Italian city-states

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The Italian city-states were a political phenomenon of small independent states mostly in the central and northern Italian Peninsula between the 9th and the 15th centuries.

Italian Peninsula peninsula of southern Europe

The Italian Peninsula or Apennine Peninsula extends 1,000 km (620 mi) from the Po Valley in the north to the central Mediterranean Sea in the south. The peninsula's shape gives it the nickname lo Stivale. Three smaller peninsulas contribute to this characteristic shape, namely Calabria, Salento and Gargano.

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After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, urban settlements in Italy generally enjoyed a greater continuity than in the rest of western Europe. Many of these towns were survivors of earlier Etruscan, Umbrian and Roman towns which had existed within the Roman Empire. The republican institutions of Rome had also survived. Some feudal lords existed with a servile labour force and huge tracts of land, but by the 11th century, many cities, including Venice, Milan, Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Lucca, Cremona, Siena, Città di Castello, Perugia, and many others, had become large trading metropoles, able to obtain independence from their formal sovereigns.

Western Roman Empire Independently administered western provinces of the Roman Empire

In historiography, the Western Roman Empire refers to the western provinces of the Roman Empire at any time during which they were administered by a separate independent Imperial court; in particular, this term is used to describe the period from 395 to 476, where there were separate coequal courts dividing the governance of the empire in the Western and the Eastern provinces, with a distinct imperial succession in the separate courts. The terms Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire are modern descriptions that describe political entities that were de facto independent; contemporary Romans did not consider the Empire to have been split into two separate empires but viewed it as a single polity governed by two separate imperial courts as an administrative expediency. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476, and the Western imperial court was formally dissolved in 480. The Eastern imperial court survived until 1453.

Europe Continent in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere

Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.

Etruscan civilization Pre-Roman civilization of ancient Italy

The Etruscan civilization is the modern name given to a powerful and wealthy civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, south of the Arno river, western Umbria, northern and central Lazio, with offshoots also to the north in the Po Valley, in the current Emilia-Romagna, south-eastern Lombardy and southern Veneto, and to the south, in some areas of Campania. As distinguished by its unique language, this civilization endured from before the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions until its assimilation into the Roman Republic, beginning in the late 4th century BC with the Roman–Etruscan Wars.

Florence was one of the most important city-states in Italy FirenzeIMG0281 bordercropped.jpg
Florence was one of the most important city-states in Italy

Early Italian city-states

Among the earliest city-states of Italy was the Duchy of Naples from 661 which, although nominally under Byzantine control, was effectively independent. Later, the Republic of Venice, which also de facto broke apart from the Byzantine Empire from 742 (when the Doge title was finally subtracted from the appointment of the Byzantine emperor), becoming also de jure independent in the following centuries.

Duchy of Naples

The Duchy of Naples began as a Byzantine province that was constituted in the seventh century, in the reduced coastal lands that the Lombards had not conquered during their invasion of Italy in the sixth century. It was governed by a military commander (dux), and rapidly became a de facto independent state, lasting more than five centuries during the Early and High Middle Ages. The modern city of Naples remains a significant region of Italy, today.

Republic of Venice Former state in Northeastern Italy

The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic, traditionally known as La Serenissima was a sovereign state and maritime republic in northeastern Italy, which existed for over a millennium between the 7th century and the 18th century from 697 AD until 1797 AD. It was based in the lagoon communities of the historically prosperous city of Venice, and was a leading European economic and trading power during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Byzantine Empire Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages

The Byzantine Empire, also referred to as the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantium, was the continuation of the Roman Empire in its eastern provinces during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, when its capital city was Constantinople. It survived the fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe. Both the terms "Byzantine Empire" and "Eastern Roman Empire" are historiographical terms created after the end of the realm; its citizens continued to refer to their empire simply as the Roman Empire, or Romania (Ῥωμανία), and to themselves as "Romans".

The other first Italian city-states to appear in northern Italy arose as a result of a struggle to gain greater autonomy when not independent from the German Holy Roman Empire. [1] The Lombard League was an alliance formed around at its apex included most of the cities of northern Italy including Milan, Piacenza, Cremona, Mantua, Crema, Bergamo, Brescia, Bologna, Padua, Treviso, Vicenza, Verona, Lodi, Reggio Emilia and Parma, though its membership changed through time. Other city-states were associated to these "commune" cities, like Genoa, Turin and, in the Adriatic, Ragusa. Venice was never subjected to the Holy Roman Empire, but chose anyway to patronize the Lombard League, to oppose strong imperial control of the mainland.

