Southern Trade

MTI19c Methods of Government in medieval Florence    Robert Erik Morris

Florence was one of the major maritime trading states on the Italian peninsular during the period from early 1100's to the 1380's yet it was land locked. It tried various forms of government, this included democracy, despotism and oligarchy. The type of government system this paper will look at is the Commune; this dates from about 1282 to about the end of the end of the 14th century. One point that should be noted is that Florence was technically part of the Holy Roman Empire, although there was little chance of the Empire having enough power to enforce it's will on the city after the suppression of the Ghibblines in 1289 The Chief Executive of Florence Commune consisted of a council of the Standard bearer of justice, the Captain of the Poplo, and the 8 priors. A council of 16 standard bearers of the guilds and 12 "Dodici buon uomini" advised this cabinet of ten. These 38 men made up the Signoria they were elected for the terms of 2, 3 and 4 months respectively. These short terms were supposed to effectively stop any major attempt to dominate the city by any of the major families. The main function of the executive was defined by the constitution of the city, this was not help by the constitution changing all the time due to legislation; as a result the constitution became cumbersome and some what contradictory. It should also be pointed out that the members of chief executive had a judicial function as well; the major patrician families often abused this.

The legislative body of the Florence commune was made up of two houses, the Commune and the Popolo. To pass an act a 2/3 majority was required by the two legislative bodies. The Popolo was made up of 300 members including the Signoria and members of the colleges of the Guilds. The council of the Commune was made up of 40 of the city's aristocrats and 160 members from the common classes. They were elected by lottery and were in for a term of 6 months this was later reduced to 4 months. There were heavy restriction on who might be elected first there was a property restriction. Then there was a restriction who and when a member could be elected this was to do with there family; the restriction work so that a candidate for a post could not hold the post with a year of another family member holding that post. Also if they had held a post with in a certain time, 3 years. Also there was anti Ghibellin legislation. Candidates were only selected once every three years. Three different boards monitored the system of election; if for any reason a board found the candidate ineligible then they were removed from the list. This some time caused problem as all the candidates might be eliminated form the list. The lottery system of election was again an attempt to stop the noble families of the city from dominating the city government. It also stopped the lower classes of the city being represented. It should be noted that in time of crisis (Such as wartime) the certain officers were often elected till the crisis had passed The administrative arm of the Government of Florence was made up of part time department head with full time advisors/permanent civil servants. The reason why the department head held their posts for a short time was to avoid corruption and misuse of power. This work to some degree but it was rare for a short-term department head not to be accused of some form of misuse of power. The full time civil servants gave the administrative arm some stability. Yet many of these civil servants held more than one post at a time, and were not above taking bribes to speed things though the system. One of the best known Florentine civil servants is Niccolo Machiavelli, although he is somewhat after the time that this paper looks at.

Added to the civil service of the city were the 5 full time commissions. These were the two for running the city's mercenaries; two for insuring the city grain supply and one for running the city's prison The legal system of Florence shows some resemblance to that of Rome during the time of the Empire. Florence like Rome had magistrate in charge of the police for each district of the city. The judges were appointed from the ranks of the nobility from outside of the city; this was a measure to ensure that the patrician families of the city didn't gain too much power over the legal system, this probably met with mixed results. It should also be noted that the 12 members of the chief executive also had judicial functions as well. The standard bearer of justice had the duty of final right of appear; it was him that made the final choice whether to grant clemency in the case of capital crimes. The nobility often abused this duty though use of bribes.

As it can be seen the government of Florence had many committees and councils. It was ran mainly by the middle classes with a small contribution from the upper classes and no input form the masses, apart from the possibility of riot or revolt. This probably caused the final down fall of the Commune.