Between the X and the VII century before JC, some populations
come from Emilia to occupy Tuscany, followed in the VII century by the Etruscans,
who seize the region and extend their domination towards Lazio.
During the VI century, the Romans seize the power. From the years 530 before JC, the Roman Republic settles down. But it is only much later, around 59 b.JC, or even in Augustus era, that Florentia, from the name of the goddess Flora and his games, is founded and baptized by the Romans. The site, never occupied before by the Etruscans, strategical because of the presence of a bridge, is apt to a “castrum”, where Cesar’s former soldiers build then a camp. Its population increases at the same extent as the commercial activities stimulated by the arrival of Greek or Syrian merchants. The Christian cult settles down with them.
With the barbarian invasions, in a succession of different waves starting from 401 after JC, the city undergoes rather dark times, and sees its perimeter reduced for the few surviving inhabitants. Between 568 and 774, the Lombards control the territory, which passes then to Karl the Great. The Carolingian domination is very advantageous: a count is appointed at the head of the region, the counties of Florence and Fiesole are then united(854) to form the major county in Tuscany. The territory included between the Apennines and Siena obtains its unity, and takes more importance than the Florentine “contado”. The marquess of Tuscany, Ugo, settles in Florence, abandoning the town of Lucca. The city takes a new dash then, stimulated, around the year 1000, by the increase in population and well-being.
On the background
of the “investitures’ quarrel”(conflict between the Pope
and the Emperor about the appointment of the bishops), which was raging since
1076 (concluded by the agreement of Worms only in 1122), the Italian cities
gradually and not without difficulties obtain some autonomy, primarily in the
Peninsula’s northern and central regions. The Guelphs, in favour of the
Pope, and the Ghibellines, in favour of the Emperor, fight in every territory’s
order. Florence, guelph, in 1082 resists, successfully, during ten days to
the Emperor’s armed forces, then razes to the ground Fiesole, ghibelline,
During the XII century, Florence subdues the too independent lords of her contado and forces them to reside in town, where it subjects them to strict control. In 1154, Florence obtains from the Emperor the right of justice over the whole county. Which is to be reconfirmed by the statements of the peace of Konstanz (1183), also allowing the freedom to the “Comuni”. The city is directed by twelve consuls chosen among the nobility and the most powerful and rich merchants. Their capacity is controlled by two assemblies: the “council of Credenza”(or senate) and a parlamentum. The latter, gathered four times a year, was to assemble all the "citizens". But the rivalries between great families persist, and, to ensure its domination on its contado, to compete victoriously with Pisa and Siena, Florence chooses in 1207 to create the office of a Podestà. A nobleman, foreign to the city, is thus entrusted with the executive and military power, and entitled to exert justice.
and wars between "the greats" (Frederic I’s defeat in Legnano
in 1176, Frederic III’s campaigns against the Lombard leagues in 1236
and 1237, Guelphs’ victories thanks to Charles d’Anjou’s
intervention and presence in Naples between 1266 and 1268), probably support
The influence and the role of the merchants rise in proportion to the economic richness, thanks to the peace. The “Arti” organise themselves, and take an increasing part in the commune’s affairs. The “popolo”, political organization created by the Arti, seizes power in 1250, helped by the Guelphs, and at Ghibellines’ expenses. The communal institutions are gradually pledged by those new structures.
But in 1260, the defeat of Montaperti, against Siena and the Emperor, brings back the Ghibellines to power. The popolo is abolished, and the Guelphs’ houses destroyed. Only in 1267 the Guelphs, allied of the king of France, are back in command, also due to Charles d’Anjou’s new intervention. The “popolo” returns then to business, but assembles this time only the richests (popolo grasso), taking again little by little the total control of the institutions. Between 1284 and 1293, the new institutions function very well, so much that they come to exclude the nobility’s families from public offices. But the constant competition between families and clans causes, around the year 1300, a new division: the black Guelphs, supporting the Pope’s power, throw out the white Guelphs, quite distrustful of Rome.
Several factors can now disturb, or sometimes reorganize, the town’s structures. Incapable of keeping order, the city undergoes dictatorships, bankruptcies of great bank houses, and, in 1348, even the great plague which infects Europe, and kills a third of the whole population. Florence, which had at that time nearly 100000 inhabitants and was one of the richest towns in Western world, feels the boundary walls loose-fitting now, while the recession worsens. Political crises follow then the economic crises. In 1378, with the "revolt of Ciompi", the workmen of wool, and also all those working in the Minor Arts, claim the right to organise themselves in corporations. But since 1382 the power is back in hands of the wealthy citizens, and the prosperity back in town.
At that time Francesco Datini, merchant of Prato, well known for his adventurous life in business travelling, gives us evidence of his stay in the "albergho of Porta Rossa", the former "Inn of the Camel", situated between Via Porta Rossa and via delle Terme, presently the Grand Hotel Porta Rossa of Florence.
The first era of the Medici follows to the oligarchs’ régime.
Exiled in 1433, Cosimo de’ Medici (1389-1464) returns to Florence in
1434. The Medici then take the reins of the city until 1494. They control the
power like the oligarchs, but for their family’s only benefit. Lorenzo
(1449-1492), having escaped the Pazzi’s conspiracy (1478), extends the
control of the elections to the magistratures and concentrates the whole power
in his hands.
The alliances do vary, as in Europe, in Italy and Tuscany too. At the end of XIV century for example, Florence allies itself with Venice against Milan. Only in 1454 the peace of Lodi ends up pacifying the situation between the Italian States. It is thanks to this peace that so many artists, poets, well-read men pour in Florence from everywhere in Europe and Italy.