Holy Roman Empire varying complex of lands that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe

The Holy Roman Empire was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western and Central Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its dissolution in 1806 during the Napoleonic Wars. The largest territory of the empire after 962 was the Kingdom of Germany, though it also came to include the neighboring Kingdom of Bohemia, the Kingdom of Burgundy, the Kingdom of Italy, and numerous other territories.

Lombard League

The Lombard League was a medieval alliance formed in 1167, supported by the Pope, to counter the attempts by the Hohenstaufen Holy Roman Emperors to assert influence over the Kingdom of Italy as a part of the Holy Roman Empire. At its apex, it included most of the cities of Northern Italy, but its membership changed with time. With the death of the third and last Hohenstaufen emperor, Frederick II, in 1250, it became obsolete and was disbanded.

Northern Italy geographic region of Italy

Northern Italy is a geographical region in the northern part of Italy. Non-administrative, it consists of eight administrative Regions in northern Italy: Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. As of 2014, its population was 27,801,460. Rhaeto-Romance and Gallo-Italic languages are spoken in the region, as opposed to the Italo-Dalmatian languages spoken in the rest of Italy.

In central Italy there were the city-states of Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Città di Castello, Perugia, Ancona among others.

Florence Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Florence is the capital city of the Italian region of Tuscany. It is the most populous city in Tuscany, with 383,084 inhabitants in 2013, and over 1,520,000 in its metropolitan area.

Pisa Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Pisa is a city and comune in Tuscany, central Italy, straddling the Arno just before it empties into the Ligurian Sea. It is the capital city of the Province of Pisa. Although Pisa is known worldwide for its leaning tower, the city of over 91,104 residents contains more than 20 other historic churches, several medieval palaces, and various bridges across the Arno. Much of the city's architecture was financed from its history as one of the Italian maritime republics.

Lucca Comune in Tuscany, Italy

Lucca is a city and comune in Tuscany, Central Italy, on the Serchio, in a fertile plain near the Tyrrhenian Sea. It is the capital of the Province of Lucca. It is famous for its intact Renaissance-era city walls.

South of Rome and the Papal States were the city-states of Salerno, Amalfi, Bari, the Duchy of Naples, Gaeta and Trani which in 1130 were united in the newly created Norman Kingdom of Sicily. [2]

Rome Capital city and comune in Italy

Rome is the capital city and a special comune of Italy. Rome also serves as the capital of the Lazio region. With 2,872,800 residents in 1,285 km2 (496.1 sq mi), it is also the country's most populated comune. It is the fourth most populous city in the European Union by population within city limits. It is the centre of the Metropolitan City of Rome, which has a population of 4,355,725 residents, thus making it the most populous metropolitan city in Italy. Rome is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, within Lazio (Latium), along the shores of the Tiber. The Vatican City is an independent country inside the city boundaries of Rome, the only existing example of a country within a city: for this reason Rome has been often defined as capital of two states.

Papal States territories in the Appenine Peninsula under the sovereign direct rule of the pope between 752–1870

The Papal States, officially the State of the Church, were a series of territories in the Italian Peninsula under the direct sovereign rule of the Pope, from the 8th century until 1870. They were among the major states of Italy from roughly the 8th century until the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia unified the Italian Peninsula by conquest in a campaign virtually concluded in 1861 and definitively in 1870. At their zenith, the Papal States covered most of the modern Italian regions of Lazio, Marche, Umbria and Romagna, and portions of Emilia. These holdings were considered to be a manifestation of the temporal power of the pope, as opposed to his ecclesiastical primacy.

Salerno Comune in Campania, Italy

Salerno is an ancient city and comune in Campania and is the capital of the province of the same name. It is located on the Gulf of Salerno on the Tyrrhenian Sea. The city is divided into three distinct zones: the medieval sector, the 19th century sector and the more densely populated post-war area, with its several apartment blocks.

Around 1100, Genoa and Venice emerged as independent maritime republics. For Genoa – nominally – the Holy Roman Emperor was sovereign and the Bishop of Genoa was head of state; however, actual power was wielded by a number of consuls annually elected by popular assembly. Pisa and Amalfi also emerged as maritime republics: trade, shipbuilding and banking helped support their powerful navies in the Mediterranean in those medieval centuries. [3]

Difference from northern Europe

Between the 12th and 13th centuries, Italy was vastly different from feudal Europe north of the Alps. The Peninsula was a melange of political and cultural elements, not a unified state.

Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel have argued that geography determined the history of the region; other scholars emphasize the absence of central political structures. The very mountainous nature of Italy's landscape was a barrier to effective inter-city communication. The Po plain, however, was an exception: it was the only large contiguous area, and most city states that fell to invasion were located there. Those that survived the longest were in the more rugged regions, such as Florence or Venice, which was protected by its lagoon. The rugged terrain of the Alps prevented the Holy Roman Emperors or various German princes and lords from attacking the northern part of Italy, safeguarding the country from permanent German political control. Largely for these reasons, no strong monarchies emerged as they did in the rest of Europe: authority of the Holy Roman Empire over northern Italian territory, especially after the year 1177, was de facto only nominal; instead there emerged the autonomous (sometime de facto independent) city-states.

The Most Serene Republic of Venice used to be a city-state, but then expanded and conquered several territories in mainland Italy ( Domini di Terraferma ) and abroad ( Stato da Mar ) Venezianische Kolonien.png
The Most Serene Republic of Venice used to be a city-state, but then expanded and conquered several territories in mainland Italy ( Domini di Terraferma ) and abroad ( Stato da Màr )

While those Roman, urban, republican sensibilities persisted, there were many movements and changes afoot. Italy first felt the changes in Europe from the 11th to the 13th centuries. Typically there was:

In recent writing on the city states, American scholar Rodney Stark emphasizes that they married responsive government, Christianity and the birth of capitalism. [4] He argues that these states were mostly republics, unlike the great European monarchies of France and Spain, where absolute power was vested in rulers who could and did stifle commerce. Keeping both direct Church control and imperial power at arm's length, the independent city republics prospered through commerce based on early capitalist principles, ultimately creating the conditions for the artistic and intellectual changes produced by the Renaissance.

Cambridge University historian and political philosopher Quentin Skinner [5] has pointed out how Otto of Freising, a German bishop who visited central Italy during the 12th century, commented that Italian towns had appeared to have exited from feudalism, so that their society was based on merchants and commerce. Even northern cities and states were also notable for their merchant republics, especially the Republic of Venice. [6] Compared to absolutist monarchies or other more centrally controlled states, the Italian communes and commercial republics enjoyed relative political freedom conducive to academic and artistic advancement. Geographically, and because of trade, Italian cities such as Venice became international trading and banking hubs and intellectual crossroads.

Harvard historian Niall Ferguson [7] points out that Florence and Venice, as well as several other Italian city-states, played a crucial innovative role in world financial developments, devising the main instruments and practices of banking and the emergence of new forms of social and economic organization.

Income

It is estimated that the per capita income of northern Italy nearly tripled from the 11th century to the 15th century. This was a highly mobile, demographically expanding society, fueled by the rapidly expanding Renaissance commerce.

In the 14th century, just as the Italian Renaissance was beginning, Italy was the economic capital of Western Europe: the Italian States were the top manufacturers of finished woolen products. However, with the Bubonic Plague in 1348, the birth of the English woolen industry and general warfare, Italy temporarily lost its economic advantage. However, by the late 15th century Italy was again in control of trade along the Mediterranean Sea. It found a new niche in luxury items like ceramics, glassware, lace and silk as well as experiencing a temporary rebirth in the woolen industry.

However, Italy would never regain its strong hold on textiles. And though it was the birthplace of banking, by the 16th century German and Dutch banks began taking away business. Discovery of the Americas as well as new trade routes to Africa and India by the Portuguese (which made Portugal the leading trading power) brought about the shift of economic power from Italy [8] to Portugal in the 16th century, from Portugal to the Netherlands in the 17th century, and from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom in the 18th century.

Literacy and numeracy

By the 13th century, northern and central Italy had become the most literate society in the world. More than one-third of the male population could read in the vernacular (an unprecedented rate since the decline of the Western Roman Empire), as could a small but significant proportion of women.

The Italian city states were also highly numerate, given the importance of the new forms of bookkeeping that were essential to the trading and mercantile basis of society. Some of the most widely circulating books, such as the Liber Abaci by Leonardo Fibonacci of Pisa, included applications of mathematics and arithmetic to business practice [9] or were business manuals based on sophisticated numeracy.

