Civiltà: Living and Thinking the City (c. 1300–c. 1375)

Imagining the City

Leave the city to the merchants, the lawyers, the brokers, the usurers, the bidders, the notaries, the doctors, the perfume makers, the butchers, the cooks, the pastry chefs, the sausage makers, the alchemists, the clothes washers, the builders, the weavers, the sculptors, the painters, the mimes, the dancers and acrobats, the musicians, the charlatans, the pimps, the robbers, the hosts, the frauds, the magicians, the adulterers, the parasites, and to the insatiable do-nothings always sniffing out the smell of the market…. They are different from us. Leave the rich to count their money…. There is not one reason to envy them.

Petrarch, De vita solitaria (written 1346–1347)

The first Rinascimento was not the Age of the Spirit, as Joachim of Fiore had prophesized, but an age of much greater urban-based wealth and a new elite and social order that such wealth had empowered: a world where new wealth, new perceived needs, and new skills had undercut and confused the Great Social Divide between a hereditary nobility and the rest of society that had typified the medieval world. But the discomfort with that new wealth, in conjunction with a strong religious tradition that many shared with Saint Francis, meant that the spiritual side of life was not forgotten. Rather, it melded with new social values and ideals of status in deeply significant ways that made that urban civiltà very different from its medieval and ancient antecedents, even in the cities of Italy that flourished in the twelfth century, as well as in modern urban societies. Most simply, it was an urban world where Christ, Mary, and the martyrs and saints of Christianity were very close to merchants, bankers, lawyers, and artisans. To paraphrase the historian Edward Muir, there was a Virgin on virtually every corner – the urbanscape of the fourteenth century was marked out, lived in, and even used to think, not just as a material space, but also as a spiritual one punctuated with humble religious shrines and great churches, with relics and places of holy memory, with neighborhoods named for holy figures, one where even urban time was measured by church bells and the time it took to say a common prayer. The result was a different world where the spiritual and the material were part of a continuum; one flowed easily into the other in ways that deeply colored the fabric of the city and the civiltà of the day.

As the quote just given suggests, the famous poet Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304–1374) could appeal to those moral and spiritual values in order to contest what he saw as wrong with the cities of his day. He was particularly concerned that the moral corruption of their citizens made them too focused on wealth and worldly power, even as he enthusiastically promoted a revival of ancient Roman culture – a culture and society that had been quintessentially urban and shared many similar values. Yet, like most who saw ancient Rome as an ideal, he wanted not the actual ancient Rome, but rather his dream of that first time – a dream that turned on his own vision of an ideal society dominated by a refined and mannered intellectual elite who, like him, preferred to live a spiritual life in solitude isolated from the bustle, hustle, and violence of the urban world. In the rebirth of the spiritual tranquility that he believed ancient Roman intellectuals enjoyed, Petrarch saw the promised leisure and peace necessary to recapture their cultural world; thus he dreamed of a learned aristocracy of poets and philosophers seeking out the lost texts of that once-upon-a-time world that would lead the return to his ideal way of life.

The merchants, lawyers, bankers, moneylenders (referred to more negatively as “the brokers, the usurers, the bidders”), “notaries,” and “doctors” – or, to put it more simply, the actual emerging urban elites of contemporary cities – could serve but could not lead in this quest; for, of course, even Petrarch was not so spiritual as to believe that their wealth was unnecessary for realizing his aristocratic Roman dream. Even the “butchers,” “cooks,” “pastry chefs,” “sausage makers,” “alchemists,” “clothes washers,” “builders,” “weavers,” “sculptors,” “painters,” “mimes,” “dancers,” “acrobats,” and “musicians” served their purpose and were probably acceptable at a safe distance from his country home at Vaucluse near Avignon where he wrote these lines, especially as artisans and workers who relied on their hands and bodies for their living were no challenge to his vision of elite status, which was based on the mind and spirit of true intellectuals like himself. The same could not be said for the “charlatans,” “pimps,” “robbers,” “hosts” (of inns and drinking establishments), “frauds,” “magicians,” “adulterers,” and “parasites.” All of them constituted the dark and dangerous underbelly of the city – the satyrs defiling his ideal garden – with whom he preferred not to share his ideal world.

Yet, perhaps unwittingly, in his attack on the city Petrarch provides a good picture of the main denizens of the urban world of the first Rinascimento, aside from women, who remained largely invisible in his masculine vision. Of course, not all were so negative about that picture and the urban life it reflected. Slightly earlier (1338–1340) in Siena, Ambrogio Lorenzetti (fl. c. 1317–1345) frescoed the walls of the Hall of the Nine, a committee that led local government, in the Palazzo Pubblico with a vibrant depiction of the positive side of urban life under a good government (Illustrations 2.1 and 2.2). This cycle of frescoes, often called the Allegory of Government, depicts the civilizing effects of an ideal good government that combined spiritual and secular discipline to produce an ordered, peaceful, and productive urban environment. All this stands in stark contrast to frescoes on the opposing wall that show the dangerous results when such governance is lacking. In the positive frescoes one again sees Petrarch’s productive characters portrayed constructively at work and play in a city alive with bustling activity and sociability – the life of a well-ruled urban civiltà. Harmony reigns, and people work with exactly that civic spirit and tranquility that Petrarch claimed were not to be had in the city.


2.1. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Allegory of Good Government, 1338–1340. Sala della Pace (Room of the Nine), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Photo: Scala/Art Resource, New York.


2.2. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effects of Good Government in the City and the Country, 1338–1340. Sala della Pace (Room of the Nine), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Photo: Scala/Art Resource, New York.

That good government was posited as responsible for this is not surprising; for, of course, the fresco cycle was commissioned by the government of Siena. That government, one notes immediately, is depicted as disciplining the city by punishing with its own violence those who disrupted its civiltà, often the same people about whom Petrarch complained most. We see criminals being judged and the condemned having their heads cut off with a sword wielded by an angel of justice, implying that the government’s use of force was legitimated by God and represented His power in the world. Recalling the claims of Boniface VIII, we see here how local governments could turn the tables on papal claims to wield both the spiritual and temporal swords of justice. Divine justice in the form of that sword-wielding angel is depicted as working directly through local government without the intervention of the papacy or the Church. We also see soldiers armed and ready to defend the government, and nearby bodies, presumably of criminals, hanging by the gates of the city. Angels and divine support for local government were all well and good, but the more direct power of soldiers and the grisly example of executions were also necessary and effectively displayed. Government, the divine, law, justice, and violence, then, went hand in hand in this vision of urban civiltà to produce peace and order.

Without good government, however, the evils that Petrarch complained about are graphically portrayed in Lorenzetti’s frescos dedicated to bad government (Illustration 2.3). In those scenes the devil literally rules and justice is denied. A different violence dominates life and the images – a violence that brings disruption and disorder. Prosperity and productivity are brutally overthrown by the powerful and the dishonest, unleashed in an uncivil society that lacks good government. And true to Siena’s republican tradition, bad government is depicted as tyranny, with the tyrant literally wearing the horns of the devil. Once again, as was the case with good government, the bad is deeply intertwined with a Christian vision – the ultimate evil in the world, the devil, oversees bad government. For Lorenzetti and his patrons, their Siena was a prosperous, good, and orderly civic society because of its good government, but they clearly feared much the same dangers as Petrarch.


2.3. Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Bad Government and the Effects of Bad Government in the City, 1338–1340. Sala della Pace (Room of the Nine), Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. Photo: Scala/Art Resource, New York.

It might seem curious that in this they agreed with someone who disagreed with them so profoundly about the positive nature of civic life and their own rule; for the rulers of Siena were exactly those merchants, bankers, and lawyers whom Petrarch felt should not be entrusted with the leadership of society. But for all the disagreement about what the best society was or should be and about who should lead it, there was a deep underlying agreement – one might say a deeply shared cultural perspective – about what dangers needed to be overcome in order to live well in the urban world of the early Rinascimento. Violence, disorder, the naked use of power for family or self-interest were the core obstacles that were seen as disrupting the urban civiltà of the day. And with good reason, for concentrating large numbers of people in a tightly packed urban environment, one with large disparities of wealth and power not only between rich and poor, but also between newer wealth and older, was a recipe for violence and conflict.

Social Conflict and the Ideal of Public Power over Private

In fact, conflict and violence had been ubiquitous in the cities of Italy, going virtually hand in hand with their rapid economic and demographic growth across the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But, tellingly, things came to a head at much the same time that the removal of the empire and the papacy, discussed in the last chapter, left those cities largely on their own to deal with these problems and the underlying questions about who should dominate and rule. Looking back to medieval traditions, leadership both social and political was viewed as correctly being driven by private interests for private ends. A medieval lord protected the people that gathered around him and served him, because they served him, and to the extent that they served him, it was in his personal interest to do so. In turn, people served a lord for a host of traditional reasons, but most fundamentally because he and his private justice protected them. This reciprocity of private interests ideally provided a relatively peaceful society without the need of much in the way of government, law, or formal rule.

Of course, reality fell well short of this ideal – as is usually the case with social and political ideals. Still, in a largely rural society, with little in the way of other forms of protection, a powerful lord capable of the violence needed to protect his people was a necessity. Few were so foolish as to desire or even to conceive of living outside a relationship where everyone served someone more powerful and was in turn protected by him. Such relationships ideally structured the whole of society from the great lords – kings and emperors, for example, being served by their nobles – all the way down to peasant patriarchs, lords in their homes, protecting and being served by their wives and children. At every level this was a personal and essentially private relationship of power, even if over time an elaborate series of traditions and customary rights tailored local situations to local realities, making things more complex.

As urban life developed across Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the problems inherent in this vision of a symbiotic relationship between private and personal power became increasingly apparent. This did not mean that such relationships disappeared; quite the opposite, for they continued and adapted to a more complex urban world in significant ways – most notably, perhaps, underlying the patronage relationships that would deeply color Rinascimento life. Yet at the same time a more public vision of power began to be articulated both by urban governments and by the denizens of the city, especially by those most active economically and culturally. Clearly this was not a modern vision of public power fully separated from the private; indeed, in many ways that latter ideal still has not been realized, despite ideological claims to the contrary. Rather, it utilized a number of corporate bodies, literally conceptual units of society that were conceived as fictitious bodies and legal persons in their own right, that sought to exercise power for the sake of some broader good: guilds, confraternities (local religious organizations), groups of families that banded together for mutual protection in clans or more formal consorterie (fictitious extended families), and, of course, government itself. From this perspective, a very medieval one, urban governments were just another corporate competitor in a cityscape awash with corporate bodies, all working (and often competing) to provide a peaceful and disciplined urban environment where they, rather than lords, protected and were served by individuals.

Earlier local lords and/or church leaders – especially the bishops who often ruled medieval cities – tended to see the newly rich merchants, money-handlers/bankers, and even artisans of the city as socially insignificant; thus they seemed the perfect victims of traditional private justice and other manifestations of their power. Against such private power, city dwellers banded together in self-defense in corporate organizations or “cooperations” to protect themselves from their often rapacious and violent superiors. Frequently these groupings were military and organized to contest the violence of lords or bishops with counterviolence. At times they developed in the context of artisans and merchants organized in guilds or in the context of local religious and spiritual groups organized in confraternities. Neighborhoods also frequently formed such organizations, and their militias were particularly important in many cities.

Such “cooperations” or incorporations (literally fictitious persons) with time tended to band together to overthrow the private power of local lords and church leaders and rule in common, as communes. As the name implies, the commune held power in comune(in common) for its members in what might be labeled a kind of corporate and more public vision of power – in essence a fictive corporate person replacing a private lord. It was a vast oversimplification, but in the thirteenth century in most Italian cities of the north, those ruling in comune tended to defend their rule by claiming that they were the real people of the city, Il Popolo. The name suggests today that the popolo included all the people of the city ruling together, a true democracy. At the time, however, it was a more limited ideal, claiming merely to include those people worthy of participating in ruling; significantly, in this way of seeing the popolo, women, day laborers, the young, the poor, the recently arrived, and the perceived enemies of the popolo were excluded. In fact, in most cities the popolo was actually limited to guild members. Guilds will be discussed in more detail later, but for now suffice it to reiterate that guilds themselves were also incorporations (fictive bodies); they were made up of artisans but also of merchants, bankers, lawyers, doctors, and other professions. Ideally they organized and disciplined their membership while protecting them from other organizations of power. But they also guaranteed the quality of their products or services, fixed prices, and kept peace among their members. Significantly, with bankers, lawyers, and merchants at one level and butchers, bakers, and used clothing dealers at a lower one, they included a large swath of urban society; thus, banding together as Il Popolo, they could and did claim to rule the commune in the name of all the people that counted.

