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Republic of Florence


Republic of Florence

Republic of Florence
Repubblica Fiorentina

Flag Coat of arms
The Republic of Florence in 1494
Capital Florence
Languages Tuscan and Latin
Religion Roman Catholicism
Government Oligarchic republic
Gonfaloniere (de facto ruler) 
 -  1531–33 (last) Alessandro de' Medici
 -  First established 1115
 -  Marquisate restored
    by Imperial force.
 -  Ciompi Revolt 1378
 -  Founding of the
    House of Medici.
 -  Piero the Unfortunate
 -  Declared hereditary
   duchy by the Pope.
1532 1532
Currency Florin (1252–1533)

The Republic of Florence (Italian: Repubblica Fiorentina), or the Florentine Republic, was a city-state that was centered on the city of Florence, located in modern Tuscany, Italy.

The republic was founded in 1115, when the Florentine people rebelled against the Margraviate of Tuscany upon Margravine Matilda's death. The Florentines formed a commune in Matilda's place.[1] The republic was ruled by a council, known as the signoria. The signoria was chosen by the gonfaloniere (titular ruler of the city), who was elected every two months by Florentine guild members.

The republic has a chequered history of coups and counter coups against various factions. The Medici faction gained governance of the city in 1434, upon Cosimo de' Medici's counter coup against the faction that sent him into exile the previous year. The Medici kept control of Florence until 1494. Giovanni de' Medici (later Pope Leo X) re-conquered the republic in 1512.

The Medici's authority was repudiated for a second time in 1527, during the War of the League of Cognac. The Medici re-assumed their rule in 1531, after an 11-month siege of the city. The republican government was disestablished in 1532, when Pope Clement VII appointed Alessandro de' Medici "Duke of the Florentine Republic", thereafter making the republic a hereditary monarchy.[2]


  • Background 1
  • Early years 2
    • Tuscany's rule restored 2.1
    • The 13th century 2.2
  • Florentine banking, the Black Death and the rise of the Medici 3
    • Prelude of the Renaissance 3.1
  • The Medicis' Florence 4
    • The founding of a dynasty 4.1
    • Cosimo's reign (1434–1464) 4.2
    • Piero the Gouty (1464–1469) 4.3
    • Lorenzo "the Magnificent" (1469–1492) 4.4
    • Piero "the Unfortunate" (1492–1494) 4.5
  • Savonarola's Florence 5
  • 1498–1512 6
  • 1512–1533 7
    • End of the republic 7.1
  • Government 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Italy in 1084, showing the Marquisate of Tuscany.

The city of Florence was established in 59 B.C. by Julius Caesar. The city had been part of the Marquisate of Tuscany before the death of Margravine Matilda in 1115. The city had constituted a republic just before her death. The first official mention of the republic was in 1138, when several cities around Tuscany formed a league against Henry X of Bavaria. The country was nominally part of the Holy Roman Empire.[1]

Early years

Tuscany's rule restored

Florence prospered in the 12th century, trading extensively with foreign countries. This, in turn, provided a platform for demographic growth of the city. The growth of Florence's population mirrored the rate of construction, many churches and palazzi were built. This prosperity was shattered when Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa invaded the Italian peninsula in 1185. The Margraves of Tuscany re-acquired Florence and its townlands. The Florentines re-asserted their independence when Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI died in 1197.[1]

According to a study carried out by Enrico Faini of the University of Florence, [3] there were about ten old aristocratic families who moved to Florence from 1000 and 1100: Amidei; Ardinghi; Brunelleschi; Buondelmonti; Caponsacchi; Donati; Fifanti; Gherardini of Montagliari; Guidi; Nerli; Porcelli; Scolari; Uberti; Visdomini.

The 13th century

Florence's population continued to grow into the 13th century, reaching 30,000 inhabitants. As has been said the extra inhabitants supported the city's trade and vice versa. Several new bridges and churches were built, most prominently the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, in 1294. The buildings from the era serve as Florence's best example of Gothic Architecture. Politically, Florence was barely able to maintain peace between factions. The precarious peace that existed at the beginning of the century was destroyed in 1216, when two factions known as the Guelphs and the Ghibellines began to war. The Ghibellines were the noble rulers of Florence. The Guelphs were populists.

