communal obligations, see Taylor, Fictions of Evidence, 2.

20 One view on witnesses’ narratives inspired by the work of N. Zemon Davis in her Fiction in the Archives. Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, 1987), 101.

21 M. Del Treppo, Els mercaders catalans i l'expansió de la corona catalano-aragonesa (Barcelona, 1976); C. Carrère, Barcelona 1380–1462. Un centre econòmic en época de crisi (Barcelona, 1977), 114–41; Ferrer i Mallol, M.T., ‘Els italians a terres catalanes’, Anuario de Estudios Medievales, 10 (1980), 393465Google Scholar; M.E. Soldani, Uomini d'affari e mercanti toscani nella Barcellona del Quattrocento (Barcelona, 2010), 20.

22 Ortí i Gost, P., ‘El Consell de Cent durant l'Edat Mitjana’, Barcelona. Quaderns d'Història, 1 (1991), 2148Google Scholar.

23 For the social and political upheavals of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Barcelona, see C. Batlle i Gallart, La crisis social y económica de Barcelona en el siglo XV (Barcelona, 1973).

24 Both Samuel Cohn and Marcello Fantoni insisted on the need to perceive ritual as a flexible analytical category in their introductions to Late Medieval and Early Modern Ritual. Studies in Italian Urban Culture (Turnhout, 2013), 6, 29.

25 An example in original Catalan is as follows: ‘E primerament fou demanat si sab o hoyt dir que en Johan de Torralba, mercader qui está en lo carrer Bonayre, assats prop la mar, sia ciutadà de Barchinona, çò és, que hic tinga sa propia habitació en la qual estiga e habit continuament ab tot son domicili, segons de ver ciutadà se pertany estar e habitar.’ Extracted from the citizenship interrogation of the Aragonese merchant Joan de Torralba. AHCB, 1C-V,3 (5 Jan. 1412).

26 While some of the rights associated with citizenship (such as political representation) were reserved to men, women could, as social and economic agents of the city, practise citizenship and be recognized as citizens. The Informacions de la Ciutadania show that they could also apply for citizenship charters in Barcelona, often together with their husbands and sons but also on their own, as widows, for example. On female citizenship in the medieval city and regional disparities at this regard, see M. Howell, ‘Citizenship and gender: women's political status in northern medieval cities’, in M. Erler and M. Kowaleski (eds.), Women and Power in the Middle Ages (Athens, GA, 1988), 37–60; J. Kirshner, ‘Genere e cittadinanza nella città-stato del Medievo e del Rinascimento’, in G. Calvi (ed.), Innesti. Donne e genere nella storia sociale (Rome, 2004), 21–38.

27 In other cities of the Crown of Aragon, such as Perpignan, property rather than residence was placed at the basis of citizenship. P. Daileader, True Citizens. Violence, Memory, and Identity in Medieval Perpignan (Leiden, Boston and Cologne, 2000), 32–7.

28 First documented in 1413, this alternative template was used in 50 reports for the 1407–30 period, for which a total number of 270 reports have been conserved. Most of these 50 reports (44) indeed refer to foreign candidates who come from other Catalan localities.

29 Inspired by Claude Gauvard's thoughts on the language of honour in Gauvard, ‘Le rituel’, 11/21.

30 ‘Parce que le peuple est l'acteur principal des rituels, il détient bien, en dernier ressort, les clés de la mémoire qui sont aussi celles de l'oubli. Mémoire et oubli: ces deux pôles sont des marqueurs essentiels du lien social et leur existence se révèle nécessairement ritualisée’, Gauvard, ‘Le rituel’, 15/21.

31 Speech acts theory has defined the power of language by distinguishing the illocutionary (performative) force of statements from their consequential effects (perlocution). J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (Oxford, 1962), Lecture VIII, 94–107.

32 ‘quicumque qui steterit in Barchinona per unum annum et unam diem quod habeatur pro cive et non potest peti a domino de cuius dominius fuit oriundus’, F. Udina Martorell, Privilegios reales concedidos a la ciudad de Barcelona (Colección de Documentos Inéditos del Archivo de la Corona de Aragón, vol. 43) (Barcelona, 1971), 11–12.

33 Medieval jurists defended the stronger probative nature of oral testimonies over that of written documents. Lévy, ‘Le problème de la preuve’, 154.

34 On the stronger credit given to oral testimony over written proof and, more precisely, the symbolic strength of witnesses declaring on the production of written documents, see D.L. Smail, ‘Témoins et témoignages dans les causes civiles à Marseille, du XIIIème au XVème siècle’, in J. Chiffoleau, C. Gauvard and A. Zorzi (eds.), Pratiques sociales et politiques judiciaires dans les villes de l'Occident à la fin du Moyen Âge (online) (Rome, 2007) (accessed 29 Oct. 2021). Available at

35 AHCB, 1C-V,4 (20 Jan. 1427).

36 ‘lo dit Guillem s'en és vengut ací ab coratge d'habitar hic totemps de sa vida e appar ver semblant car tot dia se pobla lo dit Guillem de lits et de caxes e de so que ha necessari’, AHCB, 1C-V,3 (22 Mar. 1415).