Using principles drawn from ancient Roman law, which had undergone a widespread revival in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the popolo progressively discovered and deployed claims that they had the right to preserve and defend their cities for the common good. Finally, in the early fourteenth century, noted lawyers and commentators on Roman law such as Bartolus of Sassoferrato (1313–1357) and Baldo da Ubaldis (1327–1400) formalized what was already practice, arguing that a free people (popolus liber) in the absence of other legitimate authority had the right to rule themselves in order to assure peace and justice for their communities. That claim, of course, was made easier in the fourteenth century by the relative absence of popes and emperors who could contradict it. Significant in this defense of government, lawyers were turning once more to the Roman past to give legitimacy to the current organization of society, in this case governmental authority – making the crucial claim that such power was not new, but rather a renewal or rebirth of classical forms of rule embodied in ancient Roman law. Public power to assure peace and justice for the common good seems a remarkably modern idea for the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and the reality of rule of course turned more on private competition for power within the popolo, as we shall see, but, nonetheless, this legitimization of power in terms of creating a civic community that served the common good helped to expand the discourse of political power in directions that would have a long (and often contested) history. The popolo and government, once just fictitious persons in competition with lords and bishops for private power, were slowly becoming recognized as public organizations of power serving the general good and increasingly as a significant underpinning of the civiltà of the first Rinascimento.

Obviously, in the thirteenth century power was not handed over to Il Popolo merely because they asserted it based on ancient Roman ideals or even because notaries and lawyers in their service produced legal arguments that defended such claims. The economic and demographic growth that typified the thirteenth century throughout Europe and fostered the rapid growth of dozens of flourishing cities in northern Italy created a generally confused and contested situation that involved virtually all aspects of life, from politics, social distinctions, and morality to art, architecture, and even love poetry. Traditionally, nobles whose titles were based on rural landowning (although by the thirteenth century many lived in the city) and military service had competed with ecclesiastical officials for the control of cities, but with the rise of Il Popolo merchants, bankers, lawyers, and even many of Petrarch’s motley crew of artisans entered the fray, contesting once again the Great Social Divide that had previously dominated society. These conflicts were often fought violently in the streets, as well as in many more subtle ways that used literature, poetry, manners, local history and traditions, and even religious enthusiasms to advance one group’s claims over another.

These conflicts were once viewed as a classic contest between economic classes in a Marxist sense – an important stage on the way to modern bourgeois capitalism. As early as the end of the nineteenth century the great socialist historian Gaetano Salvemini argued that the conflicts of the thirteenth century were essentially driven by class warfare between an old feudal nobility and Il Popolo. In the early twentieth century the social theorist Alfred Von Martin, in a brief essaylike book, The Sociology of the Italian Renaissance, laid out the thesis with less detail, but clearly and powerfully. Anti-Marxist historians quickly took up the cause of disproving this thesis, and already in the 1920s a Russian historian who had fled the communist revolution in his country, Nicolai Ottokar, launched a powerful counterattack. He argued, based largely on Florentine documents, that many members of Il Popolo there actually came from the rural nobility and that those who opposed Il Popolo often included rich merchants and bankers. Moreover, many nobles whose wealth was based on rural landholding lived in the city, intermarried with powerful families of the popolo, and often supported their causes. In sum, he demonstrated that there was not a clear-cut economic class difference between the groups competing for power and claimed that rather than class, the real tension and conflicts were due to competition between factions or local groups that formed around local issues without a clear class or economic base.

While the debate on the nature of these conflicts has been intense ever since, the strict Marxist vision has largely lost sway, without, however, the more conservative anticlass vision totally winning out. Recently a more cultural vision of class has complicated the debate, with historians arguing that although there were not clear economic divisions between Il Popolo and their opponents, there was a clear division in values and in the social and cultural visions of the two groups competing for power in most cities. Even this may be too simplistic, as we shall see, but it does seem clear that, broadly speaking, there were significant issues that were more than local involved in the conflict across the thirteenth century over who would rule and who would be the leaders of society, both socially and politically. Even for Petrarch, well into the next century, these ongoing conflicts were a significant part of the reason for his negative vision of the city, and earlier they had played a significant role in Dante’s hope that the Emperor Henry VII would bring peace and a just rule to end the violence.

In a way these conflicts even seemed to confirm the message of Joachim of Fiore that one world was about to end and a new one begin, a vision that in some circles continued to live on across the Rinascimento. But by the end of the thirteenth century it was becoming clear that the new world dawning would not be his Age of the Spirit, but instead the age of the popolo and the urban civiltà that they were building. Significantly, however, it would not be the age of all the popolo. For as the century progressed and as they won power in more and more cities, exiling or even killing their enemies, the popolo began to break apart. Often it is true that nothing fails like success, and that was clearly the case for Il Popolo. When their alliance of quite different groups of people (rich merchants, bankers, lawyers, and humble butchers, bakers, and candle makers, along with an occasional fellow-traveling noble) effectively defeated their perceived common enemies, they found that they had less and less to hold them together as a group. Simply put, merchants and bankers shared with butchers and bakers a common interest in a peaceful city and a civic society ruled in such a way that they were not victimized by governmental power used for private ends, but they were not adverse to profiting from governmental impositions at the expense of their one-time allies.

The result was that in many cities Il Popolo, although still ruling in the name of all, began to pull apart into competing groups. The easiest division, and the most significant, was generally seen at the time as dividing the popolo minuto (the little people) and thepopolo grosso (the big people); in many cities, although not all, this pitted the lesser guilds (usually artisans who worked with their hands) against the greater (usually merchants, bankers, and cloth producers – those who essentially manipulated money or goods). The labels for these groups varied from place to place and even within cities. In Florence, for example, merchants, bankers, and cloth producers were at times referred to as the grandi del popolo (the great of the people) or even the popolo grasso (the fat people). Crucially, however, as the popolo grosso worked to gain power for themselves and limit the power of their former allies, the legitimacy gained by ruling in the name of all the popolo began to fall away, and new justifications for their power were needed. Perhaps it is not surprising that the justification that they adopted was a discourse, building on the earlier defense of the popolo and the Roman law ideal of a populus liber, that stressed that this more restricted and generally wealthier group worked not for their own private interests but for the general welfare of the commune. Around this common theme circled other, closely related contemporary ideals such as peace, stability, and an end to the violence that had disrupted urban life in the context of a Christian city guided by both secular and divine justice. In sum, they emphasized virtually what Lorenzetti had visualized in his frescos in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena and what Dante had called for, not just in his political works but also in his love poetry and Divine Comedy.

The Ordinances of Justice in Florence: Virtù, Civiltà, and the Popolo Grosso

Of course, once again this legitimating discourse was often more ideology than fact. Also, it was a discourse that developed at different times in different cities and in some less prosperous ones hardly at all. But, significantly, it was a discourse that won out in the center and north of Italy over the course of the fourteenth century (even in cities where the popolo grosso did not clearly win power), becoming a generally shared ideal of civiltà. In Florence, however, there is a particular event that once appeared to historians to reflect concretely this transition: the passage of the Florentine Ordinances of Justice on January 18, 1293. The Ordinances were officially concerned with providing peace and justice in Florence: justice for those who upset the orderly life of the city – as again represented by Lorenzetti’s angel of justice cutting off the heads of malefactors – and peace for those good citizens of the city who were productive and orderly members of society.

Basically the Ordinances identified a group of unruly people and labeled them magnates, promising them stern punishment if they misbehaved. These magnates – or more accurately, their families – were required to put up a sizeable pledge for the good behavior of their family members. If anyone then behaved violently, the pledge was confiscated and the family had to put down another. In theory this should have pressured magnate families to discipline their own members in order to avoid being ruined financially and thus ensured peaceful and less violent behavior. But the Ordinances and the legislation that anticipated and reinforced them in the eighties and nineties went further, for together they denied virtually all major offices in government to those labeled magnates: in essence eliminating them from direct political power. This legislation also limited the magnates’ ability to hold offices in guilds, a significant restriction because most governmental offices were elected from the membership of the guilds; thus, without power in the guilds, magnates theoretically would have little power to influence those elected. In the end, although magnates could still occasionally hold minor offices and could influence politics through membership in the Guelph party (which for most of the fourteenth century also played an important role in elections in Florence), they had been essentially pushed out of government. Approximately 1,500 men and 50 large families were labeled magnates and theoretically fell under these regulations.

For Salvemini, this was a crucial moment of class conflict and signaled the triumph of the popolo grosso over a feudal nobility labeled and eliminated as magnates; for Ottokar, it was merely another moment in the long history of factional struggles that would continue to dominate Florence, until finally the Medici came to power in the fifteenth century. To complicate matters, recent research suggests that the Ordinances of 1293 were passed at a moment when the popolo grosso found their power momentarily under attack by the popolo, and there are indications in the Ordinances themselves of a desire to limit the power of those perceived as overly powerful across the board, including some of the major banking and merchant families. In other words, while this particular legislation seemed to have struck more directly at those labeled magnates, it may have been intended as a warning to other, more domineering families among the popolo as well.

In the end, however, the long debate over the class nature of the Ordinances and the broader legislation that limited magnate power may simply arise from a question badly posed. Recently it has been argued cogently that the traditional nobility of the Tuscan countryside had already lost its battle with the Florentine popolo, not so much in great confrontations like the Ordinances but earlier, in one small skirmish after another. And, more importantly, the old nobility had simply broken apart culturally and socially, with some of their number intermixing with those they perceived as becoming the richest and most important of the popolo across the thirteenth century. At the same time some of the most successful of the popolo, attracted by the noble status of the traditional nobility, intermarried with them, trained in arms and cavalry warfare, and bought up country estates. This created a situation similar to the one that Ottokar discovered and used to attack Salvemini, claiming that there were no essential economic or class differences between the leaders of the popolo and those labeled magnates. Some of those labeled magnates were newer rich men from the popolo, and in turn some of those who did the labeling of magnates were themselves members of relatively old families whose wealth and family tradition were largely rural.

What must be considered, however, are the social and cultural developments that stood behind this social mixing and apparent confusion. On the one hand, some of the popolo had become rich and powerful enough to ape the manners and style of the old nobility, seeking military titles like knighthood, displaying their wealth with urban homes that resembled fortifications, buying country estates, and adopting noble, high-handed behaviors that often mixed violence and polite manners in ways that were both disruptive and troubling. On the other hand, a number of the traditional nobility had rejected this type of behavior to adopt the more peaceful, ordered, and less violent life associated with the emerging merchant/banker elite of the popolo, the popolo grosso. Along with this came a vision of a civil urban society that put civic values above personal and family ones, at least as a legitimating ideal, and did so often with reference to the civilization of ancient Rome and the first ideals of Christianity and Christian society. One would expect, of course, some of the newly rich with social pretensions to copy the style and manners of the old established nobility with an eye to gaining similar traditional elite status. What is strange at first glance is that some of the old nobility moved in the opposite direction, not just copying the customs and style of the more grosso of the popolo, but also following their economic lead by becoming bankers, merchants, lawyers, and large-scale cloth producers.

In such moves, however, one discovers the deeper underlying class/cultural nature of the social tensions and conflicts of the day. For the emerging elite that drove the passage of laws against magnates (of which the Ordinances of Justice were merely a part) was more and more driven by the popolo grosso. As a result, in many ways neither the popolo grosso nor the popolo were by the end of the thirteenth century engaged in a straightforward or simple conflict with an old nobility – the Great Social Divide of the medieval world was already a dead letter in the cities of Italy, replaced by a much more complex and contested social and political world. Rather, the popolo grosso was emerging as a new elite, attempting to dominate both the popolo and the members of the old nobility that for one reason or another refused to align with them. Crucially, this emerging new elite defended its position of leadership in terms of its own vision of who the best people in society should be and how they should behave. On the one hand, true members of the elite should not work with their hands, manual labor being a traditionally negative social marker associated with peasants and artisans, in other words, the broader popolo. On the other, they should be urban, peaceful, careful, and rational in their approach to life. This group of behaviors that, along with their wealth, in many ways defined the popolo grosso was given the traditional name for those behaviors that distinguished the best men from the rest: virtù – a term that again evoked ancient Roman values and in this case the qualities that made ancient Rome great at the same time that it evoked traditional Christian virtues.

