Smail is highly regarded for his detailed and evocative work on medieval Marseilles. Legal Plunder, which focuses primarily on how the local courts in Lucca seized the goods of debtors, demonstrates what happens when a historian changes his archives. In the shift, Smail found a rich resource in the literally thousands of fourteenth-century Lucchese records of household goods that were taken for non-payment of debts. Having done so, he then returned to his Marseilles’ material from approximately the same period to re-examine his ideas about consumption and material goods. Bringing the two cities together, he offers exciting insights into what constituted household wealth, particularly for the very poor.

Smail creates a fascinating picture of the lived experience of debtors at the most precarious points in their annual credit cycles, when personal promises to repay were no longer sufficient. Promises were almost always backed by pledges, such as the rings,...

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