1902 Encyclopedia > Italy > Italian History - Age of the Communes

(Part 34)


Italian History - Age of the Communes

The final gainers, however, by the war of investitures were the Italians. In the first place, from this time forward, owing to the election of popes by the Roman curia, the Holy See remained in the hands of Italians; and this, though it was by no means an unmixed good, was a great glory to the nation. In the next place, the antagonism of the popes to the emperors, which became hereditary in the Holy College, forced the former to assume the protectorate of the national cause. But by far the greatest profit the Italians reaped was the emancipation of their burghs. During the forty-seven years' war, when pope and emperor were respectively bidding for their alliance, and offering concessions to secure their support, the communes grew in self-reliance, strength, and liberty. As the bishops had helped to free them from subservience to their feudal masters, so the war of investitures relieved them of dependence on their bishops. The age of real autonomy, signalized by the supremacy of consuls in the cities, had arrived.

In the republics, as we begin to know them after the war of investitures, government was carried on by officers called consuls, varying in number according to custom and according to the division of the town into districts. These magistrates, as we have already seen, were originally appointed to control and protect the humbler classes, But, in proportion as the people gained more power in the field the consuls rose into importance, superseded the bishops, and began to represent the city in transactions with its neighbours. Popes and emperors, who needed the assistance of a city, had to seek it from the consuls, and thus these officers gradually converted an obscure and indefinite authority into what resembles the presidency of a commonwealth. They were supported by a deliberative assembly, called credenza, chosen from the more distinguished citizens. In addition to this privy council, we find a gran consiglio, consisting of the burghers who had established the right to interfere immediately in public affairs, and a still larger assembly called parlamento, which included the whole adult population. Though the institutions of the communes varied in different localities, this is the type to which they all approximated. It will be perceived that the type was rather oligarchical than strictly democratic. Between the parlamento and the consuls with their privy council, or credenza, was interposed the gran consiglio of privileged burghers. These formed the aristocracy of the town, who by their wealth and birth held its affairs within their custody. There is good reason to believe that, when the term popolo occurs, it refers to this body and not to the whole mass of the population. The comune included the entire city—bishop, consuls, oligarchy, councils, handicraftsmen, proletariate. The popolo was the governing or upper class. It was almost inevitable in the transition from feudalism to democracy that this intermediate ground should be traversed; and the peculiar Italian phrases, primo popolo, secondo popolo, terzo popolo, and so forth, indicate successive changes, whereby the oligarchy passed from one stage to another in its progress toward absorption in democracy or tyranny.

Under their consuls the Italian burghs rose to a great height of prosperity and splendour. Pisa built her Duomo. Milan undertook the irrigation works which enriched the soil of Lombardy for ever. Massive walls, substantial edifices, commodious seaports, good roads, were the benefits conferred by this new government on Italy. It is also to be noticed that the people now began to be conscious of their past. They recognized the fact that their blood was Latin as distinguished from Teutonic, and that they must look to ancient Rome for those memories which constitute a people's nationality. At this epoch the study of Roman law received a new impulse, and this is the real meaning of the legend that Pisa, glorious through her consuls, brought the pandects in a single codex from Amalfi. The very name consul, no less than the Romanizing character of the best architecture of the time, points to the same revival of antiquity.

The rise of the Lombard communes produced a sympathetic revolution in Rome, which deserves to be mentioned in this place. A monk, named Arnold of Brescia, animated with the spirit of the Milanese, stirred up the Romans to shake off the temporal sway of their bishop. He attempted, in fact, upon a grand scale what was being slowly and quietly effected in the northern cities. Rome, ever mindful of her antique past, listened to Arnold's preaching. A senate was established, and the republic was proclaimed. The title of patrician was revived and offered to Conrad, king of Italy, but not crowned emperor. Conrad refused it, and the Romans conferred it upon one of their own nobles. Though these institutions borrowed high-sounding titles from antiquity, they were in reality imitations of the Lombard civic system. The patrician stood for the consuls. The senate, composed of nobles, represented the credenza and the gran consiglio. The pope was unable to check this revolution, which is now chiefly interesting as further proof of the insurgence of the Latin as against the feudal elements in Italy at this period.

