Comprise and handshake: the town council, authority and urban stability in eighteenth-century Austrian small towns
Small cities -- Austria, 18th century City and town life -- Austria -- History -- 18th century Social stability -- Austria -- History -- 18th century Πόλεις, Μικρές -- Αυστρία -- 18ος αιώνας Πόλεις και κωμοπόλεις, Ζωή στις -- Αυστρία -- Ιστορία -- 18ος αιώνας Κοινωνική σταθερότητα -- Αυστρία -- Ιστορία -- 18ος αιώνας
Small towns in Austria, which counted rarely more than 100 burghers, had the duty to organize and administer ‘peace’ (urban stability) within their more or less impressive town walls. The upper strata of these small towns were made up of merchants and innkeepers, who were usually richer than ordinary craftsmen. Merchants and innkeepers dominated over the town councils and tried to stir town politics. Records of town councils are full of cases, connected with tasks of crime control, control over the poor and youths, supervision of weekly markets etc. Repeated problems were also caused by conflicts among craftsmen, between craftsmen and journeymen and between domestic servants. In this respect, the town council clearly acted as a relevant player between the sovereign and the town inhabitants. However, the authority of the town council was often questioned by inhabitants and aldermen were insulted on the street. Obediance to the council’s regulations depended strongly on the participation of burghers on the so-called ‘reignship’ of the council. In case of conflict (between neighbours or clients of taverns) the town councils, interestingly, tried to avoid amicable agreements. Instead, private agreements were more and more punished on the town hall. On the other hand, many conflicts were not brought to the town courts. This fact must be seen against the backdrop of the weak police forces in early modern Austrian small towns, but also as a consequence of inofficial means of social control beside criminal justice. The paper will show how social control worked and how town councils accomplished sovereignity over the inhabitants of ‘their’ towns in practice. It will also examine the increasing crime control by the authorities in the course of the early modern period.
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Urban stability and civic liberties: two fundamental concepts and the practice of crime control in early modern european cities (1400-1800)