The Ghibellines, who under Frederick of Antioch had ruled the city since 1244, were deposed in 1250 by the Guelphs. The policy, which became known as the Primo Popolo. The Guelphs led Florence to prosper further. Their primarily mercantile orientation soon became evident in one of their earliest achievements: the introduction of a new coin, the Florin, in 1252. It was widely used beyond Florence's borders due to its reliable, fixed gold content and soon became one of the common currencies of Europe and the Near East. The same year saw the creation of the Palazzo del Popolo. The Guelphs lost the reins of power after Florence suffered a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Montaperti 1260. The Ghibellines resumed power and undid all the advances of the Guelphs. They demolished hundreds of towers, homes and palaces. The fragility of their rule caused the Ghibellines to seek out an arbitrator in the form of Pope Clement IV. Fortunately for Florence, the Pope openly favoured the Guelphs. They were duly restored to power.

The Florentine economy reached its zenith in the latter half of the thirteenth century. The famed Palazzo della Signoria was built, designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. The Florentine townlands were divided into administrative districts in 1292. The city's numerous luxurious palazzi were becoming surrounded by townhouses, built by the ever prospering merchant class.[1] In 1298, one of the leading banking families of Europe, the Bonsignoris, were bankrupted and so the city of Siena lost her status as the banking center of Europe to Florence.[4]

Florentine banking, the Black Death and the rise of the Medici

The golden florin of the Republic of Florence was the first European gold coin struck in sufficient quantities to play a significant commercial role since the seventh century. As many Florentine banks were international companies with branches across Europe, the florin quickly became the dominant trade coin of Western Europe for large scale transactions, replacing silver bars in multiples of the mark (a weight unit equal to eight ounces).

Front and back of a Florentine florin

In fact, with the collapse of the Bonsignori family, several new banking families sprang up in Florence: the Bardis, Peruzzis and the Acciaioli.[4] The friction between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines did not cease, authority still passed between the two frequently. Florence's reign as the foremost banking city of Europe did not last long; the aforesaid families were bankrupt in 1340, not because of Edward III of England's refusal to pay his debts, as is often stated (the debt was just £13,000) but because a Europe-wide economic recession. While the banks perished, Florentine literature flourished, and was home to some of the greatest writers in Italian history: Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio. They were Europe's first vernacular writers, choosing the Tuscan dialect of Italian (which, as a result, evolved into the standard Italian language) over Latin.[5]

Florence was hit hard by the Black Death. Having originated in the Orient, the plague arrived in Messina in 1347. The plague devastated Europe, robbing it of an estimated 1/3 of its population.[6] This, combined with the economic downturn, took its toll on the city-state. The ensuing collapse of the feudal system changed the social composition of Europe forever; it was one of the first steps out of the Middle Ages.

In 1378 discontented wool workers revolted. The Ciompi revolt, as it is known, established a revolutionary commune. In 1382 the wealthier classes crushed the seeds of rebellion.[7] The famous Medici bank was established by Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici in October 1397.[8] The bank continued to exist (albeit in an extremely diminished form) until the time of Ferdinando II de'Medici in the seventeenth century.[9] But, for now, Giovanni's bank flourished.

Prelude of the Renaissance

The 15th century did well for Florence. The state authorities had been approached by the Duchy of Milan in 1422, with a treaty, that prohibited Florence's interference with Milan's impending war with the Republic of Genoa.[10] Florence obliged, but Milan disregarded its own treaty and occupied a Florentine border town. The conservative government wanted war, while the people bemoaned such a stance as they would be subject to enormous tax increases. The republic went to war with Milan, and won, upon the Republic of Venice's entry on their side. The war was concluded in 1427, and the Visconti of Milan were forced to sign an unfavourable treaty. The debt incurred during the war was gargantuan, approximately 4,200,000 florins.[11] To pay, the state had to change the tax system. The current estimo system was replaced with the castato. The castato was based on a citizen's entire wealth, while the estimo was simply a form of income tax. Apart from war, Filippo Brunelleschi created the renowned dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore, which astounded contemporaries and modern observers alike.

The Medicis' Florence

The founding of a dynasty

The son of Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici, Cosimo de' Medici succeeded his father as the head of the Medici Bank. He played a prominent role in the government of Florence until his exile in 1433, after a disastrous war with Tuscany's neighbour, the Republic of Lucca.[11] Cosimo's exile in Venice lasted for less than a year, when the people of Florence overturned Cosimo's exile in a democratic vote. Cosimo returned to the acclaim of his people and the banishment of the Albizzi family, who had exiled Cosimo.

