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1Between November and December 1328, following the death of Charles of Anjou, Duke of Calabria – who, in January 1326, had been appointed “lord, governor, defender and protector” of Florence for ten years [2] – the legislative councils (known as the consigli opportuni) passed a law reforming the terms of appointment to the city’s highest offices. The new system was centred on the random selection of the new officeholders from purses containing the names of individuals who had been previously elected by ad hoc commissions. As this system proved to be largely able to meet the political demands of Florence’s ruling circle, it continued without any major changes for a century and a half.

2The adoption of electoral procedures based on the combination of political consultation and sortition echoed certain earlier elements of Florence’s previous constitutional history. Given the central importance of institutional practices for socio-political dynamics, the adoption of these procedures was nevertheless far from being a purely formal modification. In fact, it marked the introduction of substantial amendments to the city’s political and institutional dynamics. Florence’s different political groups focused their efforts on controlling the city’s highest offices. While these groups vehemently fought each other for power, they almost never questioned the existing institutional framework. In the broadest sense, this transformation must be interpreted as a real turning point, one that clearly marks the beginning of a new phase in Florentine political and institutional history.

3This reform did not arise from nowhere, however, or as the result of circumstantial elements (as is most often the case, historically speaking). It took place after the mechanisms of government had undergone a long process of transformation, which stemmed from the development of what have been called the Popolo regimes starting in the second half of the thirteenth century. [3] During this period, and more specifically after the creation of a new magistracy called the Priorato delle Arti, [4] Florence’s political and institutional structure as well as its concrete administrative and political practices were gradually modified, leading to the increasing complexity, specialisation and professionalisation of mandates. At the same time, executive power was gradually concentrated at the top of the government structure. In order to fully understand the scope and implications of the 1328 reform, this article first presents an overview of the major phases in the evolution of the Florentine political system. It then focuses on the context in which the reform was elaborated, before proceeding to an in-depth analysis of the new electoral practices. Finally, it provides a broad outline of how these practices evolved over the subsequent decades.

The turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: the Popolo’s hegemony and the verticalisation of power

4The first modification of the Florentine institutional framework, a result of the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, [5] was the introduction of a new magistracy: the Priorato delle Arti (the Priorate of the Guilds). This change characterised the city’s way of life throughout much of the thirteenth century.

The creation of the priorate (1282)

5Created in June 1282 under circumstances that remain somewhat vague, within several months the priorate quickly replaced the Committee of the Fourteen, the body that had been designated as the city’s institutional governing body in accordance with the constitution imposed by cardinal Latino Malabranca. [6] The priorate would ultimately prove to have been a genuine breakthrough with regard to the pre-existing order. [7] The creation of the new magistracy and the removal of its predecessor unfolded in an almost painless fashion: despite the absence of specific measures from the legislative councils, the priorate effectively replaced the Committee of the Fourteen and claimed its prerogatives. This was a clear sign of the fragility of the previous institutional and political structure (which had not sufficiently taken into account the internal equilibrium of Florentine politics) and of the support enjoyed by the new institution from a majority of the Florentine ruling class. The priorate’s success thus enshrined the professional guilds (the arti) as the driving force within the complex corporate sphere. In particular, the large group of families which made up the popolo grasso – that is, the wealthiest Florentine citizens, who were almost all members of the major guilds (the arti maggiori) – managed progressively but lastingly to establish itself as the primary element of the local political (and social) world. [8]

6The creation of the new Council of the One Hundred in October 1289 – whose official objective was to more effectively manage the Commune’s finances – marked the first concrete institutional consequence of the popolo grasso’s political intervention, this group having made this institution their hobbyhorse. One additional consequence of the establishment of the new assembly was the redefinition of the internal hierarchy governing the city’s councils. The projects presented by the priorate and its associated offices had to follow a pre-defined trajectory that included discussion and validation before they could become law. This trajectory included five successive phases that involved the five Florentine assemblies. This procedure was fundamental in defining the city’s institutional structure and its concrete practices with regard to governance. [9]

7The fact that the guilds, and the families politically associated with these guilds, began to assert themselves institutionally inevitably led to conflict with the “magnates”, [10] the families that had traditionally held power. Fighting broke out during the last decade of the thirteenth century, leading to massive destruction of property. It is not within the scope of this article to describe the different phases of this conflict, nor to summarise the historiographical debate which, during the last century and even today, remains one of the focal points of the history of Italian cities (not just of Florence). [11] Let us note, however, that this conflict was especially focused on the issue of access to the city’s governing positions.