Though the communes gained so much by the war of investitures, the division of the country between the pope's and emperor's parties was no small price to pay for independence. It inflicted upon Italy the ineradicable curse of party-warfare, setting city against city, house against house, and rendering concordant action for a national end impossible. No sooner had the compromise of the investitures been concluded than it was manifest that the burghers of the now enfranchised communes were resolved to turn their arms against each other. We seek in vain an obvious motive for each separate quarrel. All we know for certain is that, at this epoch, Rome attempts to ruin Tivoli, and Venice Pisa; Milan fights with Cremona, Cremona with Crema, Pavia with Verona, Verona with Padua, Piacenza with Parma, Modena and Reggio with Bologna, Bologna and Faenza with Ravenna and Imola, Florence and Pisa with Lucca and Siena, and so on through the whole list of cities. The nearer the neighbours, the more rancorous and internecine is the strife; and, as in all cases where animosity is deadly and no grave local causes of dispute are apparent, we are bound to conclude that some deeply-seated permanent uneasiness goaded these fast growing communities into rivalry. Italy was, in fact, too small for her children. As the towns expanded, they perceived that they must mutually exclude each other. They fought for bare existence, for primacy in commerce, for the command of seaports, for the keys of mountain passes, for rivers, roads, and all the avenues of wealth and plenty. The pope's cause and the emperor's cause were of comparatively little moment to Italian burghers; and the names of Guelf and Ghibelline, which before long began to be heard in every street, on every market-place, had no meaning for them. These watchwords are said to have arisen in Germany during the disputed succession of the empire between 1135 and 1152, when the Welfs of Bavaria opposed the Swabian princes of Waiblingen origin. But in Italy, although they were severally identified with the papal and imperial parties, they really served as symbols for jealousies which altered in complexion from time to time and place to place, expressing more than antagonistic political principles, and involving differences vital enough to split the social fabric to its foundation.

