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Post Italy's City-States and the Rise of Capitalism
Created by John Eipper on 07/18/17 7:16 AM

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Italy's City-States and the Rise of Capitalism (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 07/18/17 7:16 am)

Commenting on the very interesting post of Francesco Ramirez, 17 July, our esteemed moderator refers to the Italian city states, such as Genoa and Venice, as the ideal breeding grounds for capitalism.

I believe he is (as usual) correct. Let us have a quick look at these city-states.

After the barbaric invasions the Repubbliche Marinare (really at that time repubblica was the equivalent of state) of Amalfi, Pisa, Genoa, Venice and Ragusa came into prosperity.

Amalfi was probably the first to have some power beginning in AD 839, and is famous for its sea codex "Tavole Amalfitane" (Tabula de Amalpha--Capitula et Ordinationes Curae Maritimae) which came out in the 11th century and was widely used in all the Mediterranean until the 16th century.

This republic was the first to disappear, being defeated by Pisa, then conquered by the Normans and finally destroyed by an earthquake in 1348. It is now a small tourist town.

Pisa came to power around AD 1000. It was initially allied with Genoa to expel the Saracens from the Tyrrenian Sea. But the alliance ended and Pisa was defeated by Genoa in the sea battle of the Meloria in 1284. Pisa's decline ensued, until 1406 when it became a subject of Florence.

Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) was founded in AD 614 by the inhabitants of Epidaurum after it was destroyed by the Avars. Ragusa developed only as an advanced town on the sea with a great fleet. At a certain point it had the largest fleet of big ships, and free commerce but no colonies. This was different from Genoa and Venice, which had colonies on the Black Sea and in the Central and Easter Mediterranean, including Constantinople.

Ragusa is famous for having abolished slavery in 1416 and officially shifting from Latin to Italian in 1472. From 1205 to 1358 it was under the influence of Venice. In 1492 it gave refuge to the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain.

From 1526 Ragusa maintained its independence but had to pay a tribute to the Ottoman Empire, for such reason the Pope excused it from participating in the victorious sea battle of Lepanto (1571).  But it did participate in the Invincible Armada.

Ragusa, Genoa (AD 958) and Venice (AD 697) survived until the Napoleonic period. Ragusa was occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Empire which placed it within Croatia. Venice too ended under the Austro-Hungarian Empire while Genoa became part of the Savoy kingdom.

The Italian towns, which were ideal breeding grounds for capitalism, became eclipsed by northern and western Europe. Florence mostly due to the British default on its loans and for the startling stupidity of the Italians, who called in foreign powers to be involved in internal Italian disputes--for example, France's Charles VIII in 1494 and the deleterious meddling of the Papacy.

In specific reference to Genoa, Florence and Venice, we may even say that they were killed by their famous sons Cristoforo Colombo, Amerigo Vespucci, Giovanni da Verrazzano, Giovanni Caboto, etc., who with their enterprises moved the center of commerce and banks from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic at the same time that the Ottoman Empire starting 1453 closed the routes to the East.

I should add that Genoa is famous for its "Liber Gazarie" of 1316, a conditio sine qua non for commerce by ships and early capitalism, while Venice had it codex "Capitolare Nauticum." The extant copy is from 1256 but was already in force from two centuries earlier

Other smaller Italian Repubbliche Marinare were Ancona, Gaeta and Noli.

A curiosity: when the Venetian fleet was defeated by Genoa in front of Curzola in 1298, among the Venetian prisoners was Marco Polo, who in a Genoese jail dictated "Il Milione" to Rustichello da Pisa.

JE comments: I teach this stuff, but I never phrased it in exactly these terms: the passing of commercial hegemony from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic was the work of Italian mariners.

Think of how history would have played out if the Italian city-states had not fought among themselves. Curiously, this endless internecine squabbling was antithetical to the conducting of business, which was, or should have been, the business of the Maritime Republics.


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