Giano della Bella’s two “popular years” (1293-1295)

8Internal conflict within the Popolo regarding the respective political and institutional importance of the different guilds as bodies of political representation and participation in city governance was as significant as the conflict between the major guilds and the magnates. The distinction between the arti maggiori, mediane and minori (the major, middle and minor guilds) developed parallel to the conflict with the magnates and in some ways provided its counterpart. In this sense, Giano della Bella’s [12] two “popular years”, marked by his ascension to power as a member of a family with a long political history but an average social background, and as the leader of the artisanal sphere associated with the middle and minor guilds, represented a turning point on two fronts. [13] On one hand, the Ordinances of Justice (Ordinamenti di Giustizia) – a set of norms designed to regulate and restrict the antisocial behaviour of members of families that had traditionally been associated with power and limit their access to the highest offices of the city – confirmed the magnates’ political exclusion. Thereafter, the Ordinances were never challenged. In reality, the Ordinances proved ultimately unable to eliminate the violent behaviour of magnates, but were, conversely, highly successful in blocking magnates from access to government. In order to reclaim spaces of political participation, over the long term the magnates were forced to negotiate their legal status by joining the ranks of the Popolo and accepting the new order dominated by the guilds. [14]

9On the other hand, Giano della Bella’s attempts at reorganising the political structure of Florence’s artisan class by adopting the principle of substantive equality between the different guilds (thus putting an end to the dominance of the seven major guilds) was an overall failure. Conflict between differing views on the institutional role of the guilds was frequent throughout the fourteenth century, and brought about more or less bloody episodes of popular rebellion. However, as had been the case earlier, this conflict was always resolved in favour of the major guilds. Without explicitly denying the role and status of each guild as a member of the federal pact underlying the Ordinances of Justice, the guilds were able to maintain and expand their role as leaders of the Florentine Popolo, and the spaces of power now associated with this role. [15]

10When Giano della Bella was driven from the city, the government’s experiment involving the equal participation of the middle and minor guilds was abruptly terminated. In turn, the Ordinances of Justice were subsequently “tempered” a number of times. This marked the beginning of a new political phase, characterised overall by genuine institutional and ideological stability. The specific political identity of the Florentine ruling class took shape based on these premises: the magnates were banned from politics, the popolo grasso grew more powerful, ultimately becoming the ruling class, and the personal values of this segment of the Popolo (including Guelphism) subsequently became the city’s reference values. A particular model of “popular” government thus asserted itself, based on the leading role of the guilds and particularly the major guilds, which were institutionally structured along a vertical line, with the greatest weight being attributed to the college of priors and their associated offices.

The affirmation of the priorate and the verticalisation of power

11By the turn of the century, the priorate had firmly established itself at the summit of the city’s hierarchical government. The task of naming the various office holders (or the “wise men” who were in turn responsible for choosing these mandate holders) was attributed to the priors. The priors were responsible for presenting to the councils draft laws that were already completed and ready for approval. In the past, the preparation and development of draft proposals had taken place within the councils. Priors were responsible for the concrete management of many aspects of administration. Everything concerning the city passed through their hands, either directly or indirectly, and regardless of the dominant political faction at any given time.

12One of the keys to the success and longevity of this institutional body was its ability to satisfy the social and political demands of the different members of the Florentine ruling class during a long period (1282-1328). The parties that competed for control of the city fought to impose themselves at the head of the institutional structure, rather than to reshape this structure to their advantage. For example, the bitter late thirteenth-century conflict between the white and black Guelphs, as recounted by chroniclers, divided the entire city across social groups, [16] but would ultimately have no lasting impact on either Florence’s institutional configuration or concrete governmental practices. The priorate continued to grow in political and institutional importance, and all institutional changes during this period tended to support this trend.

13The mechanism of the balìe proved particularly crucial for concentrating power. The balìa, that is the granting of extraordinary powers by the councils (usually powers of management or direct appointment, which were not subject to subsequent procedures or institutional checks) to public office holders, was a mechanism continuously used in this fashion from the end of the thirteenth century. [17] While maintaining the constitutional and normative framework that guaranteed the legitimacy of government action remained formally intact, attributing the balìa to priors gave them the upper hand in the city’s institutional and administrative matters.

14Even the concession of the city’s Signoria to Robert of Anjou, King of Sicily, between 1313 and 1322, and then to his son Charles from 1326 to 1328, did not bring down the pillars of this system, nor did it disrupt its general evolutionary direction. The priorate maintained its key role in the overall structure and continued using traditional instruments, foremost among them the balìa, to govern the city. [18] Without analysing in depth the nature of these experiments in governance by a signore, it is important to note that they had little impact on the city’s political and institutional practices. [19] Moreover, the other forms of personal dominance that sprang up during the first decade of the fourteenth century, linked to certain key figures in the group of magnates who managed to impose their authority on the city’s government for a few years, also failed to make a significant impact on city governance.

