Academic journal article Parergon

'Due to Disagreements, Great, Mighty and Opulent Cities Fell into Misery and Destitution': A City in Premodern (East) Central Europe and the Collapse of Traditional Community?

Academic journal article Parergon

'Due to Disagreements, Great, Mighty and Opulent Cities Fell into Misery and Destitution': A City in Premodern (East) Central Europe and the Collapse of Traditional Community?

Article excerpt

In 1750, the magistrates of Bartfa (Bardejov), one of the royal towns in Habsburg Hungary, issued a Polizej-Ordnung that strictly regulated both public manners within the territory of the city and the private lives of its burghers. (1) The first part of the document enacted regulations for burgher weddings. Depending on the social status of a newly married couple (rich town dweller, middleclass artisan, or poor journeyman) the instruction prescribed the number of wedding guests allowed. The same applied to the number of courses that could be served during the wedding feast--twelve courses for a rich wedding, eight for a standard wedding, and five for a poor one--with the penalties to be imposed for breaches of the rules, rising from 6 to 40 HungarianJlorins (for a poor and a rich wedding respectively). The new regulations further fixed the time allowed in church for wedding ceremonies, the maximum amount of wine that could be supplied by the local tavern, the allowed length of wedding celebrations, the number of cooks (1 head cook and 2 assistants for rich weddings), and even the number of bridesmaids.

The other part of the document, concerned with the clothing style of burghers, denounced the diversity and opulence of their attire. According to the councillors, such fashion did not reflect the social stratification within the community as even the poor craftsmen spent lavishly on luxurious cloth in an effort to imitate the life style of well-to-do burghers and merchants. Artisans were prohibited from buying expensive first-rate English and Dutch cloth which was reserved for the upper social stratum, and they were supposed to purchase cheaper dress of lower quality. With the instruction, the City's magistrates were striving for the highest possible level of social control and regulation, with the aim of keeping harmony and order: the edict intruded into numerous spheres of the public and private lives of the City's inhabitants. (2)

Far from being unique, the prescriptive and uncompromising rhetoric of the Bartfa Polizej-Ordnung was fully compatible with the early modern vision of an ideal city that rested upon values of order, obedience, unity, harmony, and collectivism. (3) By applying repressive measures against those who failed to comply with the rules, the Polizej-Ordnung, at the same time, testified to the existence of an unbridgeable gap between the prescribed norm and the subversive reality of everyday life in the early modern city. This fact raises certain fundamental questions that have been largely unanswered by urban historians. Upon which social and organizational principles did the very idea of a premodern city rest? What were the processes that contributed the most to the gradual metamorphosis of the medieval burgher community into a modern urban society? (4)

I. The Premodern City between Urban History and Community Sociology

As this subject expands far beyond the limits of classical historical science, the methodology and language of other disciplines, above all Sociology, must be applied. Primarily based upon the critique and analysis of community/ society theories--as formulated and developed by Ferdinand Tonnies, Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel, Karl R. Popper, the Chicago School of Sociology, and most recently by Gerard Delanty and Anthony P. Cohen--this article aims to provide a meaningful theoretical model which will serve to explain the crisis of the tradition-oriented urban community and the emergence of a modern (East) Central European urban society in the period prior to 1800. (5) My analysis will focus upon a number of little-known (East) Central European sources that have thus far only been studied sporadically. Terra incognita to most comparative urban historians, (East) Central Europe in this article embraces historical territories of the Bohemian Lands, Habsburg Hungary, and the Polish--Lithuanian Commonwealth with overlaps to the Holy Roman Empire. In the early modern age, the region was characterized by the dominance of small (fewer than 2000 inhabitants) and agricultureoriented settlements. …

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