Under the imperial rule of Lothar the Saxon (1125-1137) and Conrad the Swabian (1138-1152), these civil wars increased in violence owing to the absence of authority. Neither Lothar nor Conrad was strong at home; the former had no influence in Italy, and the latter never entered Italy at all. But when Conrad died, the electors chose his nephew Frederick, surnamed Barbarossa, who united the rival honours of Welf and Waiblingen, to succeed him; and it was soon obvious that the empire had a master powerful of brain and firm of will. Frederick immediately determined Lombard to reassert the imperial rights in his southern provinces, cities, and to check the warfare of the burghs. When he first crossed the Alps in 1154, Lombardy was, roughly speaking, divided between two parties, the one headed by Pavia professing loyalty to the empire, the other headed by Milan ready to oppose its claims. The municipal animosities of the last quarter of a century gave substance to these factions; yet neither the imperial nor the anti-imperial party had any real community of interest with Frederick. He came to supersede self-government by consuls, to deprive the cities of the privilege of making war on their own account, and to extort his regalian rights of forage, food, and lodging for his armies. It was only the habit of inter-urban jealousy which prevented the communes from at once combining to resist demands which threatened their liberty of action, and would leave them passive at the pleasure of a foreign master. The diet was opened at I Roncaglia near Piacenza, where Frederick listened to the complaints of Como and Lodi against Milan, of Pavia against Tortona, and of the marquis of Montferrat against Asti and Chieri. The plaintiffs in each case were imperialists ; and Frederick's first action was to redress their supposed grievances. He laid waste Chieri, Asti, and Tortona, then took the Lombard crown at Pavia, and, reserving Milan for a future day, passed southward to Rome. Outside the gates of Eome he was met by a deputation from the senate he had come to supersede, who addressed him in words memorable for expressing the republican spirit of new Italy face to face with autocratic feudalism : " Thou wast a stranger, I have made thee a citizen;" it is Eome who speaks: " Thou earnest as an alien from beyond the Alps, I have conferred on thee the principality." Moved only to scorn and indignation by the rhetoric of these presumptuous enthusiasts, Frederick marched into the Leonine city, and took the imperial crown from the hands of Hadrian IV. In return for this compliance, the emperor delivered over to the pope his troublesome rival Arnold of Brescia, who was burned alive by Nicholas Breakspear, the only English successor of St Peter. The gates of Eome itself were shut against Frederick; and even on this first occasion his good understanding with Hadrian began to suffer. The points of dispute between them related mainly to Matilda's bequest, and to the kingdom of Sicily, which the pope had rendered independent of the empire by renewing its investiture in the name of the Holy See. In truth, the papacy and the empire had become irreconcilable. Each claimed illimitable authority, and neither was content to abide within such limits as would have secured a mutual tolerance. Having obtained his coronation, Frederick withdrew to Germany, while Milan prepared herself against the storm which threatened. In the ensuing struggle with the empire, that great city rose to the altitude of patriotic heroism. By their sufferings no less than by their deeds of daring, her citizens showed themselves to be sublime, devoted, and disinterested, winning the purest laurels which give lustre to Italian story. Almost within Frederick's presence, they rebuilt Tortona, punished Pavia, Lodi, Cremona, and the .marquis of Montferrat. Then they fortified the Adda and Ticino, and waited for the emperor's next descent. He came in 1158 with a large army, overran Lombardy, raised his imperial allies, and sat down before the walls of Milan. Famine forced the burghers to partial obedience, and Frederick held a victorious diet at Eoncaglia. Here the jurists of Bologna appeared, armed with their new lore of Eoman law, and expounded Justinian's code in the interests of the German empire. It was now seen how the absolutist doctrines of autocracy developed in Justinian's age at Byzantium would bear fruits in the development of an imperial idea, which was destined to be the fatal mirage of mediaeval Italy. Frederick placed judges of his own appointment, with the title of podesta, in all the Lombard communes; and this stretch of his authority, while it exacerbated his foes, forced even his friends to join their ranks against him. The war, meanwhile, dragged on. Crema yielded after an heroic siege in 1160, and was abandoned to the cruelty of its fierce rival Cremona. Milan was invested in 1161, starved into capitulation after nine months' resistance, and given up to total destruction by the Italian imperialists of Frederick's army. So stained and tarnished with the vindictive passions of municipal rivalry was even this, the one great glorious strife of Italian annals ! Having ruined his rebellious city, but not tamed her spirit, Frederick withdrew across the Alps. But, in the interval between his second and third visit, a league was formed against him in north-eastern Lombardy. Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Treviso, Venice entered into a compact to defend their liberties; and when he came again in 1163 with, a brilliant staff of German knights, the imperial cities refused to join his standards. This was the first and ominous sign of a coming change.