Significantly, in the Middle Ages, when a traditional nobility had been recognized as the unquestioned leaders of society, their vision of virtù dominated with a very different meaning that turned on more rural and warrior values: courage, military prowess, keeping one’s word, and violently defending one’s honor. Of course, there were many at the end of the thirteenth and well into the fourteenth century who still saw virtù in those more traditional terms, but society was changing, and along with it virtù. Crucially, however, those changes were conceptualized and idealized not as changes to something new, but as returns to something old, the old values that had made Rome great. In this vision Florence, as a city built by the Romans and rebuilt in the Rinascimento on those Roman foundations, was correctly to be led by a popolo grosso elite measured by ancient Roman virtù, thus becoming virtually Rome reborn. In that context it is not at all strange to see Dante in the Divine Comedy guided through Hell and much of Purgatory by the pagan Roman Virgil and sharing with his guide an evaluation of the lives of his deceased friends, enemies, and acquaintances in terms of their virtù, seen in both civic and religious terms. Ancient Roman authority and the best of pagan values exhibited by Virgil melded paradoxically with Christian values and a shared culture of urban values to allow Dante in a way his own personal Last Judgment of his predecessors and compatriots – a last judgment that confirmed a developing Rinascimento ideal of virtù both in the afterlife and in a Roman imperial past. In other cities and in the literature of the day, this new virtù once again was not presented as changing to something new; rather, it was reimagined as returning to something older and better, even if, crucially, that was usually more imagination than reality.

When read in this light, the Ordinances of Justice take on a different meaning. They were merely a moment in a longer process of defining who among those competing for elite status would be eliminated from the competition. But rather than eliminating one group of families because another had the naked power to do so, they were eliminated in the name of the values widely shared among the most powerful of the popolo, with the emerging elite, the popolo grosso, taking the lead in defining those values. Significantly, those values were contrasted with the dysfunctional values of what was by the end of the thirteenth century a largely imaginary, outdated feudal elite, imagined as the rulers of a dark age that had forgotten the true virtù of Italy’s great Roman past. In their very name, then, the Ordinances of Justice presented a program, promising a Christian, ordered, rational, just urban environment – a virtù-ous and civilized urban world – in other words, an urban civiltà that lived up to the values of the popolo grosso. Thus, as Ottokar pointed out, a rather mixed group that did not really make up an economic class was labeled magnates, and, at the same time, as Salvemini argued, a merchant/banker elite and its values in many ways stood behind this labeling and the broader changes that were deeply transforming society. Moreover, as this was all done in the name of Il Popolo and for the sake of creating a Christian, safe, peaceful urban environment with justice for all, this move gained a wide consensus at the expense of those families that found themselves labeled magnates.

Yet, crucially, behind the consensus that backed the Ordinances and saw the legislation as a great defense of Il Popolo there lay deeply embedded, perhaps unwittingly, a defense of the ideals and ideology that were increasingly the program of the popolo grosso. Ideally, governmental power and power in general should be used for the common good, to create a civic culture or civiltà that the English term “commonwealth” expresses well. That commonwealth required peace, order, and justice for all. Of course, thepopolo grosso did not live up to these ideals and this ideology particularly well – actually, they often fell short of upholding the common good over private interests (as in most societies) or in recreating a Roman civilization that had of course never existed as they imagined or evoked it. But with the Ordinances a program of the popolo grosso had begun to emerge more clearly from the general program of Il Popolo in Florence.

Significantly, Florence was not alone in passing Ordinances of Justice and legislation that aimed at creating a more peaceful and ordered urban Christian society. In fact, over the last years of the thirteenth and the first years of the fourteenth century, Ordinances of Justice with similar provisions were passed in most of the cities of northern Italy, with Florence actually joining the trend rather late. If anything, the city was more of a leader in violent social conflict – even as the Ordinances proclaimed a program of peace and justice for all – as over the fourteenth century Florence was dominated by tensions and at times open conflict between the popolo grosso and the popolo minuto, who did not always quietly acquiesce in their progressive disenfranchisement.

The Serrata in Venice: Civiltà and the Popolo Grosso as a Nobility

As much as Florence has been seen as being typical of the cities of northern Italy during this turbulent transition, Venice is usually seen as unusual. Yet, suggestively, it may well be that Venice was less an atypical city than one in the vanguard of developments, for its precocious economic successes brought about social and cultural change earlier in Venice than in most other cities. At much the same time that across the north of Italy the Ordinances of Justice were labeling powerful people magnates and eliminating them from government, in Venice – once more in the name of peace, justice, and a more ordered urban life – what might be deemed the local version of the popolo grosso, primarily merchants and investors in trade, were defining themselves legally as the dominant political and social class. Although, as elsewhere, the working out of this definition spanned several decades, Venice too had its highly symbolic defining moment, the famous Serrata (Closing) of the Maggior Consiglio (Great or Major Council) of 1297–1298.

Formally, the legislation that enacted the Serrata was merely a technical electoral reform and, in fact, one in a series of electoral reforms at the time, officially promoted as assuring access to government to all who deserved it. As originally passed it increased the number of people sitting in the Maggior Consiglio; thus, it might actually qualify to be labeled an “opening” rather than a “closing,” as a noted historian of Venice, Fredric Lane, suggested in a path-breaking 1971 article that reopened debate on just what the Serrata meant. What the legislation actually did was to simplify earlier, complex electoral reforms making membership in the council automatic when males turned twenty-five, if they belonged to a group of families defined by the law as having the right to be members. Provisions were also included for adding new families that had been left out unintentionally, but, to get ahead of the story, those provisions quickly became virtually a dead letter.

Because the Great Council was officially the body that was the ultimate source of all governmental authority, it might seem that this restricting of its membership to a legally defined group served to give that group greater power. But Lane argued that the reality was that the group of people who were defined as automatically having the right to sit on the council was very large, probably including more than 1,100 men; thus the council became too large and unwieldy to function or to exercise meaningful power. Moreover, as it included virtually everyone who had participated in government before the supposed closing, it seemed to promise that no one would lose power – no magnates were pushed out of government. As a result, it appears that in the short run Venetians, when they thought about it at all, saw this change as technical and not particularly significant, as Lane argued.

What changed all that and made the Serrata a closing was the fact that over the course of the next decade the Great Council passed a series of laws that gradually commandeered for themselves the authority to elect virtually all the other important offices of government from their own membership. Thus, quietly but effectively, within a decade a process that had begun with the 1297–1298 legislation became a revolution that locked in a hereditary ruling class and locked out most of the popolo. And, crucially, the core of this ruling class was made up of merchants, investors in trade, and other powerful moneymen, essentially the Venetian version of the popolo grosso. What makes this different from the situation in other cities? First, Venice, unlike other cities, did not create an official group of magnates who were eliminated from power. As Venice was a commercial power whose merchants and investors had successfully ruled the city for centuries, its elite had long been more united in its broad economic perspectives, as well as in its rather unique blend of popolo grosso values and a concomitant, and seemingly contradictory, fascination with more old-fashioned noble and knightly ideals. Other Italians made fun of the tournaments and knightly displays that Venetian merchants and investors enjoyed, mocking those men as more suited for ships and countinghouses than for donning armor and jousting in the small open campi of their island city. In the end, however, the youth of the Venetian upper classes could play at horseback riding and jousting before and after the Serrata, but they grew up to be merchants and investors, not knights, and that had long been the case, even as one or two took the title of knight or went off to fight on horseback.

More importantly, however, a large portion of the population was legally closed out of government. And those who were, it became clear with time, were those who were losing out in most of the cities of northern Italy, the lesser members of the popolo or thepopolo minuto – artisans, shopkeepers, small-scale local traders, plus a large group of Venetian sailors and boat hands. The clear elimination of this group obviously made Venice appear different from most other cities where Ordinances of Justice and similar legislation were promoted and defended as protecting the popolo. That apparent difference is what most historians have focused on. Yet in many ways this open political elimination of the popolo minuto was not so much a difference as something that put Venice ahead of similar developments in other cities – ahead as it had been, in fact, economically, politically, and socially for a long time. In other cities, as the magnates slowly ceased to fulfill the role of a dangerous other that united the popolo, the popolo grossomoved in a similar direction, also using various forms of electoral reform to limit the access of their more humble ex-allies to power. Of course, the popolo grosso did not always win immediately or even over time in every city, but overall they and their vision of the ideal of a peaceful and ordered civic world dominated the shared culture of the first Rinascimento.

In Venice what was unusual was the fact that its government in the end legally defined, with the Serrata and subsequent legislation, a hereditary ruling class, something that virtually no other city did. Obviously, even if the ruling group turned out to be much the same there as elsewhere, the fact that it was legally defined was a significant difference. It helps, for example, to explain the fabled peacefulness of the city, even if that peacefulness was to a degree a self-serving fiction used to defend the rule of the closed order created by the Serrata. Still, while other cities often fought out questions of power and status with bloodshed in the streets, in Venice an established ruling class settled down to defend its rule against those excluded. The Serrata also helped to color in significant ways the republican ideals of the city – republican ideals that had an important impact on the development of political ideals during the period and beyond.

This transition in Venice, however, was more than simply a political one, which makes the story of the Serrata more complex and has led to suggestions of a “Long Serrata” that took decades to complete. Evidently, political change and social change are tightly interrelated – for, as we have seen, the developing power of the popolo grosso as a social class was closely related to political change. And in Venice the political triumph of this group was followed by their social triumph as well. For not only did they become the hereditary ruling class, fairly rapidly they became a legally defined dominant social class as well. The events that led to this legal definition of social status were triggered by one of the few moments of revolutionary violence in Venice during the period, the famed Querini-Tiepolo conspiracy of 1310. By that date it had become clear to many that the Serrata was not a mere technical electoral reform. The closed nature of the ruling class was underlined by the fact that virtually no new men were being taken up into the ruling group, and the laws restricting virtually all important offices to members of the Great Council were clearly eliminating others from government.

Adding to a growing disaffection with an ever-more-evident closing of government was the heavy cost of an unsuccessful war to gain control of Ferrara that had begun in 1308. Ferrara controlled the main fords over the eastern Po River, fords that had the potential to interrupt both Venice’s west/east river trade with the rich cities and agricultural regions of the Lombard plain and its north/south overland trade with Florence and the south. When factional strife in Ferrara seemed to offer an easy opportunity to take the city, Venice jumped at the opportunity. Unfortunately for dreams of an easy success, a coalition of other cities, not eager to see Venice dominate those fords, came to Ferrara’s aid with money and troops; and Pope Clement V, who claimed to have the right to rule the city as the northernmost outpost of the Papal States, weighed in from Avignon with an interdict against the Venetians as well. Thus Venetian expectations of a quick victory quickly died. Not only did the war drag on with a concomitant increase in its cost, it also increased the tensions over those costs and the papal interdict. Those tensions began to have a deeper economic impact when other naval powers took advantage of the interdict to seize Venetian merchant ships, one of the punishments allowed by the interdict. In the normal order of things other cities might have ignored this possibility out of fear of Venetian retaliation, but once again, with the city involved in what looked like a long and costly war, that seemed less a danger. In sum, what had seemed an opportunity for a quick success for the ruling class became with time a serious economic and spiritual burden on the city and a black mark on its rule.

In that context those who had been excluded from government by the Serrata began to question the war, which was increasingly seen as the war of a government from which they were excluded. And for some of the popolo who had come to feel that their exclusion was unjust, the Serrata itself began to be more aggressively questioned. As if that were not enough, two of the most powerful families included in the hereditary ruling class by the Serrata, the Querini and Tiepolo clans, had become disenchanted with the war, government policy, and the political order. It seems that the powerful and charismatic leader of the Tiepolo family, Baiamonte Tiepolo (d. 1328), may have hoped to take advantage of the situation and the disaffection of the popolo minuto to take over the city and rule it as a tyrant. The result was a conspiracy to overthrow the government and the order created by the Serrata by storming the Doge’s palace and deposing the doge, Pietro Gradenigo (1251–1311; doge 1289–1311). Gradenigo, as doge, was held by many to have been responsible for the Serrata and the new order it had created; thus Baiamonte hoped his unpopularity and that of the war for Ferrara would make his own conquest of power relatively easy.

Two centuries later, Niccolò Machiavelli would warn that conspiracies to overthrow governments seldom succeeded because in order to win, one needed a certain critical mass of supporters, but in order to gain that critical mass, too many people had to be trusted with the plans, which inevitably led to betrayal and failure. In this case Machiavelli’s later analysis appears well founded. Several of the conspirators betrayed their fellows. Thus when Baiamonte and his supporters arrived before the Doge’s palace on the morning of June 15, 1310, they found it well defended and were quickly routed with heavy losses. A brief period of reprisals followed; a powerful secret police was created – the Council of Ten, which would play an important role in Venetian politics down to the end of the republic – and peace was quickly restored with the ruling class of the Serrata more firmly in place than ever.

