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Leonardo Bruni

Leonardo Bruni (or Leonardo Aretino) (c. 1369 – March 9, 1444), was a leading humanist, historian and a chancellor of Florence. He has been called the first modern historian.


Born in Arezzomarker, Tuscany, Bruni was the leading pupil of Coluccio Salutati and succeeded him as chancellor from 1410 to 1411 and again from 1427 to the end of his life. Bruni's time in office was not as precarious a time for Florencemarker as a few years earlier; nonetheless, it was still seriously entangled in interminable warfare. Bruni, as chancellor, a position that held no political power, did not lead the city to nearly the extent of first the Albizzi family and then the Medici family, both oligarchies who dominated Florence during his time in office. Bruni has been identified by Arthur Field (see below) as a plotter against Cosimo de Medici in 1437. Bruni died in 1444 and was succeeded in office by Carlo Marsuppini.


Leonardo Bruni's most notable work is History of the Florentine People, which has been called the first modern history book.James Hankins (ed.). History of the Florentine People, Excerpts and 'Editor Introduction'. Bruni was the first historian to write about the three period view of history: Antiquity, Middle Age, and Modern, a concept from which the term Middle Age was coined by a contemporary Flavio Biondo. The dates Bruni used to define the periods are not exactly what modern historians use today, but he laid the conceptual groundwork for a tripartite division of history. While it probably was not Bruni's intention to secularize history, the three period view of history is unquestionably secular and for that Bruni has been called the first modern historian. The foundation of Bruni's conception can be found with Petrarch who had first written, a generation earlier, about a "Dark Age" covering the period from the time of the fall of Rome extending to the time of Petrarch. Bruni and his fellow humanists believed they had reached the end of the Dark Age and were entering a modern period and thus logically called the intervening period a Middle Age.

It was Bruni who used the phrase studia humanitatis, meaning the study of human endeavors, as distinct from those of theology and metaphysics, which is where the term humanists comes from.

As a humanist Bruni was essential in translating many works of Plato and Aristotle. Bruni's translations of Aristotle's Politics and Nicomachean Ethics, as well as the pseudo-Aristotelean Economics, were widely distributed in manuscript and in print. His use of Aelius Aristides' Panathenicus to buttress his republican theses in the Panegyric to the City of Florence (c. 1401) was instrumental in bringing the Greek historian to the attention of Renaissance political philosophers (see Hans Baron's The Crisis of the Early Italian Renaissance for details). He also wrote a short treatise in Greek on the Florentine constitution.

Bruni died in Florence in 1444, and is buried in an influential wall tomb by Bernardo Rossellino in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florencemarker.


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  • Hankins, James: Repertorium Brunianum : a critical guide to the writings of Leonardo Bruni, Rome : Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo 1997
  • "Leonardo Bruno". In Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
  • Field, Arthur: "Leonardi Bruni, Florentine traitor? Bruni, the Medici, and an Aretine conspiracy of 1437," Renaissance Quarterly 51 (1998): 1109-50.
  • McManus, Stuart M., Byzantines in the Florentine polis: Ideology, Statecraft and ritual during the Council of Florence', The Journal of the Oxford University History Society, 6 (Michaelmas 2008/Hilary 2009), 1-23

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