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788
COMMUNE, MEDIEVAL


nobles and knights were carefully shut out so long as the town’s independence was at stake, the members of a princely garrison being required to take up their abode in the citadel, separated from the town proper by a wall. Only in the comparatively few cathedral cities this rule does not obtain. It will be seen that, in consequence of this, municipal life in Italy was from the first more complex, the main constituent parts of the population being the capitani, or greater nobles, the valvassori, or lesser nobles (knights) and the people (popolo). Furthermore, the bishops being in most cases the exponents of the imperial power, the struggle for freedom from the latter ended in a radical riddance from all temporal episcopal government as well. Foremost in this struggle stood the cities of Lombardy, most of which all through the barbarian invasions had kept their walls in repair and maintained some importance as economic centres, and whose popolo largely consisted of merchants of some standing. As early as the 8th century the laws of the Langobard King Aistulf distinguished three classes of merchants (negotiantes), among whom the majores et potentes were required to keep themselves provided with horse, lance, shield and a cuirass. The valley of the Po formed the main artery of trade between western Europe and the East, Milan being besides the point of convergence for all Alpine passes west of the Brenner (the St Gotthard, however, was not made accessible until early in the 13th century). Lombard merchants soon spread all over western Europe, a chief source of their ever-increasing wealth being their employment as bankers of the papal see.

The struggle against the bishops, in which a clamour for a reform of clerical life and a striving for local self-government were strangely interwoven, had raged for a couple of generations when King Henry V., great patron of municipal freedom as he was, legalized by a series of charters the status quo (Cremona, 1114, Mantua, 1116). But under his weak successors the independence of the cities reached such a pitch as to be manifestly intolerable to an energetic monarch like Frederick I. Besides, the more powerful among them would subdue or destroy their weaker neighbours, and two parties were formed, one headed by Milan, the other by Cremona. Como and Lodi complained of the violence used to them by the former city. Therefore in 1158 a commission was appointed embracing four Roman legists as representatives of the emperor, as well as those of fourteen towns, to examine into the imperial and municipal rights. The claims of the imperial government, jurisdictional and other, were acknowledged, only such rights of self-government being admitted as could be shown to be grounded on imperial charters. But when it came to carrying into effect these Roncaglian decrees, a general rising resulted. Milan was besieged by the emperor and destroyed in 1162 in accordance with the verdict of her rivals. Nevertheless, after a defeat at Legnano in 1176, Frederick was forced to renounce all pretensions to interference with the government of the cities, merely retaining an overlordship that was not much more than formal (peace of Constance in 1183). All through this war the towns had been supported by Pope Alexander III. Similarly under Frederick II. the renewal of the struggle between emperor and pope dovetailed with a fresh outbreak of the war with the cities, who feared lest an imperial triumph over the church would likewise threaten their independence. The emperor’s death finally decided the issue in their favour.

Constitutionally, municipal freedom was based on the formation of a commune headed by elected consuls, usually to the number of twelve, representing the three orders of capitani, valvassori and popolo. Frequently, however, the number actually wielding power was much more restricted, and their position altogether may rather be likened to that of their Roman predecessors than to that of their German contemporaries. In all important matters they asked the advice and support of “wise men,” sapientes, discretiores, prudentes, as a body called the credenza, while the popular assembly (parlamentum, concio, consilium generale) was the true sovereign. The consuls with the assistance of judices also presided in the law-courts; but besides the consuls of the commune there were consules de placitis specially appointed for jurisdictional purposes.

In spite of these multifarious safeguards, however, family factions early destroyed the fabric of liberty, especially as, just as there was an imperial, or Ghibelline, and a papal, or Guelph party among the cities as a whole, thus also within each town each faction would allege adherence to and claim support by one or other of the great world-powers. To get out of the dilemma of party-government, resort was thereupon had to the appointment as chief magistrate of a podestà from among the nobles or knights of a different part of the country not mixed up with the local feuds. But the end was in most cases the establishment of the despotism of some leading family, such as the Visconti at Milan, the Gonzaga at Mantua, the della Scala in Verona and the Carrara in Padua.

In Tuscany, the historic rôle of the cities, with the exception of Pisa, begins at a later date, largely owing to the overlordship of the powerful margraves of the house of Canossa and their successors, who here represented the emperor. Pisa, however, together with Genoa, all through the 11th century distinguished itself by war waged in the western Mediterranean and its isles against the Saracens. Both cities, along with Venice, but especially the Genoese, also did excellent service in reducing the Syrian coast towns still in the hands of the Turks in the reigns of Kings Baldwin I. and Baldwin II. of Jerusalem, while more particularly Pisa with great constancy placed her fleet at the disposal of the Hohenstaufen emperors for warfare with Sicily.

Meanwhile communes with consuls at their head were formed in Tuscany much as elsewhere. On the other hand the Tuscan cities managed to prolong the reign of liberty to a much later epoch, no podestà ever quite succeeding here in his attempts to establish the rule of his dynasty. Even when in the second half of the 15th century the Medici in Florence attained to power, the form at least of a republic was still maintained, and not till 1531 did one of them, supported by Charles V., assume the ducal title.

Long before the last stage, the rule of signori, was reached, however, the commune as originally constituted had everywhere undergone radical changes. As early as the 13th century the lower orders among the inhabitants formed an organization under officers of their own, side by side with that of the commune, which was controlled by the great and the rich; e.g. at Florence the people in 1250 rose against the turbulent nobles and chose a capitano del popolo with twelve anziani, two from each of the six city-wards (sestieri), as his council. The popolo itself was divided into twenty armed companies, each under a gonfaloniere. But later the arti (craft-gilds), some of whom, however, can be shown to have existed under consuls of their own as early as 1203, attained supreme importance, and in 1282 the government was placed in the hands of their priori, under the name of the signoria. The Guelph nobles were at first admitted to a share in the government, on condition of their entering a gild, but in 1293 even this privilege was withdrawn. The ordinamenti della giustizia of that year robbed the nobility of all political power. The lesser or lower arti, on the other hand, were conceded a full share in it, and a gonfaloniere della giustizia was placed at the head of the militia. In the 14th century twelve buoni uomini representing the wards (sestieri) were superadded, all these dignitaries holding office for two months only. And besides all these, there existed three competing chief justices and commanders of the forces called in from abroad and holding office for six months, viz. the podestà, the capitano del popolo, and the esecutore della giustizia. In spite of all this complicated machinery of checks and balances, revolution followed upon revolution, nor could an occasional reign of terror be prevented like that of the Signore Gauthier de Brienne, duke of Athens (1342–1343). It was not till after a rising of the lowest order of all, the industrial labourers, had been suppressed in 1378 (tumulto dei Ciompi, the wool-combers), that quieter times ensued under the wise leadership, first of the Albizzi and finally of the Medici.

The history of the other Tuscan towns was equally tumultuous, all of them save Lucca, after many fitful changes finally passing under the sway of Florence, or the grand-duchy of Tuscany, as the state was now called. Pisa, one time the mightiest, had been