15The problem lay elsewhere. Once common consent was reached regarding the institutional system centred on the priorate, conflict between the different political factions focused on controlling this institution. This phenomenon had two major consequences. First, as the priorate was only occupied by a small number of individuals over the course of a year, its reputation was considerably bolstered in the eyes of Florentine citizens, who identified access to the office as one of the key requirements for obtaining power and prestige. Second, it became necessary to strengthen the ties between the priors in office and the city’s ruling class as a whole in order to promote the direct influence of the latter in daily governance. [20]

16One of the main solutions adopted was to flank priors with other officers who essentially had the same authority in terms of decision-making. In addition to the “wise men” (savi) that the priors could consult in many situations following authorisation by the balìe, two other collegial governing bodies were also introduced, initially to discuss particular matters, then eventually tasked with almost all government acts. The first body, the Twelve Good Men (Dodici Buonuomini), was established in January 1321, through one of the aforementioned general balìe that gave priors ample leeway. The name given to these new officials, the “twelve popular Buonuomini, chosen to deliberate on specific questions relating to the Commune with the lord priors and the Gonfaloniere of Justice”, clearly expressed the tenor of this operation. It was an attempt to flank the priors with other representatives from the ruling class to discuss specific matters of governance (the generic formulation of the text, however, encouraged a broad interpretation of the new office’s mandate). [21] The second collegial body was the “sixteen gonfalonieri of the Popolo’s societies” (sedici gonfalonieri di compagnia) and had been created earlier (circa 1307) in connection with a partial reform of the Popolo’s military structure. However, the sedici gonfalonieri long remained at the fringes of government activity, acting only sporadically alongside the priors. [22] This body’s skills and role only became equivalent to those of the twelve Buonuomini after the aforementioned 1328 reform.

Changing modes of selection for priors, 1282-1328: a divided ruling class

17In line with the changes discussed above (the creation of a political model focused on the Popolo and Florentine craftsmen; an increasingly hierarchical institutional structure and the gradual centralisation of power in the hands of the priorate; the establishment of collegial bodies to support the priorate, as a partial response to the demand for political participation and stability), the 1328 reform succeeded in partly redefining the city’s governing bodies and transforming their selection practices.

18Although it gained greater visibility during the fourteenth century, the problem of regulating access to the city’s highest office had always been fundamental for Florence’s ruling class. Innovative institutional practices seeking to more or less directly influence the mechanisms of selection and communal governance were developed to address this problem. I shall now summarise the major stages that preceded the 1328 reform.

19We do not possess an accurate record of how priors were selected in the years immediately following the creation of this collegial body. From chroniclers’ narratives, however, we can deduce that outgoing priors initially elected their successors, and that this then became the responsibility of the leaders (capitudini) of the twelve major guilds (i.e., the seven major guilds plus the five middle guilds), who were assisted by an unspecified number of assistants selected by the priors; and that the committee of priors was elected every two months.

20Towards the end of 1291, during a period of great political tension within the guild world, an electoral practice destined to have great influence in the following decades was tested out: the “placing of selected names in purses” (imborsazione). That same year, the priors in office between October and December were authorised by a balìa to choose their own successor for a total of six consecutive mandates. Accordingly, they were to deposit the names that they had selected inside a purse, from which the future office holders would then be extracted one by one. As John Najemy underscores, no source, however, allows us to confirm that this extraction occurred by sortition, as became the norm after 1328. [23] More than just foreshadowing future arrangements, this decision to appoint a certain number of priorates all at once must be contextualised against a background in which the city’s leaders sought to ensure some form of stability during a period that was characterised by serious internal conflicts.

21These conflicts relating to the role and political influence of the different guilds (and their different members) translated into a series of modifications and innovations, both in terms of principles and concrete practices. These had significant and long-lasting consequences. In particular, the capitudini of the twelve major guilds acquired a leading role in choosing candidates for the priorate. Starting in 1292, the capitudini were charged with designating appointed individuals (each capitudini had to present a name for each of the six city districts before submitting each district’s selected candidate to a vote). Multiple methods were then sought to expand the recruitment pool: the period of ineligibility for outgoing priors (divieto) was increased from two to three years by a law adopted in the summer of 1290, marking a clear step towards expanding the recruitment base.

