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I response to the appeal to improve this entry I have added some material about numeracy, about the schools of the city states and about some differences from N. Europe regarding the earlier exit from feudalism. I have cited all of these with very reliable sources which are easily checked. However, I enter  after each inclusion assuming this is how references get listed but this doesn't work. Can someone pls help with this? Thanks PRC 07 (talk) 06:31, 2 January 2010 (UTC)
I worked out how to add the references. I hope others will help to extend and deepen this page. It is a very important phase in history and deserves an extended treatment. Regards PRC 07 (talk) 06:58, 2 January 2010 (UTC)
I added some links to similar city-states throughout Europe, to which these Italian states were often linked by trade. I hope the article will continue to be expanded. Drifter bob (talk) 21:30, 30 October 2010 (UTC)
Would it not make more sense for the list of cities at the end of the introductory paragraph to link to the historic city states rather than the present day cities? For example, the 'Venice' link is to this article. Would it not be better to link it to this article? Boico101 (talk) 17:16, 29 November 2010 (UTC)
The claim that Italy's terrain influenced its independent development does not ring true. Spain has a much rougher terrain and many of its rivers (i.e. Douro) are not navigatable inland very far because of the steep elevations. If isolation due to topography were a factor in Italy, it would have been a factor in Spain.
Instead, what is likely a factor is the Roman history and culture that ruled the Apeninne Peninsula. For centuries the tension among the patricians and between the patricians and plebians played out, much like the movement of power among kings and within the church. In some respects the rise of a merchant class is analogous to the elevation of the plebians. Hence, Italy had already played-out centuries beforehand many of the dynamics of feudalism.
One key area was land. Land was the thing sought to secure or change one's status. Controlling large estates was a path to wealth--even if one took public land as one's own. Moreover, the most popular way to grab more land, was to apply a burdensome tax to those who had less until they forfeited what they had. Some interesting facts about the land can be found when reading about the Lichian Laws of 397 B.C., The Gracchus brothers and other reformers. Even J.Caesar as consul redistributed land as co-consul in Campania to Pompey's solders and the poor. Cicero lambasted Caesar on this in On Duty, chapter XIV. Caesar as emperor was also successful in halving the over 300,000 paupers within Rome living off the provisions of the Corn Law, by opening new colonies in provinces, to grant plots of land and hence fresh starts. Although this had been done before, Caesar also reformed the way taxes were imposed and collected in provinces, so that this time the agrarian would have lasting value to those for whom it was intended. (BTW the blue highlighted phrase, agrarian reform, does not link to any topic immediately pertinent to Italy.)
It is also interesting to note, that the seed of feudalism was sowed in Italy during the Empire's Revival (268-283 AD), when once again the Empire was absorbing a large number of non-Romans into the Roman way of life in the provinces. This time it was not due to Roman conquests. Rather, Germans and Slavs were immigrating into the Roman Empire for protection as Mongols and other aggressive tribes were plundering their villages. It was said that these coloni would not tolerate the Roman status of slave, so something else had to be invented. These coloni and the provincial estate holders did find a new way to live together. The Roman lord would rent a plot of land to each coloni, which was large enough sustenance. Although I have not read more deeply into this trend, I wonder if it was possible whether the coloni also worked the lord's larger parcel.
There is much more that can be said about corruption within the Roman Senate over centuries and how cronism allowed public land to become virtual private estates for the patricians. Although the Senators did not raise standards and charge a legion for taking, they often used assasination and massacre to eliminate anyone who got in the way of how business was done. It matches the intrigue that will comes into the courts of the medieval age.
It is not so much that Italians were different from other Europeans; it is that the disenfranchised had already been there and done that. The time came for them, as would for there peers in other parts of Europe, to no longer live with status quo. Commerce was their ticket to someplace else.
I have to go now and do car-pooling. My sources were Cicero's On Duty, Book One, internet sources to read more about the First Triumvirate, and William C. Morey's text that has been reprinted by Cornell (2009).
Autonomy, independence, Venice
I made some edit on these issues. Comuni were more looking for greater autonomy, they did not really mind to get out of the Holy Roman Empire, but just to make the Imperial rule only nominal. Indeed, after the end of the comuni experience, when they became signorie, all the signori (Lords) of the different city (and after regional states) were at least nominally feudatories of the Roman Emperor. I would not agree to say that they were fighting a kind of national struggle for independence, since this is more an interpretation of nationalist historiography from XIXth century: they were bourgeois movements, struggling to get out of feudalism and to form local oligarchic merchant republics; where republic is intended as res publica of the wealthy citizens in contrast with the res privata of the feudatory, not in the sense of nowaday republics. The exception was Venice, which first of all broke apart from Byzantine Empire and not HRE, and then formed a real independent oilgarchic republic, with its own politics and interests, never subjected to HRE (to which most part of North Italy and Tuscany will nominally remain part until the end of XVIIIth century, but for the territories under the Republic of Venice or under the Papal States). We can say that it was born as well as a merchant (maritime) republic, but with important even if slight differencies, which will become strong differencies in the following centuries (even mantaining the oligarchic form).
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