Meanwhile the election of Alexander III. to the papacy in 1159 added a powerful ally to the republican party. Opposed by an anti-pope whom the emperor favoured, Alexander found it was his truest policy to rely for support upon the anti-imperialist communes. They in return gladly accepted a champion who lent them the prestige and influence of the church. When Frederick once more crossed the Alps in 1166, he advanced on Eome, and besieged Alexander in the Coliseum. But the affairs of Lombardy left him no leisure to persecute a recalcitrant pontiff. In April 1167 a new league was formed between Cremona, Bergamo, Brescia, Mantua, and Ferrara. In December of the same year this league allied itself with the elder Veronese league, and received the addition of Milan, Lodi, Piacenza, Parma, Modena, and Bologna. The famous league of Lombard cities, styled Concordia in its acts of settlement, was now established. Novara, Vercelli, Como, Asti, and Tortona swelled its ranks; only Pavia and Montferrat remained imperialist between the Alps and Apennines. Frederick fled for his life by the Mont Cenis, and in 1168 the town of Alessandria was erected to keep Pavia and the marquisate in check. In the emperor's absence, Eavenna, Eimini, Imola, and Forli joined the league, which now called itself the " Society of Venice, Lombardy, the March, Eomagna, and Alessandria." For the fifth time, in 1174, Frederick entered his rebellious dominions. The fortress town of Alessandria stopped his progress with those mud walls contemptuously named " of straw," while the forces of the league assembled at Modena, and obliged him to raise the siege. In the spring of 117 6 Frederick threatened Milan. His army found itself a little to the north of the town near the village of Legnano, when the troops of the city, assisted only by a few allies from Piacenza, Verona, Brescia, Novara, and Vercelli, met and overwhelmed it. The victory was complete. Frederick escaped alone to Pavia, whence he opened negotiations with Alexander. In consequence of these transactions, he was suffered to betake himself unharmed to Venice. Here, as upon neutral ground, the emperor met the pope, and'a truce for six years was concluded with the Lombard burghs. Looking back from the vantage-ground of history upon the issue of this long struggle, we are struck with the small results which satisfied the Lombard communes. They had humbled and utterly defeated their foreign lord. They had proved their strength in combination. Yet neither the acts by which their league was ratified nor the terms negotiated for them by their patron Alexander evince the smallest desire of what we now understand as national independence. The name of Italy is never mentioned. The supremacy of the emperor is not called in question. The conception of a permanent confederation, bound together in offensive and defensive alliance for common objects, has not occurred to these hard fighters and stubborn asserters of their civic privileges. All they claim is municipal autonomy; the right to manage their own affairs within the city walls, to fight their battles as they choose, and to follow their several ends unchecked. It is vain to lament that, when they might have now established Italian independence upon a secure basis, they chose local and municipal privileges. Their mutual jealousies, combined with the prestige of the empire, and possibly with the selfishness of the pope, who had secured his own position, and was not likely to foster a national spirit that would have threatened the ecclesiastical supremacy, deprived the Italians of the only great opportunity they ever had of forming themselves into a powerful nation.

When the truce expired in 1183, a permanent peace Peace of was ratified at Constance. The intervening years had been spent by the Lombards, not in consolidating their union, but in attempting to secure special privileges for their several cities. Alessandria della Paglia, glorious by her resistance to the emperor in 1174, had even changed her name to Cesarea ! The signatories of the peace of Constance were divided between leaguers and imperialists. On the one side we find Vercelli, Novara, Milan, Lodi, Bergamo, Brescia, Mantua, Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Treviso, Bologna, Faenza, Modena, Reggio, Parma, Piacenza; on the other, Pavia, Genoa, Alba, Cremona, Como, Tortona, Asti, Cesarea. Venice, who had not yet entered the Italian community, is conspicuous by her absence. According to the terms of this treaty, the communes were confirmed in their right of self-government by consuls, and their right of warfare. The emperor retained the supreme courts of appeal within the cities, and his claim for sustenance at their expense when he came into Italy.