22However, one constant during the aforementioned period was the absence of a stable and codified procedure for the election of priors; in other words, the ample latitude that existing procedures gave for debate and negotiation between the parties. On this point, the Ordinances of Justice, which, as we have seen, in many ways redefined the structure of the Florentine guilds, did not provide a suitable starting point for discussion. The section which regulated the election of the priors only stipulated that, when nominating new office holders, the council of the guilds and certain wise men (savi) were to meet and deliberate on how elections to the new council were to be carried out. [24] In practice, this meant constant negotiation regarding electoral practices and increasingly intense debate on the direct role of the council of the guilds in selecting those who composed the city’s governing body.

23In the years following Giano della Bella’s exile, debate took place within these “electoral assemblies” to determine whether candidates were to be selected separately by the council of the guilds and by the savi, or whether the two groups should vote together, district by district. Behind this seemingly minor choice lay the opposition between two divergent views of how much influence should be attributed to the various guilds. It was argued that the second solution would inevitably lead to political benefit for the most prominent Popolo families (who were able to independently maintain and develop political and clientelist links), to the detriment of the guilds per se (and thus of individuals who wagered their political chances solely on guild membership). Starting in October 1298, however, the second procedure was firmly established, strengthening the position of the popolo grasso and lasting until shortly before the 1328 reform.

24A tumultuous and uncertain period ensued. The early years of the fourteenth century were marked by conflict between the black and white Guelphs, a conflict that ultimately ended with the victory of the black faction and increased personal power for a number of magnates. First-hand accounts of the electoral procedures used during this period are unfortunately unavailable. Chroniclers recount that there were some cases where the election of the priorate was conducted outside of traditional canons, but the exceptional nature of these cases implicitly suggests that the canons in question had substantial continuity. Overall, we can infer that the old procedures were maintained, and that the city’s leaders perhaps used the latitude that these procedures provided with greater confidence.

25The first major change occurred in 1310, when the December balìa allowed outgoing priors to designate their own successors. Priors were thus authorised to entirely circumvent the rules established by the Ordinances of Justice and other communal statutes. The faction that championed an equal role for all the different guilds was thwarted by this decision, which favoured the popolo grasso and its control over the college of priors. The balìa was renewed on a bi-monthly basis, thus establishing a new codified electoral procedure without, however, altering the institutional framework of reference. [25]

26In 1318, the practice described above was further strengthened: in addition to their immediate successors, the incumbent priors were granted the balìa to appoint members of future priorates, if the need arose. Thirty years after it had been introduced (in 1291) and rapidly abandoned, the practice of placing selected names in purses (imborsazione) was adopted once again. In subsequent years, on four occasions (1319, 1321, 1322 and 1323), the last priors in office among those appointed by the previous balìa were invested in turn by an electoral balìa and established a new list of names intended for future priorates. Through a selection procedure that unfortunately remains undocumented, the incumbent priors, probably accompanied by a number of savi, chose the candidates whose names – already divided up by council – were inserted in balls of wax (pallocte cerea). [26] The balls of wax were then placed in a purse. A few days before the start of the new mandate, the pallocte were extracted from the bag, and it was verified that the individuals in question were not absent from Florence or subject to an interdiction (divieto). The new priors were then sworn in.

27One aspect of this procedure must be emphasised: contrary to what is sometimes believed, the extraction of the balls of wax was not done by drawing lots. As Najemy [27] has noted, sources on the subject are sufficiently clear. In practice, the preparation phase of the pallocte was thus crucial from a political perspective. It is hardly surprising that those who believed that they were insufficiently represented in the highest offices fought to modify the content of the purses, as it was through these purses (and their control) that it was possible to influence the government. In September 1324, the faction that chroniclers called the Serraglini (connected to the Bordoni, one of the most powerful Popolo families) pushed for the creation of a balìa that authorised the priors and the Twelve Good Men in office to make changes to the existing purses and to add additional pallocte as they saw fit. Giovanni Villani, the most famous chronicler of medieval Florence, concludes that, in this way, “without any turbulence or danger to the city”, a new regime was established in Florence. [28] However, this episode indicated the dissatisfaction of a significant part of the ruling class with a system that was evidently not deemed capable of guaranteeing an adequate distribution of power.

28The procedure outlined above remained in force until June 1326. Charles, Duke of Calabria, obtained the Signoria of the city in January 1326 but initially refrained from any direct intervention. He then attributed to himself the power to nominate priors, who were henceforth selected by his vicar, Gautier de Brienne. [29] The relative vacuum that followed the elimination of these constitutional procedures – lasting for close on two years and filled by the signore’s direct intervention – doubtless influenced the internal dynamics of the city’s ruling class.

