Chapter 8. The rise of Italy in its first identity and the birth of the Italian city-states

8.1 The growth of the German Empire and its hold on northern Italy

The fight between the pope and the German emperor about the count-bishops and the ensuing war between emperor and princes left a deep mark in Germany where the prince-electors chose to assume back power, taking it away from the central imperial authority. It furthermore enhanced the role of the pope, which grew even more with the First Crusade. When Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade, he managed for the first time to bring a spiritual and religious cohesion that united Western Europe, and more importantly, reconciled the majority of bishops who had abandoned Gregory VII in the fight over investiture. In the end, the Gregorian Reform of the Church won out over the German emperor Henry IV[1].

Moreover, as spiritual leader and supreme preacher of the crusade, the pope had his role as the head of the church underscored, and the church became more a sort of political instrument in the hands of the pope. No longer would kings and emperors think themselves equals to the pope, or the head of the church in their kingdoms—the pope was above them. The pope could call on aristocrats and nobles to rebel against their rulers if the rulers went against the pope. This was the situation from 1122 until the Reformation in the 16th century. This new power, however, made the position of pope even more coveted and central in plots and conspiracies that now would involve all of Europe for centuries. The country that would manage to place his man in Rome would have an upper hand in the continental affairs. This in turn pushed Rome to center its power on itself, as the Roman aristocracy knew it could retain and expand its clout over all of Europe by influencing or controlling the pope.

This brought up again the centrality of Rome in the life and politics of the continent. This new centrality, very different from that of the Imperial Rome, was further boosted by the pilgrimages and the donations pilgrims and sinners made to Rome, something that created a whole new economy and trade in and around Italy. Gifts and donations came flowing to Rome not only from Christian Europe but also from Constantinople and the new Christian territories in the Middle East. Italy was once more the center of exchange. This time the flow of goods went from the eastern Mediterranean to the now-Christian north and central Europe, firmly under the umbrella of the papacy.

Then the papacy not only granted legitimization to the fledgling rule of feudal princes seeking a more stable hold on their kingdoms while being threatened by the emperor the king, the rival dukes or the lesser vassals, but it also gave access to the burgeoning new trade coming from the east and from the accumulation of donations deriving from the pilgrims. Thanks to its growing, efficient network of abbeys and monasteries, the church was able to directly help and unite the common people of the various kingdoms and provide some form of stability and support in a time of great upheaval.

Priests were also the main force for the administration of the different estates, where rulers were military commanders and often had little or no culture for the management of their assets. Formerly, princes could appoint and promote the clerics, who followed this management, independently from the pope, but now that the pope won the fight with the emperor, they were more directly under Rome. The network of abbeys and monks also provided a unique grid of information-reporting to Rome. This information grid was unrivalled by any other state in Europe and provided extra leverage to the popes.

In the meantime the Holy Empire, the largest single political entity in Europe, was undergoing a deep crisis. At the death of the German emperor Henry V in 1125, the princes chose to skip his kin, and rather picked Lothair, the powerful but already old Duke of Saxony. When he died in 1138, the princes again aimed to check royal power; accordingly they passed on Lothair’s heir, his son-in-law Henry the Proud of the Welf family, and went for Conrad III of the Hohenstaufen family, the grandson of Emperor Henry IV and thus a nephew of Emperor Henry V. This led to over a century of strife between the two houses. Conrad ousted the Welfs from their possessions, but after his death in 1152, his nephew Frederick I “Barbarossa” succeeded him and made peace with the Welfs, restoring to his cousin Henry the Lion a part of his possessions.

However, almost a century of strife between German princes left northern Italy, though formally under imperial control, to its own devices. The crisis of Constantinople had also freed Venice, officially subject to Byzantine rule, to pursue its own businesses and compete with the maritime republics that had been springing in southern Italy. Well before the crusade, in the ninth century, Amalfi had emerged as a major trading port between Europe and the east and south Mediterranean, and it gained political liberty in 849, when it led an expedition against the Muslim invaders. In the 11th century, Pisa also sprang as an active trading port. Genoa and Venice were to come later. The new centralized rule of Normans in the south suffocated trade and liberties, but traders and their experience moved to the north, which was lacking central political controls so cities were left to rule themselves, with the papal blessings. The popes had favored the penetration of Normans in southern Italy to contrast two major powers, but in the north, the new independence of the cities was better than imperial rule.

All in all, in the middle of the 12th century, when Barbarossa emerged as the strong ruler of the empire, Italy had resources, because of trade; moral influence, because of the pope; and an established tradition of political self-reliance. Yet, to a large extent, the region still had not realized its situation, as Barbarossa, who expected Italian cities just to pledge allegiance to him, had not.

