Civil War in Florence
Florence was one of the primary cities in Europe in the middle ages. Strategically placed, it was a trading port of high repute, while the culture of the people of Florence also had influence all over Europe. However, as the city prospered, so did the spoils of war increase frosted by old running social, political and economic rivalries. Dino Compagni, who lived during the era, has documented the war in the once prosperous and peaceful city. This essay is an exploration of how Dino Compagni described the war in Florence in his books Chronicles I and II.
In any country, any great deal of inequality can lead to social tensions, which when not handled for a long time, results in war. The likelihood of conflict increases in any country that lacks a strong horizontal social cohesion. Such was the case in Florence. The city was prospering, into the banking and commercial center of Europe. However, it was also highly fragmented vertically and socially with such as the nobles, the merchants and the workers. Each of these groups had different agendas only on a few occasions did their interests coincide with each other; setting the city to a series of civil conclaves over the years as each of the groups sought to assert itself over the other.
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Factionalism was also a large factor in the continuing war in the city. The city had known conflicts for a long time. However, the assassination of Buondelmonte de’ Buodemonti was to prove the tipping point in the city (Compagni xiv). While faction had been extant in the town for a long time, the assassination of Buondelmonte set the city on a factional spin with the two factions of Guelf and Ghibelline producing political alliances that described each other as the enemy. The fact that the start of the rivalry was a neglected marriage proposal, which had nothing to do with public good but civil matters irked even more. This marriage was to result in the death of a nobleman killed after marrying the woman leading to a series murders, rifts and plots all over the city. Moreover, the internationalism of these factions made matters worse by making the concerns of the city outside the city walls; as it gave the enemies of the city a new way of interfering in affairs of Florence by supporting the faction alleged with their interests. This included other Tuscan city states.
The city also seems to have been at a constant conflict between having a popular government and being ruled by a small number of families as had been the case for more than a century. The merchant class also had its influence as a result of the continual chipping off of the power of the nobility. However, while the merchants and the nobility controlled the city government, the peasants had no say in how the running of public institutions, until the rise of Giano Della Bella, who was a member of the dominant Calimala merchant group. He, however, chose to align with the Popolo (the people) in the quest for what he considered a better Florence. He had the Ordinances of Justice, the effective constitution of Florence, drawn at his instigation. Bella also served in the government in from February 1293; to April 1293.He however continued exerting overwhelming influence over the matters of the state to an extent that the merchant class (the magnates) caused a lot of tension in the city. Many of the magnates saw him as a traitor accusing him of among other things helping ferment discord in the society. However, Compagni suggests that there was a further potential for strife due to Bella, because magnates would talk of butchering the popolani who made the laws. Thus, the popolani made the laws harsher making everyone to be full of suspicion for the other; which made the noble families to attack the Popolo
Another reason for the perpetual war in the city was that after the magnates had managed to expel Bella, a new conflict ensued. This time, the Cerchi and Donati factions divided the society right through the middle; more so after the Cerci and Donati youth bands started attacking each other within the city walls. The Pope tried to reconcile the two groups, but it was impossible for him due to the veracity of hate that existed between the two groups. The Cerchis were not a family of the nobility. However, due to them being merchants, they accumulated wealth and power in a short period which led to jealousy from their Donatis, who were noble, but did not have the money to back up their ancient lineage. The rivalry between these two families increased family and inherence issues leading to a turmoil all over the city. A poisoning of some of the Cerchi young men exacerbated the issue so much that the Cerchis began to align themselves with the popolani while also attracting many other sympathizers such as the jurists and powerful clans. Moreover, Compagni explains that confrontation between the Donati young men and the Cerci young men, which according to him were started by the Donati youths brought a lot of tension to the city. Consequently, this rivalry and ill-will between the two families tore the city-state into two parts, with each part ready to take up arms against the other. Compagni explains that the “great, middling, and little men and even the clergy” could not help but take sides in this issue which is a show of the level of mistrust that existed in the city then.
Another reason that the author contents led to the constant civic strive was the fight for power within the city. Compagni notes that the pride and the “competition for office" were the undoing for the magnificent city of Florence. We see this later in the book, when, in planning the death of Giano Della Belle, Berto Frescobaldi explained how the Popolo, inspired by Giano Della Belle, had taken power, honors, and offices away from them, they could not dare enter the public office. It was precisely this kind of attitude, with some groups feeling that they were entitled to power and willing to do anything, including murder to get power back that led to the civil war. Compagni restates this by saying that the competition for offices resulted in hatred among most members of the society.
Moreover, when the Donatis eventually took the city, the Cerchis could not stand it anymore. There was a call to arms, and the city went to a civil war, leading to the civil war between the two groups. Unfortunately for the neighboring city-states, the war destabilized the entire region. Moreover, Compagni notes that the city was devoid of justice. Usually whenever there is no justice a group of people feels that they are being oppressed, and might take up arms in a bid to defend their rights.
With these fissions between them, a war was almost inevitable and that there would be a war in the city-state. The society was too divided, the leaders too divisive for a war not to occur. People started arming themselves starting with the members of the Black Party who had the protection of the Pope. Additionally, the members of the Black Party could summon other soldiers from outside the city. While the Whites did not want to arm or mobilize any men, the Priors had warned that they would not punish those who mobilize any troops. However, while the White members kept themselves from mobilizing, as is the case with the Blacks; they went ahead and seized the city, making people arm themselves against them. They also summoned the rural militia, but the army instead chose to go to the Black Party. However, even then, the White Patty seemed to be indecisive, with their leader Schiatta Cancellieri, more predisposed towards pacifying that war. Some of the knights, like Muciatto Franzesi, wanted the excuse to cause destruction and so asked for permission to guard the Oltramo neighborhood. They only did this so as to increase their power over the rest of the city.
Within this state of affairs, there was a full blown anarchy in the city now. According to Compagni, the city now resembled a war zone with buildings on fire, and extortion by the blacks from the whites; there were also instances of women forced to marry people they did not want as the war raged on. This anarchy went on for six days as the conspiracy of the Black Party had planned it to be. According to Compagni, at this moment, was not only the city on fire but also the surrounding countryside. Moreover, the new Priors who took over the government of the city did not help as they were exceedingly corrupt and very partisan. The pillaging was not addressed by the legal system either. With the Priors choosing to have a Podesta, the highest judicial office in the land, Gabrielli da Gubio investigated the issue, after which he redressed some of the issues that had occurred during the six-day pillage, while also letting many of the wrongdoers go. Freeing wrongdoers would also fuel a lot of resentment, acting as a fuel to the civil war.
Moreover, Compagni suggests that the new ruler of the city fermented a lot of hate among the citizens. Men raped women, and people took goods from their owners. There was also torture while some people were accused of trumped up charges and fined one thousand florins. Compagni suggests that there was so such evil and wickedness in the land that many of the people who had hitherto been unknown became household names because of their evil deeds. The war tore the families apart. As a result, family members abandoned each other. The Black Party accepted the sufficiently evil white party members into their party. Consequently, this evil which those in power had meted on the Popolo, was to serve as the rallying call for the civil strife that was to follow.
In conclusion, this essay sought to explore the reasons why Compagni list is significant in the castigation of an endless civil war in Florence. These include fragmentation of the society socially both in horizontal social divisions and vertical political divisions, which is apparent in the factionalism that the city went through. There was also a feeling that a small number of families were ruling the city leading to the rise of Giano Della Bella and the strife that followed. Moreover, the Cerchi and Donati factions also played a significant part in building up tensions and so did Black and White Party divisions. All these groups wanted power in the city. The resulting pressure led to anarchy that eventually plunged the state into war.
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