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5 Forensic Evidence, Lay Witnesses and Medical Expertise in the Criminal Courts of Late Medieval Italy

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Chapter Summary

The relationship between academic and practical medicine remained amorphic even to university scholars during the late middle Ages, and ambiguity about where medical expertise could be found persisted in the arena of the courtroom. Learned physicians examined victims and wrote consilia at the petition of the courts, but lay knowledge was likewise invaluable and could be determinative even in the most serious of cases. The use of forensic evidence has been examined in some important centers of late medieval Italy, particularly Venice and Bologna, but in matters of criminal procedure, there existed a great deal of local variation, which depended on the traditions, needs and particular circumstances of communities. The use of lay witnesses to give testimony on medical issues was common in medieval and early modern courts, as judges "would routinely seek specific expertise where general consensus placed it".

Keywords: Bologna; forensic evidence; late medieval Italy; late middle ages; lay witnesses; medical expertise; Venice



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