This article links the emergence of communal palaces in northern Italian towns to the changing juridical relationship between bishops and communes. Architectural aggrandizement and changes in the words used to describe buildings were integral to the competition for power between these new urban governments and traditional ecclesiastical lords. Bishops' palaces, and the claims to authority they represented, were important influences upon the civic palazzi built in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. The chronology and historical context of the emergence of episcopal palaces links them to the formation of the communes. The bishop, of course, always had a special residence, but throughout the early Middle Ages it was identified as a domus or an episcopium; only the emperor had a palatium. Over the eleventh and early twelfth centuries, however, bishops began calling their residences palatia. This bold change in name and evidence for new constructions closely correspond with the early stages of communal organization. It was usually followed by a period of wary collaboration and intense competition between the developing commune and the bishop. Late in the twelfth century and early in the thirteenth, the balance of power between bishops and communes shifted decisively in favor of the latter, and these urban governments crowned their juridical victories architecturally, building their own palatia.

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