29Moreover, from an external perspective and during the same period, Florence experienced the climax of the battle against Castruccio Castracani of Lucca, [30] who had long challenged the city’s authority over Tuscany. After militarily defeating the Florentines during the battle of Altopascio on 23 September 1325, and getting as far as the city walls (thus forcing Florence to concede the Signoria to Charles of Calabria), Castracani continued to ransack the Florentine territory. In so doing, he helped to provoke and exacerbate tension between the city’s leaders. At the height of the battle, when the crisis appeared to be at its peak, Castracani died unexpectedly on 3 September 1328. [31] Following the death of Charles of Calabria, which also occurred suddenly on 9 November of the same year, the time was ripe – both internally and externally – for a new electoral system, as well as a new sociopolitical equilibrium.

The 1328 reform: towards consensus within the ruling class

30It was in this context that a major reform unfolded in the fall and winter of 1328, and we now turn to the details of this new procedure. As indicated in the introduction to this article, the draft law drawn up by the incumbent priors – and the seven savi they had appointed for the occasion – was presented on 26 November to the Council of the One Hundred, where it was approved by 64 votes in favour and 18 votes against. It then followed the “traditional” path and was successively approved by all the legislative councils.

31The following rule was ratified by the councils: first, the incumbent priors, the captains of the Guelph party (Parte Guelfa) and the members of the Mercanzia were each to appoint three “commissions”. Each commission was to be composed of at least 28 additional members recruited from the Popolo. [32] Each of these three institutions, with their additional members, was then required to draw up a list of individuals from each district who were Popolo members of good reputation and considered worthy of access to the priorate. The names of the candidates were then read aloud in a limited assembly composed of members from the aforementioned offices and the additional individuals they had selected. Each participant voted on each of the candidates by approving or rejecting their “eligibility”. The ballot (known as the scrutinio) was conducted using favas albas et nigras (“white and black beans”) usually employed when voting for the consigli opportuni. The individual in charge of the voting process placed an urn (bussolotto) before each participant. The participants then placed a bean in the urn; white to vote against, and black to vote in favour. [33] Individuals who received at least two thirds of favourable votes were considered eligible, and their names were then written on a piece of parchment and inserted in one of the purses, depending on their district (the imborsazione phase). When it came to nominating new officers, pieces of parchment bearing the names of those who would become priors were drawn from the purse for each district (the tratta phase). The new office holders thus selected were then subjected to a rapid preliminary check. In cases where the selected individuals were prohibited from holding a particular office (divieto) – if they were already appointed to another important office; if a family member already held a similar function; if the family had not paid its taxes; if they were absent from the city; or if they were deceased at the time the lots were drawn – the pieces of parchment were put back into the bag or eliminated. [34] When all the names had been extracted from the purses, the operation would start again from the beginning.

32Several important observations can be made concerning both concrete procedural aspects of the reform, as well as the reform’s political significance. To a certain extent, the draft law introduced nothing new with regard to concrete electoral practices. The presentation of candidate lists by ad hoc commissions, the prior assessment of candidates (scrutinio) and the placing of selected names in purses (imborsazione) were procedural instruments that had long been in use for the election of priors. Even the drawing of lots (tratta) was far from innovative: although it had hitherto only been used to nominate those who were to replace candidates that were absent or deceased, it was nonetheless already part of the Florentine institutional repertoire. In reality, the 1328 commission organically reconfigured a number of pre-existing elements in order to pursue a specific – and widely shared – political objective. To put it differently, the mechanism that reshaped the city’s institutional space (and thus marked a significant break with the past) merely combined elements that were already known, had already been tested, and were already a part of Florentine institutional practice. In this regard, this mechanism was also the culmination of a long process.

33To understand the political logic behind this law, its prologue is undoubtedly the clearest and most direct point of reference. It argues that the reform was promulgated to select those citizens most worthy to ensure Florence’s governance, with the consent of “good citizens in accordance with the law”. [35] The new institutional practice would thus enable the city’s leaders to select – in the most consensual manner possible – the future members of the highest governing body, which was at the centre of all institutional and administrative activity. The procedure was thus designed to guarantee stability and the necessary consensus for the city’s leaders, and thus for the government as a whole. [36]

34The impact of this reform was not limited to redefining the electoral procedures of the priorate. Indeed, the law reshaped the Commune’s core government structure. While the priorate maintained some form of primacy in terms of prestige and, above all, in the concrete management of governmental affairs, the reform made it possible to systematically link it with the two other colleges which, as we have seen, gained considerable institutional significance during the last two decades of the fourteenth century: the twelve Buonuomini and the gonfaloniers of the Popolo’s corporations. The new electoral system and all its various stages were in turn applied to these offices as well. [37] This was the most obvious sign of recognition of the leading role of the two colleges, and their increasing participation alongside the priorate in matters of governance.

