Italy's City-States: Glossary

The county of Anjou in northern France was allied to the English crown until Philip II Augustus of France (1180-1223) seized the country from the ineffectual King John of England (1199-1216) in the first decade of the thirteenth century. Anjou became a holding of the French royal family, a county commonly held in the hands of French princes after 1226.

The kingdom of Aragon in eastern Spain was the most urbanized of the three powers that held the Iberian peninsula. Affected by the same civil unrest of the rest of Spain during the late Middle Ages, peace finally began to take root when Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon married in 1469 and inherited their thrones in 1474 and 1479 respectively. Their development of an efficient central adminstration transformed the two monarchies into the kingdom of Spain.

Avignonese Captivity
The period between 1305 and 1378 when the papal court resided in Avignon. The influence of the French monarchy on the papacy was resented by other nations and papal power declined throughout the rest of Europe during this time.

Ciompi Rebellion
The rebellion illustrates the use of political agitation to institute chane and the goal was oly to amend the constitutional inequalities which existed rather than to overturn the entire constitution. Three guilds were created and the committee of priors was adjusted.

Council of Ten
Formed in the early fourteenth century, the Deici was chosen from the wealthiest patrician families to protect Venetian interests. Because of the broad extent of its judicial powers, it eventually became the most feared body in Venice.

The doge was elected for life by the patrician citizenry and his position possessed all the pomp that Venice's self-image could bestow.

committee of the priors
The committee of priors was composed of six to eight members elected by sortition from amongst leading guild members. Many measures were instituted that were intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of any single person or family. The shory two-month terms of the members was designed to ensure that all legislation was in the best interests of the commune since the next committee could quickly void any unacceptable decisions. Additionally, members were isolated during the terms of their office to shield the committee from the influence of special interest groups.

The condottieri were the commanders or captains of mercenary troops hired by cities and towns to provide military support during times of war. Often, after the conflict had been resolved, these troops themselves could become a problem as frightened citizens tried to appease their appetites until another war and lucrative wages called them away.

The rural nobility of the countryside (contado) in Italy.

The countryside surrounding an urban centre in Italy.

In the struggles over secular authority between the papacy and the Holy Roman Emperors, this party supported imperial claims although other ideas soon came to be associated with it. In northern towns, where German influence was stronger, the Ghibelline view of structured aristocratic dominance sanctioned by imperial authority was more likely to be appreciated.

The landholding noble families of the Italian countryside.

Great Council
Originally designed to be an elected body, the Great Council evolved into a closed corporation of about 200 members of the Venetian patriciate.

Developing from the struggles over secular authority between the papacy and the Holy Roman Emperors, the Guelphs supported papal views. As a party, the Guelphs tended to display anti-aristocratic principles that were readily adopted by southern republics such as Florence.

The appointment of bishops and archbishops within the Catholic Church.

A Florentine familiy of bankers and businessmen, the Medici influenced religious, political, cultural and economic development in Italy through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In the fifteenth century, under the leadership of Cosimo, Piero, and Lorenzo the Magnificent respectively, the Medici family was at the peak of its power. They and their supporters effectively ruled Florence, and they were among the most powerful of the Italian city-state rulers. They were generous in their patronage of authors, artists, and philosophers. Many of the brilliant figures of the Italian Renaissance were financially supported in their endeavours by members of the Medici family.

The podestà was the executive officer that held full and complete administrative powers on a temporary basis. Typically an educated citizen or noble brought in from another city as a temporary subsitute for the civic councils during times of crisis, many were highly effective civic administrators that moved from town to town as their services were required.

The non-noble working classes, found in Italy, that was further divided into the popolo grasso and the popolo minuto.

popolo grasso
The popolo grasso was composed of wealthy and influential professionals and guild members who controlled trade and civic administration. The popolo grasso eventually developed its own aristocracy as the nouveau riche became established and the old feudal nobility died out or became impoverished.

popolo minuto
The popolo minuto were the craftsmen and labourers who were forbidden to organize into guilds. Since, in many communes, guild membership was a prerequisite for political office, the popolo minuto were effectively excluded from involvement in civic government. This discrimination generated much of the civic restlessness that characterized Italian politics in the late Middle Ages and beyond.

seat of St. Peter
The Petrine Doctrine is based upon the supremacy of St. Peter amongst the apostles. St. Peter was the first bishop of Rome and thus the first pope. Subsequent popes claimed their authority from their succession to St. Peter's bishopric, or seat, arguing that as St. Peter was the chief apostle so the pope was the head of the apostolic Church. This led to problems during the Avignonese Captivity as people questioned the source of the pope's authority if he did not hold the bishopric of St. Peter in Rome.

A body of about 300 men, the Senate made laws, directed state finances and managed foreign affairs. Roughly half of the Senate was elected by the Great Council while the remainder were members by virtue of their states offices.

The Signoria was composed of the doge, six councilors and the three chief judicial magistrates. It held both ceremonial and executive powers.

The purchase of ecclesiastical appointments.

Family feuds between the rural nobility (contadini) that were often managed between the wide separating distances of the contado.

War of the Eight Saints
Desire for the wealthy papal town of Bologna led Florence away from her normally pro-papal stance and into armed conflict with the papacy. The papacy countered the attacks by placing the entire community under interdict and the conditions of the working classes deterioriated until they rebelled in 1378 in the Ciompi Rebellion. The "Eight Saints" were the eight priors of the city.

War of the Sicilian Vespers
This charming name is given to the bloody war that began when, on Easter Monday in 1282, a French soldier assaulted a young married woman on her way to vespers in Palermo. The surrounding mob attacked the soldier and raised the cry, "Death to the French!" The ensuing riot massacred virtually every Frenchman in the city and the violence swiftly spread across the entire island. When the French sent a retaliatory force, the Sicilians called on Peter III of Aragon to aid them. The war ended indecisively two decades later, the Angevins in Naples, the Aragonese in Sicily and the economy and people of Sicily spent.

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The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
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