The privileges confirmed to the Lombard cities by the cities peace of Constance were extended to Tuscany, where Florence, having ruined Fiesole, had begun her career of freedom and prosperity. The next great chapter in the history of Italian evolution is the war of the burghs against the nobles. The consular cities were everywhere surrounded by castles ; and, though the feudal lords had been weakened by the events of the preceding centuries, they continued to be formidable enemies. It was, for instance, necessary to the well-being of the towns that they should possess territory round their walls, and this had to be wrested from the nobles. We cannot linger over the details of this warfare. It must suffice to say that, partly by mortgaging their property to rich burghers, partly by entering the service of the cities as condottieri, partly by espousing the cause of one town against another, and partly by forced submission after the siege of their strong places, the counts were gradually brought into connexion of dependence on the communes. These, in their turn, forced the nobles to leave their castles, and to reside for at least a portion of each year within the walls. By these measures the counts became citizens, the rural population ceased to rank as serfs, and the Italo-Roman population of the towns absorbed into itself the remnants of Franks, Germans, and other foreign stocks. It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of this revolution, which ended by destroying the last vestige of feudality, and prepared that common Italian people which afterwards distinguished itself by the creation of European culture. But, like all the vicissitudes of the Italian race, while it was a decided step forward in one direction, it introduced a new source of discord. The associated nobles proved ill neighbours to the peaceable citizens. They fortified their houses, retained their military habits, defied the consuls, and carried on feuds in the streets and squares. The war against the castles became a war against the palaces ; and the system of government by consuls proved inefficient to control the clashing elements within the state. This led to the establishment of podestàs, who represented a compromise between two radically hostile parties in the city, and whose business it was to arbitrate and keep the peace between them. Invariably a foreigner, elected for a year with power of life and death and control of the armed force, but subject to a strict account at the expiration of his office, the podestà might be compared to a dictator invested with limited authority. His title was derived from that of Frederick Barbarossa's judges; but he had no dependence on the empire. The citizens chose him, and voluntarily submitted to his rule. The podestà marks an essentially transitional state in civic government, and his intervention paved the way for despotism.

The thirty years which elapsed between Frederick Barbarossa's death in 1190 and the coronation of his grandson Frederick II. in 1220 form one of the most momentous epochs in Italian history. Barbarossa, perceiving the advantage that would accrue to his house if he could join the crown of Sicily to that of Germany, and thus deprive the popes of their allies in Lower Italy, procured the marriage of his son Henry VI. to Constance, daughter of King Roger, and heiress of the Hauteville dynasty. When William II., the last monarch of the Norman race, died, Henry VI. claimed that kingdom in his wife's right, and was recognized in 1194. Three years afterwards he died, leaving a son, Frederick, to the care of Constance, who in her turn died in 1198, bequeathing the young prince, already crowned king of Germany, to the guardianship of Innocent III. It was bold policy to confide Frederick to his greatest enemy and rival; but the pope honourably discharged his duty, until his ward outgrew the years of tutelage, and became a fair mark for ecclesiastical hostility. Frederick's long minority was occupied by Innocent's pontificate. Among the principal events of that reign must be reckoned the foundation of the two orders, Franciscan and Dominican, who were destined to form a militia for the Holy See in conflict with the empire and the heretics of Lombardy. A second great event was the fourth crusade, undertaken in 1198, which established the naval and commercial supremacy of the Italians in the Mediterranean. The Venetians, who contracted for the transport of the crusaders, and whose blind doge Dandolo was first to land in Constantinople, received one-half and one-fourth of the divided Greek empire for their spoils. The Venetian ascendency in the Levant dates from this epoch ; for, though the republic had no power to occupy all the domains ceded to it, Candia was taken, together with several small islands and stations on the main-land. The formation of a Latin empire in the East increased the pope's prestige ; while at home it was his policy to organize Countess Matilda's heritage by the formation of Guelf leagues, over which he presided. This is the meaning of the three leagues, in the March, in the duchy of Spoleto, and in Tuscany, which now combined the chief cities of the papal territory into allies of the Holy See. From the Tuscan league Pisa, consistently Ghibelline, stood aloof. Rome itself again at this epoch established a republic, with which Innocent would not or could not interfere. The thirteen districts in their council nominated four caporioni, who acted in concert with a senator, appointed, like the podestà of other cities, for supreme judicial functions. Meanwhile the Guelf and Ghibelline factions were beginning to divide Italy into minute parcels. Nob only did commune range itself against commune under the two rival flags, but party rose up against party within the city walls. The introduction of the factions into Florence in 1215, owing to a private quarrel between the Buondelmonti, Amidei, and Donati, is a celebrated instance of what was happening in every burgh.

