Hope Greenberg
History 300
Daily Questions: July 8,1993

1) Basing your answers on the excerpts from Waley, The Italian City Republics, comment on the ways the era of the republican communes affected medieval Italy's cultural and educational development.

In the section on the pre-suppositions of government, Waley introduces two of the ideas that seem to permeate the culture of this period: all problems are soluble, and all aspects of society can be regulated. If the resolution of a problem did not quite fit with the model than the model was adjusted. If at all possible future occurrences of such a problem were obviated by a regulation. Nothing fell outside the model, so nothing was immune from consideration.

These ideas applied to all levels and aspects of the society from the regulations controlling sea voyages to the regulations controlling the length of a lady's sleeve. Given the number of people (that is, landed males who have citizenship) involved in civic affairs, we should not assume that such regulation was an imposition on the people, but rather an accepted cultural norm.

The variety and ofttimes conflicting nature of this practice serves to point out the differences between communities that were grew as those communities developed their own images and standards. Thus, for example, while education traditionally followed the patterns established by the Church, regional differences appear. A growing interest in literacy geared to business is evident in many of the increasingly mercantile city-states. A town with well-known scholars, fearing the medieval equivalent of "brain-drain" might offer those scholars, might be offered appealing terms for their continued residence.

This form of civic pride or patriotism extended to the physical community as well. The evident concern over such items as communal meadows, public pallazzos, and cathedrals recurs in the public records.
2) What factors contributed to the continual political and diplomatic instability of late medieval and Renaissance Italy?

Growing from a background of a vertical system where at each level one owes fealty to some person or persons above one's self as well as responsibility to persons below one's station, it is not surprising that late medieval culture is not an example of horizontal homogeneity. Combine this system with growing islands of wealth and power with a citizenry increasingly devoted to forwarding the interests of its own communities, and add to this mix the obvious passion of a people to whom warfare and dispute are not necessarily an evil, and you have a recipe for political instability.

As parties and factions grew and declined, as families gained power and tried to gain the land that, despite their increased urbanization continued to be the symbol of power, and as church and state worked now together, now at odds, the constantly evolving governmental structures faltered as they tried to integrate all these factors.

My Questions:

How much of the, to our eyes, "over-regulation" of life in the Italian City States was an outgrowth or mirroring of highly structured manorial life. In other words, did one flow from the other or are they both the result of the accepted culture of the time? Or were neither as regulated as they might appear on vellum?

Waley mentions (p.65) that the period of residence before obtaining citizenship in Pisa was reduced from twenty-five years to three by 1319. Does this reflect a growing migration of people between cities or did migration remain relatively low throughout the 13th-14th centuries?

I find this codifying of minutiae combined with the belief that all things can be fixed (or learned) to be the idea that most closely ties this period with our own! The image (as in C.S. Lewis' "Discarded Image"?) of an increasingly complex model where nothing is ever "thrown away" but rather where the model is simply adjusted to fit it, is fascinating. Oh, that's not a question.....well in a way it is....the question is, is that "image" of medieval culture a valid one?

This file is part of Hope Greenberg's Graduate Portfolio for the course History 300. Created 15 October 1996.