The Revolt of the Ciompi was a popular revolt in late medieval Florence by wool carders known as ciompi (Italian pronunciation: [tÊom.pi]), who rose up in 1378 to demand a voice in the commune's ordering.

In late medieval Florence, the disenfranchised ciompi ("wool carders") were a class of labourers in the textile industry who were not represented by any guild. The ciompi were among the most radical of the lower-class groups, vegetable sellers and crockery vendors and the like, and resented the controlling power that was centred in the Arte della Lana, the textile-manufacturing establishment which guided the economic engine of Florence's prosperity, and was supported by the other major Guilds of Florence, the Arti maggiori.

[edit] Revolt of the Ciompi

Statue of Michele di Lando, Loggia del Mercato Nuovo, Florence

In 1378, ciompi launched the Revolt of the Ciompi, a briefly successful insurrection of the disenfranchised lower classes, the popolo minuto, which remained as a traumatic memory for members of the major guilds and contributed to the support given to the Medici a generation afterwards, as stabilizers of Florentine order. The revolt briefly brought to power in 14th-century Florence an unprecedented level of democracy. The ciompi were defeated by the more conservative elements in Florentine society when the major and minor guilds closed ranks to re-establish the old order, a counter-revolution in which the knight Salvestro de' Medici played a prominent role.

A typical imbroglio among factions within the popolo grasso (the well-to-do "fat ones") sparked the uprising. Members of the lower classes, called upon to take part in late June 1378, took matters into their own hands in July. They presented a series of petitions to the governing body, the Signoria, demanding more equitable fiscal policies and the precious right to establish guilds for those groups not already organized. Then, on July 22, the lower classes forcibly took over the government, placing the wool carder Michele di Lando in the executive office of gonfaloniere of justice, and showing their banner at the Palazzo della Signoria.

The revolutionaries within the Florentine republic were backed by radical members of the usually powerless minor guilds, the arti minori. They extended guild privileges to the ciompi, and for the first time a European government, however briefly, represented all the classes of society.

But the ciompi were disillusioned within a matter of weeks that summer, when the new government failed to implement all their Utopian demands. Conflicts of interests between the minor guilds and the ciompi became evident. On August 31, a large group of the ciompi that had gathered in the Piazza della Signoria was easily routed by the combined forces of the major and minor guilds. In reaction to this revolutionary episode, the new ciompi guild was abolished, and within four years the dominance of the major guilds was restored.

The event was a traumatic episode for the Florentine upper classes. More than a century later, Niccol Machiavelli's Florentine Histories depicts the revolt with a series of invented debates and speeches that reflect the positions of the protagonists, seen from the patrician point-of-view of a later champion of state stability. As might be expected, the sculpture of the popular leader Michele di Lando (illustration, right) was not placed in a niche on the facade of the loggia in the Mercato Nuovo until the late nineteenth century, by which time historians of the Romantic generation had recast him as a leader of the people.

[edit] References

  • Brucker, Gene A. "The Revolt of the Ciompi", in Florentine Studies (1968).
  • Brucker, Gene A. Florence: The Golden Age, 1138–1737. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984 (hardcover, ISBN 0-89659-457-2); Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998 (paperback, ISBN 0-520-21522-2).
  • Chronicles of the Tumult of the Ciompi (Monash publications in history; 7) by Rosemary Kantor and Louis Green (translators). Clayton, Vic.: Monash University, 1991 (paperback, ISBN 0-7326-0212-2).
  • Cohn, Samuel Kline, Jr. The Laboring Classes in Renaissance Florence (Studies in social discontinuity). New York: Academic Press, 1980 (hardcover, ISBN 0-12-179180-7).
  • Cohn, Samuel Kline, Jr. Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200–1425. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-674-02162-2).
  • Leibovici, Martine. "From Fight to Debate: Machiavelli and the Revolt of the Ciompi", Philosophy & Social Criticism, 2002, Vol. 28, No. 6, pp. 647–660.
  • Marks, L.F. "Fourteenth-Century Democracy in Florence": [Review Article: Florentine Families and Florentine Diaries in the Fourteenth Century: Studies in Italian Medieval History Presented to Miss E.M. Jamison, P.J. Jones (ed.)], Past and Present, No. 25. (Jul., 1963), pp. 77–85.

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