Giovanni da Legnano

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Fragments of the sarcophagus of Giovanni da Legnano in the Museo civico medievale of Bologna, created by Pierpaolo dalle Masegne and his brother Jacobello.

Giovanni da Legnano, actually Giovanni Oldrendi (b. c. 1320 in Milan; † 16 February 1383 in Bologna), sometimes called John de Legnano, was an Italian jurist, military theorist and canon lawyer at the University of Bologna. He was a close confidant of several popes and wrote the treatise “Tractatus de Bello, de Represaliis et de Duello”, in which he dealt with questions of war, military tactics and the legal norms applicable in the case of war, a work of legal and military historical importance.


Giovanni da Legnano

Giovanni da Legnano was born around 1320 in Milan. He first studied philosophy, artes liberales, medicine and astrology, and then law in Bologna. In 1350 he is documented for the first time as Doctor legum. A year later he was appointed Doctor iuris utriusque (“Doctor of Both Laws”, i.e. both secular civil law and canon law) at the University of Bologna, followed a few years later by promotion to the chair of canon law. He was also a close friend of Popes Urban V and Gregory XI, as well as one of Pope Urban VI’s most high-profile supporters during the Occidental Schism. Because of these connections, he was sent by Bologna to Rome as the city’s negotiator on several occasions from 1358. In 1368, Charles IV granted him the dignity of Count Palatine. Gregory XI first appointed him papal vicar of Bologna in 1377.

Among Giovanni da Legnano’s best-known publications was his Tractatus de Bello, de Represaliis et de Duello (“Treatise on War, Reprisals and the Duel”), published around 1360, which is regarded as an early work in the history of the development of modern international humanitarian law. Dedicated to Cardinal Aegidius Albornoz, the work is considered the first comprehensive attempt in the Occident to address the nature of war and its many aspects. In it, Giovanni da Legnano addressed such topics as the preconditions for wars, warfare, military tactics, mercenaryism, and prisoner-of-war law. Other works by him include “Somnium sive tractatus de principatu” (1372) on civil and canon law, “De Iuribus ecclesiæ in civitatem Bononiæ” (1376) on the law in Bologna, and “De fletu ecclesiæ,” written in stages between 1378 and 1380, in defense of the election of Urban VI as pope.

Giovanni da Legnano died in Bologna in 1383 and was held in high esteem at the time of his death. In his will he left an endowment for poor students from his native Milan to study at the University of Bologna and bequeathed his house to the university in case his male line of succession should expire. His disciple Cosimo dei Migliorati was elected pope some 20 years after Legnano’s death under the name Innocent VII.


  • Berardo Pio:Oldrendi, Giovanni (Giovanni da Legnano). In: Raffaele Romanelli (ed.): Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani (DBI). Volume 79: Nursio-OttoliniVisconti. Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana, Rome 2013, pp. 196-200.
  • Berardo Pio: Giovanni da Legnano. Un intellettuale nell’Europa del Trecento (= Studi e memorie dell’Università di Bologna. Nuova serie. 15). Bononia University Press, Bologna 2018, ISBN 978-88-6923-325-8.
  • John P. McCall: Chaucer and John of Legnano. In: Speculum. A Journal of Medieval Studies. 40(3)/1965 Medieval Academy of America, pp. 484-489, ISSN 0038-7134
  • R. Joseph Schork, John P. McCall: A Lament on the Death of John of Legnano. In: Studies in the Renaissance. 19/1972, The Renaissance Society of America, pp. 180-195, ISSN 0081-8658
  • Peter Thorau: Lignano (Legnano), Johannes v., in: Lexikon des Mittelalters Bd. 5 (2003), Sp. 1977f.

Web links

Commons: Giovanni da Legnano– Collection of images, videos and audio files

  • Giovanni da Legnano. Publications in the bibliographic database of the Regesta Imperii. Note: the article from the DBI linked there concerns a Milanese incunabulum publisher.
  • Entry in EDIT16
  • Entry in the Biblioteca Europea di informazione e cultura (BEIC); including handwritten tradition especially of the Tractatus de bello.