Monday, 11 May 2015

Florence and the Medici family

Florence began in Roman times and was built at the river Arno This river would give the city food, water, easy access for the trade and the power for the mills. Florence would grow to be a rich and influentual city, that would play a part in the history of Italy, Europe and the world. 

No family is so connected to the history of Florence than the Medici family. They were probably doctors, before they also became merchants and bankers. In the end they were almost synonymous with the Republic of Florence itself. 

Politics was complicated in Italy. Allies could become enemies within days or the other way around. Politics were always changing. Armies and generals were hired to fight against Milan, Siena or the French.

Politics within Florence were even more complicated. It was a republic, with a council that was chosen for two months. In that case all influential men could govern, although only for a short period of time. This group of nine men had help from different other councils that could agree or disagree with the laws and resolutions the Signoria came up with. To make things really complicated it was also possible to call for a parliament.
Palazzo Vecchio

Banking was the most complicated business of all. The problem was there could be no interest, this was considered usury. Interest was described as a gift. In the Medieval worldview bankers did not do anything to earn their money, so both the Church and people condemned it. Despite this, the bankers became more and more important and would spread their business over Europe.

Masters in getting information, making money and supporting the right people (like a pope) were the Medici’s.
They knew how to make money and still keep the support of the people in Florence.
To say at the good side of both God and the townspeople, the Medici’s used the money they made to commission works of art.
Outside of Florence the influence of the family also grew. In 1533 Catherine de Medici married French king Henry II and there were also two Medici popes.
The Medici crest can be seen everywhere in Florence
Finally the role of the family in Florence would end. In 1743 the last family member died. She was Anna Maria and she put in her will that the large art collection her family put together in the past centuries would be a gift to Florence and her inhabitants.

More information about the history of Florence and the Medici family can be found in these books:
  • The rise and fall of the house of Medici, Christopher Hibbert, published in 1974
  • Medici money, Tim Parks, published in 2005
  • Florence, David Leavitt, published in 2002

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