The Republican Alternative: Florence and Venice
The Middle Ages were the scene of a perpetual struggle for rights, privileges, and immunities against the duly constituted authorities. Where these were strong enough, they limited the autonomy they conceded to towns: as in France and England and, to a degree, in the Low Countries. Where they were weak the towns became de facto self-governing, as in Germany. And where, as in Italy, the towns were at their strongest and most numerous and the central power at its most intermittent and fleeting, they became independent republics, behaving just as all the footloose feudatories of France and Germany were doing, that is, fighting one another incessantly. This chapter begins with a discussion of the emergence of towns in general and the form their polities took. From that it shows how much the Italian town shared common features with towns in other countries. It also describes the Italian ambience, whence it becomes evident that the towns in northern and central Italy shared a remarkably similar constitutional evolution. The chapter then discusses government of the Florentine and Venetian republics and situates their experience in the course of the history of government as a whole.
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