For that ruling group the rout of a powerful and charismatic traitor within their ranks was a great testament to the power and effectiveness of their new order. Locked in an expensive and unpopular war, faced with internal divisions and pressure from below, they had survived a conspiracy led by a popular leader and some of the strongest clans of the city. Suggestively, Baiamonte was often portrayed as a man with knightly ways and military ambitions (a virtual magnate), although this reputation may have been enhanced by the winners and their desire to portray him not just as a conspirator but as a dangerous other who had threatened the basic values of the merchant city. More significantly, as a symbol of their success the winners made June 15 a yearly festival of triumph – a Venetian Fourth of July that was celebrated annually until the fall of the city to Napoleon’s troops in 1797. But they did much more. Realizing that the order created by the Serrata was becoming ever-more clear and evident, they made the decision to celebrate the closing and its creation of a hereditary ruling class.

As a result, rather than portraying the Serrata as a power grab by the popolo grosso at the expense of the popolo minuto, or even by a few more powerful families at the expense of those less powerful, they decided to glorify the Serrata, portraying it as a far-sighted decision by which the best of Venice willingly sacrificed their own self-interest and ruled for the common good of their city – once again to create a civic world of justice and peace for all, a true Venetian civiltà. In this they were clearly rejecting the traditional medieval vision that saw power as being exercised in the private interests of a prince or lord. Perhaps this was not quite yet a vision of public power, but it was a significant step in that direction. The ideal was that the republican government of Venice was ruled by a closed political class that ruled for the general welfare of the city itself and all its citizens, even those who were excluded from participating in government. Of course, this was primarily an ideal and even more an ideology used to defend the rule of the few against claims from those below, yet it had a major impact on the development of Western political thought because of Venice’s great success and apparent stability, especially as Venetian political thinkers made it clear that this was not something dangerously new, but something safely old.

First, they claimed, building on local historical traditions, that this vision of government by a few for the common good of all went back to the first days of the Venetian republic and its founding by refugees from the falling Roman Empire. They also claimed that it fulfilled the prophecies made to the apostle Mark when he was reassured by his angel that in the lagoons where he was lost a great city would be born that would continue his mission of building a Christian society in the West. With time many other Christian, classical, and medieval examples were added to this defense of the new order, thus once again making it not something new, but something old and respected. Much later in the eighteenth century, when these mythic defenses of the order of the Serrata were fully worked out, and political thinkers were seeking models for constructing enduring republican governments or defending republican institutions, leaders like Thomas Jefferson looked to Venice and its republic as a significant source of inspiration because of its stability, longevity, and peaceful civic life. To him and many others of his day, the city seemed to represent a great historical success based on the perfect form of what a republican state should be; thus a myth originally built largely to deny the new, ironically became in many ways a reality for new republics of a later day.

There was, however, another response to the Querini-Tiepolo conspiracy, a social one. In legislation distinguishing the more dangerous conspirators from the less dangerous, the authorities made a distinction between a group of people whom they labeled “noble” and the rest of the population – in other words, a distinction between those who were perceived as being at the top of the social hierarchy and those below. Crucially, those labeled nobles were not traditional nobles from the countryside or old noble families living in the city; rather, they were members of those families who (following the Serrata) sat by hereditary right on the Great Council. In other words, the Venetian popolo grosso – primarily merchants and large-scale investors – had begun to legally call themselves a nobility. At first glance this might seem the height of confusion: the popolo grosso who in other cities had slowly but surely across the thirteenth century grabbed power from an old nobility or labeled their enemies nobles, in Venice were now claiming to be a nobility. In the face of this one might argue, as many have, that Venice was an anomaly, a city very different socially from other cities of the early Rinascimento.

Yet a closer look suggests that Venice was not so much different socially as ahead of other cities. For if one considers the use of the label “noble” for a moment, it becomes clear that the Venetian popolo grosso were not claiming that they were an old traditional nobility with wealth drawn from the land or even from urban rents, ruling for their private interests, but rather an elite based on wealth and productive power ruling for the common good. Lacking a better name for their newly established elite status and, in the spirit of the day, anxious to avoid any label that implied novelty, they took an old and widely recognized name for those on top of society, “noble,” and applied it to themselves.

Nothing could be further from the way the old feudal nobility operated and more typical of the rising power of the popolo grosso across Italy; over and over again, in city after city, this group used law and government to reorder their civic world and society with themselves on top. In other cities the process would take longer and be more contested. And in cities with more fragile or more rural economies, there would be more mixing of an actual old nobility and new popolo grosso leadership or even moments of popolo minuto power. But the general trend was the development of a new social elite dominated by the popolo grosso and a new political, social, and cultural order that reflected the values and vision of that same group. It is important, however, not to oversimplify this transition. It was never as neat or clean as the Venetian case suggests. Yet from such fertile mixing of the new thought of as the old, and the old describing the new, and in the messy confusions between the two, there emerged slowly but surely a vibrantly rich culture and society that contemporaries saw as reborn on ancient values and traditions, Christian, biblical, and classical – the Rinascimento.

In Venice, then, the political ruling class made up of the leading popolo grosso families legally defined themselves as the socially dominant class, the Venetian nobility. A clear and clean overlap between political status and social status is rare, and it might be noted that the failure to match up between the two often leads to tension and conflict, especially when economic distinctions are added to the mix. Venice, however, had created a society where the match was virtually perfect and where even economic power lined up pretty well, at least for a while. It took time for these distinctions to be generally recognized, but by the early 1320s there was little question in Venice: political power and noble status were one and the same thing and limited to a legally defined hereditary class of merchants and investors, their own popolo grosso. Time would break down this powerful alignment, with some nobles becoming less wealthy and even poor. In turn, some non-nobles built large fortunes and developed strategies to exercise considerable political power behind the scenes. But for much of the fourteenth century there was a fairly good fit between wealth, political power, and social status in Venice. As a result, as other cities fought out who should rule and who deserved elite status, often in bloody battles in the streets, Venice settled down to defend its order. And, crucially, it did so not only with aggressive policing and control of the lower classes – although it did that – but also by aggressively defending the order created by the Serrata as uniquely just, creating a rich political ideology and civic culture that defended and celebrated that order and the rule of their noble popolo grosso as ideal.

Milan and the Visconti: Civiltà, the Popolo Grosso, and Signori

While Florentine and Venetian historians have debated the relative importance of such changes and how representative they were of the rest of Italy, it should be noted that as far as governmental forms are concerned neither was particularly typical. Both were republics. Yet in many ways, with the end of the thirteenth century the day of republics had passed. The future in most cities lay with one-man rule, princes or tyrants, depending upon one’s perspective. Called usually signore/signori (lord/lords), they promised peace, order, and stability once again, in the face of the political, social, and economic conflicts that divided most cities. Certainly there was no lack of conflicts for them to settle. Once in power, however, they almost invariably worked out alliances with the most powerful local families in order to maintain their rule. This meant that where the popolo grosso were strong, they tended to align with them, while in less commercial cities where a more traditional nobility, or at least a powerful group whose wealth was based on land, was stronger, they leaned more heavily on them. Still, across the century the signori who were most successful tended to oversee a melding of the most flexible of the older nobility with the most powerful of the popolo, a mixing often already well under way in the thirteenth century. The result was usually a progressively more aristocratic popolo grosso, still urban, and still heavily influenced by widely shared ideals of an urban civiltà.

As signori typically came to power following the exigencies of local politics and conflicts, it is difficult to pick a representative example or even moment. But perhaps the way the Visconti family came to power in Milan, in its apparent serendipity and messiness, best reflects the complexity that was the norm. Milan also warrants attention because, under Visconti leadership, it was one of the most important and powerful cities of the early Rinascimento. In the thirteenth century the city was still dominated politically by an ecclesiastical leader, its archbishop. Earlier, rule by local bishops had been fairly common for cities in Italy as well as in much of Europe, as the Church had centered bishoprics in larger population centers to serve as administrative seats for its own bureaucracy. Thus, with their superior wealth and comparatively sophisticated bureaucracy, they tended to dominate the cities where they were located.

The Investiture Controversy of the eleventh and twelfth centuries had attempted to break the power of bishops, who in many places had become virtually local hereditary lords. One of the most important reforms passed at the time was a requirement that bishops be appointed by the pope; thus it was hoped that they would serve him and the Church, rather than local noble families who had gained control of the office, passing it on from generation to generation. Also, reformers attempted to eliminate clerical marriage, thus making it impossible for a bishop to marry and pass on his office to a son. Although neither reform was entirely successful, these attempts to regain control of bishops and the local church did help supply the wedge that allowed merchants and urban nobles to take power away from local bishops. Moreover, once bishops were no longer drawn from local powerful families, it was easier for locals to take over rule from foreign and often absentee bishops appointed by a pope.

The archbishop of Milan, however, was not easily displaced from power. The post continued to be a highly sought-after prize for powerful local families even after the Investiture Controversy, and it controlled enough wealth and authority that it could stand up – albeit at times with difficulty – to both popes and local attempts at secular governance. According to tradition, the great noble families of the rich agricultural Lombard plain that surrounded Milan elected the archbishop from their number with the approval of the Church, a local compromise necessitated by the nobility’s power. In the thirteenth century that nobility was facing competition for control of the archbishopric from two newer corporate groups organized in the city: the Motta, made up primarily of lesser nobles who lived in the city and who were aligned with newer rich commercial and business families – an incipient popolo grosso; and the Credenza di Sant’Ambrogio, made up largely of artisans and shopkeepers – closer to those labeled the popolo minuto elsewhere. Significantly, both groups, as incorporations, were seeking power in order to protect their own private interests, much as in other Italian cities.

This conflict came to a head in the 1260s, when a powerful local noble family, the Della Torre, aligned with the Credenza. Leading the Guelph party, they rode Guelph victories in the north of Italy to gain power in Milan, led by Napoleone Della Torre, called Napo (d. 1278). Although their conquest was based upon force and Napo’s widely respected military leadership in the Guelph cause, it was justified by claiming that his rule was in the name of Il Popolo as a whole, once again very much in the spirit of the times. But to secure his power, Napo was aware that his family had to control the archbishop. Unfortunately, he was correct; for although he was from the old nobility and a Guelph leader, his lower-class allies made him suspect. In the end neither the old nobility nor the pope supported him in his attempt to control the office; instead, an archbishop from a major rival family, Ottone Visconti (d. 1295), was elected. Napo, unhappy with this, did not allow Visconti to enter the city. From exile, however, Ottone with his supporters made things difficult, leading a harassing opposition to his rule. At first glance it might seem that we have here a classic thirteenth-century conflict, with the Visconti, representing the old nobility and their supporters, against the Della Torre, representing the popolo. As usual, however, things were not so simple. Both clans were far too flexible in their competition for power to follow modern models of how such conflicts should have developed.

Rather, in the last decades of the century, both families shifted their alliances among the old nobility, the Motta, and the Credenza and at times even divided among themselves, in order to gain power. To make a long, complex story shorter, the Archbishop Ottone Visconti, leading an army himself, with the aid of soldiers from neighboring cities who feared his rival’s expansionist policies, finally captured Napo along with many of the Della Torre in late 1277. Napo died shortly (and conveniently) thereafter in jail. Visconti quickly moved to take control in Milan. But realizing that his original power base, the old nobility, was no longer adequate to sustain his rule in a city where merchants and bankers were amassing large fortunes and where artisans and day laborers made up a restless mass of a population, he wrapped himself in the mantle of Il Popolo, claiming to be their champion. As part of this he helped a charismatic young relative, Matteo Visconti (1255–1322), to become Capitano del Popolo in 1287 – an office that in Milan, as in other cities, was responsible for keeping the peace and protecting the popolo from the high-handed ways of the old nobility.

Both controlling the ecclesiastical authority of the city as archbishop and having considerable power in its secular government via his relative Matteo, Ottone was well on his way to securing Visconti rule of Milan and becoming its signore. Those best-laid plans, however, overlooked one of the crucial problems that all tyrants must eventually face, their own death. Ottone died in 1295, and the Della Torre family, waiting in exile for just such an opportunity, took it. They defeated the Visconti militarily, finally driving them into exile in 1302. Guido Della Torre (1259–1312) became signore of Milan, and the family gained control of the archbishopric as well. But almost immediately, the Della Torre family itself began to divide against Guido, a few even aligning with the exiled Visconti. All the infighting was rendered moot, however, when Italy’s erstwhile bridegroom, the emperor Henry VII, arrived, bringing his promise of peace and reconciliation between warring factions as a paradoxical Guelph-Ghibelline.

