Bathhouses and Riverbanks: Sodomy in a Renaissance Republic

By Umberto Grassi - ES49

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Bathhouses and Riverbanks carries out, for the first time in English, a thorough examination of the criminal records dealing with sodomy in the Republic of Lucca from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. It does this by analysing the work and activities of the Office of Decency, the magistracy entirely devoted to the disciplining of sexual non-conformity. The great tableau that emerges depicts a reality marked by conflicts and contradictions.
Diving deeply into the everyday life of people from all social levels, this book provides new insights into early modern men who were sexually attracted to men, debunking the myth of pederasty as the only form of homoeroticism expressed in early modern societies. It also offers one of the richest discussions so far of early modern male-female sodomy. In examining these records, Grassi’s research raises a fresh new perspective on the religious conflicts that shook Italy in the sixteenth century when the control of sexual behaviour became a bone of contention between State and Church and the debates revolving around its regulation anticipated the themes of mature eighteenth-century jurisdictionalism.

Umberto Grassi is a Marie Skłodowska Curie global fellow at the Research Centre PoliTeSse (Politics and Theories of Sexuality, Università di Verona) and at the Department of History of the University of Maryland (College Park). He is also an honorary research fellow at the Centre for the History of Emotions at the University of Western Australia. Grassi is the author of Sodoma. Persecuzioni, affetti, pratiche sociali (2019) and many articles on the history of sexuality, religious dissent, and emotions.

291 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-7727-2198-3 softcover
Published: 2021
“With this meticulously researched and provocative book Umberto Grassi makes an important contribution to the history of sodomy in early modern Italy and, more generally, Europe.” — Cristian Berco, Bishop’s University

Bathhouses and Riverbanks: Sodomy in a Renaissance Republic is an utterly moving, deeply researched, and meticulously contextual urban history that deserves pride of place among the most outstanding books in sexuality studies.” — Helmut Puff, University of Michigan

“This fascinating book offers an important corrective to the widely accepted claim that male/male sex in the premodern world was merely a practice unrelated to perceptions of identity, especially sexual. Here instead we have in vivid details drawn from criminal records of Renaissance Lucca revealing accounts of the ways in which it often entailed deeper relationships, self-perceptions, and even a more spiritual vision of love.” — Guido Ruggiero, University of Miami


Institutional Control
1. The Office of Decency: The Regulation of Sodomy in Late Medieval and Early Modern Italy
2. Judicial Practice
3. Heavenly Anxieties and Worldly Compromises

Social Practices and Emotions
4. Male Same-Sex Desire and Age Groups
5. Women
6. Childhood and Adolescence
7. Sexual Acts, Homoerotic Feelings

The Regulation of Sexual Behaviours in the Religious Crisis of the Sixteenth Century
8. Sodomites and Heretics
9. After Trent: Change
10. The Impact of the Religious Reforms on the Judicial Practice of the Office of Decency
11. Sodomy at San Frediano, The Bastion of Religious Dissent
12. Resistance and Subversion

Closing Note