Cosimo's reign (1434–1464)

Cosimo de' Medici, founder of the House of Medici

The Renaissance began during Cosimo's de facto rule of Florence, the seeds of which had arguably been laid before the Black Death tore through Europe. Niccolò Niccoli was the leading Florence humanist scholar of the time. He appointed the first Professor of Greek, Manuel Chrysoloras (the founder of Hellenic studies in Italy), at the University of Florence in 1397.[12] Niccoli was a keen collector of ancient manuscripts, which he bequeathed to Cosimo upon his death in 1437.[13] Poggio Bracciolini succeeded Niccoli as the principal humanist of Florence. Bracciolini was born Arezzo in 1380. He toured Europe, searching for more ancient Greco-Roman manuscripts for Niccoli. Unlike his employer, Bracciolini also authored his own works. He was made the Chancellor of Florence shortly before his death, by Cosimo, who was his best friend.[14]

Florence hosted the Great Ecumenical Council in 1439; this council was launched in an attempt to reconcile the Byzantine Orthodox Church with Roman Catholicism. Pope Eugenius IV convened it in reply to a cry for assistance from the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) John VIII Palaiologos. John VIII's empire was slowly being devoured by the Ottoman Turks.[15] The council was a huge boost to Florence's international prestige. The council deliberated until July 1439. Both parties had reached a compromise, and the Pope agreed to militarily aid the Byzantine Emperor. Unfortunately, upon John VIII's homecoming to Constantinople, the Greeks rejected the compromise, leading to riots throughout what remained of the Byzantine Empire. John VIII was forced to repudiate the agreement with the Roman church to appease the rioters. As a result, no Western aid was forthcoming and the Byzantine Empire's fate was sealed. Fourteen years later in 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans.[16]

Cosimo's fervent patronage transformed Florence into the epitome of a Renaissance city. He employed Donatello, Brunelleschi, and Michelozzo. All these artistic commissions cost Cosimo over 600,000 florins.[17] On the political scene, Filippo Maria Visconti of Milan invaded Florence twice in the 1430s, and again in 1440, but failed in his endeavors. The Milanese invasions were largely instigated by the exiled Albizzi family.[18] In 1450, Cosimo's ally Francesco Sforza, captured the city of Milan, declaring himself its duke. The previous Milanese duke died heirless and Francesco exercised his claim to Milan through his wife, the aforementioned duke's daughter. Cosimo had endured many crises in his reign, but had managed to cement Medici power over Florence, and in the process became a great patron of the arts. Cosimo died in 1464.[19]

Piero the Gouty (1464–1469)

Map of the Florentine Republic and surrounding states c. 1494.

Piero the Gouty was the eldest son of Cosimo. Piero, as his sobriquet the gouty implies, suffered from gout and did not enjoy good health. Lorenzo the Magnificent was Piero's eldest son by his wife Lucrezia Tornabuoni.[20] Piero's reign furthered the always fractious political divisions of Florence. Cosimo had called up huge debts owed to the Medici Bank. These debts were owed primarily by a Florentine nobleman, Luca Pitti.[21] Lucca called for an armed insurrection against Piero, but a co-conspirator rebutted this.[22] Duke Francesco Sforza of Milan died in 1466, and his son Galeazzo Maria Sforza became the new Milenese duke. With the death of Francesco Sforza, Florence lost a valuable ally among the other Italian states.

In August 1466, the conspirators acted. They received support from the Duke of Ferrara, who marched troops into the Florentine countryside with the intent of deposing Piero. The coup failed. The Florentines were not willing to support it, and soon after their arrival, Ferrara's troops left the city.[23] The conspirators were exiled for life.[24] While the internal problems were fixed, Venice took the opportunity to invade Florentine territory in 1467. Piero appointed Federigo da Montefeltro, Lord of Urbino, to command his mercenaries. An inconclusive battle ensued, with the Venetians forces retreating.[25] In the winter of 1469 Piero died.

Lorenzo "the Magnificent" (1469–1492)

Lorenzo de' Medici

Lorenzo succeeded his father, Piero. Lorenzo, as heir, was accordingly groomed by his father to rule over Florence. Lorenzo was the greatest artistic patron of the Renaissance.[26] He patronised Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Botticelli, among others. During Lorenzo's reign, the Renaissance truly descended on Florence. Lorenzo commissioned a multitude of amazing pieces of art and also enjoyed collecting fine gems. Lorenzo had many children with his wife Clarice Orsini, including the future Pope Leo X and his eventual successor in Florence, Piero the Unfortunate.