Arriving at the gates of Milan in late December of 1310, the Della Torre unhappily welcomed him into the city, because as emperor he was the rightful king of northern Italy and, according to long-standing tradition, Milan was the capital of that kingdom; any power the Della Torre had, they held, at least in theory, at his pleasure as their king and emperor. Moreover, as leader of the Guelphs in Milan, Guido had to accept Henry because the pope, Clement V, the theoretical leader of his party, supported Henry and his initiatives in Italy. In turn, Henry, as the savior and peacemaker of Italy, had to make peace in the city, in this case between the Guelph Della Torre and their archrivals, the Ghibelline Visconti. Thus, much to the distress of Guido, Henry invited the Visconti back to Milan, and in late December of 1310, in a moment rich in symbolic significance, in the central square of Milan, under the benevolent eye of the emperor, the Guelph signore of the city, Guido Della Torre, exchanged the kiss of peace with Matteo Visconti, his recently defeated Ghibelline rival. As we have seen, fighting between their supporters broke out almost immediately.

It quickly became a full-fledged war for control of the city, and Matteo made the best of the situation. First, he sought to strengthen the legitimacy of a potential Visconti victory. For that, the emperor was useful. Henry was badly in need of money and troops to support his claims, more than ever at a moment when his rhetoric of peace and conciliation seemed to be collapsing around him. Thus when Matteo offered him 50,000 florins immediately and a yearly payment of 25,000 more in return for being named imperial vicar of Milan, Henry jumped at the offer – although taking that sum to confirm a Ghibelline in power in Milan at the expense of a Guelph rival did not help his image as a Guelph-Ghibelline peacemaker.

Matteo, however, could and did claim, as imperial vicar, to be the legitimate ruler of Milan. He merely needed to take the city, which he proceeded to do in short order. But Matteo understood that having both the force to drive out the Della Torre and the legitimate right to rule were still not enough. He also needed local support, and the group that he turned to, along with a small group of old noble followers, should not be surprising – the leaders of the Milanese popolo grosso. Matteo mixed members of the leadingpopolo grosso families of the city with his old noble supporters to serve as his advisors and made sure that they also held the lion’s share of important posts in government. In addition, he supported the business interests of the popolo grosso, offering them the protection of law and the courts against private power. And all this was once more proclaimed with the rhetoric of peace, justice, and stability in a Christian city.

The older nobility who had originally supported the Visconti when they were archbishops, however, were too powerful in Milan and the surrounding countryside to be ignored. Instead, as was the case in many other cities ruled by signori, where the old rural nobility remained a significant factor in economic and social life, Matteo and his successors encouraged them to move to the city, take up a more profit-oriented agriculture (or often to continue in such endeavors), and to intermarry with the most powerful popolo grosso families. In this way he and his successors slowly but surely amalgamated the strongest and most economically aggressive of the two groups into a more aristocratic popolo grosso that typified the social world of Milan in the early Rinascimento as well as many other cities ruled by signori.

Tellingly, then, with three different stories, we still end up where we started. Tyranny or republic; closed ruling group or more open; Ordinances of Justice or Serrata; Guelph or Ghibelline; Florence, Venice, or Milan: the winners in the fourteenth century would eventually be the popolo grosso or some combination of older aristocratic families and this group. Local variations could be significant, but looking at the broad picture, Italy had a new political and social elite based upon wealth from trade, banking, and investment in the production of luxury products – the Great Social Divide that still dominated most of the rest of Europe was a fading and largely irrelevant memory. And, crucially, that new elite was not content merely to take power and hold it with force; it defended its power and legitimated it as old, based upon the ideal first times of ancient Rome and early Christianity. Moreover, in the name of offering peace, justice, and the rule of law in a Christian urban environment, they claimed to serve not private family interests but the interests of all in creating a civil urban society: that is, a civiltà much like that pictured in Lorenzetti’s frescos in the governmental palace of Siena.

Rinascimento Civiltà: Urban Government and Civic Order

But what did the government actually look like, and how did it work behind the high ideals it espoused? With the dozens of cities in the north and center of Italy all apparently building their own governments as they went along, in response to local exigencies and problems, at first glance it appears that attempting to answer this question is a hopeless task. And, of course, that is true. In fact, the best answers have been provided by numerous studies of local political institutions. Still, the very ideology that defended and supported the rule of the popolo grosso and the groups that joined with them made certain institutional responses more attractive than others. Perhaps more importantly, as law and legal justice were shared themes of rule, much of the actual operation of government was carried out on a day-to-day basis by notaries and lawyers. Some were locals; many, however, were foreigners drawn from other cities who shared a relatively standard university training in law and Latin – as virtually all bureaucratic and legal business across the fourteenth century was carried on in Latin. This common training meant that even as they moved from city to city, they tended to share a legal culture and a bureaucratic vision that fit well with, and undoubtedly also influenced, the evolving vision of governance supported by the popolo grosso. Significantly, that shared legal culture based on Roman law and Latin training presented itself once again as modeled on and legitimated by the ancient world, yet another and particularly significant rebirth of Roman culture.

As a result, certain repeating forms and ways of operating can be seen behind local variations, providing a kind of continuity behind the daunting diversity. Most cities had a large council that officially represented the whole of the citizenry of the city, Il Popolo. As the popolo was theoretically the font of all authority, it was usually seen as the ultimate authority in passing legislation. But as such, it also regularly served as a court of last resort for the most important or potentially divisive criminal or civil cases that government adjudicated. In turn, as the font of all authority, it often created new councils and magistracies to deal with new perceived needs as they arose. In fact, across the fourteenth century, as the popolo grosso grew in power and governments became increasing articulated in response to calls for tighter discipline and control, a host of new magistracies and councils were created by these large councils. The Ordinances of Justice with their policing and punishing power, passed in most cities across the north of Italy at the end of the thirteenth and the first years of the fourteenth century, are merely one of the most notable examples. This mixing of legislative, judicial, and administrative responsibilities meant that Rinascimento governments were not neatly divided into legislative, judicial, and administrative divisions as they are often represented, presumably following modern models; instead, there was a much more complex and often contradictory mix of powers that created unique opportunities for corruption of government and competition for power among various councils and factions.

Elections, then, were usually overseen by the large council. In most cities they relied upon quite complex forms of drawing lots. Theoretically, this created a virtually perfect form of democracy or, more accurately, given the values of the day, rule by thepopoloopen to all, as in election by lot not even merit interfered with the opportunity of every qualified male citizen to hold office. But the qualifier “qualified” suggests immediately the way this apparent opening of government to all was significantly limited. In Florence, as elsewhere, a complex process of reviewing the names that were eligible for office to assure that only “qualified” citizens were drawn allowed the powerful to corrupt those who reviewed the names and assure that opponents were eliminated and supporters included. In fact, a particularly significant part of the political agenda of the popolo grosso across the fourteenth century was to assure that, at least for the most important offices of government, only their most powerful leaders would be eligible. Elections were usually held by drawing names from a bag (borsa) containing the names of all those eligible for a particular office; those drawn then served for what were normally brief terms, often as short as two or three months. This rapid turnover also contributed to the impression of a more open government, limiting the possibility of having only a few dominating offices. Yet in the end, in most cities, behind the democratic forms of election by lot the powerful, with few exceptions, dominated the councils of government.

Other factors also limited the apparent openness of elections. In most cities guilds had played such an important role in the rise to power of Il Popolo that they claimed to be and were often seen as the popolo itself. As a result, in those cities one had to be a member of a guild even to be eligible to have one’s name put into the bag for elections. Dante, for example, although there is no indication that he ever worked as an apothecary or spice merchant, enrolled in that guild in Florence so that he would be eligible to hold office. In turn, the guild community, as it became divided between richer and more powerful guilds (dominated by the popolo grosso) and lesser guilds (more the domain of the popolo minuto), worked out agreements for divvying up how many names from each guild or group of guilds would go into the bags. Once again, because of the greater power and wealth of the powerful guilds, the tendency was for the number of names from the lesser guilds to decrease as the number from the greater increased. In moments of particular social tension or economic turmoil, however, when the lesser guilds found an opportunity to reverse this process, they did so, but almost invariably with little long-term success.

Early on, in many cases already in the thirteenth century, it became apparent that the large councils representing virtually all the popolo were too unwieldy to actually respond to legislative or judicial needs. Thus smaller councils, usually envisioned as representing the wisest and most important men in the city, were created to handle the most important matters in both areas. Frequently identified with the leading families of the city, with time they became associated with the ancient Roman Senate, recognized as having represented the interests of the most important Roman families. Thus, in many ways, such councils, largely dominated by the popolo grosso, were portrayed not as new, but as another part of a rebirth of Rome and its ideal political order. And perhaps more significantly yet, the leaders of the families that sat regularly in these more elite councils could be seen, not as a new social elite, but rather as a rebirth of that ancient Roman senatorial class based on virtù that had been the driving force behind the success of ancient Rome – a claim that Rinascimento scholars would rediscover as they reread classical authors like Cicero and Livy.

As governmental forms became more articulated across the fourteenth century, additional councils were set up, but in most places there were two main ones, a larger one representing the popolo, and a smaller, senatelike one representing the most important families. Still, even the smaller, senatelike councils with forty to eighty members were often too unwieldy and slow to respond efficiently to the rapidly evolving crises that governments faced. Thus in most cities small short-term committees were used to deal with particularly urgent problems, often with the power to sidestep or override the larger councils. These committees were usually elected by one of the larger legislative councils, and, significantly, they were usually not chosen by lot. The idea was that in crucial moments only the best men with special expertise or significant interest in the matter at hand should decide. Often these committees were called “Sapientes” (Wise Men) or some similar name that signified their recognized expertise and special status, although the term “Balìa” was also widely used. These special committees investigated the particular issue they had been chosen to consider and proposed solutions to deal with it. In turn, their proposals were voted on and approved or rejected by the larger legislative council that had appointed them. They could also be empowered, however, to deal with an issue in its entirety – investigating it, devising a response, passing whatever measures necessary, and overseeing its final resolution. Such committees were frequently appointed to take charge of a war, deal with a particularly difficult financial crisis, or handle a revolutionary moment or threat.

In a number of cities Sapientes evolved into regular councils of state or, because their concerns were ongoing, became permanent magistracies dealing with matters like taxation, administration of conquered territories, trade, or perceived threats to government, as was the case with the famed Venetian Council of Ten. Created to deal with the aftermath of the Querini-Tiepolo conspiracy, the Ten continued across our period to become a powerful and feared secret police and at times a shadow government behind the regular government of the city. Most such councils, however, served their immediate purpose and folded. But, significantly, the important men who sat on these special committees often went on to serve on one such committee after another, creating a small core of powerful leaders behind the theoretically more inclusive large councils of state. In part as a result, in cities like Florence and Venice the larger representative councils tended to become more like debating societies that took responsibility for actions that had often been decided elsewhere, reflecting a general tendency to place decision making and power in the hands of a few while spreading the responsibility for such decisions as widely as possible. Not surprisingly, in most places that “few” tended to be drawn from the most important members of the local popolo grosso.

Turning to justice – so important to the popolo grosso view of government – most cities in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries preferred to rely on a foreign professional, usually known as a Podestà, who came to the city for a period (often six months) to handle the daily business of justice and policing. The idea was that a foreign professional, bringing with him the judges and patrollers necessary to guarantee order, would provide unbiased justice, being uninvolved in local politics and intrigue. Frequently these officials had trained as lawyers or notaries and provided an important source of governing knowledge that passed from city to city. In fact, it may well be that the idea for the Ordinances of Justice that proliferated in the last years of the thirteenth and first years of the fourteenth century was carried from city to city by Podestà. Not all Podestà, however, were trained as lawyers or notaries; a number were military figures. As warriors they often seemed to offer that extra potential for violence that was considered necessary to handle particularly difficult moments or unruly cities. Not surprisingly, from time to time, when the turmoil that they sought to control was great enough, or merely when the opportunity presented itself, the unscrupulous (and perhaps occasionally the scrupulous) transformed their temporary positions into permanent ones and became signori.

More commonly, however, the Podestà performed what was seen at the time as one of the most important functions of government, justice. Returning to the Lorenzetti frescoes in the council halls of Siena, justice was the key to virtually all the positive things portrayed as provided by good government. Significantly, that justice was backed up, when it was good, by angels with swords literally cutting out the offending members of society, along with an occasional bandit or malefactor hanging from a governmental gallows, overlooking a peaceful countryside now freed from their depredations. In Dante’s apparently more spiritual vision, the disruptors of urban order – or at least those he saw as such – ended up, along with closely related sinners, in Hell, suffering the ultimate divine justice that stood behind the civic justice offered by government. As he encountered these men and women suffering divine punishment, many of whom he knew either by reputation or from the streets of his city, Dante commented upon their punishments with an interesting mix of pity and satisfaction that says much about the violent ideals of punishment of his day that were deemed necessary to provide urban peace and order.

