Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Dr. Jay Rubenstein

Committee Members

Dr. Robert Bast. Dr. Sara Ritchey. Dr. Maura Lafferty. Dr. Gian Luca Potestà


This dissertation argues that medieval Italians understood the thirteenth-century Italian city as an apocalyptic entity. Anonymous prophets described cities as having a role in the arc of Christian history as it moved towards the eschaton. This conceptualization existed primarily in pseudo-anonymous prophecies. In these texts, cities played a key role in the wider cosmology as outlined by the Abbot Joachim of Fiore or were prophetic retellings of local communal history. Anonymous authors used several prophetic names for their texts, with the most popular being Joachim of Fiore. Joachim was a twelfth century exegete from who devised a trinitarian schema of history, with ages corresponding to the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The Age of the Spirit would begin in 1260, after the seventh Antichrist was defeated. Joachim also drew concordances between the seven headed dragon in Revelations 12, arguing for a concordance between the seven persecutors of the ancient Israelites and the seven persecutors of the Church. Many believed that the Emperor Frederick II (d. 1250) was that seventh Antichrist as he made war with both the Church and the Italian city-states in the 1230s and 1240s. Within these tumultuous events, the Italian city took its place within medieval prophetic discourse. Some texts, such as Super Hieremiam and Super Prophetas, condemned the cities for their supposed support of heresy, arguing that cities were assisting Antichrist against the Church. But other prophecies, attributed to the astrologer Michael Scot and the British wizard Merlin, exalted the cities and understood the communal history as divinely ordained. Furthermore, these prophecies were consumed by both literate and non-literate audiences through textual and oral traditions. Prophetic discourse was a keyway Italians understood their homes and their civic neighbors throughout the thirteenth century. This dissertation argues that beyond simply being a civic or secular body, the Italian city was an apocalyptic one as well.

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