Frederick II. was left without a rival for the imperial throne in 1218 by the death of Otto IV, and on the 22d of November 1220 Honorius III., Innocent's successor, crowned him in Rome. It was impossible for any section of the Italians to mistake the gravity of his access to power. In his single person he combined the prestige of empire with the crowns of Italy, Sicily, Sardinia, Germany, and Burgundy; and in 1225, by marriage with Yolande de Brienne, he added that of Jerusalem. There was no prince greater or more formidable in the habitable globe. The communes, no less than the popes, felt that they must prepare themselves for contest to the death with a power which threatened their existence. Already in 1218 the Guelfs of Lombardy had resuscitated their old league, and had been defeated by the Ghibellines in a battle near Ghibello. Italy seemed to lie prostrate before the emperor, who commanded her for the first time from the south as well as from the north. In 1227 Frederick, who had promised to lead a crusade, was excommunicated by Gregory IX. because he was obliged by illness to defer his undertaking; and thus the spiritual power declared war upon its rival. The Guelf towns of Lombardy again raised their levies. Frederick enlisted his Saracen troops at Nocera and Luceria, and appointed the terrible Ezzelino da Romano his vicar in the Marches of Verona to quell their insurrection. It was 1236, however, before he was able to take the field himself against the Lombards. Having established Ezzelino in Verona, Vicenza, and Padua, he defeated the Milanese and their allies at Cortenuova in 1237, and sent their carroccio as a trophy of his victory to Rome. Gregory IX. feared lest the Guelf party would be ruined by this check. He therefore made alliance with Venice and Genoa, fulminated a new excommunication against Frederick, and convoked a council at Rome to ratify his ban in 1241. The Genoese undertook to bring the French bishops to this council. Their fleet was attacked at Meloria by the Pisans, and utterly defeated. The French prelates went in silver chains to prison in the Ghibelline capital of Tuscany. So far Frederick had been successful at all points. In 1243 a new pope, Innocent IV., was elected, who prosecuted the war with still bitterer spirit. Forced to fly to France, he there, at Lyons, in 1245, convened a council, which enforced his condemnation of the emperor. Frederick's subjects were freed from their allegiance, and he was declared dethroned and deprived of all rights. Five times king and emperor as he was, Frederick, placed under the ban of the church, led henceforth a doomed existence. The mendicant monks stirred up the populace to acts of fanatical enmity. To plot against him, to attempt his life by poison or the sword, was accounted virtuous. His secretary, Piero delle Vigne, conspired against him. The crimes of his vicar Ezzelino, who laid whole provinces waste and murdered men by thousands in his Paduan prisons, increased the horror with which he was regarded, Parma revolted from him, and he spent months in 1247-8 vainly trying to reduce this one time faithful city. The only gleam of success which shone on his ill fortune was the revolution which placed Florence in the hands of the Ghibellines in 1248. Next year Bologna rose against him, defeated his troops, and took his son Enzio, king of Sardinia, prisoner at Fossalta. Hunted to the ground and broken-hearted, Frederick expired at the end of 1250 in his Apulian castle of Fiorentino. It is difficult to judge his career with fairness. The only prince who could, with any probability of success, have established the German rule in Italy, his ruin proved the impossibility of that long-cherished scheme. The nation had outgrown dependence upon foreigners, and after his death no German emperor interfered with anything but miserable failure in Italian affairs. Yet from many points of view it might be regretted that Frederick was not suffered to rule Italy. By birth and breeding an Italian, highly gifted and widely cultivated, liberal in his opinions, a patron of literature, a founder of universities, he anticipated the spirit of the Renaissance, At his court Italian started into being as a language. His laws were wise. He was capable of giving to Italy a large and noble culture. But the commanding greatness of his position proved his ruin. Emperor and king of Sicily, he was the natural enemy of popes, who could not tolerate so overwhelming a rival.