On civic buildings Justice was often portrayed as a female figure holding a sword to cut off the offending members of society in one hand and a scale to weigh the severity of an offence in the other. Thus Justice was figured as a weighing of retribution rather than a simple judging matter of right or wrong. Underlining the complexity of weighing retribution, Justice was also usually portrayed as unblindfolded – in distinction to most modern representations – and looking the viewer directly in the eye. Justice, then, was neither blind nor simple. She required a clear vision of all issues involved and a correctly measured response. The fact that Justice was portrayed as a woman reflects, on one level, merely the gendered nature of the noun in both Latin and Italian, where it is a feminine noun. In fact, there was a tradition that went back to ancient Roman times that anthropomorphized the concept as a woman. Yet there may have been deeper resonances in the gendered representation of the ideal, for justice was not merely a legal concept based on divine and ancient Roman law. It was also involved in a complex competition with more informal forms of judgment, retribution, and discipline that had powerful medieval roots based on honor and vendetta.

Briefly, in that traditional system of private justice, violence or misdeeds were seen as dishonoring their victims and their families and thus required a violent response that balanced out the original misdeed, undid the dishonor, and returned things to a balance. If misdeed and violent response balanced out, honor and vendetta worked to limit the level of violence in society, maintaining a certain level of peace without more complex social organization. Before committing a misdeed, one theoretically had always to calculate what the cost would be in terms of honor and vendetta; thus many acts of violence were avoided, and those that were not were justly punished through vendetta. Significantly, it was family that largely drove this system. If someone dishonored a member of one’s family, the whole family was committed to exacting a just revenge. The violent deeds of that revenge were often associated with the men of the family, which is not to say that women did not at times participate with as much violence as their men. But ideally women had another, more significant role to play in vendetta: recalling and encouraging the males of the family to avenge their dishonor and to do so adequately. In essence they were the ultimate judges of family dishonor and the just retribution. Thus unblind justice, in this traditional system, was ultimately in the balance of women, just as it was in Rinascimento civic representations of governmental justice.

The primary problem with the honor/vendetta system of justice turned on the correct evaluation of the amount of violence necessary to overcome a dishonor. If the response was too severe, it would require more violence in turn, and violence could spiral out of control in blood feuds that went on for generations. In this context it was hoped that the Podestà, as an outsider, could judge these conflicts, weighing the honor issues and violence involved with his eyes wide open, and impartially settle them by balancing the claims for retribution and reestablishing honor. Thus his judgments, or those of the judges he brought with him, usually spoke in equal measure about what both honor and law required for a just outcome. Historically speaking, in fact, honor often came first, and as judicial forms developed, honor remained an important part of legal rhetoric and procedure.

In many cities, then, the legal description of a criminal case began with the evaluation of the dishonor that it had caused for God, followed by a similar evaluation of the dishonor to the popolo of the city or its government; it then considered the dishonor to the victims; and only in the end did it turn to the crime itself. What such rhetoric suggests is the deep and enduring way in which the justice of government was seen as building out from and taking over the earlier honor/violence dynamic of social discipline. In sum, it was not just divine law, ancient Roman law, or local legal traditions; it was all of those to be sure, but it was also a continuation of a traditional honor/vendetta system in a theoretically more controlled and balanced form via a foreign Podestà. This complex mix in the cities of the early Rinascimento seemed to promise a more secure and less violent form of social discipline, one that was necessary to provide a more stable urban environment in which commerce, banking, and artisanal production could be carried out in peace.

From this perspective local Ordinances of Justice might be seen as creating a major breach in this system of governmental justice based on the Podestà. Not only did they create new laws designed to limit the violence and high-handed ways of the powerful, they also created, or gave new power to, a local official who usually combined policing and judicial powers in order to enforce these new rules. This official was called the Capitano del Popolo or a similar title that suggested that he was the defender of thepopoloagainst those who would disrupt the peace of their cities. At times these officials could be very powerful, and, much as was the case with Podestà, from time to time a powerful Capitano del Popolo could transform his office into a permanent one-man rule and become a signore. More commonly, however, the Capitano was an early step toward a more permanent, locally controlled judiciary and patrolling apparatus that by the fifteenth century in most of the major cities of the north would replace the earlier Podestàsystem of justice. The title Podestà, however, continued to be used for officials sent out to provincial cities from a dominant central city as many of smaller cities fell to their larger neighbors across the fifteenth century.

The progressive elimination of the Podestà system once again was in many ways anticipated by the Venetian system of justice, which already at the end of the thirteenth century seems to have developed a different approach to crime and justice. Less enthusiastic about Roman law than most cities, Venice was more committed to its own local legal traditions and the wisdom of its own unblindfolded judges, who were instructed by law to weigh each case carefully, taking into account the social and political issues involved. In part the rationale for this judicial freedom was that it allowed a more careful balancing of the honor involved. But it also appealed to a strong local pride in the peacefulness of the great commercial city and its own honor, which had to be maintained. After all, right from its legendary founding the angel of the Lord had promised the apostle Mark, “Pax tibi Marci” (“Peace be with you Mark”), and with that peace a great and prosperous city would grow up and flourish, thanks to local law and judges.

A multiplying series of magistracies dealt with less serious civil litigation and organized a number of policing bodies that patrolled the streets, levying fines for petty infractions. When a more serious crime was encountered, they arrested the culprits and threw them in jail until their crimes could be formally tried. Most important among these magistracies were the Signori di Notte (Lords of the Night), who, as their name implies, were primarily responsible for patrolling and keeping the city safe after dark. By the fourteenth century, however, their patrollers in ever-increasing numbers were patrolling night and day, handing out summary justice for petty violence and carrying arms illegally. But they also had taken on more significant responsibilities, investigating murders that involved immediate explosions of violence rather than more considered homicides. The latter were investigated by the Avogadori di Comun (state attorneys) and tried before the Council of Forty, a body that dealt with more serious internal matters, both legislatively and judicially.

The Signori also investigated cases of a crime labeled “sodomy,” a newer concern of governments, which apparently had become worried about the danger of suffering the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah that such crimes created for their cities. Officially, in Venice as elsewhere, sodomy was a catchall crime that included any nonreproductive sexual practice, but prosecutions tended to focus on male/male sex. Their investigations generated some very interesting documentation of such relationships, for the Signori were interested in weighing the intent involved – as intent was the key to the seriousness of a sin or a crime. A momentary desire or mere compliance as a passive partner in sodomy made the deed unwilled and thus less sinful from a religious perspective and less culpable from a judicial one. In this context, then, the Signori carefully chronicled the sexual history of those accused of sodomy to see whether their deeds were a willed sexual practice or merely a passing moment of passion, creating mini–sexual biographies of those accused. They were also quite intent to discover whether those involved accepted a passive role or took an active one, a telling distinction in all sexual relations. Again, intent seems to have been a key here, as the passive partners, usually younger, were punished much less severely, whereas the active were almost invariably executed, apparently because they acted with intent and willed the deed.

A number of other patrolling bodies also policed and provided immediate justice in the form of fines in the streets of the city, creating a city with, at least on paper, a particularly high density of patrollers. What pulled this complex system together into a model for other governments was the creation of the Council of Ten in 1310. As noted, they were originally just a temporary ad hoc committee of Sapientes created to deal with the aftermath of the Querini-Tiepolo conspiracy. Quickly, however, they used their virtually unlimited authority to develop into a powerful, permanent, and largely unlimited secret court with an extensive policing apparatus of their own. With time they brought the other policing bodies of the city under their direct control and asserted the right to take over virtually any legal proceeding that they saw as involving the security of the state, a right they slowly expanded to include almost all important matters. Already by the last years of the fourteenth century they had created a powerful centralized system ofpolicing and justice in Venice that was run by the most important men of the city – a system that when necessary could override older, more messy and overlapping forms of justice that in the normal order of things allowed for a more personal and perhaps popular justice.

Across the fourteenth century, as noted earlier, other cities began progressively to substitute local judicial and policing bodies for those provided by a Podestà. It may be that this occurred earlier in civil courts dealing with minor litigation, where a large number of cases involving smaller sums were heard – the volume of cases heard presumably overwhelming the capabilities of a Podestà system. But certainly the process was accelerated by the creation of offices like the Capitano del Popolo and eventually of smaller councils or committees responsible for public security like the Venetian Council of Ten. Local patrollers also joined and eventually replaced the Podestà’s foreign patrollers. Almost certainly, as a result, the streets of most late fourteenth-century cities were more secure than the streets of the thirteenth century in the cities of Italy. But this came at a price. Beyond the rhetoric, the sterner discipline of more heavily policed cities, often involving arbitrary justice imposed in the streets, and a socially biased justice system that hit property crime and the lower classes more heavily, meant that justice could often be heavy-handed and repressive. Thus patrolling bodies quickly developed the negative stereotypes in the popular imagination often associated with those who operate at the level where governmental power has a direct impact on the denizens of a city. Moreover, it seems clear that this negative vision was reinforced by the petty graft and intimidation often used by policing bodies, which also victimized the lower classes. Not surprisingly, a significant proportion of the cases of prosecuted urban violence of the fourteenth and fifteenth century involved attacks against those very patrollers responsible for keeping the peace.

Such daily encounters with the often violent power of government were reinforced in most cities by the often violent nature of punishment for crime. Crimes involving property – as might be expected in cities dominated in many ways by merchants, bankers, and rich artisans and their guilds – were harshly punished. Robbers could count themselves lucky if they lost just the hand or hands they used for their crime; in most places repeat offenders lost their head as well or found themselves hanging outside the city gates, as depicted in Lorenzetti’s fresco in Siena. Capital offenses were many; murder, robbery, counterfeiting, and treason usually headed the list. Particularly serious cases frequently were punished with elaborate symbolic mutilations followed by execution involving rituals that stressed the justice of the state, its defense of its honor, and the literal undoing of the crime.

Less serious crimes were punished by fines, which provided additional income for a Podestà and his staff, as usually they were given a percentage of the take, with an eye to encouraging them to work diligently to control such crime. In cities like Venice that used local patrollers, they too often received a portion of the fines collected. One significant problem with fines, however, was that many minor criminals could not pay their fines immediately, especially if they were poor or the fine large. Traditionally the response was to put them in jail until they paid. Certainly, given the conditions of most jails, that provided a strong incentive to pay as quickly as possible. Yet many were unable to raise the money to pay. Thus, to help deal with the problem of jails overflowing with petty criminals unable to pay their fines, governments in cities like Florence and Venice began to count time in jail as a way of paying off all or a part of a fine.

It was only a matter of time before such cities took the logical step of imposing jail terms instead of fines. And already in the fourteenth century in those cities courts were directly imposing jail sentences for crimes. Traditionally scholars have held that the use of jail sentences to punish crimes was a much later development of the Enlightenment and the penitentiary system, which was theoretically designed to make criminals penitent and reformed before they reentered society. Although he was not the first to make such claims, Michel Foucault, in his important study Discipline and Punish, portrayed this way of treating crime as a powerful measure of modernity. Evidently the fourteenth century was not modern as it lacked the ideal of creating a penitent and reformed criminal, yet with its emphasis on creating a peaceful and moral urban environment, it shared very broadly some ideals with (what has perhaps been overly optimistically labeled) the modern. And for all its lack of modernity, in some cities of the day jail was at least seen as a useful alternative to fines and corporal punishment for less serious crimes, and thousands of fixed-term jail sentences were handed down well before the modern scholarly tradition believes that could have happened.

Much as was the case with the system of justice in most cities, what might be labeled the executive part of government became more highly articulated over the early Rinascimento, with an eye to providing a peaceful urban environment conducive to economic prosperity. Usually a small executive committee, serving for short terms of two to six months, led the government. It had the responsibility for implementing governmental policy and frequently for deciding it, albeit normally with the approval of the larger, more representative councils. This chief executive committee usually had a membership that ranged from six to a dozen men and, because of its importance, often also included ex-officio members drawn from other important organs of government; the entire group was then called the Signoria (the City Lords, one might say). In Florence and many other cities the smaller elected executive committee was known as the Priors, or the First Men of the city. With a rich symbolism in Florence they actually left their homes to live in the Palazzo dei Priori (the Palace of the Priors) for their short terms, theoretically thus leaving their family and personal interests behind to live in the palace/home of the city and its government.

