The Info List - Italian City-states

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The Italian city-states
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. 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.

was one of the most important city-states in Italy


1 Early Italian city-states 2 Difference from northern Europe 3 Income 4 Literacy and numeracy 5 Communes 6 Princely states 7 Regional states 8 See also 9 Notes 10 References and sources

Early Italian city-states[edit] The very first Italian city-state can be considered the Republic of Venice, which de facto broke apart from the Byzantine Empire
Byzantine Empire
since 742 (when the Doge
title was finally subtracted from the appointment of the Byzantine emperor), becoming also de jure independent in the following centuries. The other first Italian city-states
Italian city-states
appeared in northern Italy
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
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. In central Italy
there were the city-states of Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Siena, Città di Castello, Perugia, Ancona
and other ones. South of Rome
and the Papal States
Papal States
were the city-states of Salerno, Amalfi, Bari, Naples
and Trani
which in 1130 were united in the newly created Norman Kingdom of Sicily.[2] Around 1100, Genoa
and Venice
emerged as independent Maritime republics. For Genoa
– nominally – the Holy Roman Emperor
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[edit] 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
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
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 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:

a rise in population―the population doubled in this period (the demographic explosion) an emergence of huge cities (Venice, Florence
and Milan
had over 100,000 inhabitants by the 13th century in addition to many others such as Genoa, Bologna
and Verona, which had over 50,000 inhabitants) the rebuilding of the great cathedrals substantial migration from country to city (in Italy
the rate of urbanization reached 20%, making it the most urbanized society in the world at that time) an agrarian revolution the development of commerce

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[edit] 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
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
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 an 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 Netherlands in the 17th century and from Netherlands to the United Kingdom in the 18th century. Literacy and numeracy[edit] 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
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 practiced today.[11] Communes[edit] 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
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
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
Fourth Crusade
(1204), Venice
conquered a quarter of the Byzantine Empire.

in 1494, after the Peace of Lodi

The Maritime Republics
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[edit] 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
Gian Galeazzo Visconti
bought for 100,000 gold florins the title of Duke of Milan
from the emperor Wenceslaus. Regional states[edit] 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
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 her independence and to match the European monarchies of France
and Spain
and the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
(see Italian Wars). See also[edit]

History of Italy Medieval commune Repubbliche Marinare Guelphs and Ghibellines Italian Renaissance San Marino Vatican City


^ (in Italian) Italian "Comuni" ^ Franco Cardini & Marina Montesano. Storia Medievale. Le Monnier Università. Florence, 2006 ^ G. Benvenuti Le Repubbliche Marinare. Amalfi, Pisa, Genova, Venezia. Newton & Compton editori, Roma 1989. ^ Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason, New York, Random House, 2005 ^ Skinner, Quentin, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol I: The Renaissance; vol II: The Age of Reformation, Cambridge University Press, p. 69 ^ Martin, J. and Romano, D., Venice
Reconsidered, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University, 2000 ^ Ferguson, Niall, The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World. Penguin, 2008 ^ Matthews and Platt. The Western Humanities. Volume I: "Beginnings through the Renaissance". Mountain View: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1992 ^ Stark, Rodney, The Victory of Reason. Random House, New York: 2005 ^ 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 ^ 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.

References and sources[edit]

"Background to the Italian Renaissance", Washington State University "The Rise of the Italian City-States" "Italy's City-States", End of Europe's Middle Ages, University of Calgary "City-states in Italy", Web Gallery of Art

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