8.2 The Italian city-states versus the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa and the Byzantine Manuel the Great

In the middle of the 12th century two strong personalities emerged, whose actions had deep repercussions in the Mediterranean world and de facto helped the reemergence of Italian political centrality. They represented in a way the old and the new world orders. To the west, the new order came with the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa (1122–June 10, 1190), the first of a series of very powerful German rulers. In the east, there was Manuel I Komnenos (November 28, 1118–September 24, 1180), de facto the last of the great Roman emperors, since after him the Byzantine decline accelerated. The destinies of the two men are intertwined in a complex way and their ambitions clashed with one another and mostly were crushed by the new political resurgence of three power centers in Italy, the peninsula that was growing rich again and that was their coveted prize.

The three powers were first the Normans in the south, which structured a rather centralized, efficient state able to withstand foreign attacks but that stemmed the growth of the Maritime republics of Amalfi and around Bari. This lucrative trade moved soon north, to Pisa, then Genoa and Venice. The second power were the city states dotting the North and able to resist and beat at times the mighty German emperor. They were to build up strength and money and to become protagonists of the Italian history. The third, and mightiest power center was the Papacy in Rome, which came to dominate soon European politics.

These developments are extremely convoluted but are worth following to some detail because of the repercussions they had.

Manuel’s arrival to the throne came at a time when the Byzantine power had been waning for some years. With him it again played an important role until the end of the century both in the east, in support of the newly established Christian states in Palestine and thereabouts, and also in Italy, where it lent crucial aid in the rise of the Italian city-states against the German emperor. Byzantine emperor Manuel I also sought to reunite the Eastern and Western churches, but this time he was turned down by the popes, who claimed to have the same superiority they had achieved with the German emperor with the Byzantine emperor. Manuel conversely sought to recover the old pattern of patronage between emperors and popes of Roman times, but he no longer had the massive political clout of his predecessors that forced popes de facto into submission. Yet he still had retrieved enough power to stop both the advance of the Christian states in the east and of the Normans and the German emperor in the west. In this predicament, the Italian city-states, with Manuel’s help, emerged as a crucial new element in Mediterranean politics.

The first test of Manuel’s reign came in 1144, when he faced the demand of Raymond, Prince of Antioch for the cession of Cilician territories. Later that year Raymond had to confront the tide of a war against Imad ad-Din Atabeg Zengi, a new Sunni Turkish prince coming after the dissolution of the Seljuk power. With his eastern flank now dangerously exposed, Raymond made the journey north to ask for the protection of the emperor. After submitting to Manuel, he was promised the support that he requested[2]. The roles with the crusaders were reversed: they no longer were providing support to Byzantium; they were seeking its support, sign of the new resurgence of the Byzantine power. Two years after Manuel’s support became active, as he mounted a military expedition against the bordering Seljuk Turks, attacking and destroying the fort of Philomelion and reaching the Turkish capital of Konya.

Manuel could not follow up on these early successes because he was urgently required in the Balkans where the Serbs of Rascia had suddenly rebelled. The Norman Roger II of Sicily, called in by the Balkan rebels, invaded Byzantine territory in 1149[3]. Manuel forced the Serbs, and their leader, Uroš II, into vassalage (1150–1152). Then he moved against the Hungarians trying to annex their territory along the river Sava.

Still concerned about the Balkans, in 1147 Manuel granted a passage through his dominions to two armies of the Second Crusade under Conrad III of Germany and Louis VII of France. At the time, Byzantines feared the crusade because of the numerous acts of vandalism and theft of the foreign armies as they marched through the territory. Byzantine troops followed the crusaders, attempting to police their behavior, and further troops were assembled in Constantinople, ready to defend the capital against any acts of aggression. This cautious approach was well advised, but still the numerous incidents of covert and open hostility between the Franks and the Greeks on their line of march, for which it seems both sides were to blame, nearly precipitated a conflict between Manuel and his guests.

Manuel took the precaution—which his grandfather had not taken—of making repairs to the city walls, and he pressed the two kings for guarantees concerning the security of his territories. Conrad’s army was the first to enter the Byzantine territory in the summer of 1147.

After 1147, however, the relations between the two leaders became friendlier. By 1148 Manuel actually persuaded the German king to renew their alliance against Roger II of Sicily, but Conrad died in 1152, and despite repeated attempts, Manuel could not reach an agreement with his successor, Frederick I Barbarossa.

