The Revolt of the Ciompi was a popular revolt in Florence in 1378 spur-headed by wool carders known as Ciompi (Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃompi]) and other non-guilded workers who rose up to demand a voice in the commune's ordering and enact debt and tax reforms.
The ciompi were a class of labourers in the textile industry who were not represented by any guild. They were among the most radical of the lower-class groups, vegetable sellers and crockery vendors and the like, and resented the controlling power that was centred in the Arte della Lana, the textile-manufacturing establishment which guided the economic engine of Florence's prosperity, and was supported by the other major Guilds of Florence, the Arti maggiori. Economic grievances had drawn artisans and wage-labourers into Florentine politics from the mid-fourteenth century. These workers, however, were forbidden from associating by city government. Forced loans, high taxes and an even higher rate of indebtedness kept the Ciompi impoverished. In 1355, the miserabiles, defined as having no property, possession worth less than 100 lire and no trade or profession, accounted for 22% of households in Florence.
In June 1378, the unguilded wool-workers took up arms and attacked government buildings. On July 21, the lower classes forcibly took over the government, placing the wool carder Michele di Lando in the executive office of gonfaloniere of justice, and showing their banner, the blacksmith's flag, at the Bargello, the palace of the podestà. The Ciompi compelled the governing body, the Signoria, to establish three additional guilds in order to grant the Ciompi access to political office. The total membership of the three new guilds was roughly 13,000 men whereas the twenty-one previously existing guilds had a membership of about 4000 to 5000 between them. After the incorporation of these new guilds, almost every man in Florence was able to participate in city government.During the time of Ciompi control, they demanded the right to elect three of their own priors, the reduction of judicial corporal punishment, and reform the tax system.
At the end of August 1378, factionalism among the Ciompi and the radical persecution of enemies of the revolution led to Michele di Lando arresting two Ciompi leaders who had demanded constitutional reform. The next day, Lando rode out of the palace with the Standard Bearer of Justice and cleared the piazza of a militia from the three new guilds, allowing the older guilds to occupy it. The workers' militia returned and a battle for the Piazza della Signoria broke out between the Ciompiand the forces of the major and minor guilds led by the guild of butchers. The Ciompi were crushed, a half dozen killed, twenty injured and many in hiding. On September 1st, citizens assembled in the piazza and approved the dissolution of the Ciompi guild from the priorate and the electoral pouches. Neverthless, the government continued to enact Ciompi-led reforms, such as the establishment of the estimo -- a direct tax on household wealth on October 29, 1378.
The city of Florence was governed by the guilds until 1382 when fear of foreign incursion and a prolonged dispute between the wool merchants and the dyers justified an intervention by the elite families on behalf of a disintegrating government. Delegitimizing the guilds and removing them from constitutional functions became a main objective of the post-1382 regime that repealed the guild government's reforms. City government engaged in a concerted campaign to depict the unguilded workers as criminal and heretical. The traumatic memory of the Ciompi revolt played a contributing factor to the support given by the members of the major guilds to Cosimo de' Medici a generation later.
More than a century later, Niccolò Machiavelli's Florentine Histories depicts the revolt with a series of invented debates and speeches that reflect the positions of the protagonists, seen from the patrician point of view of a later champion of state stability. As might be expected, the sculpture of the popular leader Michele di Lando (illustration, right) was not placed in a niche on the facade of the loggia in the Mercato Nuovo until the late nineteenth century, by which time historians of the Romantic generation had recast him as a leader of the people.
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