James E. Shaw

«Contracts damned by God and by the World». Litigating the just price in seventeenth century Venice

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: just price, litigation, usury, barter, contract law.

The records of the Office of the Piovego enable analysis of how the just price was litigated in seventeenth-century Venice. The evidence shows that Venetians adhered to the general moral principle that the just price should be determined collectively, rather than being a matter for individuals, with litigants attempting to establish the customary rate in any particular sector. The main exception to this was barter, an alternative mode of exchange that was regarded with suspicion due to its links with usury. Nevertheless, the lack of standardized procedure meant that in practice the determination of the just price was dependent upon the initiative of the parties. The flexible application of legal rules helped the court to find solutions appropriate for particular sectors, in line with its equitable approach to justice. But this also meant that getting results meant being able to mobilize resources to prove a case. In practice, the court functioned as a resource in the process of debt negotiation that could be instrumentalized by litigants to suit their own purposes.

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