After Frederick's death, the popes carried on their war for eighteen years against his descendants. The cause of his son Conrad was sustained in Lower Italy by Manfred, one of Frederick's many natural children ; and, when Conrad died in 1254, Manfred still acted as vicegerent for the Swabians, who were now represented by a boy Conradin. Innocent IV. and Alexander IV. continued to make head against the Ghibelline party. The most dramatic incident in this struggle was the crusade preached against Ezzelino. This tyrant had made himself justly odious; and when he was hunted to death in 1259, the triumph was less for the Guelf cause than for humanity outraged by the iniquities of such a monster. The battle between Guelf and Ghibelline raged with unintermitting fury. While the former faction gained in Lombardy by the massacre of Ezzelino, the latter revived in Tuscany after the battle of Montaperti, which in 1260 placed Florence at the discretion of the Ghibellines. Manfred, now called king of Sicily, headed the Ghibellines, and there was no strong counterpoise against him. In this necessity Urban IV. and Clement IV. invited Charles of Anjou to enter Italy and take the Guelf command. They made him senator of Rome, and vicar of Tuscany, and promised him the investiture of the regno provided he stipulated that it should not be held in combination with the empire. Charles accepted these terms, and was welcomed by the Guelf party as their chief throughout Italy. He defeated Manfred in a battle at Grandella near Benevento in 1266. Manfred was killed; and, when Conradin, a lad of sixteen, descended from Germany to make good his claims to the kingdom, he too was defeated at Tagliacozzo in 1267. Less lucky than his uncle, Conradin escaped with his life, to die upon a scaffold at Naples. His glove was carried to his cousin Constance, wife of Peter of Aragon, the last of the great Norman-Swabian family. Enzio died in his prison four years later. The popes had been successful; but they had purchased their bloody victory at a great cost. This first invitation to French princes brought with it incalculable evils.

Charles of Anjou, supported by Rome, and recognized as chief in Tuscany, was by far the most formidable of the Italian potentates. In his turn he now excited the jealousy of the popes, who began, though cautiously, to cast their weight into the Ghibelline scale. Gregory initiated the policy of establishing an equilibrium between the parties, which was carried out by his successor Nicholas III. Charles was forced to resign the senatorship of Rome and the signoria of Lombardy and Tuscany. In 1282 he received a more decided check, when Sicily rose against him in the famous rebellion of the Vespers. He lost the island, which gave itself to Aragon; and thus the kingdom of Sicily was severed from that of Naples, the dynasty in the one being Spanish and Ghibelline, in the other French and Guelf. Meanwhile a new emperor had been elected, the prudent Rudolf of Hapsburg, who abstained from interference with Italy, and who confirmed the territorial pretensions of the popes by solemn charter in 1278. Henceforth Emilia, Romagna, the March of Ancona, the patrimony of St Peter, and the Campagna of Rome held of the Holy See, and not of the empire. The imperial chancery, without inquiring closely into the deeds furnished by the papal curia, made a deed of gift, which placed the pope in the position of a temporal sovereign. While Nicholas III. thus bettered the position of the church in Italy, the Guelf party grew stronger than ever, through the crushing defeat of the Pisans by the Genoese at Meloria in 1284. Pisa, who had ruined Amalfi, was now ruined by Genoa. She never held her head so high again after this victory, which sent her best and bravest citizens to die in the Ligurian dungeons. The Mediterranean was left to be fought for by Genoa and Venice, while Guelf Florence grew still more powerful in Tuscany. Not long after the battle of Meloria Charles of Anjou died, and was succeeded by his son Charles II. of Naples, who played no prominent part in Italian affairs. The Guelf party was held together with a less tight hand even in cities so consistent as Florence. Here in the year 1300 new factions, subdividing the old Guelfs and Ghibellines under the names of Neri and Bianchi, had acquired such force that Boniface VIII., a violently Guelf pope, called in Charles of Valois to pacify the republic and undertake the charge of Italian affairs. Boniface was a passionate and unwise man. After quarrelling with the French king, Philip le Bel, he fell into the hands of the Colonna family at Anagni, and died, either of the violence he there received or of mortification, in October 1303.