In 1147 Manuel had faced Roger II, whose fleet had captured the Byzantine island of Corfu, and plundered Thebes and Corinth in Greece. However, in 1148 Manuel enlisted the alliance of Conrad III and the help of the Venetians, who quickly defeated Roger with their new, powerful fleet. In 1149, Manuel recovered Corfu and prepared to take the offensive against the Normans. Manuel had already agreed with Conrad on a joint invasion and partition of southern Italy and Sicily. The renewal of the German alliance remained the principal orientation of Manuel’s foreign policy for the rest of his reign, despite the gradual divergence of interests between the two empires after Conrad’s death.

Roger died in February 1154 and was succeeded by William I, who faced widespread rebellions against his rule in Sicily and Apulia, leading to the presence of Apulian refugees at the Byzantine court. Conrad’s successor, Frederick Barbarossa, launched a campaign against the Normans but stalled. These developments encouraged Manuel to take advantage of the multiple instabilities on the Italian peninsula. With the help of disaffected local barons, Manuel’s expedition achieved astonishingly rapid progress as the whole of southern Italy rose up in rebellion against the Sicilian crown. There was a string of spectacular successes as numerous strongholds yielded either to force or the lure of gold.

In the meantime Barbarossa, who had come to Italy in October 1154 to fight the Normans, had been blocked in his advance south. He obtained the submission of Milan, but had besieged Tortona in early 1155, and razed it to the ground.[4] He moved on to Pavia, where he received the Iron Crown and the title of king of Italy. When he entered Rome, Pope Adrian IV was struggling with the forces of the republican city commune led by Arnold of Brescia, a student of the philosopher Abelard, labeled a heretic for his egalitarian tenets. Barbarossa suppressed the republicans and captured and hanged Arnold. Yet, despite his contribution to the papal cause relations with the pope Adrian were still delicate, and both Barbarossa and Adrian stayed out of the city, fearing the public reaction over the hanging of Arnold. On June 18, 1155, Adrian IV crowned Frederick I Barbarossa Holy Roman Emperor at St Peter’s Basilica, the Romans began to riot, and Barbarossa spent his coronation day putting down the revolt, resulting in thousands of casualties.

At this point, despite his original plans and entertaining from Manuel, Barbarossa put off his plans to march against the Normans. On his way back, he was attacked at Spoleto and Milan turned against him. Germany had been seething with disorder to which he responded by offering greater power to his cousin Henry. To him he granted Austria.

Meanwhile, Manuel moved to southern Italy, starting with the city of Bari, which had been the capital of the Byzantine Catapanate of southern Italy for centuries before the arrival of the Normans. The city opened its gates to the Byzantine emperor’s army, and the citizens tore down the Norman citadel. After the fall of Bari, the cities of Trani, Giovinazzo, Andria, Taranto, and Brindisi were also captured. William arrived with his army but was heavily defeated. Encouraged by the success, Manuel dreamed of restoration of the Roman Empire, at cost of union between the Orthodox and the Catholic churches, a prospect that would frequently be offered to the pope during negotiations and plans for an alliance. This was probably the most favorable moment for reuniting the Eastern and Western churches and permanently reconciling with the pope.

Manuel offered a large sum of money to the pope for the provision of troops, with the request that the pope grant the Byzantine emperor lordship of three maritime cities in return for assistance in expelling William from Sicily. Manuel also promised to pay 5,000 pounds of gold to the pope and the curia. Negotiations were hurriedly carried out, and an alliance was formed between Manuel and Adrian. Yet events turned against Manuel. Byzantine commander Michael Palaiologos alienated allies with his attitude, and the military march lost some of its momentum. Michael was soon recalled to Constantinople, and his loss was a major blow to the campaign.

The turning point was the Battle for Brindisi, where the Normans launched a major counterattack by both land and sea. At that point, Byzantine mercenaries demanded increases and deserted, the local barons started to melt away, and soon the Byzantine forces were outnumbered. The defeat put an end to the restored Byzantine reign in Italy; in 1158 the Byzantine army left and never returned again. The defeat also de facto compromised the prospects of a church union. With the Normans being a power next to Rome, there was less incentive for the pope to reunite with the Eastern Church.

Moreover there had been huge problems in the reunification, which the military defeat in southern Italy underscored. The popes wanted a recognition of their religious authority over all Christians everywhere and sought superiority over the Byzantine emperor. Manuel, on the other hand, wanted official recognition of his secular authority in both the east and west. Such conditions would not be accepted by either side, and although Manuel twice sent emissaries to Pope Alexander III (in 1167 and 1169) offering to reunite the Greek and Latin churches, the pope refused.

