Research Focus

Urban Networks

This sub-project concentrates on analysing different sets of selected towns and cities in the duchies of Austria and Styria and the kingdoms of Bohemia and Hungary with a focus on the respective border regions in a comparative way. It will describe the cities´ influence in shaping and structuring this specific region and reflect on their role for community building to obtain a comprehensive picture of the reasons for their importance and, more specifically, of the role and interplay of various social groups in an urban context.

On the one hand, the nowadays capital cities, Vienna, Prague and Budapest for the major parts of the medieval period can already be considered as residential cities with a focus on their administrative and representative functions.

On the other hand, smaller provincial towns, such as Český Krumlov/Krumau, Český Budejovice/Budweis, Znojmo/Znaim, or Brno/Brünn (Bohemia/Moravia), Bratislava/Pressburg, Sopron/Ödenburg (Hungary), Freistadt, Weitra, Krems or Wiener Neustadt (Austria), Leoben and Judenburg (Styria) as well as the nowadays Slovenian town of Ptuj/Pettau or Maribor/Marburg were distinctly characteristic of the urban structures not only of the region in concern but also of the Holy Roman Empire (including Bohemia) and the Hungarian Kingdom.

Research questions

In recent scholarly literature existing modern notions of urban communities are scrutinized and new ones developed, without questioning the urban community in its entirety. Thus, it seems fruitful asking what the source material tells about the townspeople’s visions of community. Analysing the social elites of urban communities focusing on the multiplicity and entanglement of their social attachments will provide insights into their intertwined internal and external social ties.

  • In which ways did families and social groups gain and preserve economic values?
  • Which forms of religious and cultural representation did they use to articulate their belonging together?
  • Legal and religious issues also affect the social division and structure of a city as its economic and institutional infrastructure.
  • Do organisational social and/or political hierarchies correspond to spatial division, thus conveying patterns of social topography?
  • How does religious life and its multiple forms of institutional organisation and performance affect urban space?

The temporal and spatial changes of the relationship between the different urban spaces and their environments also plays an important role for the development and characteristics of urban communities. Is a town in question a military stronghold, a regional market centre, a long distance trade centre, a religious centre, or does it combine the listed functions? In times of conflict or crisis new groupings, alliances and oppositions can be established within the investigated towns’ community.

To reconstruct the interplay of all these elements and their impact on community building different methodological approaches are required:

  • regional in-depth analyses,
  • comparative analyses focusing on the actors´ supra-regional operations,
  • and an interpretation of both results within the broader political and also socio-cultural context (TWG Urban Communities and Non-Urban Sites and Centres).

First results of the research will be published: Elisabeth Gruber, The City as Commune, in: Meanings of Community across Eurasia, ed. Walter Pohl, Christina Lutter and Eirik Hovden, (Visions of Community, vol. 1, Leiden: Brill 2016).


Elisabeth Gruber: To be connected, or not? Social Relations and Religious Practices as Ties Between Austrian and Bohemian Urban Communities (1350–1550) 

Judit Majorossy: Spatial – Social Dimensions of Medieval Urban Communities: Internal and Regional Networks of Austrian, Hungarian and Moravian Towns in Comparison (late 14th–early 16th century)  

Károly Goda: Communities of Solemn Processions and Festive Entries in Late Medieval Central European Residential Capital Cities

Illustration: Zisterzienserstift Zwettl, Stiftsbibliothek, Hs. 2/1, fol. 8r, 13. Jhdt.: Stifterbuch „Bärenhaut“

Last Update: 05.12.19