35In other words – and returning to the idea expressed at the beginning of this article – institutional practice (linked in this case to electoral procedures and, more generally, to the selection of the governing group) once again showed itself to be an element with key political value: not a mere technical instrument, but rather both the driving force behind, and consequence of, changes in the political sphere.


37The highly complex electoral system described above was decisive in bringing stability to Florence’s government. After the reform was adopted, Florence enjoyed a period of great political and institutional stability for close to fifteen years. This period coincided with the most significant “cloture” of the city’s highest offices, which were by then firmly in the hands of the most prominent families of the popolo grasso.

38The electoral procedure elaborated in 1328 did not, however, remain completely intact. It underwent several changes in the subsequent elections held in January 1331. The twelve Buonuomini and the gonfalonieri were, for instance, later responsible for presenting their own candidate lists for each of the three offices. Most importantly, the names of those who had been retained in the 1328 squittinio were placed directly into the new purses, thus strengthening the influence of those who had been the main supporters for reform as well as their descendants. In the ensuing decades, more substantial changes were undertaken. During the 1339 and 1343 elections, the guilds were gradually reintroduced into the candidate selection process. [38] A compromise was reached between the elites and the guild members concerning the selection of eligible individuals from the 1352 elections; this in turn guaranteed a stable government until the Revolt of the Ciompi in 1378. [39]

39Finally, beyond the temporary victory of a given faction or a given ideology – and thus the adoption of a given procedural reform – the global continuation of the Florentine system must be emphasised; a continuation which extends beyond the chronological scope of this article. This continuity was largely the result of general acceptance within Florentine ruling circles of the logic governing the 1328 reform, a consensus illustrated by the absence of any serious attempts to subvert the system. (Almost) all attempts made by various parties to rewrite the rules of the game did not target its main rules, but only partial or secondary aspects. Even when protest was at its most vehement, the theoretical and procedural foundations of the reform were not challenged. Ultimately, even the most profound changes did not knock down the pillars on which the Florentine governing structure was built, foundations and pillars that had been gradually established over the 50 previous years.


