Capitano del popolo

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The capitano del popolo (Italian for "Captain of the People") was an administrative title used in Italy during the Middle Ages.

It was created in the early 13th century when the populares, the increasing wealthy classes of merchants, professionals, craftsmen and, in maritime cities, ship-owners, who were of non-noble origin, were able to acquire a role in the communal administration, and needed a figure able to balance that of the nobles (called potentes), represented usually by the podestà. One of the first capitani del popolo was that of Bologna, appointed in 1228.

The Capitano del Popolo controlled the podestà, sometimes flanked by two autonomous councils with representants of the local guilds (the arti e mestieri) and the gonfalonieri, leaders of military units connected with the parishes.

In Florence, a capitano del popolo existed from 1250 as part of the attempt to free the city from Frederick II's rule. Such a magistrature also existed in the early stages of the Republic of Genoa.

Towards the second half of the 13th century, however, the communal title of Capitano del Popolo became a breeding ground of dispotism and hereditary lordship. By gaining control of the election process of the Capitano del Popolo, many influential families, including the aristocrats that the establishment of this office had contributed to keep out of power, gained control over their cities and towns of residence, thus assuring their long-lasting influence and progressively trasforming the Comune into a Signoria.