Lorenzo's brother Giuliano was killed before his own eyes in the Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478. This plot was instigated by the Pazzi family. The coup was unsuccessful, and the conspirators were executed in a very violent manner. The scheme was supported by the Archbishop of Pisa, Francesco Salviati, who was also executed in his ceremonial robes. News of this sacrilege reached Pope Sixtus IV (who had also supported the conspiracy against the Medicis), Sixtus IV was "outraged" and excommunicated everyone in Florence. Sixtus sent a papal delegation to Florence to arrest Lorenzo.[27] The people of Florence were obviously enraged by the Pope's actions, and the local clergy too. The populace refused to resign Lorenzo to the papal delegation. A war followed, which lasted for two years, until Lorenzo tactfully went about diplomatically securing a peace.[28] Lorenzo died in 1492, and was succeeded by his son Piero.

Piero "the Unfortunate" (1492–1494)

Piero ruled Florence for a mere two years.[29] Charles VIII of France invaded Italy in September 1494. He demanded passage through Florence to Naples, where he intended to secure the throne for himself. Piero met Charles at the fringes of Florence to try and negotiate. Piero caved in to all Charles' demands, and upon arriving back in the city in November, he was branded as a traitor. He was forced to flee the republic, with his family, into exile.

Savonarola's Florence

Girolamo Savonarola

After the fall of the Medici, Girolamo Savonarola ruled the state.[30] Savonarola was a priest from Ferrara, who came to Florence in the 1480s, and had won the people to his cause by his vigorous preaching, and his predictions. Savonarola's new government ushered in democratic reforms. It allowed many exiles back into Florence, who were banished by the Medici. Savonarola's ulterior goal, however, was to transform Florence into a "city of god".[30] Florentines stopped wearing garish colours, and many women took oaths to become nuns.[31] Savonarola became most famous for his "Bonfire of the Vanities", where he ordered all "vanities" to be gathered and burned. These included wigs, perfume, paintings, and ancient manuscripts.[32] Savonarola's Florence collapsed a year later. He was excommunicated by Pope Alexander VI in late 1497. In the same year, Florence embarked on a war with Pisa, which had been de facto independent since Charles VIII's invasion. The endeavour failed miserably, and this led to food shortages. That, in turn, led to a few isolated cases of the plague. The people blamed him for their woes, and he was tortured and executed in the Piazza della Signoria by being burned at the stake by Florentine authorities, in May 1498.[33]


The city was in tatters by the time Savonarola was deposed. The state was now presided over by Piero Soderini, who was elected ruler for life.[34] This period saw a democracy in Florence, which had very little corruption. The republican government succeeded where Savonarola failed, when the Secretary of War, Niccolò Machiavelli, captured Pisa. It was at this time that Machiavelli introduced a standing army in Florence, replacing the traditional use of hired mercenaries.[35]

Soderini was repudiated in September 1512, when Cardinal Giovanni de Medici captured Florence with Papal troops during the War of the League of Cambrai. The Medici rule of Florence was thus restored.[36]


Holy Roman Emperor Charles V

Soon after arriving back in Florence, Cardinal Giovanni de Medici was beckoned to Rome. Julius II had just died, and he needed to be present for the ensuing Papal conclave. Giovanni was elected Pope, taking the name Leo X. This effectively brought the Papal States and Florence into a personal union.[37] Leo X ruled Florence by proxy, appointing his brother Giuliano de Medici, to rule in his place.

Giuliano ruled Florence until his death in 1516, and was succeeded by Lorenzo, Duke of Urbino.[38][39]

He fathered Catherine de' Medici. Lorenzo died from syphilis in 1519, just after the birth of his only child. The Medici channelled all their energy on the Papacy, which Leo X held from 1513–1521. Upon Leo's death, the Papacy passed to Adrian VI, who ruled until 1523. Then Cardinal Giulio de' Medici was elected Pope Clement VII.[40] Florence at the time was being ruled by Ippolito de' Medici and Alessandro de' Medici, under the guardianship of Cardinal Passerini. Ippolito was the son of Giuliano de Medici and Alessandro, the alleged son of Clement VII.

