Northern Italian city-states (such as Florence, Genoa, Lucca, and Milan) exercised their independence between 1100 A.D. and the early 1500’s A.D. – Venice continued autonomously far longer – from 800 A.D. until 1797 A.D.
GENERAL REMARKS:CHRISTINE C. SHAW — Ph.D. – Professor at University of SwanseaDear Dr. KolkeyMy field of expertise is fifteenth and sixteenth century Italy – my reply should be read as referring to that period. I think that the two examples you might find most worth examining are the divisions among the Venetian patricians over expansion onto the mainland, and the wars in which this involved the republic; and the Florentine republic under the Medici – discontent over Piero de’ Medici insisting the Florentines stand by the alliance with Naples when Charles VIII of France was about to launch his invasion of Naples, for instance. The other three republics – Genoa, Lucca and Siena – tended to try to stay out of wars in Italy, although there would be general support in Genoa for wars against their trade rivals, the Catalans.I am sure that you will find plenty of instances where the political elite, or groups within the elite, would influence the foreign policy of the republic with their own personal interests in mind – although there still might be a question as to how far they thought their personal interests were the interests of the republic. Justifications for war were perhaps most likely to be framed in terms of the ‘honore e utile’ – honour and profit (not just financial profit) – of the republic. ‘Honore e utile’ was the most common motive for action put forward by private individuals – merchants, lawyers, barons, anyone who thought they had personal honour to protect – as well as states, republics as well as princes. So the idea of self-interest is undoubtedly present to the minds of those taking political decisions – but one must be careful about making assumptions about concepts of the legitimacy of self-interest.Good luck with your researches – these are very interesting questions.best wishesChristine Shaw———————————————————————————————————————–BENJAMIN ARBEL — Ph.D. — Professor at Tel Aviv UniversityDear Dr. Kolkey,It is quite obvious to me that the decision making process in Venice (not only regarding wars) always involved personal or family interests.With best regards,Benjamin Arbel_________________________________________________LAURO MARTINES — Ph.D. — Professor at University of California, Los AngelesMr. Kolkey,Regarding your thesis that “elites are driven by self-interest, in war perhaps above all,but also when seeking peace,….I see nothing new in this formulation. On thecontrary, it strikes me as a common (almost everyday) assumption sincetime out of mind. ….L. Martines_____________________________________________J.E. LAW — Ph.D. — Professor at University of SwanseaThe subject is a vast one, but you could make a start by examining the impact the emperor Henry VII had on Italy (Bowsky’s study would be a good start); or Florentine factionalism around the rise of the Medici (large bibliography); or the ‘war policy’ associated with doge Francesco Foscari (recent study by Romano). Faction and foreign policy are writ large in the history of Genoa. John Law_____________________________________________________JOHN NAJEMY — Ph.D. — Professor at Cornell UniversityDear Dr. Kolkey,I agree with your hypothesis that many of the wars fought by the city-states of medieval and Renaissance Italy were driven by parties, factions, and, I would say, by class as well. Since I know Florence best, my examples will come from there. The first example certainly also applies to many cities of thirteenth-century Italy, namely, the Guelf-Ghibelline wars between the 1240s and the 1260s, in which the chief rationale behind the conflicts was the rivalry of upper-class factions. Florentine popular government, which emerged from the middle classes and the guilds, aimed at putting an end to these wars that originated in upper-class family rivalries even as they affected much of the non-elite population through patron-client ties and taxes.In the 1440s, Cosimo, now fully in control of Florentine government, used his influence to support Francesco Sforza’s attempt to become duke of Milan after the death without male heirs of the last Visconti duke. This was a clear case of family and factional politics driving – indeed reversing – the republic’s foreign policy. Milan under the Sforza became the greatest external support of the often precarious Medici regime in Florence. To bring Milan under his control, Sforza, funded by Cosimo, had to fight Venice, Florence’s former ally against the Visconti, and many in Florence found it difficult to accept this reversal of traditional alliances. Some thought that Cosimo again pushed for the continuation of the war in the north to allow Sforza to take more territory away from Venice, and when peace between Venice and Milan finally came in 1454, it was speculated that he even tried to delay the ratification of the treaty for this reason.After 1494 wars were imposed on Florence and other Italian states in a completely transformed world in which France, Spain and other ultramontane powers intervened militarily in Italy and occupied large parts of the peninsula, but even then factional and class interests often determined the direction of policy and the choice of alliances. Just one example: when the restored (post-Medici) republic of 1494 fell