Indeed, Luca Pacioli helped create the banking system of the Italian city-states with double-entry bookkeeping. [10] His 27-page treatise on bookkeeping contained the first known published work on that topic, and is said to have laid the foundation for double-entry bookkeeping (of Genoese merchants) as it is practised today. [11]

Communes

During the 11th century in northern Italy a new political and social structure emerged: the city-state or commune. The civic culture which arose from this urbs was remarkable. In some places where communes arose (e.g. Britain and France), they were absorbed by the monarchical state as it emerged. They survived in northern and central Italy as in a handful of other regions throughout Europe to become independent and powerful city-states. In Italy the breakaway from their feudal overlords occurred in the late 12th century and 13th century, during the Investiture Controversy between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor: Milan led the Lombard cities against the Holy Roman Emperors and defeated them, gaining independence (battles of Legnano, 1176, and Parma, 1248; see Lombard League).

Similar town revolts led to the foundation of city-states throughout medieval Europe, such as in Russia (Novgorod Republic, 12th century), in Flanders (Battle of Golden Spurs, 14th century) in Switzerland (the towns of the Old Swiss Confederacy, 14th century), in Germany (the Hanseatic League, 14th–15th century), and in Prussia (Thirteen Years' War, 15th century).

Some Italian city-states became great military powers very early on. Venice and Genoa acquired vast naval empires in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, some of which threatened those of the growing Ottoman Empire. During the Fourth Crusade (1204), Venice conquered three-eights of the Byzantine Empire.

Italy in 1494, after the Peace of Lodi Italy 1494 shepherd.jpg
Italy in 1494, after the Peace of Lodi

The Maritime Republics were one of the main products of this new civic and social culture based on commerce and exchange of knowledge with other areas of the world outside western Europe. The Republic of Ragusa and the Republic of Venice, for example, had important trade communications with the Muslim and Hindu world and this helped the initial development of the Italian Renaissance.

By the late 12th century, a new and remarkable society had emerged in Northern Italy; rich, mobile, expanding, with a mixed aristocracy and urban borghese (burgher) class, interested in urban institutions and republican government. But many of the new city-states also housed violent factions based on family, confraternity and brotherhood, which undermined their cohesion (for instance the Guelphs and Ghibellines).

Princely states

By 1300, most of these republics had become princely states dominated by a Signore. The exceptions were Venice, Florence, Lucca, and a few others, which remained republics in the face of an increasingly monarchic Europe. In many cases by 1400 the Signori were able to found a stable dynasty over their dominated city (or group of regional cities), obtaining also a nobility title of sovereignty by their formal superior, for example in 1395 Gian Galeazzo Visconti bought for 100,000 gold florins the title of Duke of Milan from the emperor Wenceslaus.

Regional states

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Milan, Venice, and Florence were able to conquer other city-states, creating regional states. The 1454 Peace of Lodi ended their struggle for hegemony in Italy, attaining a balance of power (see Italian Renaissance).

At the beginning of the 16th century, apart from some minor city-states like Lucca or San Marino, only the republican Venice was able to preserve its independence and to match the European monarchies of France and Spain and the Ottoman Empire (see Italian Wars).

See also

Notes

  1. (in Italian) Italian "Comuni" Archived 2012-03-18 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Franco Cardini & Marina Montesano. Storia Medievale. Le Monnier Università. Florence, 2006
  3. G. Benvenuti Le Repubbliche Marinare. Amalfi, Pisa, Genova, Venezia. Newton & Compton editori, Roma 1989.
  4. Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason, New York, Random House, 2005
  5. Skinner, Quentin, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol I: The Renaissance; vol II: The Age of Reformation, Cambridge University Press, p. 69
  6. Martin, J. and Romano, D., Venice Reconsidered, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University, 2000
  7. Ferguson, Niall, The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World. Penguin, 2008
  8. Matthews and Platt. The Western Humanities. Volume I: "Beginnings through the Renaissance". Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1992
  9. Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason. Random House, New York: 2005
  10. Carruthers, Bruce G., & Espeland, Wendy Nelson, "Accounting for Rationality: Double-Entry Bookkeeping and the Rhetoric of Economic Rationality", American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 97, No. 1, July 1991, pp. 37
  11. Sangster, Alan: "The printing of Pacioli's Summa in 1494: How Many Copies Were Printed?" Accounting Historians Journal, John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio, June 2007.

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