Week 21: Tuesday, March 29, 2016
"Firenze all 'Apice," Florence at the Summit


In 1300, Giovanni Villani, a Florentine banker attended the great Jubilee of that year proclaimed by Pope Boniface VIII.  While in Rome, Villani was struck by the contrast between his own Florence and the legendary ancient capital.  Rome seemed to be in decline and his own city seemed to be at her peak.  In the 36th chapter of Book 8 of his Chronicle, Villani states that the idea of writing the Cronica was suggested to him during the jubilee of Rome under the following circumstances. After Pope Boniface VIII made in honor of Christ’s nativity a great indulgence; Villani writes: “And being on that blessed pilgrimage in the sacred city of Rome and seeing its great and ancient monuments and reading the great deeds of the Romans as described by Virgil, Sallust, Lucan, Livy, Valerius, Orosius, and other masters of history … I took my prompting from them although I am a disciple unworthy of such an undertaking. But in view of the fact that our city of Florence, daughter and offspring of Rome, was mounting and pursuing great purposes, while Rome was in its decline, I thought it proper to trace in this chronicle the origins of the city of Florence, so far as I have been able to recover them, and to relate the city’s further development at greater length, and at the same time to give a brief account of events throughout the world as long as it please God, in the hope of whose favor I undertook the said enterprise rather than in reliance on my own poor wits. And thus in the year 1300, on my return from Rome, I began to compile this book in the name of God and the blessed John the Baptist and in honor of our city of Florence.”   The Chronicle of Villani is a mark of the optimism and pride of Florentines as they observed the achievements of their city. They were building the largest cathedral in Italy.  They were building the largest civic center in Italy.  They were completing their new constitution that gave the city the most democratic government in all Italy. Their new Florentine coin called the Florin that was less than fifty years old was now the first choice of every banker and merchant of the whole world. Their painters were chosen for projects all over the world. For Villani. Florence was the best city in the world. And so it seemed in 1300.


This two-volume history of Florence is the best detailed study of one part of Italy for the period we are studying this year. Schevill wrote a masterpiece of well researched narrative history for Florence in 1936 and then it was republished in a Harper Torchbook paperback in 1961. The Harper Torchbook is still out there in used book stores so we have purchase five for our library. But there are still copies left if you want to own one. It is two volumes with the first volume devoted to our period of Medieval History and the second volume on Renaissance Florence.  For the Lombards see Medieval Florence (Volume 1) Chapter Three, "Darkness Over Florence."

Ferdinand Schevill,

Medieval and Renaissance Florence,

Harper Torchbook paperback, 1963, 2 volumes,