Sleepwalking into a new world
11 April 2015

The emergence of the Italian city communes in the 12th century is one of the topics that has always attracted political scientists. And rightly so, because it is the often-cited example in classical political theory of the transition away from aristocratic rule and into a partial democracy as represented by the consuls. Plus it is one of the few topics that allow a scholar to write this kind of paragraph:

It has not been stressed by most historians that so many of the Milanese political leadership had surnames beginning Caga- or Caca-, that is to say ‘shit.’ The niceties of earlier generations of scholarship led them to neglect this […]; but it was certainly important for Milanese identity and self-representation. […] Cagapisto [family that provided several iudices] probably means ‘shit-pesto’ […]. In the case of the two brothers Gregorio and Guilielmo Cacainarca, again both iudices and active consuls between 1143 and 1187, their surname means ‘shit-in-a-box.’ That of Arderico Cagainosa, consul in 1140 and 1144, means ‘shit-in-your-pants.’ Other prominent families included the Cagalenti, ‘shit-slowly,’ the Cacainbasilica, ‘shit-in-the-church,’ the Cacarana, ‘shit-a-frog,’ the Cagatosici, ‘toxic-shit,’ and there were many more. […] The earthy sensibility shown by local naming, I would go so far to say, is one of the major Milanese contributions to the ‘civic’ culture of the twelfth century.

History is fascinating.