In many other cities the members of this small central committee were called councilors, especially where they served a signore as his councilors or, as was the case in Venice, the doge, the formal head of state. But even in the case of signori, their councilors played an important role, not only carrying out much of the daily work of organizing government and implementing policy, but also filling the important role of advising the ruler and spreading the responsibilities for governmental decisions more widely. Naked power in fourteenth-century cities might rule for a time, but, as Machiavelli noted later in The Prince, a signore or prince could not rule for long without winning and holding broader support. Fear and a willingness to use violence, when required, helped, but true stability required a rule that was widely seen as representing the interests of the city or at least of those who mattered in the city, whether it was formally ruled by one man or a republican government. Thus, in either case, a small council representing the most important families of the city was essential at the heart of government.

As noted, this small council, when it met with the signore or a limited number of other functionaries, was usually called the Signoria, a rather confusing term because of its similarity to signore. In most cities the Signoria was the real focus of executive power – running a growing regular bureaucracy, overseeing relations with other governments, developing and implementing taxing policies, and leading an often rich ceremonial life. Not surprisingly, this group was usually heavily dominated by the popolo grosso. From time to time, especially in moments of civic turmoil, a member of the popolo minuto might serve a term among such heady company, especially in cities like Florence whose governments maintained close ties to the guild community. In other cities, like Milan, where older noble families had moved to the city they also made it into the Signoria. Still, a telling measure of the progressive dominance by the popolo grosso of the political life of the city (and more generally) can be seen in the way they dominated such executive councils at the heart of one city government after another in the fourteenth century. As the century progressed and as the bureaucracy of government grew, these central committees tended to hand off many of their responsibilities to lesser committees acting in their name. At times it almost seems that the response to every problem was to create a new magistracy or committee, and many seemed designed more to express an ideal than to actually do much of anything.

One area in which actually accomplishing things remained extremely important, however, was in the collection of revenues to finance government. With minor variations collection followed the same general pattern from city to city, perhaps once again reflecting the shared legal culture of the itinerant bureaucrats who frequently staffed governmental magistracies. In theory, the most important sources of revenue came from direct taxes and state monopolies on certain basic staples. Taxes on goods entering, leaving, or just passing through a city or its territory were important everywhere and obviously a significant source of revenue for large commercial hubs such as Venice, Genoa, and Florence. But governments also attempted to control staples such as salt and grain, usually in the name of assuring a constant supply even in times of shortage. In fact, grain offices selling grain at or below market value in times of dearth were early on seen as a highly important fire wall against social unrest, as bread and porridge-like gruels were the staples of lower-class diets. Still, such monopolies also offered governments an easy and secure way to make money on the sale of staples; thus, in many cities the salt office and/or the grain office quickly became, if not the governmental treasury, an important adjunct to it.

Direct taxes, however, were seldom enough to cover the costs of government, especially in times of crisis or war, and virtually all cities turned to loans to cover shortfalls at such moments. Deficit spending thus became central to governmental functioning and to the general economy of the day. Ideally, loans were given voluntarily by the wealthy in return for payment of a regular rate of interest. In theory this was usury, a serious sin, and in many cities also a crime. But with the excuse that these loans were insecure and a service to government in time of need, the question of usury was quietly overlooked. The most evident problem with this system was the fact that voluntary loans often were not forthcoming, especially in difficult times. Thus across the fourteenth century we find voluntary loans progressively replaced by forced loans that were based on the estimated wealth of families.

This system had several advantages. First, it allowed the bureaucrats running the system to calculate how much money would be raised by a loan, thus matching demands to needs. Perhaps equally attractive, but less straightforward, was the fact that the estimates of wealth upon which forced loans were based could easily be manipulated in the favor of those who dominated government. This was yet another reason for the rich and powerful to make sure that they were well represented in government, but it also meant that much of the burden of paying for government fell on the shoulders of the less powerful. Of course, even they were not simply handing over their money to government, as everyone received, in return for their forced loans, both a promise of repayment and a relatively secure yearly rate of interest, which was usually fixed at about 5 percent. It quickly became apparent, however, that the promise of repayment was at best a distant one as the public debt grew to what seemed like astronomical levels. In fact, then as now, the burgeoning public debt of most governments was viewed as one of the primary problems of the day.

In many cities the government’s debt was called simply the Monte (the Mountain), and most governments in larger centers spent most of the fourteenth century and the early years of the fifteenth perched insecurely on the edge of default. Complicating matters, the less wealthy who had shares of the debt were often unable to hold on to them and profit from the interest paid; thus, there rapidly developed a market where shares were sold, obviously at a fraction of their face value, by those who needed to recover at least a portion of their forced loan. In turn, when the sale price of shares fell low enough, they became a very attractive investment for the wealthy, as they continued to pay interest on their full face value. Thus, for example, if the market value dropped to half the face value of a loan, as it might in hard times, one could buy shares, say, for 100 ducats of debt at 50 percent of their original cost. This meant not only that for 50 ducats one held 100 ducats of debt, but also, more significantly, as that debt earned a relatively secure interest of 5 percent on its original value, that one would receive 5 ducats of interest per year on an investment of 50 ducats, or a handsome 10% return on one’s investment.

Not surprisingly, payment of the interest due on the Monte was one of the highest priorities of government; for, of course, government was controlled by many of the same popolo grosso who were rich enough to buy up loans. Moreover, as these forced loans were collected as often as the government needed money, and that could mean several times in a few months when there was a crisis or a war, the rich, who were already paying less because they could manipulate the estimates of their wealth upon which their loans were calculated, were able to buy up shares cheaply and thus to secure obligations often paying impressive returns. In essence the public debt based on forced loans turned the government into another and significant producer of revenues for the popolo grosso. On the one hand this helped to ensure strong and enthusiastic support for government on their part, as long as it was capable of paying interest on the Monte; on the other, it often distorted the priorities of government and certainly made the ideal that government worked for the greater good of the whole community an ever-more-distant dream. Finally, in times of great crisis, especially ongoing wars, when forced loans quickly followed one another, the system accentuated social tensions, and it is not surprising that most revolutionary changes of regime were associated with such moments.

It should be noted, however, that government was not the only power interested in collecting revenues, overseeing trade and artisanal production, and assuring justice and a peaceful urban environment. Especially important in each area in most cities were the guilds, which in many ways organized urban economic life more directly and often attempted to control government as well. The complex organization of guilds will be examined in more detail in Chapter 3, but suffice it to say that most had their own courts and councils that not only attempted to manage production and laborers, but also settled disputes, punished violence between guild members, and usually provided charity as well. Guilds more concerned with trade, finance, or highly profitable products like wool cloth and led by large investors were often as important in setting economic policy as government itself. Competition between the two was largely an illusion, however, for the same families tended to dominate both the powerful guilds and the government. Times of crisis, however, tested the relationship between guilds and government. When rifts developed among powerful families and factions formed, the potential for competition frequently came into play. In Florence, noted for its civic turmoil in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, such competition often occurred and was further complicated by the organization of the Guelph Party, which also had its own governing council and committees concerned with protecting the “Guelphness” of the city. As we shall see, they used that power to influence and at times to compete with government, creating a complex triangular competition among government, guilds, and Guelph Party.

If all this seems like a very complex and unwieldy system for controlling a multifaceted, dynamic, and often violent urban life, the simple response is: exactly. Behind the complexity, however, there stood a common evolving vision of the civiltà of the Rinascimento that helped to foreground a number of shared goals. That vision increasingly stressed that city life needed to be ordered and peaceful; governed for the general well-being, via both the laws and the bureaucratic forms that guaranteed it; and should offer a Christian civic morality for a Christian city. All these novelties, however, were not seen as new, but rather viewed as being based on the model of the great civilization that had once dominated the area and the world, ancient Rome, now fortified by those very Christian values that the pagan empire had lacked. Significantly, however, these shared values provided a dramatically different set of parameters for governance than the medieval ideal of private power for private ends, parameters that live on at the center of modern political thought.

Behind those ideals with a future, of course, there lay a more messy mix of government, guilds, parties, families, and bureaucratic forms, all fought over by a fractious popolo and an increasingly dominant popolo grosso with an eye to controlling the economy and mobilizing the potential for their wealth in a rich urban world. And as far as government was concerned, the popolo grosso progressively controlled the real centers of power and provided a certain continuity with their broadly shared values. At a day-to-day level, their governments employed a largely university-trained cast of notaries and lawyers who staffed the ongoing and rapidly growing bureaucracy that actually ran things. Their Latin culture and training in the classics and Roman law neatly melded with both the ideals of the popolo grosso and their more practical goals for government; thus, as the Rinascimento and its culture developed, they became increasingly important players not just in government but also in the cultural explosion associated with the period. They also gave stability to government and were crucial for cutting through its intricacies when necessary in order to make it work with an efficiency that was certainly not modern, but decidedly different from its medieval precedents.

Yet in many ways, it was not government that was really crucial in the early Rinascimento as much as it was the social and economic groups and organizations that empowered it. Petrarch was correct to point out what a confusing, apparently conflicted, and messy world the cities of his day were, but what he missed from his safe retreats and intellectual isolation (occasionally interrupted by passing political enthusiasms of his own) was the way the leaders of the world he looked down upon were building a new urban society and culture, a civiltà in the name of a rebirth of ancient worlds both Christian and pagan, a Rinascimento. Ironically, although the first times and ancient worlds that they sought to recreate were often deeply contradictory and decidedly different from theciviltà they were actually creating, it was in that fertile mix, created in the name of return and rebirth, that many of the most exciting and significant aspects of the day were being born, if not actually being reborn as claimed.

Rinascimento Civiltà: Consensus Realities, Self, and Discipline

After this discussion of government, it might seem paradoxical to argue that government has frequently been overemphasized as a player in the organizing and disciplining of life in the early Rinascimento. Certainly there is no question that government was a hotly contested prize across the period. Moreover, wealth and power were often deeply contingent upon who controlled it, and normally it literally had the power of life and death over its subjects. But, as we have seen, governments were just one corporate group among many that were competing to control and discipline society. Yet behind that competition there lay highly significant disciplining forces that are less visible from a modern perspective, distracted by a vision of government as the primary focus of power and discipline in society. There is room for doubt about such claims today, but there is no question that during the Rinascimento government it was much less significant than it is often presented as being, especially in terms of its control over and disciplining of everyday life.

In fact, looking behind the forms of government and claims of contemporary ideals to examine the informal play of power and discipline across society – a play often to be found represented in the most unlikely places – offers a rich perspective on the complexity of Rinascimento life. From this perspective the widely shared vision of the urban civiltà of the Rinascimento was central, because it helped empower a series of richly evocative discourses that people believed in, tried to live by, and attempted to hold others to – in sum, discourses that served to discipline without much help from or need for government. Actually, we might claim that government and the other corporate groups that competed for power at the time often attempted to piggyback on those more significant disciplining discourses in order to legitimate their own claims to rule and to reinforce their own ability to do so. Not surprisingly, the literature of the day returned over and over again to these discourses – not just prescriptive literature, but also the poetry and short stories so popular at the time. Simply put, these discourses were engaging and worth returning to because they focused on and frequently queried the deeper roots of power within society, where government was at best peripheral. In this, then as now, literature tended to examine the very DNA of society and culture, returning continuously to the deepest and most powerful ways in which life was organized and disciplined.

From this perspective, then, it might not seem quite so unlikely to consider the deeper disciplining realities of urban society, using a group of much-too-aristocratic-to-be-real storytellers: a youthful brigata (group of friends) who withdrew from Florence to tell apparently fanciful tales of love and pleasure. Yet the fourteenth-century storyteller par excellence, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), a one-time popolo grosso banker turned writer, has ten such aristocratic and mannerly youths run off to escape the Black Death in 1348 in his Decameron. To pass the time and forget the horrors of the plague, they tell one hundred tales that, even as they replay a medieval past or an often fanciful present, pullulate with the central disciplining discourses of his day. His strange novella of Lisabetta da Messina – the fifth of the fourth day of tales – illustrates well the most important of those discourses that disciplined daily life at the time. In most ways Lisabetta was depicted as a typical fourteenth-century young woman and a happy one at that. Living with her three brothers, she had fallen in love with a certain Lorenzo, a young man who worked with her family of Tuscan merchants in Messina. Yet as their relationship had developed into one where sex was involved, they had begun to cross behavioral boundaries that were troublesome. For although it could be portrayed as a small natural sin for young lovers, as Boccaccio frequently did in the Decameron, Lisabetta’s affair presented bigger problems for her brothers. First, it threatened their family’s honor, as her behavior was seen as reflecting on the honor of her family as a whole. It also, of course, threatened the honor of Lisabetta and, if it became known, might ruin her chances to marry and become a wife, the honorable status required of adult women.