Out of Italy, in 1156 Manuel went to fix his troubles in the east with greater success. Raynald of Châtillon, the new prince of Antioch, claimed that he had not been paid and attacked the Byzantine province of Cyprus. Having ransacked the island and plundered all its wealth, Raynald’s army mutilated the survivors and forced them to buy back their flocks at exorbitant prices with what little they had left. Thus, he was enriched with enough booty to make Antioch wealthy for years. This appears to have been the main goal of the attack. Raynald also sent some of the mutilated hostages to Constantinople as a demonstration of his contempt for the Byzantine emperor.

After settling the Italian issue, Manuel finally had time to respond to Raynald insult’s in Cyprus. In the winter of 1158–59, he marched to Cilicia at the head of a huge army. He managed to surprise the Armenian Thoros of Cilicia, who had participated in the attack on Cyprus. All the towns and cities of Cilicia fell immediately. This forced Raynald to beg for forgiveness, which Manuel granted by taking Antioch as a vassal state, restoring Constantinople’s power over the Latin Christian states in the region. This was coupled with a string of victories against the Turks that pushed them out of Isauria territory, so that Manuel regained prestige and power in both the east and west.

Therefore, this, plus the failure of his Italian campaign and of his overtures to the pope, pushed Manuel after 1158 to oppose Barbarossa’s aims to annex Italy. When the war between Barbarossa and the northern Italian city-states started, Manuel actively supported the Lombard League with monetary subsidies. The walls of Milan, demolished by the Germans, were restored with the aid of the Byzantine emperor. Barbarossa also declared himself the sole Augustus of the Roman world, ceasing to recognize Manuel I. Italy was to become the stage for a war between the two emperors.

8.3 The vast diplomatic and military successes of Manuel and Frederick outside of Italy

Despite the setbacks in Italy, in the east Manuel gathered great diplomatic and military successes that in turn made possible for him to continue to play a role in Italy, although without a large territorial hold. He extended the frontiers of the empire in the Balkans, ensuring security for the whole of Greece and Bulgaria. His wars against Hungary brought him control of the Dalmatian Coast, the rich agricultural region of Sirmium, and the Danube trade route from Hungary to the Black Sea. This allowed the Western provinces to flourish in an economic revival that had begun in the time of his grandfather Alexios I and continued until the close of the century. Indeed Byzantium in the 12th century was possibly more prosperous than at any time since the Persian invasion during the reign of Herakleios, some 500 years earlier. There is good evidence from this period of new construction and new churches, even in remote areas, strongly suggesting that wealth was widespread[5].

Trade was also flourishing. The population of Constantinople, the biggest commercial center of the empire, was between half a million and one million, making it by far the largest city in Europe. A major source of Manuel’s wealth was the kommerkion, a customs duty levied in Constantinople on all imports and exports, which amounted to 20,000 hyperpyra per day[6]. The capital itself was undergoing deep changes. The cosmopolitan character of the city was being reinforced by the arrival of Italian merchants and crusaders en route to the Holy Land. The Venetians, the Genoese, and others opened up the ports of the Aegean to commerce, shipping goods from the crusader kingdoms and Fatimid Egypt to the west and trading with Constantinople. These maritime traders stimulated demand in the towns and cities of Greece, Macedonia, and the Greek Islands, generating new sources of wealth in a predominantly agrarian economy. Thessaloniki, the second city of the empire, hosted a famous summer fair that attracted traders from across the Balkans and even further afield to its bustling market stalls. In Corinth, silk production fuelled a thriving economy.

Also, with enormous bearing after Constantinople’s fall to the Turks in 1453, Manuel attempted to draw the Russian principalities into his net of diplomacy against Hungary and to a lesser extent Norman Sicily. This polarized the Russian princes into pro- and anti-Byzantine camps. In the late 1140s three princes were competing for primacy in Russia: Prince Iziaslav II of Kiev was related to Géza II of Hungary and hostile to Byzantium, Prince Yuri Dolgoruki of Suzdal was Manuel’s ally (symmachos), and Vladimirko of Galicia is described as Manuel’s vassal (hypospondos). Although their allegiances would shift with time, this network proved that the power of Constantinople reached the Black Sea and the northeast Europe.

