Book Chapter

Forerunners of terrorism and 19th-century historians


First, this chapter explores political violence in the late Middle Ages and the early modern era. Even though the term terrorism did not exist before the French Revolution, political phenomena that closely resembled various forms of modern-day terrorism have been known and feared since the fourteenth century. The late Middle Ages and the early modern period witnessed the assassinations of numerous princes. The authorities as well as the populace feared organized gangs of criminals in the pay of rival political or religious leaders. These gangs were said to attack the civilian population using arson and mass poisoning in order to destabilize whole states. The fear of the terrorist “state destroyer” was part and parcel of state building from its very beginning. Secondly, the chapter discusses nineteenth-century historiography about early modern political violence. Nineteenth-century historians refused to interpret early modern political crime as terrorism: they either denounced it as lacking any political concept or vindicated it as justifiable resistance.

Attached files


Dillinger, Johannes

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\Department of History, Philosophy and Culture


Year of publication: 2021
Date of RADAR deposit: 2018-10-02

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Related resources

This RADAR resource is the Accepted Manuscript of Early modern forerunners of terrorism in Europe
This RADAR resource is Part of The Oxford handbook of the history of terrorism [ISBN: 9780199858569] / edited by Carola Dietze and Claudia Verhoeven (Oxford University Press, 2021).


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