(879 words)

Arson in medieval and early modern criminal law was the deliberate or neglectful setting fire to buildings, especially homes. Dense urban development (Town), highly flammable building materials (wood and straw), and the lack of equipment for firefighting made fire a constant threat. Many towns and cities in Europe therefore issued Polizeiordnungen (police ordinances) in the 16th and 17th centuries, stipulating very precise instructions for the prevention of fire. Arson was therefore one of the gravest of breaches of the peace.

In accord with late medieval Italian jurisprud…

Cite this page
Oestmann, Peter and Nordloh, Philipp, “Arson”, in: Encyclopedia of Early Modern History Online, Executive editor of the English edition: Graeme Dunphy. Consulted online on 18 February 2018 <>
First published online: 2015
First print edition: 20160321

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