Robert S. Lopez

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Robert S. Lopez
Robert S. Lopez.jpg
Born8 October 1910 Edit this on Wikidata
Died6 July 1986 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 75)

Roberto Sabatino Lopez (October 8, 1910 – July 6, 1986) was an Italian-born American historian of medieval European economic history. He taught for many years at Yale University as a Sterling Professor of History.

Early life and education[edit]

Roberto Sabatino Lopez was born in Genoa, Italy. His family were Sephardi Jews.[1] He received a doctorate from the University of Milan in 1932 and taught medieval history at various universities, serving at one point as Chair of History at the University of Genoa.[1] Lopez fled Benito Mussolini's regime for England in 1939, where he came under the influence of Cecil Roth.[1] Robert L. Reynolds, a friend of Lopez, informed him that an American Ph.D. was necessary to find tenure at an American university, and through the influence of Reynolds, Lopez enrolled in the graduate history program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Here he gained a Ph.D. in 1942.[1]

Early work in the United States[edit]

From 1942 to 1944 Lopez worked for Voice of America and in the Italian section of the Office of War Information in New York City. There he met his future wife, Claude-Anne Kirschen, a wartime refugee from Belgium who had come to New York with her family in 1940. He afterward maintained that his successful courtship of her was his supreme wartime accomplishment.

Marriage and family[edit]

Lopez married Claude-Anne Kirschen, a Jewish refugee from Belgium, in 1946. They had two sons, Michael and Lawrence, after moving to New Haven, Connecticut. The children were raised in the Jewish faith.[1]

Resumption of academic career[edit]

In 1946, Lopez was hired as an assistant professor at Yale University. He rose through the academic ranks to full professor. He was honored by selection as a Sterling Professor of History, a recognition of his academic contributions. Lopez was one of the first Jews appointed at Yale University.[1]

At Yale, in 1962 Lopez founded the interdisciplinary graduate program in Medieval Studies, and served as its chairman for many years. Originally a master's program, it awarded doctorates by 1965. When founded, it was the third such medieval studies program in the United States.[2]

Lopez trained a number of distinguished medieval scholars, among them David Herlihy, Edward M. Peters,[3] and Patrick J. Geary. Lopez retired from the Yale faculty in 1981 after 35 years at the university.

Lopez's main contributions to the field were in the history of trade and commerce in the medieval Mediterranean. He was particularly interested in showing the dynamism and creativity of medieval towns and economic networks. Other scholars had frequently compared them unfavorably to those of the Renaissance and early modern period.

In his best-known book, The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages (1971, with numerous reprints), Lopez argued that the key contribution of the medieval period to European history was the creation of a commercial economy. He said it was first based in the Italo-Byzantine eastern Mediterranean, but eventually extended to the Italian city-states and through the rest of Europe. Lopez noted that it was the Renaissance period that was characterized by economic decline.[4] Lopez's scholarship was underpinned by his expert knowledge of medieval agriculture, industry and especially coinage.

At the end of his career, Lopez maintained close ties to Israeli academia. He was affiliated with the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and his advice was sought on the tenure cases of Israeli medievalists.[1] Lopez was a notable adviser of Walter Goffart.[5]

Lopez died from cancer in 1986. His library and papers were acquired by Arizona State University.[6]


  • Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World (edited with Irving W. Raymond) (1955; 2nd ed. 1969)
  • The Tenth Century: How Dark the Dark Ages? (1959)
  • The Birth of Europe (1966)
  • The Three Ages of the Italian Renaissance (1970)
  • The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages (1971)
  • Byzantium and the World around It: Economic and Institutional Relations (1978)
  • The Shape of Medieval Monetary History (1986)


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Mell 2012, p. 564.
  2. ^ Medieval Studies Program, Yale University, 2008
  3. ^ Edward M. Peters Archived 2009-05-17 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Robert S. Lopez, "Hard Times and Investment in Culture," in The Renaissance: A Symposium (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1953), pp. 19-32; reprinted in Karl H. Dannenfeldt (ed.), The Renaissance: Medieval or Modern? (Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1959), pp. 50-63, and in Wallace K. Ferguson et al., The Renaissance: Six Essays (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1962), pp. 29-54. See also Miskimin, H. A. (1964). "Economic Depression of the Renaissance?". The Economic History Review. 16 (3): 528–529. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.1964.tb01747.x.; the criticism by Carlo M. Cipolla, "Economic Depression of the Renaissance?" ibid 16 (1963), pp. 519-24; and the responses of Lopez and Miskimin, pp. 525-29.
  5. ^ Goffart 1980, p. XV.
  6. ^ "The Robert S. Lopez Collection", Arizona State University


Further reading[edit]

  • Harry A. Miskimin, David Herlihy and A.L. Udovitch (eds). The Medieval City: Studies in Honor of Robert S. Lopez. Yale University Press, 1977.
  • Archibald R. Lewis, Jaroslav Pelikan and David Herlihy. "Robert Sabatino Lopez". Speculum 63:3 (1988): 763–65.
  • "Robert S. Lopez Dies". The New York Times. July 9, 1986. p. A, 20. Retrieved 15 March 2020.

External links[edit]