Florence after the black plague

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By Professor Dorsey Armstrong, Ph.D., Purdue University

Florence was particularly affected by the Black Death. To restore production to one of Florence’s most important exports: brought in workers from out of town, who were well paid, but had no say in government. This latent discontent, along with attempts by the Florentine government to re-impose pre-plague social structures, led to the Ciompi revolt.

The city of Florence underwent enormous social changes as a result of the Black Death. (Image: Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff / Public domain)

The naked man

The production of wool in Florence was a multi-step process that involved both skilled and unskilled workers, some of whom were represented by powerful guilds and some of whom had no say in city government. After the first wave of the plague passed, Florence desperately sought to generate income by increasing her wool production and bringing it back to pre-plague levels. To do this, she needed more workers and she found them in the countryside.

In 1346, the medieval world was experiencing a demographic crisis, which meant people were grateful for any sort of work and stable income they could find. But in the post-plague world, when workers were suddenly in demand, this group thought maybe they should be treated a little better.

Thus, these workers – who were mostly immigrants to Florence – were able to earn a living economically and rapidly increased in terms of power and status. They came to be called the naked man– or new people – and even though they gained some wealth, they couldn’t manage any sort of presence in local government because it was a position reserved for those of aristocratic status.

This is a transcript of the video series The black plague: the most devastating plague in the world. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Social discontent

Coat of arms of the guilds of Florence.
The guilds of Florence held the most power, the Maggiori art being the most powerful. (Image: Istituto Centrale per gli Archivi, / Public domain)

The gentle were well received as they provided much needed manpower and tax base but grew increasingly unhappy as they were heavily taxed but had no say in government who collected these taxes. The gentle found a common cause with another dissatisfied faction of the population, the minor art.

The minor art, or minor guilds, were those guilds that were considered second-rate in Florence’s political system. They had long maintained a conflictual relationship with the major art. The major art consisted of seven powerful major guilds, and they were a major force in the Florentine government, with some city officials selected directly from their ranks.

Ciompi’s requirements

So there were tensions everywhere. Within the oligarchy which was to rule Florence, between the major art and the minor art, between the oligarchy and the naked man, and between the guilds and the ruling classes and a group known as the popolo minute– literally, the little people – all kinds of craftsmen whose work was essential, but had no guild representation.

To put it simply, it was a political and economic mess, and on top of all that, the government tried to re-impose a pre-plague system of governance on those who lived and worked in Florence, without really trying to s ‘adapt to this new reality.

In 1378 what is called the Ciompi Revolt began. ‘Ciompi’ is the word for the wool carders of Florence, but many, many other groups were involved in their revolt. But it started with the Ciompi demanding better representation among city officials in Florence.

Learn more about the transformation of economic opportunities after the plague.

The negociation

The ruling oligarchy reacted in a way that might have worked in a pre-plague world: it made it more difficult to enter a guild and quadrupled the fees people had to pay to become a member. In other words, instead of becoming more representative in response to these demands, they have become more elitist. As a result, limited violence erupted in late June, with members of Ciompi and their affiliates attacking some government buildings and letting prisoners out of jail.

In response to this, Florence’s governing body, the Signoria, agreed to talks with the Ciompi. What became clear almost immediately was that the government had no intention of actually agreeing to any of the Ciompi’s demands – they hesitated, hoping that eventually the agitators would end up getting bored or losing interest. They adopted vague half-measures, hoping that would be enough to appease the lower classes, but they were wrong. This only made the rebels even angrier.

Learn more about the Black Death in Florence.

The revolt and its consequences

On July 21, 1378, a real rebellion broke out. Thousands of Ciompi and their associates forcibly ousted the members of the Signoria and placed one of their own in the position of Gonfaloniere of Justice. They demanded that the Signoria create three new official guilds and also decree that the members of these guilds would hold public office. What they wanted, essentially, was a performance for the minor art and for those without a guild popolo minuto be assigned a guild with a voice in civic affairs.

For three years, the government of the city-state of Florence was led by members of the Ciompi guild. But soon factionalism appeared among the members of the Ciompi, and in August 1378, fighting broke out between the Ciompi and other factions of the guild, and the civic leaders were replaced in one of the bloodiest days of the history of Florence. But they were replaced by other members of the lower classes, and the city would continue to be ruled by them until 1382.

Finally, the members of the aristocracy were able to rally and oust the Ciompi and their allies from positions of civic leadership. Once the aristocrats returned to power, they sought both to consolidate their position while moving forward and implementing some of the reforms the Ciompi wanted, in particular a change in the tax system. In the long term, while the basic structures in place in Florence’s political infrastructure were essentially the same as in the pre-plague days, the composition, interests and powers of these bodies have been significantly altered. by the effects of the plague. .

Common questions about Florence and the Ciompi revolt

Q: Who were the gentle in Florence?

After the Black Death, workers from outside were allowed to enter the wool trade in Florence. Eventually, these workers rapidly increased in terms of power and status. They came to be called the gentle.

Q: Why was gente nuova upset?

The naked man were heavily taxed but had no political representation in government. It made them feel unhappy.

Q: How did the Ciompi revolt come about?

The wool carders of Florence, called the Ciompi, demanded better representation among municipal officials in Florence. This only led to the Florentine government making the guild rules stricter. This initially led to isolated violence, but became a full-fledged revolt once the Ciompi and their supporters realized the government would not accede to their demands for equal representation.

Keep reading
The gateways to the first wave of the Black Death in Europe
The Black Death in Iberia and France
The first wave of the Black Death: the plague in Sicily


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