  • [1]
    The editorial notes and section headers were provided by Yves Sintomer.
  • [2]
    Editorial note: Charles of Anjou, Duke of Calabria (1298-1328) was the eldest son of the King of Naples Robert of Anjou, and Italy’s most powerful prince. Following Florence’s major military defeat at the hands of Castruccio Castracani at Altopascio in September 1325, the Commune elected Charles of Calabria as signore for a period of ten years in order to receive external support.
  • [3]
    Editorial note: The Popolo was not composed of “the people” in general, but of non-aristocratic individuals who gained citizenship through their membership in guilds that had been legally recognised by the Commune.
  • [4]
    Editorial note: In the cities governed by a prince, the Signoria was an office held by one individual. In Florence, however, the Priorato delle Arti prohibited the monopolisation of power and, like other contemporary republican city-states, formed a collective body that would ultimately be called a Signoria.
  • [5]
    Editorial note: The Guelphs supported the Pope and the Anjou dynasty, while the Ghibellines backed Emperor Frederick II and the Swabian dynasty. The Guelphs established their dominance in the Florentine Republic. The dispute between the two parties involved long-standing rivalries between important families as well as broader social cleavages.
  • [6]
    Editorial note: Cardinal Malabranca was sent to Florence in 1280 as a mediator to end the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines.
  • [7]
    P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze tra Due e Trecento. Partecipazione politica e assetto istituzionale (Florence: Olschki, 2009), 173-7. There were six priors, each elected by one of six districts that made up the city. They enjoyed a bi-monthly mandate and took office on the fifteenth of the month, beginning in February.
  • [8]
    There were seven arti maggiori: di Calimala (wool merchants), del cambio (bankers and money-changers), di Por Santa Maria (later known as della seta, silk weavers and metal workers), dei medici e speziali (physicians, pharmacists, barbers, dyers of cloth, painters, etc.) della lana (wool manufacturers), dei giudici e notai (judges and notaries), dei vaiai e pellicciai (furriers and skinners). The reference book on Florentine corporations remains A. Doren, Studien aus Florentiner Wirtschaftsgeschichte (Stuttgart: J. G. Gotta, 2 vol., 1901-1908).
  • [9]
    In the order of the institutional path that draft laws had to follow, these assemblies (the consigli opportuni) were as follows: consiglio dei cento, consiglio speciale del capitano, consiglio generale del capitano, consiglio speciale del podestà, consiglio generale del podestà. Cf. P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze, 91-118.
  • [10]
    Editorial note: Magnates were nobles, and thus distinguished from affluent popolo grasso commoners.
  • [11]
    In addition to the classic and foundational studies by G. Salvemini, Magnati e popolani in Firenze dal 1280 al 1295 (Turin: Einaudi, 1960 [1st edn 1899]); N. Ottokar, Il Comune di Firenze alla fine del Dugento (Turin: Einaudi, 1962 [1st edn 1926]), see the more recent study by S. Diacciati, Popolani e magnati. Società e politica nella Firenze del Duecento (Spoleto: CISAM, 2011), which is especially useful for an updated presentation of the different historiographical positions.
  • [12]
    Editorial note: Giano della Bella renounced his aristocratic title and became the spokesperson for the city’s middle and lower classes. He managed to pass the famous Ordinances of Justice (promulgated on 18 January 1293), which would form the city’s constitutional basis for two centuries. Soon after, he was expelled from the city after a campaign was launched against him; he died in exile in France.
  • [13]
    The figure of the Gonfaloniere of Justice first appeared during the priorate of Giano della Bella (15 February to 15 April 1293). The Gonfaloniere of Justice, whose initial role was to guide the people in the defence of the Ordinances of Justice, rapidly became a “seventh prior”, and thus a member of the city’s governing council. Sharing most of the same prerogatives as the other priors with regard to governance, from the early fourteenth century the Gonfaloniere was selected by rotation from each of the city’s districts and appointed in a similar fashion to the priors. Cf. P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze, 200-5. Henceforth, it should be implicitly understood that the Gonfaloniere of Justice is also concerned when reference is made to the college of priors, the priorate.
  • [14]
    C. Klapisch-Zuber, Retour à la cité. Les magnats de Florence, 1340-1440 (Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS, 2006). [Editorial note: The magnates were forced to abandon their formal noble status in order to receive active citizenship. This implied membership in one of the city’s legally recognised guilds.]
  • [15]
    For the definition and analysis of these two opposing positions, of paramount importance for understanding the Florentine political scene in the fourteenth century, cf. J. M. Najemy, Corporatism and Consensus in Florentine Electoral Politics (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982).
  • [16]
    On the conflict between black and white Guelphs, well known because it involved Dante, cf. P. Parenti, “Dagli Ordinamenti di Giustizia alle lotte fra bianchi e neri”, in S. Raveggi, M. Tarassi, D. Medici, Ghibellini, Guelfi e Popolo Grasso. I detentori del potere politico a Firenze nella seconda metà del Dugento (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1978), 241-321, in particular 298-321. [Editorial note: The white and black Guelphs were two opposing factions. Defeated, the white Guelphs eventually allied with the Ghibellines.]
  • [17]
    With regard to this point, cf. P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze, 166-72. [Editorial note: The word balìe referred to the act, accepted by the councils, of granting extraordinary power to this special committee, and to the committee itself.]
  • [18]
    Editorial note: While such episodes implied conceding some form of formal sovereignty to individuals, this did not automatically entail their actual authority over city governance.
  • [19]
    On the Florentine Signorie ruled by the house of Anjou, cf. A. De Vincentiis, “Le Signorie angioine a Firenze. Storiografia e prospettive”, in RM Rivista, 2, 2001, <>.
  • [20]
    It should be noted that, according to the city’s statutes, the priors in charge were not theoretically allowed to engage with outsiders for the duration of their mandate. Once elected, they were required to live in their palace and could only leave to participate in various council meetings. This was to prevent unwanted external pressure. Cf. P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze, 189-91.
  • [21]
    Each of the districts elected two Good Men for a half-year mandate Cf. P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze, 215-19.
  • [22]
    Each of the nineteen societies of the Florentine Popolo also elected one magistrate for a half-year mandate. Cf. P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze, 219-22. These societies constituted the Popolo’s military organisation. First created during the middle of the thirteenth century and organised at territorial level, these societies included within their ranks all members of the Popolo who resided within a specific section of the city.
  • [23]
    Cf. J. M. Najemy, Corporatism, 95-7.
  • [24]
    J. M. Najemy, Corporatism, 46.
  • [25]
    During this period, the city was headed by the Signoria of Robert of Anjou, but the latter did not intervene to define the procedure.
  • [26]
    Editorial note: In Venice, members of the great council of Venice elected the doge through ballotte. The English language has maintained the root of this word in the term “ballot”, as has the French language with the term “ballotage”. This procedure of enclosing names written on pieces of paper or cloth in a ball of wax to be drawn spread to the Crown of Aragon during the fifteenth century.
  • [27]
    The only accounts positively confirming the use of sortition relate to the election of priors appointed as substitutes for absent or deceased priors. This happened twice in 1324. Other references suggest that alternative methods were normally used to extract names. Cf. J. M. Najemy, Corporatism, 92-5.
  • [28]
    Cf. Giovanni Villani, Nuova Cronica, ed. G. Porta (Parma: Guanda, 1990-1991), vol. 2, 310-31. [Editorial note: The term “state”, stato, did not have an initial capital at the time and could have a variety of meanings].
  • [29]
    Editorial note: Gautier de Brienne (1302-1356), a French nobleman, was the vicar of Charles of Anjou for several months in 1326. He was recalled to Florence in 1342, where he exercised power as the Duke of Athens, before being expelled from the city in 1343.
  • [30]
    Editorial note: Castruccio Castracani (1281-1328), originally from Lucca, was a condottiere and a supporter of the Ghibellines. He was elected signore for life in 1316, then Duke of Lucca in 1327.
  • [31]
    For a reconstruction of the events that occurred during these years, cf. R. Davidsohn, Storia di Firenze (Florence: Sansoni, 1956), vol. 4, 1015ff. [First German edition: Geschichte von Florenz, (Berlin: E. S. Mittler und Sohn, 4 vol., 1896-1908)].
  • [32]
    For more information on the captains of the Guelph party, which was a partisan organisation and a virtual state-within-a-state linked to the powerful magnate families who dominated the city after 1266, cf. V. Mazzoni, Accusare e proscrivere il nemico politico. Legislazione antighibellina e persecuzione giudiziaria a Firenze (1347-1378) (Pisa: Pacini, 2010), 22-33 and 97-103. On the Mercanzia, which emerged in 1308 following an agreement between the major guilds to regulate and defend merchants in Florence, cf. A. Astorri, La Mercanzia a Firenze nella prima metà del Trecento. Il potere dei grandi mercanti (Florence: Olschki, 1998).
  • [33]
    For voting procedures within the councils, cf. P. Gualtieri, Il Comune di Firenze, 135-6.
  • [34]
    Only the personnel physically running the elections (the accopiattori, or scrutineers) performed the counting. Since they prepared the pieces of parchment and the purses, they knew the names of the candidates who had successfully passed the scrutinio. Theoretically, the accopiattori were thus the only ones able to predict the composition of the city’s governing bodies.
  • [35]
    Quoted in J. M. Najemy, Corporatism, 102, n. 9.
  • [36]
    J. M. Najemy, 102-3.
  • [37]
    The only significant difference concerned the gonfalonieri. Candidates for this office were to be divided according to the guild that they belonged to, rather than by district.
  • [38]
    In 1328, the captaincies of the guilds were not responsible for presenting their own candidate lists for the squittinio.
  • [39]
    See J. M. Najemy, Corporatism, 111-216. [Editorial note: The Revolt of the Ciompi saw the popolo minuto, lower-class manual labourers who had hitherto been excluded from corporations and thus from active citizenship, attempt to gain institutional recognition within the political sphere.]

