Romano Canosa was born on August 6th 1935 in Ortona (Abruzzi).
He studied Law at University in Rome (La Sapienza), where he was a boarder at the Casa dello Studente and where he experienced the first political challenges of the Italian University.
As he writes:
“The Casa dello Studente in Rome at the time was a strange place where students with high grades came from Southern Italy.
The cultural environment was a blend of folly, geniality and desperation that never ceased to amaze me. Dissident intellectuals, sons of small and petty southern bourgeoisie, megalomaniacs chasing a lucky strike of destiny (that few of them would ever encounter), scions of important families who studied 24/7, never leaving their rooms, in complete ignorance of anything not written in books (there was also one Berlinguer)”. (from “Storia di un Pretore, Einaudi 1978, pag. 4)
He graduated in 1957 with a thesis on Civil Rights with Prof. Emilio Betti. After four years’ experience in Roman law firms in 1961 he passed the exam to join the judiciary and was called to the bar in Milan (pretura).
He was immediately aware of the problems within the Italian judiciary: red tape, cultural apathy among the top bureaucrats and class consciousness.
In 1963 he was awarded full judicial responsibility, which meant that he had the power to issue sentences. He subscribed to the ANM (National Association of Magistrates) and at the beginning he joined the moderate current called Terzo Potere (Third Power) which he left in 1969 to join Magistratura Democratica MD (Democratic Judiciary) where he became one of its leading members.
In 1970 he was deployed to the Sezione Lavoro, the department of the Milan tribunal that dealt with capital vs labour litigation. When that same year the Italian Government passed the Workers’ Statute he issued a set of revolutionary and innovative sentences, using the full force of the law to protect the rights of the workers. His sentences became the reference point for a new culture in industrial relations in Italy.
From then to the end of his career Romano Canosa has been the leading voice of challenge to the Italian Judiciary.
His battle is recorded in a number of books: “La Polizia in Italia dal 1945 ad oggi”(1976); “Diritto e Rivoluzione” (1977); “Il giudice e la donna” (1978); insieme a Pietro Federico “La Magistratura in Italia dal 1945 ad oggi” (1974);“Storia della Magistratura in Italia: da piazza Fontana a Mani Pulite” (1996). (Police in Italy from 1945 to the present day, Right and Revolution, The judge and the woman, The Judiciary in Italy from 1945 to the present day, History of the Italian Judiciary: from Piazza Fontana to Clean Hands”.)
Particularly interesting is the autobiography he wrote in 1978 “Storia di un pretore” (History of a magistrate): a passionate and courageous account of the life and conflicts within the Italian judiciary during the harsh industrial relations confrontations of the seventies and eighties, and his essays published in “Critica del Diritto”, “Quaderni Piacentini”, and “Sapere”. (see Bibliography)
Romano retired in 2005 and since then worked only on his studies of history. His cultural independence and freedom of thought are emblems of civil courage and, with his monumental historical opus, his most valuable legacy.
From the seventies, Romano Canosa wrote about the magistrates, law and the shaping of the law, with his first book, La magistratura in Italia dal 1945 a oggi. [Justice in Italy from 1945 until today], (Bologna, il Mulino, 1974). He wrote for a number of magazines Quaderni Piacentini, Il Mulino, Quale Giustizia, Critica del Diritto, Politica del Diritto, Magistratura Democratica, Le Questione Criminale and many others. During this period the main themes of his work embraced abortion laws, sanctions against fascism and the rights of the soldier. In 1978 Einaudi published Storia di un pretore [History of a magistrate], a telling account of his experience in the judiciary that encouraged many young people to take up the profession. It was a courageous diary, challenging, rich in human and political passion that, beyond the daily work of the judge, told the story of Magistratura Democratica through the problems and the crises of Italian Society at the time: People made redundant, factories closing, the conditions of the workers and the behaviour of the owners. In 1976 Il Mulino publishes La polizia in Italia dal 1945 a oggi. [Police in Italy from 1945 until today] he joined the group of Medicina Democratica and wrote Storia del manicomio in Italia dall’Unità a oggi [History of mental institutions in Italy from the Unity until today] (Feltrinelli, Milano, 1979).
In the 80s Romano again dealt with the judiciary, but going back in time. With Amedeo Santosuosso in 1981 he wrote for the publisher Feltrinelli Magistrati, anarchici e socialisti alla fine dell’800 in Italia, [Magistrates, anarchists and socialists in Italy at the end of the eighteenth century in Italy]. In 1983 for the roman publisher Sapere 2000 he wrote Tempo di peste: magistrati e untori nel 1630 a Milano. [During the plague: magistrates and plague infectors in 1630 in Milan].
Going back and forth in time his attention focused on social history, the history of institutions, deviance and sexuality (see bibliography). These are the years when he began Storia dell’Inquisizione in Italia dalla metà del Cinquecento alla fine del Seicento (Sapere 2000, Roma, 1986) [History of the Inquisition in Italy from fifiteenhundredfifty to the end of sixteenhundred], five volumes which he completed in 1990.
The study of the sixteenth century became central to his work as an historian, and his attendance to Spanish Archives became a frequent occurrence. The opening towards the modern age lead him, in the nineties, to study Milan: The misery and greatness of the city at the time of Spanish domination, the history of the Mediterranean in the sixteenth century, Genoese bankers and Spanish Kings between the fifteenth and sixteenth century, Lepanto and the Sacred League against the Turks and the History of the Farnese Family. The attention to the century of the Renaissance did not keep him away from current debates and problems. In 1996 he published with Baldini e Castoldi, Milano, a second Storia della magistratura in Italia da Piazza Fontana a Mani Pulite [History of the Italian Judiciary from Piazza Fontana to Clean Hands] and a Storia dell’epurazione in Italia: le sanzioni contro il fascismo 1943-1948 (Baldini e Castoldi, Milano, 1999) [History of political purges in Italy: sanctions against fascism 1943-1948].
A tireless historian, capable of an unbelievable amount of work, always based on very demanding first hand archival research (70 published books), in the year 2000 he persevered and started two new lines of work that continued until 2010. The first was the history of Abruzzo from fifteenhundred to nineteenthundred dedicated to his birth land, sixteen volumes for the Ortona publisher Menabò (Gaetano Basti). The second, the history of fascism: I servizi segreti del Duce [The Secret Service of the Duce] (2000); La voce del Duce: l’agenzia Stefani [The Voice of the Duce: the Stefani Press Agency] (2004); A caccia di Ebrei: Mussolini, Preziosi e l’antisemitismo fascista, [Hunting the Jews: Mussolini, Preziosi and fascist anti-Semitism] (2006); Mussolini e Franco: amici, alleati e rivali, [Mussolini and Franco: friends, allied, rivals.](2008); Farinacci: il superfascista, [Farinacci the superfascist] (2010); all published with Mondadori in Milano. Of particular note is his penultimate book: Pacelli: Guerra civile spagnola e nazismo. (Sapere 2000, Roma 2009), [Pacelli: spanish civil war and nazism].
Romano Canosa died in Ortona on August 7th, 2010.