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ITALIAN CITY STATES

Renaissance, in historical context, implies a momentous cultural movement marked by revival of interest in the classical age of the Romans and the Greeks. It aimed at rediscovering the cultural accomplishments of the classical period and rescuing its arts and literature in order to revive and recreate a new culture, free from medieval bondage. The Renaissance culture was the product of an interesting and curious world of Italian city states, in that the revival of the ancient world and its application to the present society came to reflect the civic needs of that time. Major attempts were made through a series of movements in many parts of Europe, mainly in the Italian city states to reshape and recreate social values. Italian city states were the most urbanized centres of Europe. The city states of renaissance were at the centre of Europe's economic, political, and cultural life throughout the 14th and 15th centuries. By the 15th century, certain northern Italian towns which had been trade centers of the Roman Empire had expanded into independent city states that ruled wide areas of the surrounding countryside. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the city-states of northern and central Italy experienced a tremendous growth of population and expanded to become small territorial states. These included the Papal States, where the restored authority of the popes extinguished the independence of many little city-states in central Italy. Feudalism had died out in Italy during the 12th and 13th centuries. The renaissance in Italy sprang from the urban environment that existed in the cities of northern and central Italy. Northern and central Italy had an exceptionally large number of towns where urban life was more dynamic and sophisticated than any part of Europe. The social structures of these towns were far more egalitarian. Society Social status within these city-states was determined primarily by occupation, rather than by birth or the ownership of land, as was common in the rest of Europe during this period. Renaissance Italian society consisted of five classes which varied in nature and number depending on which area of Italy they were in. The principal social groups consisted of three categories:

At the top of the class hierarchy were the old nobility and the merchant class that had traditionally ruled the cities. They monopolized the political power and kept all the principal official posts with themselves. The trades were controlled by government-protected monopolies called guilds. Members of the manufacturing guilds, such as clothiers and metalworkers, constituted the 2nd level of the social hierarchy. Members of this group were well educated, widely travelled, experienced and lived in magnificent houses in the heart of the city. The 3rd group consisted of the emergent capitalist and banker class. They were identified with the lower classes and wished to become as powerful as the top class. The 4th group comprised of the poor strata or the masses. These included the less wealthy merchants, traders, the poor and destitute. This final group probably made up 1/4th 1/3rd of the urban population in Italy during the Renaissance. Finally, there were the domestic slaves. Though few in number, they represent the first attempts by post-classical European society to institute slavery as an economic practice. The Italian aristocrats preferred to live in the urban centres and involved themselves in the civic affairs of their towns. They built palaces in the cities. The Italian landed classes were increasingly drawn into town life on equal term with leading commercial and industrial families. It was this integration of rural society with the world of merchants and industrialists that separated Italy from the other regions of Europe. The nobles made their town house the centre of their social life. There was virtually no major distinction between the aristocracy and the upper bourgeoisie. The amalgamation of these two important sections of the Italian nobility and leading commercial and industrial groups led to the formulation of a relatively integrated civil society in which the balance gradually drifted away from the knightly element and the medieval tradition of chivalry. The concentration of wealth in the Italian cities and their active civil life created a more worldly view of life. Since the city-states of Italy developed as commercial centers, wealth was not based on the control of land as it was in the rest of Europe during this period. Instead, wealth was in the form of capital, and power was the ability to lend it. Politics The political history of the Italian peninsula during the late 14th and early 15th centuries is one of unrelieved turmoil. Everywhere, foreign invaders, internal conspiracies, or popular revolts threatened the governments of the city-states.

By the middle of the 15th century, two trends were apparent amid the political chaos: Consolidation of strong centralized governments within the large city-states. The return of the Pope to Rome after the Great Schism. Italian city-states In Milan, one of the great military leaders of the day, Francesco Sforza (14011466) seized the reins of power. Milan was a major enemy of Venice and Florence. The succession of King Alphonso I in Naples ended a half-century of civil war. The Naples city state included southern Italian region of Naples and the island of Sicily. It was the only Italian city-state to officially have a king. In both Florence and Venice, the grip that the political elite held over high offices was tightened by placing greater power in small advisory councils and, in Florence, by the ascent to power of the Medici family. A council, first of six and later of eight members, known as the Signoria, governed the city of Florence. The Republic of Florence including the Republic of Genoa was the center of the Renaissance during the 14th and 15th centuries and was dominated by the Medici family. The Venetian government operated through a patrician senate of 300 members and a ruthless judicial body known as the Council of Ten. Venice was one of the long lasting among the Italian states. It was one of the greatest maritime power in Italy and one of the worlds great naval and trading powers during the 14th and 15th centuries. There was competition among city-states which meant that Italy did not unify politically. Political disunity of the Italian city-states led to their downfall in late 15th and early 16th centuries when French & Spanish armies invaded Italy.