in 1512, it was a faction of elite families, more Medicean than the Medici, who insisted on the restoration of the Medici and were in large part responsible for bringing in a Spanish army that attacked and sacked the city of Prato as a way of frightening the republican leadership into exile and bringing back the Medici. Machiavelli says as much in the Discourses, and other chroniclers support this view of what happened in greater detail.These are the Florentine examples that come most readily to mind from this period. There could certainly be others, including the 1406 siege of Pisa that was a milestone in the oligarchy’s determination to create a regional state under Florentine control. If you wish to pursue these Florentine examples further, you might want to have a look at my book, A History of Florence, 1200-1575 (Blackwell, 2006), where you’ll also find, in the notes, suggestions for more detailed analyses. If I haven’t addressed the issues you’re particularly interested in, you may find some of the more specialized studies helpful.Best wishes,John Najemy_______________________________________________________WILLIAM BOWSKY — Ph.D. — Professor at University of California, DavisDr. Kolkey,Of course your first paragraph is correct, even self-evident. And of course one can detect greatly varying degrees of self-interest and the “enhancement of personal ambition” at different times, even by the same individuals and groups. You know that you did not have to ask me or anyone else that question….Sincerely,William Bowsky————————————————————————————————————————–WILLIAM J. CONNELL — Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley — Professor at Seton Hall University William J. Connell discussed the civil war in a Florentine subject town, Pistols, that raged between 1499-1502:This was a factional struggle involving two rival family groups, called the Panciatichi and Cancellieri. For 150 yrs these two families had vied for control of the town, much like the Montagues and Capulets of Romeo and Juliet. There were occasional outbreaks of real fighting and the competition allowed Florence to take control in the 14th century. But the factions didn’t go away under Florentine rule, and in 1499 a dispute between them over the control of a foundling hospital developed into an all-out war in which several thousand people died….In a 1994 article I looked at the same dispute and the same records of Florentine debates over Pistoia, but I also investigated the patronage ties and other interests that Florentine statesmen had in Pistoia–something that had not been done before with respect to a specific political situation. This was made possible by the fact that I had discovered that there were better sources surviving concerning the patronage interests of individual Florentines in Pistoia than for most other parts of the Florentine dominion.My conclusion was that although the Florentine politicians observed the general rhetoric of unity and patriotism in their speeches…their specific proposals and the measures they supported were instead formulated in accordance with their individual and party interests…..Warm regards,—————————————————————————————————–GENE BRUCKER — Ph.D. — Professor at University of California, BerkeleyDear Dr. Kolkey:My response to your view about public versus private interest in Italian republics, specifically as it refers to warfare, would be that the two spheres were so intertwined that it is impossible to give priority to one or the other….I have read thousands of Florentine civic debates, from 1343 to 1434, and I have concluded that citizens by and large expressed their honest opinions in the debates over whether to support a war, and conversely, when to end it. Sincerely yours,Gene Brucker—————————————————————————————————————————————–WILLIAM P. CAFERRO — Ph.D. — Professor at Vanderbilt UniversityDear Jonathan:I should say at the start I very much agree with your assessment, and Ido think Medieval and Renaissance Italy is the place to look. I quarrelprima facie with notion of modernity posited into the period, since theydealt with issues on their own terms and their own ways. But wars wereundertaken by elites, and in several states, Milan and Bernabo Visconti aprime example, by single person. How this was made palatable to rest ofthose living in a state is a fascinating question. As you know, theelites often favored their own, thus a convergence of interests. It isfascinating to ponder how wars were sold to other classes, notably thelower classes. I know for example, or at least from the chronicles, thatseveral of Florence’s trecento wars were “popular” with the lower classes(see Brucker). This is no doubt true, though I’ve gone on scholarlyrecord arguing that, by and large, the lower class suffered most from war,the peasants in field and urban dwellers who paid higher indirect taxes,which were difficult to escape (as were loans, which also returned money).So it is complicated, as you would imagine. One non-modern feature ithink needs to be pondered in any study is the role of the papacy, whichwas of course its own state. It’s a bit more difficult perhaps to findcurrent analog, and yet it is impossible to imagine wars in Italyotherwise. And in the papacy we find too the influence in Italy of outsidepowers, of more pan-European issues that sometimes played itself out there(like the Great Schism)….very best,Bill
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