THE ITALIAN RENAISSANCE: POLITICS AND HUMANISM
IN the later Middle Ages the Italian cities lost for the most part their political independence and communal institutions. But as a result of the economic prosperity won in the previous period and continued in this, they produced and patronized a host of writers, scholars, and artists. This output in culture is known as the "Italian Renaissance." If we regard Dante as in a sense closing the great period of medieval culture, we may begin the so-called Renaissance in Italy about the middle of the fourteenth century with Petrarch. The movement had attained its height in Italy and had begun to spread abroad through Europe at about the opening of the sixteenth century -- the time selected for the close of this volume. Before considering the Renaissance itself, we may briefly notice the chief political changes in the Italian peninsula during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
General character of the period
The constant strife between cities and within cities, of which we have had to speak whenever we mentioned the Italian communes, had three outcomes. First, the rise of despots or princes, absolute rulers who deprived the citizens of the political rights which they had failed to exercise harmoniously. Second, the aggrandizement of a few cities at the expense of the rest, which were for the most part reduced to subjection and deprived of their self-government. Third, the employment of mercenary troops and leaders, called condottieri, who were not moved by patriotism, but solely by self-interest. These three things ruined public spirit and were accompanied by a great deterioration of political morality. The condottieri had reduced war to a science of getting as much pay as possible out of their employers, as much plunder as possible out of the country, and as great victories as possible for
Political decline: condottieri