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Townscapes
The Medieval Urban World
1273–1500

A medieval town was home to a variety of social classes, with the members of the Court (if the town was a royal residence), the clergy and the nobility at the top of the pyramid. Then came those who were burghers of the town; they held property and had access to political office. Members of the university formed a ‘town within the town’. The people who were pushed to the fringes of urban society also lived on the fringes of the town. They included beggars, the sick, prostitutes and hangmen.
A town was not only a place to live but above all also a workplace. While the guilds gained more and more political power, women – at least according to the letter of the law – were excluded from the working world of crafts and trades.
The status of the Jews in a town was a special one, as they were formally placed under the protection of the sovereign prince of the respective territory. Nevertheless, despite such protection there were from the early fourteenth century on many cases of Jews being persecuted. One of the most gruesome took place in 1420-1, when all the Jewish residents were expelled from Vienna, with many of them being murdered in the process.

 

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