The History of Medieval Europe

By Lynn Thorndike; James T. Shotwell | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVIII
THE ITALIAN CITIES

THE Italian cities were the first to become prominent; they were the largest in wealth and in population; and they won the completest independence and self- government. Conditions in Italy for several centuries were favorable to the growth of independent city-states. First, the struggle for the peninsula between the Lombards and the Byzantine Empire gave coast settlements like Gaeta, Amalfi, Naples, and Venice the chance to develop their own government under their local dukes, and to protect themselves from the invaders by their own fleets, while still nominally professing allegiance to the Byzantine Empire. Second, when Charlemagne's empire first weakened and then dissolved, the towns of northern Italy or Lombardy were left pretty much to themselves under the rule of their bishops who had in general succeeded in displacing the lay counts. Third, during the investiture struggle Henry IV and sometimes Gregory VII granted the towns privileges in order to secure their support. Thus the maritime laws of Pisa were approved by the pope in 1075 and again in 1081 by the emperor. Finally, as we shall see, the protracted strife of popes and Hohenstaufen emperors gave the cities the opportunity to make good their complete independence.

Conditions favoring their independent development

Moreover, Italy was well situated to control trade between the eastern and southern Mediterranean and the west and north of Europe. Therefore, as Constantinople lost its hold on the coasts of the western Mediterranean and was also driven from the island of Sicily and the Adriatic Sea, it lost much of its trade and its place was taken by western ports such as Pisa, Genoa, and Venice. These three cities early displayed their enterprise and sea power: Venice, under the Doge

Growing trade of Italian coast cities

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