ABSTRACT

Witch-hunting was a judicial operation requiring state power, and there was not much state power in the middle ages. The great European witch-hunt very much belonged to its own place and time, but, as the Roman panics show, it was neither wholly unique nor wholly unprecedented. The fourteenth century was a time of turmoil and disaster, with famines and epidemics. It is sometimes thought that the Black Death of the 1340s was connected with the growth of witch-hunting, but the link is indirect at best. The Black Death, Europe's worst-ever natural disaster, saw millions of deaths, perhaps a quarter of the population. The Malleus Maleficarum is indeed an important work, a constant presence in the intellectual atmosphere of the great early modern witch-hunts. The Malleus said very little about the witches' sabbat. One way of tracing the medieval antecedents of the great witch-hunt is to look at earlier prosecutions for offences like witchcraft.