The reform of 1328, which modified the procedures for election to the highest functions of the city’s executive, represents a significant moment in Florentine political-institutional history. This article first provides an overview of the institutional functioning of the city-state and then goes on to trace the evolution of electoral practices after the introduction of the priorate (1282). In a relatively short period, this body established itself as the hub of the city’s government. Analysis of such an evolution helps us understand how this reform, though opening a new chapter in Florentine politics, was in fact a new way of piecing together already existing elements in the local institutional tradition. It thus completed a long process of political experimentation, visible in a series of clearly identified moments.

Piero Gualtieri
Piero Gualtieri holds a PhD in history obtained under joint supervision between the University of Florence and the Université de Paris-Sorbonne. His thesis focused on “Pistoia aux 12e et 13e siècles. Société et institutions” (Pistoia in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Society and institutions) (2010). Gualtieri is primarily interested in the society and institutions of Italian cities between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. His publications include Il Comune di Firenze tra Due e Trecento. Partecipazione politica e assetto istituzionale (Florence: Olschki, 2009). (Università degli Studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di Storia, Archeologia, Geografia, Arti e Spettacolo, Via S. Gallo 10, I-50129 Florence, Italy).
Translated from French by
Sarah-Louise Raillard
Translated from French by
Eunice Pelini [1]
  • [1]
    The editorial notes and section headers were provided by Yves Sintomer.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 19/11/2015
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