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The Republic of Florence ( ), or the Florentine Republic, was a city-state that was centered on the city of Florencemarker, located in modern Tuscany, Italymarker. 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. 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 control 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.


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 the aforementioned Margravine. 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.

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 townlads. The Florentines re-asserted their independence when the incumbent Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI died in 1197.

The 13th century

Florence’s population continued to grow into the 12th century, reaching 30,000 inhabitants. As has been said the extra inhabitants supported the city's trade and vice versa. Construction mania gripped Florence. Several new bridges and churches were built, most prominently the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fioremarker, 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 had ruled the city since 1244, were deposed in 1250 by the Guelphs. They pursued a very liberal policy, which became known as the Primo Popolo. The Guelphs led Florence to prosper further. The Florin was introduced in 1252, which became popular well beyond Florence’s borders (due to its 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 Montapertimarker. 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 reache its zenith in the latter half of the thirteenth century. The famed Palazzo della Signoriamarker 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. In 1298, one the leading banking families of Europe, the Bonsignoris, were bankrupted. The city of Siena lost her status as the banking centre of Europe to Florence.

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

With the collapse of the Bonsignori family, several new banking families sprang up in Florence: the Bardis, Peruzzis and the Acciaioulis. The friction between the Guelphs and the Ghibelliens 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, largely because of Edward III of England’s refusal to pay his debts and a Europe-wide economic recession. The same year, double-entry bookkeeping was invented. 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 dialect.) over Latin.

Florence was hit hard by the Black Death. Having originated in the Orient, the plague arrived in Messinamarker in 1347. The plague devastated Europe, robbing it of an estimated 1/3 of its population. 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.

Florence experienced a revolt in 1378 by discontended cotton workers. The Ciompi revolt, as it is know, establishmed a revolutionary commune. In 1382, the wealthier classes crushed the seeds of rebellion. The famous Medici bank was established by Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici in October 1397. The bank continued to exist (albeit in an extremely diminished form) until the time of Ferdinando II de'Medici in the seventeenth century. But, for now, Giovanni’s bank flourished.

Prelude of the Renaissance

The 15th century did not begin well for Florence. The state authorities had been approached by the Duchy of Milanmarker in 1422, with a treaty, that prohibited Florence's interference with Milan’s impending war with the Republic of Genoa. 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 taxe increases. The republic went to war with Milan, and won, upon the Republic of Venicemarker'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. 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. 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)

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 Chrysolarus (the founder of Hellenic studies in Italy), at the University of Florence in 1397. Niccoli was a keen collector of ancient manuscripts, which he bequeathed to Cosimo upon his death in 1437. Bracciolini succeeded Niccoli as the principal humanist of Florence. Bracciolini was born Arezzomarker 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.

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. 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.

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. 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. In 1450, Cosimo’s ally Ludovico Sforza, captured the city of Milan, declaring himself its duke. The previous Milanese duke died heirless and Ludovico 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.

Piero the Gouty (1464–1469)

Map of the Florentine Republic and surrounding states c.
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. 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. Lucca called for an armed insurrection against Piero, but a co-conspirator rebutted this. Duke Ludovico Sforza of Milan died in 1466, and his son Gian Galeazzo Sforza became the new Milenese duke. With the death of Ludovico 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. The conspirators were exiled for life. While the internal problems were fixed, Venice took the opportunity to invade Florentine territory in 1467. Piero appointed Federigo da Montefeltro, Lord of Urbinomarker, to command his mercenaries. An inconclusive battle ensued, with the Venetians forces retreating. 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. 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 reign boasted an unprecedented peace throughout Italy, which collapsed upon his death in 1492. 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. 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. Lorenzo died in 1492, and was succeeded by his son Piero.

Piero “the Unfortunate” (1492–1494)

Piero ruled Florence for a mere two years. 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. 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 had a secret scheme. The preacher intended to transform Florence into a hyper-religious “city of god”. Florentines stopped wearing garish colours, and many women took oaths to become nuns. 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.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 Pisamarker, who 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 by Florentine authorities, in May 1498.


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. This period saw a democracy in Florence, which had very little corruption. The republican government succeeded where Savonarola failed, when Secretary of War, Niccolò Machiavelli, achieved in capturing Pisa. It was at this time, that Machiavelli introduced a standing army for Florence, replacing the traditional use of hired mercenaries.

Soderini was repudiated in September 1512, when Cardinal Giovanni de Medici captured Florence with Papal troops, during the War of the League of Cambrai, restoring Medici rule to the Italian city-state.


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 Statesmarker and Florence into a personal union. 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. 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. 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 swpet over Florence. Jesus Christ was appointed “King of Florence”. Many new restricting fundamentalist laws were passed.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.

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. 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 (comprising of merchant traders, bankers, two clothe guilds and judges). The lottery was often pre-determined, and the results were usually favourable to influential families. The roster of names in the lottery were replaced every five years.

The main organs of government were know 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 Venetianmarker doge. The signoria held meetings each day in the Palazzo della Singnoria. 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.

To hold an elective office, one had to be of a family that had previously held office. 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. Strathern, Paul : Medici: “Godfathers of the Renaissance” (Vintage Publishers) ISBN 978-0-099-52297-3 p 321
  2. Strathern, p 18
  3. Strathern, p 19
  4. Strathern, p 20
  5. Strathern, p 20–21
  6. Strathern, p 26
  7. Strathern, p 301
  8. Strathern, p 41
  9. Strathern, p 42
  10. Strathern, p 83
  11. Strathern, p 84
  12. Strathern, p 88-89
  13. Strathern, p 90
  14. Strathern, p 94
  15. Strathern, p 106
  16. Strathern, p 117
  17. Strathern, p 126
  18. Strathern, p127
  19. Strathen, p 130
  20. Strathern, p 131
  21. Starthern, p 133
  22. Strathern, p 134
  23. Strathern, p 134–135
  24. Strathern, p 145
  25. Strathern, p 161–165
  26. Strathern, p 166–168
  27. Strathern, p 213
  28. Strathern, p 220
  29. Strathern, p 223
  31. Strathern p 226–269
  32. Strathern, p 249
  33. Strathern, p 257
  34. Strathern, p 261
  35. Strathern, p 266–268
  36. Strathern, p 280
  37. Strathern, p 292
  38. Strathern, p 308–309
  39. Strathern, p 311–315
  40. Strathern, p 321
  41. Strathen, p 15
  42. Hale, pp. 17–18
  43. Strathern, p 235
  44. Hale, J.R.: Florence and the Medici, Orion books, London, ISBN 1-84212-456-0 pp. 15–16

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