Italian city-states

Italian city-states

The Italian city states were a remarkable political phenomenon of small independent states in the northern Italian peninsula between the tenth and fifteenth centuries.

After the fall of Roman Empire there was a strong continuity of urban awareness in northern Italy which had virtually disappeared in the rest of Europe. Some cities and their urban institutions had survived in Italy since the Dark Ages. Many of these towns were survivors of earlier Etruscan 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 and Genoa, had become large trading metropolises, able to conquer independence from their formal sovereigns.

In fact Italy between 12th and 13th centuries was vastly different from feudal Europe north of the Alps. The Peninsula was a of political and cultural elements rather than a unified state.
Marc Bloch and Fernand Braudel have argued that geography determined the history of the region. Within the Italian peninsula there is great physical diversity. Italy is cut into numerous small regions by mountains, which could make inter-city communication very difficult. The Po plain, however, was an exception; it was the only large contiguous area, and most city states which fell to invasion were located there. Those that survived longest were in the more rugged regions, such as Florence (or Venice defended by her lagoon). Because an attack across the Alps was very difficult, German princelings could not exert sustained control over their Italian vassal states, and thus Italy was substantially freed of German political interference. So no strong monarchies emerged as they did in the rest of Europe; instead there emerged the independent city-state.

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 (in Italy they were Venice, Florence and Milan, with over 100,000 inhabitants by 13th century, but many others surpassed 50,000 as Genoa, Bologna, Verona)
*the rebuilding of the great cathedrals
*substantial migration from country to city (in Italy the rate of urbanization reached 20%, the most urbanized society in the world at that time)
*an agrarian revolution
*the development of commerce

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

During the 11th century in northern Italy a new political and social structure emerged― the city-state or comune. The civic culture which arose from this "urbs" was remarkable. In most places where communes arose (e.g. Britain and Flanders) they were absorbed by the monarchical state as it emerged. Almost uniquely, they survived in northern and central Italy to become independent and powerful city-states. The breakaway from their feudal overlords by these communes occurred in the late 12th century and 13th century, during the Investiture Controversy between the Pope and the 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). Meanwhile Venice and Genoa were able to conquer their naval empires on the Mediterranean sea (1204 Venice conquered one-fourth of Byzantine Empire see Fourth Crusade).

By the late 12th century, a new and unique society had emerged; rich, mobile, expanding, with a mixed aristocracy, interested in urban institutions and republican government. But many city-states housed also a violent society based on family, confraternity and brotherhood, who mined their cohesion (see Guelphs and Ghibellines).

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.

During 14th century and 15th century the most powerful of these cities (Milan, Venice, Florence) were able to conquer the other weaker city-states, creating regional states. The 1454 Peace of Lodi ended their struggle for the hegemony in Italy and started the policy of balance of power (see Italian Renaissance).

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

ee also

*Repubbliche Marinare

References and sources

* [ "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"] , Mr. Dowling
* [ "City-states in Italy"] , Web Gallery of Art

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