37 ‘e veig que tot dia fa tirar roba de la dita vila d'Aulesa ací’, AHCB, 1C-V,3 (2 Jan. 1412).

38 ‘ha vist moltes vegades que les gardes li volien fer embarch en les robes que hic metia e hic trahie que⋅l dit Bernat se spatxant a les dites gardes per ciutadà’, AHCB, 1C-V,5 (18 Sep. 1433).

39 ‘Interrogat si sap que⋅l dit Bernat habit axí com altra ciutadà en Barchinona. E dix ell testimoni que moltes vegades lo veu anar per Barchinona axí a peu com a cavall’, AHCB, 1C-V,5 (18 Sep. 1433).

40 For the contrast with the hierarchies of knowledge stated by jurists, who were strict in valuing witnessing de visu over de auditu, see Lévy, ‘L’évolution de la preuve’, 50.

41 ‘e dix sènyer, jo son fort defallent de la vista per que jo no puix affigurar nagú mas sovintment hoyg lo dit Berenguer parlar e així mateix madona sua e sa filla e en aquesta ciutat e en aquest veynat e als noy sé’, AHCB, 1C-V,3 (31 May 1408).

42 AHCB, 1C-V, 3 (11 Sep. 1419): ‘més ha de XIIII anys que⋅l coneix e l'ha vist mamar’.

43 See, for example, the citizenship report of the wool dresser Felix Barra, specifically the testimony of Pere Pujol. AHCB, 1C-V,3 (28 Dec. 1407): ‘més ha de 20 anys que jo⋅l conech car en II som estats batejats e unas fonts’. This clause is found in two other cases throughout the Informacions.

44 On the role of family networks in the making of the citizen in fifteenth-century Barcelona, see C. Obradors-Suazo, ‘Making the citizen, building the citizenry. Family and citizenship in fifteenth-century Barcelona’, in J. Colson and A. Van Steensel (eds.), Cities and Solidarities: Urban Communities in Pre-Modern Europe (Abingdon and New York, 2017), 41–58.

45 AHCB, 1C-V,3 (3 Feb. 1416).

46 AHCB, 1C-V,3 (1 Jun. 1407).

47 AHCB, 1C-V,3 (16 Mar. 1406): ‘e plagués a Déu que tots quants ciutadans hic ha en Barchinona fossen aytals’.

48 For more context on the position of Barcelona and the Barcelonese oligarchs regarding the acceptance of serfs within the citizenry, see Obradors-Suazo, ‘Immigration and integration’, 119–28.

49 AHCB, 1C-V, 3 (7 Dec. 1417).

50 AHCB, 1C-V, 4 (5 May 1425).

51 Kirshner, J., ‘Civitas sibi faciat civem: Bartolus Sassoferrato's Doctrine on the Making of a Citizen’, Speculum, 48 (1973), 694713CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 704.

52 Evangelisti, P., ‘Ad invicem participandium. Un modelo di cittadinanza proposto da Francesc Eiximenis, frate francescano’, Mélanges de l’École Française de Rome, 125 (2013), 5/31Google Scholar, (accessed 2 Feb. 2021).

53 ‘ha ⋅I⋅ forn seu propi a Bigues, prop Granollers e va e vé però tostemps té una dona en lo dit alberch qui está e habita aquí continuament e aximateix ell, qui totes festes anyals s'en vé tenir festes ab sa muller e ab sos infants’, AHCB, 1C-V,3 (3 Jan. 1407).

54 This practice is documented from the second half of the fifteenth century. See, for example, AHCB, Registre d'Ordinacions, 1B-IV, vol. 7, fol. 83v (8 Feb. 1452).

55 Chico, M. Raufast, ‘“E vingueren los officis e confraries ab llurs entremeses e balls”. Una aproximación al estamento artesanal en la Barcelona bajomedieval, a partir del estudio de las ceremonias de entrada real’, Anuario de Estudios Medievales, 36 (2006), 651–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 AHCB, Clavaria, 1B-XI, 24, fol. 185v: ‘cortines de tafatà vermell de que foren ornats los cadaffals qui deuran ésser fets en la plaça del Born de aquesta Ciutat per recullir certs honrats ciutadans d'aquesta Ciutat que per aquesta Ciutat deven tenir taula de junyir’.

57 James, M., ‘Ritual, drama and social body in the late medieval English town’, Past & Present, 98 (1983), 4CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

58 Obradors-Suazo, ‘Immigration and integration’, most relevantly chapters III, V, VI and VII.

59 Herzog, T., ‘Maarten Prak's Citizens without Nations and the legal history of Spain’, TSEG-The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History, 17 (2020), 91100CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 99.

60 Batlle, La crisis, especially 31–164.

61 James, ‘Ritual, drama and social body’, 6.

62 Fantoni describes ritual as a ‘creative process’ in opposition to ‘a representation of a process’, Fantoni, ‘Symbols and ritual’, 20.

63 In parallel with the considerations of some authors regarding the power of ritual to modify the meanings of daily life, see Offenstadt, ‘Le rite et l'histoire’, 11.

64 Muir, Ritual, 7.

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