In the south, in 1169, Manuel sent a joint expedition to Egypt with Amalric, the crusader king of Antioch. Manuel used the Latins to ensure the strengthening of the empire. This intervention came during the wider struggle between the crusader states and the Islamic powers of the east. Control of the ailing Fatimid Caliphate of Egypt held the key to the fate of the crusader states. If Egypt came out of its isolation and joined forces with the Muslims under the Turkish Nur ad-Din, the crusader cause was in trouble. The expedition failed and Egypt actually fell to the new Turkish sultan Saladin. But the expedition effectively helped the crusaders’ states and the eastern flank of the empire for some years.

However on September 17, 1176, Manuel was decisively defeated by the Seljuks in the Battle of Myriokephalon. The defeat was an embarrassment for both Manuel personally and also for his empire. Manuel had demonstrated to the whole world that Byzantium still could not defeat the Seljuks, despite the recoveries made during the past century. The battle was not a fatal blow to the empire. The following year, Manuel’s forces defeated a force of “picked Turks” at the Battle of Hyelion and Leimocheir, a sign that the Byzantine army remained strong and that the defensive program of western Asia Minor was still successful. Yet like with Manzikert, the balance between the two powers began to gradually shift, and after Manuel’s death the Turks began to move further west, deeper into Byzantine territory.

In any case Manuel’s power until his defeat in 1176 was enough to stem Barbarossa’s ambitions in Italy and lend support to the Italian city-states in their fight against the German emperor. Curiously Byzantium’s setback coincided with the more ruinous trouncing of Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano near Milan on May 29, 1176 against a league of Italian states guided by Milan and supported by the pope. Here Frederick was wounded and for some time was believed to be dead. This battle marked the turning point in Frederick’s claim to empire. He had no choice other than to begin negotiations for peace with Alexander III and the Lombard League. In the Peace of Anagni in 1176, he recognized Alexander III as pope. The success of the Italians was at least partly at the expense of Manuel. After Legnano, Italian unity under German rule was more myth than truth. Despite proclamations of German hegemony, the pope was the most powerful force in Italy[7]. When Frederick returned to Germany, the German princes were not subordinate to royal control and were intensifying their hold on wealth and power and entrenching their positions. There began to be a generalized desire to “create greater Germany” by conquering the Slavs to the east. Meanwhile, although it appeared that the Italian city-states had achieved a measure of independence from Barbarossa as a result of his failed fifth expedition into Italy, the emperor had not given up on his Italian dominions.

By 1180, Barbarossa’s cousin Henry had successfully established a powerful state comprising Saxony, Bavaria, and substantial territories in the north and east of Germany. Taking advantage of other German princes’ hostility to Henry, Barbarossa had Henry tried in absentia by a court of bishops and princes in 1180, declared that imperial law overruled traditional German law, and had Henry stripped of his lands and declared an outlaw. Henry finally had to submit in November 1181. In 1183, in the Peace of Constance, Barbarossa ceded to Italian cities the right to freely elect town magistrates. By this move, Barbarossa recovered his nominal domination over Italy, which became his chief means of applying pressure on the papacy.

In other words, the independent Italian city-states happened because of the contemporary crises of two emperors: Manuel, trounced by the Turks, and Frederick, threatened by his princes. If either of them had been in a stronger position, it is possible that neither the pope nor the city-states would have survived to either of the two emperors. Yet, of the two the German emperor was the one who had still lasting influence in Italy. In 1184, Barbarossa again moved into Italy, this time joining forces with the local rural nobility to reduce the power of the Tuscan cities. In 1186, he engineered the marriage of his son Henry to Constance of Sicily, heiress to the Kingdom of Sicily, over the objections of Pope Urban III. His heir would by marriage unite all of Italy, and bring the riotous cities back under the imperial thumb. But in the meantime Italy, even without Byzantium’s support had attained a power of its own.

8.4 The rebirth of Roman law and the spread of Italian language and identity

An effort to bolster the legal framework of the burgeoning market-driven economy and the increasing in wealth of the trading cities of northern Italy led to a revival in the study of the Justinian Code, the Roman legal system that became almost extinct centuries earlier. The code envisaged the law of the state as a reflection of natural moral law, the principle of rationality in the universe. By the time Barbarossa assumed the throne, a legal system was well established on both sides of the Alps, and he was the first to utilize the new professional class of lawyers.

Civil law allowed Barbarossa to use these lawyers to administer his kingdom in a logical and consistent manner. It also provided a framework to legitimize his claim to the right to rule both Germany and northern Italy. In the old days of Henry V and Henry VI, the claim of the divine right of kings had been severely undermined by the Investiture Controversy. The church had won that argument, and there was no divine right of the German king to also control the church by naming bishops and popes. But the institution of the Justinian Code was used by Barbarossa to again lay claim to some divine powers[8].

