The Italian Republics - Commerce in General

Among the Italian cities, Venice, at the extremity of the Adriatic, Ravenna, at the south of the mouth of the Po, Genoa, at the foot of the Ligurian mountains, Pisa, towards the mouths of the Arno, Rome, Gaëta, Naples, Amalphi, and Bari, were either never conquered by the Lombards, or were in subjection too short a time to have lost many of their ancient habits and customs. In this way these cities naturally became the refuge of Roman civilization, at a time when other parts of Europe were wading through barbarian darkness. The feudal system never prevailed among them with any force; and several of these and other cities had important privileges conferred upon them by the German emperors at a very early period. Sismondi, the historian of Italy, asserts that Otho I (936) erect ed some of them into municipal communities, and permitted them the election of their own magistrates. It is certain that, in 991, the citizens of Milan rose in tumult, expelled an archbishop from their city, and were able to establish a qualified right to interfere in future elections. The after history of Milan is eventful and tragical; but we can only give a short account of it here. In the middle of the twelfth century, Frederick Barbarossa became engaged with the cities of Lombardy, and particularly with it, in extensive and destructive wars. In the year 1162 Milan was finally overcome; the walls and houses were razed from their foundation, and the suffering inhabitants dispersed over other cities, obtaining sympathy in their distress, and communicating their enthusiastic love of freedom in return. The republican form of government was adopted in every considerable town; and before the end of the thirteenth century, there was a knowledge, a, power, and an enterprise, among these apparently insignificant republics which all Europe could not match.

The beneficial though unlooked-for effect of the Crusades upon commerce has already been mentioned. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the commerce of Europe was almost entirely in the hands of the Italians, more commonly known in those ages by the name of Lombards. The republic of Pisa was one of the first to make known to the world the riches and power which a small state might acquire by the aid of commerce and liberty. Pisa had astonished the shores of the Mediterranean by the numb er of vessels and galleys that sailed under her flag, by the succor she had given the Crusaders, by the fear she had inspired at Constantinople, and by the conquest of Sardinia and the Balearic Isles. Immediately preceding this period, those great structures which still delight the eye of the travel er - the Dome, the Baptistry, the Leaning Tower, and the Campo Santo of Pisa had all been raised; and the great architects that spread over Europe in the thirteenth century, had mostly their education here. But unfortunately, the ruin of this glorious little republic was soon to be accomplished. A growing envy had subsisted between it and Genoa during the last two centuries, and a new war broke out in 1282. It is difficult to comprehend how two simple cities could put to sea two such prodigious fleets as those of Pisa and Genoa. Fleets of thirty, sixty-four, twenty-four, and one hundred and three galleys, were successively put to sea by Pisa, under the most skillful commanders; but on every occasion the Genoese were able to oppose them with superior fleets. In August, 1284, the Pisans were defeated in a naval engagement before the Isle of Meloria; thirtyfive of their vessels were lost, five thousand persons perished in battle, and eleven thousand became prisoners of the Genoese. After a few furtherineffectual struggles, Pisa lost its standing.