Perche Non Si USA Allegare I Romani: Machiavelli and the Florentine Militia of 1506

By Hornqvist, Mikael | Renaissance Quarterly, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Perche Non Si USA Allegare I Romani: Machiavelli and the Florentine Militia of 1506


Hornqvist, Mikael, Renaissance Quarterly


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The profound crisis the Florentine republic experienced at the turn of the Cinquecento paved the way for far-reaching constitutional, economic and military reforms. On 1 November 1502 the office of gonfalonier, the Republic's highest executive office, was transformed from a bimonthly to a life term as Piero Soderini became Florence's first gonfaloniere for life for the express purpose of rendering the government of the city more stable and efficient. Financially, the failure of the traditional public credit institutions, including the state funded debt, the Monte, to raise the money needed for the Pisan War (1495-1509) forced an agreement on a direct form of taxation, the so-called decima with arbitrio. This measure, which modern historians describe as a major fiscal innovation, would substantially contribute to the resolution of the Republic's pressing demand for liquidity. Militarily, the breakdown of the Florentine territorial state and the increased awareness of the city's dependency on outside assistanc e in the face of external threats prompted the authorities to accept Machiavelli's proposal for a new native militia in 1506.

Many Florentine intellectuals and military men had advocated a revival of the militia before Machiavelli embraced the cause. In the first half of the Quattrocento, Leonardo Bruni drafted a plan for the reintroduction of a citizen militia, and after the overthrow of the Medici in 1494, Domenico Cecchi, a close follower of Savonarola, attacked the mercenary system and evoked the native militia of the medieval commune in his Riforma sancta e pretiosa. (1) In his Dialogo del reggimento di Firenze, composed in the 1520s but set in 1494, Francesco Guicciardini portrays Paolantonio Soderini as a proponent of the militia, and later in the Cinquecento, the historians Jacopo Nardi and Jacopo Pitti both came to ascribe the idea to Antonio Giacomini, a Florentine military commander who had been frequently employed in the

Pisan war at the turn of the Cinquecento. (2) But the fact that Machiavelli was the real instigator and the driving force behind the project inaugurated in 1506 seems to be a matter beyond doubt. His central role in the venture is corroborated by a number of independent sources, including Francesco Guicciardini's account in Storie fiorentine and letters by Francesco Soderini, Filippo Casavecchia, Agostino Vespucci, and Leonardo Bartolini. Today, most scholars also agree that Machiavelli was the real promoter of the operation, even though the question of his involvement in its realization remains subject to controversy. (3)

Since Machiavelli played such a crucial role in the introduction of the new militia, many historians have come to take the Roman inspiration behind the project for granted. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Pasquale Villari contended that the militia ordinance had been envisioned on the model of the Swiss and the Roman military systems, and that Machiavelli and Piero Soderini, its two chief promoters, had been motivated by their "noble patriotism" and their admiration for ancient Roman exemplars such as Manlius Torquatus, the Scipii and the Camillii. (4) More recently, C.C. Bayley, Neil Wood and Felix Gilbert have discussed the militia of 1506 along similar lines, assuming that it was Roman in inspiration and based on the ideas Machiavelli later put forward in The Art of War, begun in 1518 and published in 1521. (5) Sergio Bertelli has argued the related case that Machiavelli in this treatise sought to present and elaborate on themes dating back to his distant, but still valid, experience from the mil itia project. (6) Although the connection has some support in Machiavelli's own writings, the failure of these scholars to address the complete, or almost complete, absence of Roman references in the official writings on the militia makes the interpretation problematic.

Scholars who acknowledge Machiavelli's silence on the Romans suggest that at this early date he had not yet come under the influence of the Roman model. …

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