Still, with Barbarossa’s defeat, the civil laws provided a useful framework to help the development of the city-states, as it provided laws on property and trade that were essential for smoother transactions between and within the city-states.

This coincided with the spread of the Italian language, which was a recognition of the citizens of the city-states as separate from the empire, where Latin was the official language. The spread of Italian language was then considered part of the construction of an identity, different from that of the empire, where Latin was the instrument of identity. It was in some ways a paradox. Latin, a language from Italy, had become the identity of the Western world, whose capital had moved to the north, in Germanic lands—hence the Italians, wresting themselves from the northern empire, went looking for a different language. That is, language had become an identity element.

It had not been always so. Rome had allowed for centuries the use of two official languages in the empire, Latin and Greek, proving thus that the original language of the conquerors, Latin, did not necessarily have to prevail over the vanquished. Yet, with the collapse of the Western Empire and even more so with the sustained failures to regain power in the west, Greek had become more and more the language of Byzantium, while Latin came into disuse. Meanwhile, the church, the main political and cultural force in the west, had been modifying Latin to improve communication with common people and adapt the new religious contents. Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine had already moved away from classical Latin, yet with the start of the Roman-Barbarian kingdoms a language duality began: administration and schooling was in Latin and common languages were kept for daily use. This was a common phenomenon also within the empire: classical Latin was slightly different from Latin spoken in the streets of Rome, and the languages drifted further apart as centuries went by.

Yet at the turn of the 12th to 13th century, there was a new phenomenon: cultured people chose to write sophisticated, literary poetry in what had been only an oral language for centuries.

Poets came to write in Italian in Sicily, and Francis, a friar, who was to start a massive reform of the church, did the same in Umbria. It is interesting that in a politically divided peninsula different regions moved in the same direction at the same time. In fact, as we have seen, the north and the south had separately managed to repulse attempts at conquests from the two most powerful empires of the time, the Germans in the north and the Byzantine in the south. Italians then possibly came to naturally want to mark their divide from the languages of either empire, the Latin of the north and the Greek of Constantinople.

The use of Italian was possibly reinforced when the power vacuum left by the weakening of the two empires (Byzantine and Roman German) seemed to be filled by the new expanding temporal influence of the papacy, whose official language was also Latin. The victory over the two empires was largely in fact an achievement of the popes, who played a careful diplomatic game of finding alliances and funding. In the 13th century many localities, sensing the imperial pressure growing more distant, felt it necessary to distance themselves also from the now overreaching power of the popes. In many newly established city-states communities, ferociously split in two factions, Guelfs, who were for the pope, and Ghibellines, for the emperor.

Moreover the unity of the anti-imperial league was also split as each city-state vied for preeminence against its neighbor. Feuds between competing parties in ancient Rome became pitched battles between cities bordering one another. Then Ghibelline and Guelf factions moved from one city to another switching allegiances and loyalty. This however did not plunge the peninsula into chaos. These were low-intensity wars for the time, without the massive imposition of taxes and levies or restrictions of actions, and the city-states also had greater open markets. They would trade with fellow Christians from northern Europe, with Constantinople, with crusaders’ kingdoms, and also with Muslim Arab and Turkish caliphates.

New wealth, new opportunities, and a unique position of independence in a world dominated by large kingdoms must have reinforced a unique sense for the people of the peninsula of being individuals in each locality. This extreme territorial fragmentation, which went down to fights between people from different neighborhoods of the same small town, was partly mitigated by a search for common ground to do business—and a thus a drive for a common language.

In any event, these people felt first from Siena or Florence or Assisi or Venice, and then Italian. The Italian identity that started developing at the time was the consequence of the local identity and not the other way around, as with many other people who first recognize a larger tribal, political, religious, or cultural unity before that defined by their city walls. This basically has remained a lasting legacy of Italy.

Moreover, possibly the dialectic between local (city) and larger identity (Italy), where if pressed the smaller identity has to prevail, is a basic philosophical approach to trade and the development of capitalism. A trader wants to maximize his profit and to do that he needs a form of cooperation with other traders. Cooperation is better than theft, because although stealing can be done occasionally, it is risky (it implies violence, which calls for violent response) and does not guarantee future uneventful intercourses. But in this cooperation one party wants to maximize its interest, not sacrifice it for the other or for a greater cause. The disappearance of the larger framework of the empires, the kingdoms, and even of the unity of Christianity lifted all political, administrative, ethical, and cultural obstacles to the attempts of each city to maximize its profits. And as each city was made of an assembly of equal men, each had a right to maximize its profits, closing ranks among neighbors only under threat of external forces.

