The Liber Paradisus

Bologna pioneer in new models of governance: the Liber Paradisus story.

Bologna can be proud to be the first over other Italian cities- and may also at world level –to adopt a formal act abolishing the serfdom, paying the ransom with public money. In memory of that event the municipality put the latin word “Libertas” (freedom) on its coat of arms.

Liber Paradisus is a book drowned up 1257 – now preserved at the State Archive of Bologna in Celestini square – that represents the memorial of collective manumission of serfs, established by the Municipality of Bologna in 1256. It can be considered an ideal starting point for a reflection on philosophic, religious, legal and political aspects of one of the universally recognized milestones in the history of civilization.

In the medieval age towns and countryside where populated by a lot of serfs. These poor people did not owned anything, even their sons were properties of the landlord. When the landlord sold one of his farms, he sold also all the serfs working that land as well.

The economic and administrative reasons behind the emancipation of these serfs are to be sought in the situation of the lordships settled in the Bologna county in 1249, after the Fossalta battle. Notwithstanding the positive results of the battle and the capture of King Enzo, son of the Emperor Frederick II -their main enemy-, Bologna was exhausted by the continuation of the conflict. This situation determined an ethic and economic reflection on the serfs, until then property of the landlords. The Papacy, from its side, supported this process, claiming its faith in the freedom and dignity of the man, created in the image of God.

So it was that on August the 25th1256, the Bologna Mayor proclaimed on the public main square of the city the formal decree establishing the liberation of all the serfs living in the Bologna territories, inside and outside the city walls. The abolition of the serfdom interested almost 6000 serfs, owned by about 400 landlords. The liberation was possible  thanks to a cash redemption, corresponding to the average value of a serf on the marketplace, defined in 10 silver coins for the serfs older than 14 years, and 8 coins for the others.

The Liber Paradisus is the document drowned up in the first months of 1257 by four notaries, designated by the Bologna Municipality, reporting the names of all the released serfs together with the names of their lords. The name of the book originates from the first word of the text: “Paradisus” (heaven), to remind that God created the man in heaven and gave him perfect and perpetual freedom. Actually the local government intended to achieve also the objective of increasing the work productivity of the serfs, offering them better living conditions and enhancing their involvement and participation to foster the recovery of the local economy. They were also looking for a return of the investment made for the serf ransom, being now entitled to get taxes from people who were exempt before.