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The Economy of Renaissance Florence

Richard A. Goldthwaite

Publication Year: 2009

Richard A. Goldthwaite, a leading economic historian of the Italian Renaissance, has spent his career studying the Florentine economy. In this magisterial work, Goldthwaite brings together a lifetime of research and insight on the subject, clarifying and explaining the complex workings of Florence’s commercial, banking, and artisan sectors. Florence was one of the most industrialized cities in medieval Europe, thanks to its thriving textile industries. The importation of raw materials and the exportation of finished cloth necessitated the creation of commercial and banking practices that extended far beyond Florence’s boundaries. Part I situates Florence within this wider international context and describes the commercial and banking networks through which the city's merchant-bankers operated. Part II focuses on the urban economy of Florence itself, including various industries, merchants, artisans, and investors. It also evaluates the role of government in the economy, the relationship of the urban economy to the region, and the distribution of wealth throughout the society. While political, social, and cultural histories of Florence abound, none focuses solely on the economic history of the city. The Economy of Renaissance Florence offers both a systematic description of the city's major economic activities and a comprehensive overview of its economic development from the late Middle Ages through the Renaissance to 1600.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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List of Tables, Figures, and Maps

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xviii

An economic history of medieval and Renaissance Florence at once focuses on a single city and opens a perspective on all of Europe. At home, the city had a textile industry that was as strong as any in Europe yet completely dependent on the importation of raw materials from faraway places and on the exportation of its finished products to altogether different faraway places, while the success of its...

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Introduction: The Commercial Revolution

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pp. 3-34

The intensification and expansion of Italian trading activity throughout the Mediterranean and western Europe has given rise to the rubric “commercial revolution” to cover the period of early trade-led growth of the Europe an economy, from the tenth to the fourteenth century.¹ For some, however, this expansion of trade did not really reach a revolutionary stage but was simply the acceleration of...

Part I: International Merchant Banking

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1. The Network

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pp. 37-125

The strength of Florence in international commerce and finance was in its network abroad. Firms were scattered all about the western Mediterranean and northern Europe, in hinterland towns as well as the major ports of trade, and although they were autonomous businesses, these firms worked through one another and thus tied themselves into a comprehensive international network that...

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2. The Shifting Geography of Commerce

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pp. 126-202

The dynamic that drove the commercial revolution was trade between Europe and the Levant, and in Europe the principal pole of this trade was in the northwest. By the third quarter of the twelfth century much of the trade in this area had converged on the great fairs of Champagne, in northeastern France. Then, toward the end of the next century, this northern node shifted northwestward...

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3. Banking and Finance

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pp. 203-262

The first impulse for going abroad may have been trade, but Florentine merchants also engaged in activities that mark the emergence of international banking and finance. Given the extent of their network ties with fellow citizens all over Europe, they were in a better position than anyone else to transfer funds as well as goods from one place to another and thereby effect exchange...

Part II: The Urban Economy

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4. The Textile Industries

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pp. 265-340

The production of textiles gave the Florentine economy a solid industrial base that few other Italian cities enjoyed. More than any other activity, it generated the extraordinary growth of the city’s wealth. In a 1321 ranking of sources of tax contributions the wool guild comes first, far above all the others, and the next highest was the guild that included manufacturers of silks and silk...

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5. Artisans, Shopkeepers, Workers

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pp. 341-407

The previous chapters have dealt with the leading sectors of the economy that were controlled by capitalist investors—international commerce and banking and the textile industries. The people in this chapter worked in many activities, but they can be lumped together in one composite sector of the economy that produced goods and services primarily, if not exclusively, for the local market, not for...

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6. Banking and Credit

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pp. 408-483

The basic function of banking is to attract deposits from private persons with more money than they need and then to put this money to use by loaning some of it out to persons who need it. A bank pays interest to attract deposits; it assumes that not all depositors will want their money back at the same time, so that it can risk loaning some of it out; and it makes its profits on the difference...

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7. Contexts

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pp. 484-582

In surveying the economy of Florence we have often encountered many ways in which the government impinged on economic activity, and now it is time to take up this theme alone and to evaluate the role of the government in the economy. Hence the following discussion includes much material scattered throughout the preceding chapters that is relevant to government economic policies and...

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pp. 583-607

In the previous chapters we have examined the economy of Florence more or less sector by sector—international commerce, international banking and finance, the textile industries, artisan enterprises, local banking and credit—and then widened the perspective to see to what extent economic activity was conditioned by government intervention, how it interacted with regional markets, and how...

Appendix: Changing Values of the Florin

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pp. 609-614


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pp. 615-649

E-ISBN-13: 9780801896880
E-ISBN-10: 0801896886
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421400594
Print-ISBN-10: 1421400596

Page Count: 672
Illustrations: 7 line drawings
Publication Year: 2009