The Medieval Political Economy of Antisemitism

In an era of social and economic upheaval and geopolitical competition, political leaders sought to identify stable income sources and expand their administrative intrusion while satisfying a range of interests, including those of the state itself. During this epoch, communities of Jews could be assets to governments. The Holy Roman Emperor farmed out rights to govern, protect, and tax local Jews as special subjects of the emperor. By the late Middle Ages, emperors, landgraves, guilds, and town councils wrestled over determining the relevant authority over Jews in a patchwork landscape of overlapping jurisdiction. German territories were particularly inhospitable for Jews from the 15th century onward, as authority over Jews became more hotly contested. If city rulers faced both reasons for expulsion and reasons against expulsion, then where, when, and why did medieval and early modern cities in the Holy Roman Empire expel their Jewish residents?

I translated and digitized records in Geschichte der Juden im Mittelalter von der Nordsee bis zu den Südalpen (Haverkamp 2002), producing a spatial database including over 800 cities in the period 1000-1520. Geschichte der Juden covers Jewish settlement and persecutions in the western Holy Roman Empire (historic Ashkenaz) based on the encyclopedia Germania Judaica (Maimon et al. 1987-2003) and the Deutsche Städtebuch.

The project uses Bayesian logistic regression, spatial discrete-time event-history regression, and comparative-historical methods.

Research Products

Ideas and findings have been presented at meetings of the American Sociological Association; Social Science History Association; Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture; Association for the Sociology of Religion; and at the Arye Maimon Institute for Jewish History at Universität Trier and the Department of Economic History at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Journal Articles

Kerice Doten-Snitker. “Contexts of State Violence: Jewish Expulsions in the Holy Roman Empire.” Social Science History 45(1):131-163. doi: 10.1017/ssh.2020.39 (working paper on SocArXiv)

Policies excluding ethnoracial and religious minorities reinforce the power of political elites. This study addresses an extreme case of exclusion, urban expulsions of Jews in the medieval western Holy Roman Empire. Expulsions were official edicts proclaimed by Christian princes, lords, or town councils, whomever ruled a territory. Changing religious and political culture, in the form of new value on community righteousness and the beginning of territorialization, provided incentives for polities to expel their Jewish residents. Using a new database of Jewish settlement and city development in the Western Holy Roman Empire 1000-1520 CE, I show that the relational structure of political power between Christian elites could insulate or expose Jewish communities to political contests of the time. Jews were derided, lesser members of Christian society, but in spite of increasing focus on Christian piety and legislating community purity, most cities did not expel their Jewish residents. City rulers that did expel were attempting to solve challenges for sovereignty through their policies towards Jews.

Working Papers

Kerice Doten-Snitker. “The Temporal and Spatial Structure of Medieval Expulsions of Jews.” (under review) working paper on SocArXiv

What social processes guide the spread of persecution? I investigate the diffusion of medieval expulsions of Jews from polities in the Holy Roman Empire. For medieval rulers, religious and material concerns were strong rationales against expulsion. Yet expulsions increase markedly in the fifteenth century, as part of a broader shift in medieval Europe from informal violence towards persecution carried out by authorities. Did an expulsion by one ruler affect another ruler’s choices about expulsion? Using discrete-time event-history analysis methods, I document the lack of spatial contagion of expulsion among over 800 polities in the western Holy Roman Empire, 1000-1520CE. Institutional and social network incentives contained the potential spread of expulsion. There was a neighborhood-based pattern to expulsions; cities were less likely to expel Jews if a neighbor did so. Though informal violence, such as rioting, is prone to contagion, this persecuting policy was not. These results suggest that violence committed by governments against minority groups is less contagious than might be assumed. Social interdependence can spur as well as squelch political actions.

Other Venues

Medieval Political Competition and the Attack on Ethnoreligious Diversity – University of Washington Dissertation

“Expect Iteration for Historical Projects” – States, Power, & Societies: ASA Political Sociology Section Newsletter, Summer 2019, 10–11. Newsletter article

“Debunking the myth of ‘elite Jews’ in medieval Europe” – UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies E-Journal Blog post

“How anti-Semitism was used to gain political power in medieval Germany” – UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies E-Journal Blog post

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