Abstract and Keywords
This article discusses the history of witchcraft prosecutions in Italy. The bloodiest phase of Italian witchcraft trials occurred in the period generally associated with the Italian Renaissance. From the late fourteenth until the mid-fifteenth century, witchcraft scares ending with capital punishments broke out in Milan (in 1385 and 1390), Venice (1422), Rome (c. 1420 and 1426), and Florence (1427). Witch prosecutions reached their climax during the Italian Wars (1494–1530). In these years, Italian witch-hunters, including the philosopher Giovanni Francesco Pico (1469–1533), count of Mirandola, published books justifying the harsh punishment of witches, while a few sceptics began criticizing the witch-hunts. With the bull Licet ab initio (It Is Allowed from the Beginning) promulgated in 1542, Pope Paul III (r. 1534–49) instituted the Congregation of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, known as the Roman Inquisition. A strong, centralized institution, it reached beyond the Papal States and assumed responsibility for the prosecution of all types of heresy, which included witchcraft.
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