The city-states also found a cultural precedent for their situation in that of the city-states in ancient Greece, where also they found the same degree of bitter local rivalries coming together with an explosion of culture and arts and to defeat larger enemies. These Italian city-states felt they were the true heirs of that Greek tradition and of Athens in particular, which then also provided some cultural models for shaping of their organization. The idea of city-states spread in Europe, yet nowhere was the impact as massive as in Italy.

What is important to notice is that the sense of being Italian had some roots in the empire, as for many years both the emperor and the pope played a great role in Italy. But the dominant and decisive force was local, and there was no force able to suppress or unify those local loyalties. Italy was therefore connected with the ancient empire but also new and distinctive, possibly similar to the situation of China in the 21st century: linked with its imperial past but also very decisively different from it. The Italian language was in many ways the cultural and practical representation of this new entity. What would come to be thought of as Italian was first formalized in the late 13th and early 14th centuries through the works of Florentine writer Dante Alighieri, who wrote in his native Florentine. Dante’s epic poems, known collectively as the Commedia, to which the Tuscan poet Giovanni Boccaccio later affixed the title Divina, were read throughout Italy, and his written dialect became the “canonical standard” that all educated Italians could understand. Dante is still credited with standardizing the Italian language, and thus the dialect of Florence became the basis for what would become modern Italian.

8.5 The birth of Italian noodles

At about this time and also originating from Sicily was the spread of sun-dried, durum wheat pasta, another fundamental part of shaping the Italian identity. The word came from the early Latin pasta “dough, pastry cake,” the latinization of the Greek παστά (pasta), a savory “barley porridge,” and in turn from παστός (pastòs), “sprinkled with salt, salted”[9]. A little later, in first century BC we find in Horace the lagana, fine sheets of fried dough to be eaten as an everyday foodstuff. In the second century Athenaeus of Naucratis provides a recipe for lagana: sheets of dough made of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, flavored with spices and deep-fried in oil. An early fifth–century cookbook describes lagana as consisting of layers of dough with meat stuffing, a possible ancestor of modern-day lasagna.

However, the first concrete information concerning pasta products in Italy dates from the 12th century, but even that had some ancestors. A dictionary compiled by the 9th century Arab physician and lexicographer Isho bar Ali defines itriyya as string-like shapes made of durum wheat and dried before cooking. The geographical text of Muhammad al-Idrisi, compiled in 1154 for the Norman king of Sicily Roger II mentions itriyya manufactured and exported from Norman Sicily:

“West of Termini Imerese there is a delightful settlement called Trabia. Its ever-flowing streams propel a number of mills. Here there are huge buildings in the countryside where they make vast quantities of itriyya which is exported everywhere: to Calabria, to Muslim and Christian countries. Very many shiploads are sent.”

This pasta, direct ancestor of the pasta eaten worldwide, came about from two elements that were quite unique and made Italian pasta different from all other kinds of noodles. Since ancient times, Sicily produced a type of durum wheat rich in vegetable proteins and very chewy, which gave a sense of being filled when used to bake bread or porridge. During the Arab occupation of Sicily, possibly around the 9th or 10th centuries, the Arabs found out that slices of dough dried in the sun were even more nutritious and could be preserved and easily cooked on ships during long sea voyages.

At first, dry pasta was something special to Italy because of high labor costs; durum wheat semolina had to be kneaded for a long time. In the 14th and 15th centuries, dried pasta became popular for its easy storage. This allowed people to store dried pasta in ships when exploring the New World. A century later, pasta was present around the globe during the voyages of discovery.

At first it was eaten by hand, often with grated goat cheese mixed with the remains of the boiling water. In this way it made a complete and tasty meal for the working class. It was relatively cheap, it could be stored for months in very poor conditions, and it tasted better than dried bread.

Still, its spread in Italy came very slowly, possibly because of its humble origins or the fact that its manufacturing remained complicated: the dough had to be worked for long time and the facilities for drying it could be extensive. In the first centuries of pasta’s life, it was used only in southern Italy. It reached Naples pretty early but from there it didn’t move north. Since the 1600s across the coast of Sanremo in northern Italy, machines started being used to knead the dough and make pasta into shapes. The extrusion press produced large amounts of uniform pastas. The consistency of the shape and texture of the pasta manufactured by the extrusion press is believed to be superior to handmade pasta. This technology then spread to other areas including Genoa, Apulia, Brindisi, Bari, and Tuscany. This was—and still is—a kind of food where careful industrial manufacturing actually improves the quality of the product. Pasta had to wait for the unification of Italy and the first modern factories to become a national foodstuff. Before that it was to accompany Italians on the seafaring ventures of the growing power of the maritime republics, which were to change the shape of the Mediterranean Sea once again.