Religious events (the monk Savonarola, from 1494 to 1498, the Great Schism of Western world, from 1378 to 1418) or the military defeats of Christendom(the seizure of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453)also mark the city’s history. With the XVI century, Italy still is the center of conflicts. Charles VIII of France launches, in 1494, the “Guerres d’Italie”, Italy’s wars. The Florentine Popes (Giovanni de’ Medici, Pope Leon X from 1513 to 1521; Giulio de’Medici, Pope Clemente VII from 1523 to 1524) as their successors are impotent to limit the disputes and combats leading, in 1527 to the "Sack of Rome" by Charles I king of Spain, soon crowned emperor in Bologna (1530), with the name of Charles V.
In Florence, Piero de’ Medici cannot manage the crisis and is driven out by the Florentines at the arrival of Charles VIII of France in Italy. The beginning of the XVI century is for the Medici a critical period. They are again expelled after the Sack of Rome. But Cosimo,having surmounted various family’s internal problems and rivalries, arrives at the head again. He will reign from 1537 until his death in 1574. Brought to power by the help of the Spanish army in 1537, he will remain faithful to the Habsbourg dinasty during all his reign. By concentrating in his hands all the capacities, he will become duke of Florence and then, in 1569, Grand Duke of Tuscany.
The Italian wars stop with the abdication of emperor Charles V, in 1556, and the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, by which France gives up Italy. The Council of Trento, between 1543 and 1563, tries to reorganize faith and structure in the Roman Church, in the attempt to counter the Reform’s wind. On the whole,the disorders in Italy calm down somewhat during the XVII century, and the same applies to Florence. Cosimo's successors are not always good politicians. The last of them, Gian Gastone de’ Medici, pays no heed to political matters, nor to the economic crisis raging again over the town. After he died heirless, in 1737, the Lorraine family take his succession.
Tensions begin again in Europe with the XVIII century. The Succession War of Spain, between France and European powers, inaugurates the century (1702-1712). In northern Italy , in 1706-1707, Austria sets in for a long-lasting period of occupation. It will only take end with the peace of Campo Formio, in 1797, when Bonaparte drives the Austrians out of Italy. They will come back later (Vienna’s Congress, in 1815) and then definitively turned out by the Italian wars of Independence (1848 and then 1859), when Italy, unified, will be declared a Kingdom in 1861.
The governments follow one another in Tuscany also. From 1739, the Lorraine try to give Tuscany a functioning order. Influenced by the Lumières, they modernize economy, and give impulsion to social reforms. But Ferdinand III is turned out in 1799 by the French, and in 1801 Tuscany becomes the "Kingdom of Etruria". In 1804-1805 Napoleon is Emperor and King of Italy, and the brand-new kingdom is, in 1807, integrated into the Napoleon Empire. The Lorraine family take the city’s destiny again in hand in 1814, first in a reforming spirit, then in a much stiffer way, after the 1848 revolutions. The citizens of Florence, now really tired out, expel the grand-duke Leopold II in 1859 and, through a plebiscite, connect the city to the “Piemonte Sardegna” Kingdom in 1860. Florence becomes the first capital city of Italian Kingdom in 1865, a position which she will lose in 1870, in favour of Rome. Already an European intellectual centre, very attractive for learned men of all nationalities, the city then concentrates in touristical and cultural functions, losing in economic importance what she gains in international prestige. Badly in debt from those five years of first city of the Kingdom, she enters again a declining phase. Resistant, intellectually and then concretely, against Fascism and the Nazists (the city freed itself in August 1944), a model of courage at the time of the great flood of the river Arno in 1966, the city remains ,all things considered, withdrawn into itself and its cultural, touristical and patrimonial functions. She remains today a prestigious universitary keypoint for Italy and Europe (Istituto Universitario Europeo) and, thanks to the artistic and architectural historical inheritance, a world center for fine arts teaching.
Guelphs et Ghibellines
Originally, the opposition between guelphs and ghibellines was between the
dukes of Bavaria and the imperial house of Hohenstaufen. By systematic opposition
to the Emperor, the dukes of Bavaria take part in the "quarrel of investitures",
in 1059, on the pope Nicolas II’s side. They consider that he is the
only one entitled to name the bishops. Henri IV having tried, and failed, to
remove the Pope, is excommunicated, and then obtains to be forgiven in Canossa.
But this conflict between Popes and Emperors lasts until 1122, coming to an
end with the settlement of Worms.
Those appellations come from definite origins. The dynastic castle of the Hohenstaufen, Waiblingen, gives name to the Ghibellines. From the surname of the dukes of Bavaria, Welf, derives the name of the Guelphs. By extension, all the cities and “comuni” taking sides against the emperor, for whatever reason, will be called Guelphs.
But things can become even more complicated: all united at first, siding with the Emperor to gain their autonomy, the “comuni” soon arrive to the clash, for differences about internal or foreign political matters. Soon the many competitions between families within each city, end up by opposing guelphs and ghibellines. Florence was controlled successively by Guelphs and Ghibellines, but the general trend was rather Guelph. At the beginning of XIV century, once Ghibellines eliminated, the Guelph faction itself split up, according to the vision of the role of the pope. White Guelphes are adverse to a too marked pontifical hegemony, while Black Guelfes are more favorable to the Pope.
These scissions coincide with the rivalries between families, acting both as pretexts and motors for them. The best example is the "Bleeding Easter". In 1216, two “consorterie” (nobility’s grouping formed by their family ties) will disguise a private quarrel in a political conflict to escape from sanctions. A wedding, designed to reconcile two rival families, Fifanti-Amidei and Buondelmonte, is cancelled in default of the groom, who preferred, at the very last minute, to contract another alliance. To avenge the affront, the bride’s family will kill him on Easter Day. By the way of alliances between the different clans and factions, this family conflict will end up touching the whole Florentine nobility.