History of Florence, by Niccolo Machiavelli

Book II

Chapter I

The custom of ancient republics to plant colonies, and the advantage of it — Increased population tends to make countries more healthy — Origin of Florence — Aggrandizement of Florence — Origin of the name of Florence — Destruction of Florence by Totila — The Florentines take Fiesole — The first division in Florence, and the cause of it — Buondelmonti — Buondelmonti slain — Guelphs and Ghibellines in Florence — Guelphic families — Ghibelline families — The two factions come to terms.

Among the great and wonderful institutions of the republics and principalities of antiquity that have now gone into disuse, was that by means of which towns and cities were from time to time established; and there is nothing more worthy the attention of a great prince, or of a well-regulated republic, or that confers so many advantages upon a province, as the settlement of new places, where men are drawn together for mutual accommodation and defense. This may easily be done, by sending people to reside in recently acquired or uninhabited countries. Besides causing the establishment of new cities, these removals render a conquered country more secure, and keep the inhabitants of a province properly distributed. Thus, deriving the greatest attainable comfort, the inhabitants increase rapidly, are more prompt to attack others, and defend themselves with greater assurance. This custom, by the unwise practice of princes and republics, having gone into desuetude, the ruin and weakness of territories has followed; for this ordination is that by which alone empires are made secure, and countries become populated. Safety is the result of it; because the colony which a prince establishes in a newly acquired country, is like a fortress and a guard, to keep the inhabitants in fidelity and obedience. Neither can a province be wholly occupied and preserve a proper distribution of its inhabitants without this regulation; for all districts are not equally healthy, and hence some will abound to overflowing, while others are void; and if there be no method of withdrawing them from places in which they increase too rapidly, and planting them where they are too few the country would soon be wasted; for one part would become a desert, and the other a dense and wretched population. And, as nature cannot repair this disorder, it is necessary that industry should effect it, for unhealthy localities become wholesome when a numerous population is brought into them. With cultivation the earth becomes fruitful, and the air is purified with fires — remedies which nature cannot provide. The city of Venice proves the correctness of these remarks. Being placed in a marshy and unwholesome situation, it became healthy only by the number of industrious individuals who were drawn together. Pisa, too, on account of its unwholesome air, was never filled with inhabitants, till the Saracens, having destroyed Genoa and rendered her rivers unnavigable, caused the Genoese to migrate thither in vast numbers, and thus render her populous and powerful. Where the use of colonies is not adopted, conquered countries are held with great difficulty; districts once uninhabited still remain so, and those which populate quickly are not relieved. Hence it is that many places of the world, and particularly in Italy, in comparison of ancient times, have become deserts. This has wholly arisen and proceeded from the negligence of princes, who have lost all appetite for true glory, and of republics which no longer possess institutions that deserve praise. In ancient times, by means of colonies, new cities frequently arose, and those already begun were enlarged, as was the case with Florence, which had its beginning from Fiesole, and its increase from colonies.

It is exceedingly probable, as Dante and Giovanni Villani show, that the city of Fiesole, being situate upon the summit of the mountain, in order that her markets might be more frequented, and afford greater accommodation for those who brought merchandise, would appoint the place in which to told them, not upon the hill, but in the plain, between the foot of the mountain and the river Arno. I imagine these markets to have occasioned the first erections that were made in those places, and to have induced merchants to wish for commodious warehouses for the reception of their goods, and which, in time, became substantial buildings. And afterward, when the Romans, having conquered the Carthaginians, rendered Italy secure from foreign invasion, these buildings would greatly increase; for men never endure inconveniences unless some powerful necessity compels them. Thus, although the fear of war induces a willingness to occupy places strong and difficult of access, as soon as the cause of alarm is removed, men gladly resort to more convenient and easily attainable localities. Hence, the security to which the reputation of the Roman republic gave birth, caused the inhabitants, having begun in the manner described, to increase so much as to form a town, this was at first called the Villa Arnina. After this occurred the civil wars between Marius and Sylla; then those of Cæsar, and Pompey; and next those of the murderers of Cæsar, and the parties who undertook to avenge his death. Therefore, first by Sylla, and afterward by the three Roman citizens, who, having avenged the death of Cæsar, divided the empire among themselves, colonies were sent to Fiesole, which, either in part or in whole, fixed their habitations in the plain, near to the then rising town. By this increase, the place became so filled with dwellings, that it might with propriety be enumerated among the cities of Italy.

There are various opinions concerning the derivation of the word Florentia. Some suppose it to come from Florinus, one of the principal persons of the colony; others think it was originally not Florentia, but Fluentia, and suppose the word derived from fluente, or flowing of the Arno; and in support of their opinion, adduce a passage from Pliny, who says, “the Fluentini are near the flowing of the Arno.” This, however, may be incorrect, for Pliny speaks of the locality of the Florentini, not of the name by which they were known. And it seems as if the word Fluentini were a corruption, because Frontinus and Cornelius Tacitus, who wrote at nearly the same period as Pliny, call them Florentia and Florentini; for, in the time of Tiberius, they were governed like the other cities of Italy. Besides, Cornelius refers to the coming of ambassadors from the Florentines, to beg of the emperor that the waters of the Chiane might not be allowed to overflow their country; and it is not at all reasonable that the city should have two names at the same time. Therefore I think that, however derived, the name was always Florentia, and that whatever the origin might be, it occurred under the Roman empire, and began to be noticed by writers in the times of the first emperors.