After the short papacy of Benedict XI. a Frenchman, Clement V., was elected, and the seat of the papacy was of the transferred to Avignon. Thus began that Babylonian exile of the popes which placed them in subjection to the French crown, and ruined their prestige in Italy. Lasting seventy years, and joining on to the sixty years of the Great Schism, this enfeeblement of the papal authority, coinciding as it did with the practical elimination of the empire from Italian affairs, gave a long period of comparative independence to the nation. Nor must it be forgotten that this exile was due to the policy which induced the pontiffs, in their detestation of Ghibellinism, to rely successively upon the houses of Anjou and of Valois. This policy it was which justified Dante's fierce epigram—the puttaneggiar co regi.

The period we have briefly traversed was immortalized by Dante in an epic which from one point of view might be called the poem of the Guelfs and Ghibellines. From the foregoing bare narration of events it is impossible to estimate the importance of these parties, or to understand their bearing on subsequent Italian history. We are therefore forced to pause awhile, and probe beneath the surface. The civil wars may be regarded as a continuation of the previous municipal struggle, intensified by recent hostilities between the burghers and the nobles. The quarrels of the church and empire lend pretexts and furnish war-cries; but the real question at issue is not the supremacy of pope or emperor. The conflict is a social one, between civic and feudal institutions, between commercial and military interests, between progress and conservatism. Guelf democracy and industry idealize the pope. The banner of the church waves above the camp of those who aim at positive prosperity and republican equality. Ghibelline aristocracy and immobility idealize the emperor. The prestige of the empire, based upon Roman law and feudal tradition, attracts imaginative patriots and systematic thinkers. The two ideals are counterposed and mutually exclusive. No city calls itself either Guelf or Ghibelline till it has expelled one-half of its inhabitants; for each party is resolved to constitute the state according to its own conception, and the affirmation of the one programme is the negation of the other. The Ghibelline honestly believes that the Guelfs will reduce society to chaos. The Guelf is persuaded that the Ghibellines will annihilate freedom and strangle commerce. The struggle is waged by two sets of men who equally love their city, but who would fain rule it upon diametrically opposite principles, and who fight to the death for its possession. This contradiction enters into the minutest details of life:—armorial bearings, clothes, habits at table, symbolize and accentuate the difference. Meanwhile each party forms its own organization of chiefs, finance-officers, and registrars at home, and sends ambassadors to foreign cities of the same complexion. A network of party policy embraces and dominates the burghs of Italy, bringing the most distant centres into relation, and by the very division of the country augmenting the sense of nationality. The Italians learn through their discords at this epoch that they form one community. The victory in the conflict practically falls to the hitherto unenfranchised plebeians. The elder noble families die out or lose their preponderance. In some cities, as notably in Florence after the date 1292, it becomes criminal to be scioperato, or unemployed in industry. New houses rise into importance ; a new commercial aristocracy is formed. Burghers of all denominations are enrolled in one or other of the arts or guilds, and these trading companies furnish the material from which the government or signoria of the city is composed. Plebeian handicrafts assert their right to be represented on an equality with learned professions and wealthy corporations. The ancient classes are confounded and obliterated in a population more homogeneous, more adapted for democracy and despotism.

In addition to the parliament and the councils which have been already enumerated, we now find a council of the party established within the city. This body tends become a little state within the state, and, by controlling the victorious majority, disposes of the government as it thinks best. The consuls are merged in ancients or priors, chosen from the arts. A new magistrate, the gonfalonier of justice, appears in some of the Guelf cities, with the special duty of keeping the insolence of the nobility in check. Meanwhile the podestà still subsists ; but he is no longer equal to the task of maintaining an equilibrium of forces. He sinks more and more into a judge, loses more and more the character of dictator. His ancient place is now occupied by a new functionary, no longer acting as arbiter, but concentrating the forces of the triumphant party. The captain of the people, acting as head of the ascendant Guelfs or Ghibellines, undertakes the responsibility of proscriptions, decides on questions of policy, forms alliances, declares war. Like all officers created to meet an emergency, the limitations to his power are ill-defined, and he is often little better than an autocrat.

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