In the historical development of Europe, Venice and Florence were among the leading states which accelerated Renaissance and were considered to be progressive and well developed states of the epoch. The role in the Renaissance period was particularly significant since their influence in Northern Italy as well as in Europe at large was quite substantial, especially that of Venice. At the same time, both state, being characterized by great socio-economic progress, development of arts, were considered to be practically ideals which were perceived as perfect states other countries could follow. At first glance, Venice and Florence really seemed to be states where new socio-economic relations were developed based on the progress of trade and banking, their political systems were considered quite democratic and, unlike many other states of the epoch they were republics, presumably governed by local community, the development of art in these cities seemed to indicate at the cultural progress in the states, to the extent that contemporaries believed that spiritual richness of Venice and Florence resulted from material well being, social stability and harmony. However, in actuality, the situation in both states was quite different from the ideal and their prosperity was basically based on the exploitation of their geographical and natural potential and the social stability was basically supported by repressive regimes which were not really democratic, while ordinary citizens could hardly resist to those in power and kept working enriching elite classes of both states.
Similarities between Venice and Florence
Speaking about Venice and Florence in the Renaissance period, it should be pointed out that they played an important role in the region and even Europe at large. The main reason is obvious – it is what made Venice and Florence so different from other European countries. Unlike feudal Europe that was divided in many small feudal states within bigger ones, Venice and Florence remained indivisible and officially they were republics while the vast majority of European states of 14th-15th centuries were still monarchies. This is probably why these states were so different from others and significantly similar to one another.
However, it should be pointed out that, even thought officially both states were proclaimed republics, but they did not implement democratic principles in the functioning of the state. To put it more precisely, neither Venice nor Florence turned to be able to provide their citizens with equal opportunities to participate in the governing of states. In actuality, both republics were really far from democracy and were rather oligarchic republics than democratic ones. Not surprisingly that the real power in both Venice and Florence was in hands of a limited circle of people who constituted the local elite, or a ruling class which was distanced from ordinary citizens and often applied repressions to sustain stability in the states.
Speaking about the ruling elite in both cities, it should be said that in the Renaissance period Medici family dominated in Florence through the network of connections. In fact, the most influential families of Florence were closely related to and even dependent on Medici. Similarly, in Venice the power of Dodges was undisputable and, in actuality, Dodges simply represented the interests of economic elite of the city-state. In such a way, the interests of the majority of population of both states were hardly taken into consideration and Venice and Florence were rather oligarchic states than democratic republics (Burkhardt 2000).
At the same time, it should be pointed out that the ruling elite, to a significant extent, was similar though not identical in Venice and Florence. To put it more precisely, merchants and rapidly progressing class of bankers played quite important role in the ruling of both states. This is why these classes played a significant role in political and socio-economic decisions of the government in both states.
Furthermore, the influence of the Roman Catholic church was quite strong in both states though the impact of Rome and Catholicism on Florence was more substantial than on Venice that, in actuality made these states different.
Differences between Venice and Florence
Even though the difference of the level of impact of the Roman Catholic Church in both states is not the most important one, it was very symbolic since it revealed the ‘black side’ of both, presumably ideal states as they were perceived by many contemporaries. In this respect, it is worthy to note that the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Venice was less significant but in Florence it affected the life of many citizens. On comparing the two states, it should be said that Venice was characterized by certain freedom from religious fanaticism and, in this respect, it may be viewed as quite a tolerant state. Moreover, in Venice there was not a single case of an execution for religious heresy during the Counter-Reformation. In stark contrast, such executions occurred in Florence.
Remarkably, in some cases executions for religious heresy were also the means of political struggle. For instance, the political opponent of Medici, who inspired the restoration of a really republican government in the state, the radical Dominican prior Girolamo Savonarola was burned at the stake, when he lost people’s support (Martines 2002). It should be said that officially he was persecuted for his Florentine sodomy and other worldly pleasures which foreshadowed many of the wider religious controversies of the following centuries.
Also, it should be said that the resistance to the political oppression and reaction of the general public on the arbitrary rule of the economic elite of both states was different in Venice and Florence. In this respect, Venice became a state where the power was based on espionage and political repressions which totally deprived social resistance and all attempts of large rebels. In stark contrast, Florence, despite attempts of the ruling class to use similar methods of control, had suffered from attempts of the resistance of citizens some of which resulted in revolts. For instance, in 1345 Florence was the scene of an attempted strike by wool combers who in 1378 rose up a brief revolt against oligarchic rule in the Revolt of the Ciompi (wool combers) (Davies 2001). In such a way, Florence people showed higher social consciousness and readiness to revolt that was probably the result of the industrial development of the state that led to the formation of a class which was a precursor of proletariat while Venice economy was focused on trade and agriculture. As a result, there was no socio-economic basis for the revolt and, consequently, local population remained totally deprived.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Venice and Florence were unquestionably progressive and economically, technologically, and culturally advanced states. At the same time, their political development as well as socio-economic relations were not perfect and did not correspond to the ideal image of republics of free people as contemporaries attempted to depict both states. In stark contrast, the power in both Venice and Florence was concentrated in hands of a few families which actually ruled the states. Moreover, some families were so strong, Medici in Florence, that they practically totally controlled political life in the country. Naturally, in such a situation, the ruling elite persecuted its own socio-economic interests without any regard to the interests of the vast majority of population of the states. As a result, Venice and Florence could be characterized as repressive oligarchic regimes which progress in the sphere of art was rather an exception than a rule.
1. Burkhardt, J. Civilization of the Renaissance. New York: Penguin, 2000.
2. Davies, R.C. War of the Fists. New York: Routledge, 2001.
3. Martines, L. April Blood. New York: Random House, 2002.