When the Roman empire was afflicted by the barbarians, Florence was destroyed by Totila, king of the Ostrogoths; and after a period of two hundred and fifty years, rebuilt by Charlemagne; from whose time, till the year 1215, she participated in the fortune of the rest of Italy; and, during this period, first the descendants of Charles, then the Berengarii, and lastly the German emperors, governed her, as in our general treatise we have shown. Nor could the Florentines, during those ages, increase in numbers, or effect anything worthy of memory, on account of the influence of those to whom they were subject. Nevertheless, in the year 1010, upon the feast of St. Romolo, a solemn day with the Fiesolani, they took and destroyed Fiesole, which must have been performed either with the consent of the emperors, or during the interim from the death of one to the creation of his successor, when all assumed a larger share of liberty. But then the pontiffs acquired greater influence, and the authority of the German emperors was in its wane, all the places of Italy governed themselves with less respect for the prince; so that, in the time of Henry III. the mind of the country was divided between the emperor and the church. However, the Florentines kept themselves united until the year 1215, rendering obedience to the ruling power, and anxious only to preserve their own safety. But, as the diseases which attack our bodies are more dangerous and mortal in proportion as they are delayed, so Florence, though late to take part in the sects of Italy, was afterward the more afflicted by them. The cause of her first division is well known, having been recorded by Dante and many other writers; I shall, however, briefly notice it.

Among the most powerful families of Florence were the Buondelmonti and the Uberti; next to these were the Amidei and the Donati. Of the Donati family there was a rich widow who had a daughter of exquisite beauty, for whom, in her own mind, she had fixed upon Buondelmonti, a young gentleman, the head of the Buondelmonti family, as her husband; but either from negligence, or, because she thought it might be accomplished at any time, she had not made known her intention, when it happened that the cavalier betrothed himself to a maiden of the Amidei family. This grieved the Donati widow exceedingly; but she hoped, with her daughter’s beauty, to disturb the arrangement before the celebration of the marriage; and from an upper apartment, seeing Buondelmonti approach her house alone, she descended, and as he was passing she said to him, “I am glad to learn you have chosen a wife, although I had reserved my daughter for you”; and, pushing the door open, presented her to his view. The cavalier, seeing the beauty of the girl, which was very uncommon, and considering the nobility of her blood, and her portion not being inferior to that of the lady whom he had chosen, became inflamed with such an ardent desire to possess her, that, not thinking of the promise given, or the injury he committed in breaking it, or of the evils which his breach of faith might bring upon himself, said, “Since you have reserved her for me, I should be very ungrateful indeed to refuse her, being yet at liberty to choose”; and without any delay married her. As soon as the fact became known, the Amidei and the Uberti, whose families were allied, were filled with rage, and having assembled with many others, connections of the parties, they concluded that the injury could not be tolerated without disgrace, and that the only vengeance proportionate to the enormity of the offence would be to put Buondelmonti to death. And although some took into consideration the evils that might ensue upon it, Mosca Lamberti said, that those who talk of many things effect nothing, using that trite and common adage, Cosa fatta capo ha. Thereupon, they appointed to the execution of the murder Mosca himself, Stiatti Uberti, Lambertuccio Amidei, and Oderigo Fifanti, who, on the morning of Easter day, concealed themselves in a house of the Amidei, situate between the old bridge and St. Stephen’s, and as Buondelmonti was passing upon a white horse, thinking it as easy a matter to forget an injury as reject an alliance, he was attacked by them at the foot of the bridge, and slain close by a statue of Mars. This murder divided the whole city; one party espousing the cause of the Buondelmonti, the other that of the Uberti; and as these families possessed men and means of defense, they contended with each other for many years, without one being able to destroy the other.

Florence continued in these troubles till the time of Frederick II., who, being king of Naples, endeavored to strengthen himself against the church; and, to give greater stability to his power in Tuscany, favored the Uberti and their followers, who, with his assistance, expelled the Buondelmonti; thus our city, as all the rest of Italy had long time been, became divided into Guelphs and Ghibellines; and as it will not be superfluous, I shall record the names of the families which took part with each faction. Those who adopted the cause of the Guelphs were the Buondelmonti, Nerli, Rossi, Frescobaldi, Mozzi, Bardi, Pulci, Gherardini, Foraboschi, Bagnesi, Guidalotti, Sacchetti, Manieri, Lucardesi, Chiaramontesi, Compiobbesi, Cavalcanti, Giandonati, Gianfigliazzi, Scali, Gualterotti, Importuni, Bostichi, Tornaquinci, Vecchietti, Tosinghi, Arrigucci, Agli, Sizi, Adimari, Visdomini, Donati, Passi, della Bella, Ardinghi, Tedaldi, Cerchi. Of the Ghibelline faction were the Uberti, Manelli, Ubriachi, Fifanti, Amidei, Infangati, Malespini, Scolari, Guidi, Galli, Cappiardi, Lamberti, Soldanieri, Cipriani, Toschi, Amieri, Palermini, Migliorelli, Pigli, Barucci, Cattani, Agolanti, Brunelleschi, Caponsacchi, Elisei, Abati, Tidaldini, Giuochi, and Galigai. Besides the noble families on each side above enumerated, each party was joined by many of the higher ranks of the people, so that the whole city was corrupted with this division. The Guelphs being expelled, took refuge in the Upper Val d’Arno, where part of their castles and strongholds were situated, and where they strengthened and fortified themselves against the attacks of their enemies. But, upon the death of Frederick, the most unbiased men, and those who had the greatest authority with the people, considered that it would be better to effect the reunion of the city, than, by keeping her divided, cause her ruin. They therefore induced the Guelphs to forget their injuries and return, and the Ghibellines to lay aside their jealousies and receive them with cordiality.

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