Already three disciplining forces loom large in the story: marriage, family, and honor. To protect her family, its honor and her own, Lisabetta should have avoided her affair with her more humble lover and awaited an arranged marriage with a partner selected by her family who would have allowed her to have a correct sexual relationship and produce the correct heirs for all involved. And virtually immediately, although sympathetically presenting her natural sin, Boccaccio’s story follows those disciplining imperatives to a first logical, if tragic, conclusion. For her brothers, fearing that her affair would become known, did the honorable thing and secretly killed her lover. To cover their crime they let it be known among their business associates and neighbors that they had sent the young man on a business trip, and life quietly returned to normal. The story might well have ended there, with Lisabetta, sad because Lorenzo never returned, marrying correctly and the honor of all preserved. In that case, honor and family would have disciplined invisibly – a safe happy ending – without government or other corporate bodies interfering or even being aware of the quiet, if murderous, upholding of social order. The murder, the affair, and the potential dishonor, unknown, would simply not have existed, and thus life would have returned to its regular disciplined order.

But that overlooks Lisabetta’s youthful love, which in life as in literature often ripped apart the ordered flow of life with its uncontrolled passions. As the days slipped away and Lorenzo did not return, Lisabetta began to suspect that something was wrong. Those suspicions were confirmed one night in a dream, when Lorenzo’s ghost appeared to her and sadly revealed that he had been murdered by her brothers and told her where they had buried him. Moved by now much more dangerous passions, she breached once again the boundaries of behavior required by honor and social norms and journeyed with a servant to the place where he was buried and dug up his body. But even in her grief she realized that she could not bring the body back for proper burial, because that would reveal to the community all their sins and crimes; thus, she instead cut off his head and secretly brought it home. Back safely in the privacy of her room, she covered it with kisses and tears, finally placing it in a large vase and planting over it a basil plant to cover the odor of its decay.

Day after day she lovingly tended her potted head and its basil, watering it with the finest distilled waters or, more regularly, her own free-flowing tears. So lovingly cared for, the plant flourished. Yet as it grew ever-more lush and green, her sadness grew apace, and she became ever-more pale, thin, and hollow-eyed. Her neighbors and her brothers, noting her decline and her strange attachment to the plant, began to worry that there was something amiss and that in some way the flourishing herb was involved. Hoping to reverse her rapid decline, her brothers finally stole her basil plant. When they discovered the decaying head that fertilized the herb, the disciplining power of government threatened to intervene in the tale, as Lisabetta’s brothers realized that she had discovered their murder, and her unstable behavior meant that at any moment she might make public their crime. As a crime of honor it might have elicited sympathy from the community and most probably leniency from the courts, but there was real danger in moving from the realm of private discipline where they were in control to a more formal governmental one where they lacked it. Realizing that, they secretly buried the head, discarded the basil, and in an unbrotherly fashion abandoned their sister, fleeing for less dangerous climes. Alone, Lisabetta had only her tears and her laments about her lost basil plant and its secret treasure, Lorenzo’s head. Having lost both, she continued to decline and shortly thereafter died. No one knew the reason for her death, and as she died without family or friends, no one mourned her passing.

As a merry tale to lift the spirits of its listeners – one of the purported purposes of the tales told by Boccaccio’s brigata – the story seems to fall rather short of the mark. In fact, much like jokes from the past that no longer seem funny, it seems to require something more to comprehend what made it meaningful and moved Boccaccio to tell it. One simple answer is that, as a tale told on the fourth day of storytelling, it gorily fit the day’s theme – tales of lovers whose love had an unhappy ending. Certainly the deaths of Lisabetta and Lorenzo at first appear a perfect fit. Yet in many ways their tale seems out of place in the context of the other tragic love stories of the day. Most notably, most of the other lovers in the tales of that day are ennobled by their tragic loves, and when they die their deaths are heroic – judged and celebrated as such publicly, both in the tales and among the brigata. Publicly not so much in the modern sense of a public sphere, but rather in the sense of the groups – family, neighbors, friends, peers, fellow workers, fellow confraternity members, and broader communities and solidarities – who evaluated each person and negotiated with them a Rinascimento sense of worth and identity.

These groups formulated and nourished what I have called in an earlier book, Machiavelli in Love, “consensus realities” about their fellows – imagined realities, but no less real for that, and shared within the groups that to a large extent constituted an external negotiated sense of self and personal identity during the period. More than Stephen Greenblatt’s famous formula of self-fashioning, “consensus realities” evokes a complex and ongoing process of self-negotiation and self-measuring against a series of personal publics that surrounded an individual in the small, intimate, urban world of the Rinascimento. In this context the secrecy of all involved in Lisabetta’s affair and Lorenzo’s death takes on a deeper meaning. If their behavior at each stage of the evolving tale had become known, the groups that surrounded them in society would have intervened to question and discipline their behavior. In fact, that is exactly what happened when what was perhaps the most important group that evaluated a person’s behavior and identity and disciplined both at the time, Lisabetta’s family, in the form of her brothers, learned of her dishonoring affair. They secretly ended the affair and protected their honor by murdering her lover. Thus their crime did not become one; it did not become available for the other groups that surrounded them or government to judge. Their private justice was done, and with one private violent act order was quickly and efficiently restored.

In the modern world, where evaluations of self have become more internal, Lisabetta’s brothers would have had to deal with their guilt and their own deep awareness of their crime – and perhaps fears that more effective governments might discover and prosecute their deed. The tragedy of the story would have had that additional dimension. But as presented by Boccaccio, evil deeds that were unknown, unjudged by the groups that surrounded one in society, and thus not entered into the calculus of one’s consensus reality, simply did not exist. As we shall see, it was primarily in the public venue of evaluation of ideals like honor and virtù (and related terms of evaluation) that people perceived themselves and their worth. In turn, they disciplined their behavior in order to avoid the negative judgments of those groups with whom they interacted; and if they did not, they were shamed, ridiculed, or more quietly pressed to correct their ways. This was the discipline of everyday life in the close and intimate spaces of cities where consensus realities were constantly being formed, reformed, and evaluated, and to a great extent those evaluations determined how one lived a disciplined life within those groups.

But what was this thing called virtù that was constantly being safeguarded and negotiated in Boccaccio’s tales? As we have seen, at one level the answer is simple: in the Rinascimento, as in the Middle Ages and in ancient Rome, virtù was a term that identified the range of behaviors that made one person superior to another and thus marked out the best. But the simplicity of that definition dissolves before the fact that because it was such a telling term, its meaning was highly contested and, in fact, changed considerably over time, place, and social divides. As discussed earlier, in a warrior society like that of the Middle Ages many saw virtù in aggression, direct action (often violent), physical strength, blood line, and blood itself, even as at the same time moralists and philosophers tended to see it in terms of Christian behavior that eschewed violence and aggression. In the Rinascimento the discourse of virtù was first expanded, then increasingly dominated, by a vision more suited to the new merchant/banker elites and urban life of the day. For many, virtù tended to be seen as requiring the control of passions – in contrast to the medieval vision, which often celebrated strong passions directly expressed. That control of self in front of the consensus realities that surrounded one required peaceful, mannered conduct that turned on reasonable, calculating (at times sliding into cunning) behavior that controlled the present and the future as well.

Significantly, from this perspective Lisabetta’s tragedy seems to stand even more alone in the tales of the fourth day, for virtù appears largely absent, and it seems that evil fortune wins over a sad and mourning love that has nothing ennobling or virtù-ous about it. Even her potentially ennobling tears over her basil plant are narrated without positive comment and apparently without positive results of any sort beyond the flourishing of the basil. Indeed, sad, uncontrolled tears are virtually always a sign of lack of virtùin theDecameron, a sign that one has given in to emotions and lost control of self and situation. And curiously, in the end even her love itself is hardly mentioned, forgotten or at least overwhelmed by her suffering and tears. Looking more closely at the tale from the perspective of consensus realities, Lisabetta early on did exhibit what might be considered a certain virtù, but only in private, where it really did not exist for her consensus realities. When she found her lover’s body, rather than collapsing in tears – giving in to strong emotions – she managed to marshal the self-control to cut off his head and get it home, all done secretly so that neither her brothers nor any larger public were aware. Then she hid it in a vase and planted basil over it so that the smell of the plant covered the odor of decomposition. Whatever deeper implications these deeds might have had, a Rinascimento reader would have seen in them a way of acting that was associated with virtù; but, crucially, unseen and unjudged, it hardly existed at all. From that point on, however, a different dynamic took hold in her developing relationship with her potted head. Most notably, perhaps, her ongoing tears publicly proclaimed that she had lost control of her life and lacked the virtù necessary to make her love and her story heroic if they ever came to light.

Some have argued that Lisabetta’s mourning over her potted head was what kept her alive and that from this perspective, when her brothers took it away they inadvertently caused her death. The argument runs that Lisabetta’s lover’s head in death gave birth to a basil plant, which in turn gave life to Lisabetta, as long as she worshipped it. Unfortunately for this romantic hypothesis, Lisabetta’s basil plant did not give her life. In fact, the tale makes it clear that, rather like a vampire, it sucked the life out of her. As she worshipped over it, she actually became weaker and sicker. It was her decline as she worshipped it that attracted the attention of her neighbors and her brothers – those closest to her who judged her – and they took it away from her in the hope that doing so would stop her decline.

The contrast with another lover’s body part is instructive. In another tale of the fourth day, the wife of Guiglielmo Rossiglione was served the heart of her lover for dinner disguised as a gourmet dish. Her husband, after secretly murdering her lover, to avenge his honor lost to adultery, cut out his heart and gave it to his cook, asking him to make it into the best-tasting dish possible. A perfect fictional cook, he created a wonderful dish, much to the satisfaction of Guiglielmo’s wife, who unbeknownst ate it with relish. But when her husband, savoring his revenge, announced that the dish that she had just enjoyed so much was the heart of her lover, she did not waste time on tears or mourning, declaring nobly: “As God would not wish that anything be added to so noble a dish like this heart of so valiant and noble a knight … no other dish will ever [pass these lips].” And she promptly jumped out the window to her death. Strong virtù-ous words followed by strong virtù-ous deeds demonstrated her deep love and made her death truly noble and heroic. Tellingly, the tale ends noting that with “the greatest sadness and tears the two bodies [of the lovers] were brought together [by the public] and … buried in the same tomb inscribed with verses that explained who were buried there.” In burial the consensus reality of their community was expressed. The lover’s adulterous love in its virtù was judged positively and won them – in the fictional world of Boccaccio’s tales, at least – nobility and public approbation.

Lisabetta, however, followed a different path. Rather than performing a heroic deed like the wife of Guiglielmo Rossiglione, Lisabetta demonstrated in the end neither virtù nor heroism, giving in to tears and mourning over the death and her secret tragedy. The key to reading the tale with a Rinascimento vision was that her potted head and its basil were literally a dead end. As empty tokens of her private loss, they worked all too well. Lisabetta was trapped by them in her uncontrolled mourning. Her strong emotions and tears turned inward, and in continuously recreating the emotions associated with her loss, she was overwhelmed by them and lost to virtù. In the end alone, deserted by her brothers, isolated from her neighbors in her tears and without her lover, Lisabetta had no public or urban world with which to interact, no consensus realities to negotiate with to reformulate a sense of self and a life after the death of her lover. Ultimately her tears and uncontrolled mourning had only one exit: a slow decline and a sure death.

In sum, her potted lover’s head and her mourning were ultimately meaningless in an urban world where both virtù and honor were measured publicly and disciplined by consensus realities. They offered only an anonymous, meaningless, and tragic final oblivion – a salutary warning for Boccaccio’s youthful group of storytellers fleeing the mourning and suffering of the plague to create with their friends a safe haven of new consensus realities with their tales of pleasure, love, and virtù. In her grief and mourning over her lover’s head Lisabetta had essentially thought herself out of the city, its civiltà, and life itself. Her actual death was a mere formality. And, crucially, the power of government paled before such informal discipline. At best governments attempted to ride on the broad shoulders of such social realities with a rhetoric that imagined its own honor, its own ability to form consensus realities, and perhaps most curiously a fictitious personality of its own. Living and thinking the city and its civiltà, with its intimate spaces and judging and disciplining groups that surrounded a person turned honor, virtù, and consensus realities into the true quotidian disciplining and ordering powers of Rinascimento social life.

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