Leo X and Cardinal Giulio de Medici

In May 1527, Rome was laid siege by the Holy Roman Empire, during in the War of the League of Cognac. The city was pillaged and destroyed. The Medici were once again deposed in Florence, by the anti-Medici faction, upon learning of the Papal States' defeat. A new wave of Puritanism swept over Florence. Jesus Christ was appointed "King of Florence". Many new restricting fundamentalist laws were passed.[41] Clement VII signed the Treaty of Barcelona with Charles V. Charles would, in exchange for the Pope's blessing, invade Florence and restore the Medici. They were restored after a protracted siege.[42]

End of the republic

In 1533, Alessandro de'Medici was created Duke of Florence. This single act brought an end to the republic. The population were infuriated at this. There was some civil insurrection.[43] The Medici were ennobled further in 1569, when Alessandro's successor was made Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Medici ruled the grand duchy until their extinction in 1737.


Florence was governed by a council called the signoria, which consisted of nine men. The head of the signoria was the gonfaloniere, who was chosen every two months in a lottery, as was his signoria. To be eligible, one had to have sound finances, no arrears or bankruptcies, he had to be older than thirty, had to be a member of Florence's seven main guilds (merchant traders, bankers, two clothe guilds, and judges). The lottery was often pre-determined, and the results were usually favourable to influential families.[44] The roster of names in the lottery were replaced every five years.[45]

The main organs of government were known as the tre maggiori. They were: the twelve good men, the standard bearers of the gonfaloniere, and the signoria. The first two debated and ratified proposed legislation, but could not introduce it. The gonfaloniere's initial two month-term in office was expanded upon the fall of Savonarola in 1498, to life, much like that of the Venetian doge.[46] The signoria held meetings each day in the Palazzo della Signoria. Various committees controlled particular aspects of government, e.g. the Committee of War. For administrative purposes, Florence was divided into four districts, which were divided into four sub-districts. The main purpose of these countys was to ease the gathering of local militias.[47]

To hold an elective office, one had to be of a family that had previously held office.[34] The Medici family effectively ruled Florence on a hereditary basis, from 1434–1494, 1512–1527, 1531, until 1533, when Alessandro de Medici was created Duke of Florence, thereby turning Florence into a hereditary monarchy.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "History of Florence". Retrieved 2009-05-26. 
  2. ^ Strathern, Paul : Medici: "Godfathers of the Renaissance" (Vintage Publishers) ISBN 978-0-099-52297-3 p 321
  3. ^ See: Jean-Claude Maire Vigueur and Andrea Zorzi (“Il gruppo dirigente fiorentino nell'età consolare” n "Archivio Storico", CLXII (2004), p. 210)
  4. ^ a b Strathern, p 18
  5. ^ Strathern, p 19
  6. ^ Strathern, p 20
  7. ^ Strathern, p 20–21
  8. ^ Strathern, p 26
  9. ^ Strathern, p 301
  10. ^ Strathern, p 41
  11. ^ a b Strathern, p 42
  12. ^ Strathern, p 83
  13. ^ Strathern, p 84
  14. ^ Strathern, p 88-89
  15. ^ Strathern, p 90
  16. ^ Strathern, p 94
  17. ^ Strathern, p 106
  18. ^ Strathern, p 117
  19. ^ Strathern, p 126
  20. ^ Strathern, p127
  21. ^ Strathen, p 130
  22. ^ Strathern, p 131
  23. ^ Starthern, p 133
  24. ^ Strathern, p 134
  25. ^ Strathern, p 134–135
  26. ^ Strathern, p 145
  27. ^ Strathern, p 161–165
  28. ^ Strathern, p 166–168
  29. ^ Strathern, p 213
  30. ^ a b Strathern, p 220
  31. ^ Strathern, p 223
  32. ^
  33. ^ Strathern p 226–269
  34. ^ a b Strathern, p 249
  35. ^ Strathern, p 257
  36. ^ Strathern, p 261
  37. ^ Strathern, p 266–268
  38. ^ Strathern, p 280
  39. ^ , SLOVO, Moscow, 2006Michelangelo: Mysteries of Medici ChapelPeter Barenboim, Sergey Shiyan, . ISBN 5-85050-825-2
  40. ^ Strathern, p 292
  41. ^ Strathern, p 308–309
  42. ^ Strathern, p 311–315
  43. ^ Strathern, p 321
  44. ^ Strathen, p 15
  45. ^ Hale, pp. 17–18
  46. ^ Strathern, p 235
  47. ^ Hale, J.R.: Florence and the Medici, Orion books, London, ISBN 1-84212-456-0 pp. 15–16

External links

  • More information about the Republic
  • The Florentine school of the Renaissance

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