8.6 The rise of the Italian maritime republics

The breakdown of strong rule in the Italian peninsula, be that of Constantinople, the German Empire, or the pope and the threat of Islamic power from the south created a power vacuum in which some Italian cities emerged. They had to fend for themselves, as no major center would be doing it. At the same time, being in the middle of the Mediterranean and squeezed between major powers emerging all around them (the new Germanic states in northern Europe, the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic kingdoms, and the papacy) they found a way to do business with all of them on their own terms. Then they grew independent and rich, two things that went hand in hand. Trade and war, commerce and piracy were also linked, as it happened, with Athens and the Greek cities of antiquity, according to the literary records reemerging then.

The Italian cities traded with but also attacked the Islamic territories, and they ruled by organizing themselves in republics. The whole society was divided into rigid classes, with families of merchant-warriors at the top. The first republics came about in southern Italy—that is, closer to the Arabs and Byzantine—yet as the Normans occupied and imposed their rule, the power of the southern maritime republics gave way to that of the northern Italian republics.

They profited and were also instrumental in the economic growth of the Mediterranean around the year 1000. The growing independence acquired by some coastal cities gave them a leading role in this development. These cities, exposed to pirate raids, organized their own defense, creating substantial war fleets. Thus, in the tenth and 11th centuries they were able to switch to an offensive stance, taking advantage of the rivalry between the Byzantine and Islamic maritime powers and competing with them for the control of commerce and trade routes with Asia and Africa. As such, a development of the merchant class constituted the backbone of their power. The history of the maritime republics intertwines with both the launch of European expansion to the east and the origins of modern capitalism as a mercantile and financial system. Using gold coins, the merchants of the Italian maritime republics began to develop new foreign exchange transactions and accounting. Technological advances in navigation provided essential support for the growth of mercantile wealth[10]. Nautical charts of the 14th and 15th centuries all belong to the schools of Genoa, Venice, and Ancona.

The Crusades offered opportunities for expansion. They increasingly relied on Italian sea transport, for which the republics extracted concessions from colonies as well as a cash price. Venice, Amalfi, Ancona, and Ragusa were already engaged in trade with the Levant, but the phenomenon increased with the Crusades: thousands of Italians from the maritime republics poured into the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, creating bases, ports, and commercial establishments known as “colonies.” These were small gated enclaves within a city, often just a single street, where the laws of the Italian city were administered by a governor appointed from home, and there would be a church under home jurisdiction and shops with Italian styles of food.

These Italian mercantile centers also exerted significant political influence locally: the Italian merchants formed guild-like associations in their business centers, aiming to obtain legal, tax, and customs privileges from foreign governments. Several personal dominions arose. Pera in Constantinople, which was first Genoese and later (under the Ottomans) Venetian, was the largest and best-known Italian trading base.

The history of the various maritime republics is quite varied, reflecting their differing life spans. Venice, Genoa, Noli, and Ragusa had very long lives, with an independence that continued up to the threshold of the contemporary era, when the Italian and European states underwent the Napoleonic campaigns. Other republics kept their independence until the Renaissance: Amalfi moved its assets to Pisa early in the 12th century as it was conquered by the Normans, and Pisa came under the dominion of the Republic of Florence in 1406. Ancona came under control of the Papal States in 1532. That is the republics that survived, like Genoa and Venice, were able to move out of their urban dynamics and become important players in the politics of the Mediterranean and Europe.

Amalfi, perhaps the first of the maritime republics to play a major role, had developed extensive trade with Byzantium and Egypt. Amalfitan merchants wrested the Mediterranean trade monopoly from the Arabs and founded mercantile bases in southern Italy and the Middle East in the tenth century. The Amalfitani were the first to create a colony in Constantinople.

Among the most important products of the Republic of Amalfi are the Amalfi Laws, a codification of the rules of maritime law that remained in force throughout the Middle Ages.

Pisa arose with the defeat of Amalfi, and in alliance with Genoa in 1016 defeated the Saracens, conquered Corsica, and gained control of the northern Tyrrhenian Sea. A century later they freed the Balearic Islands, formerly controlled by the Arabs.

Rivalry between Pisa and Genoa grew worse in the 12th century and resulted in the naval Battle of Meloria (1284), which marked the beginning of Pisan decline; Pisa renounced all claims to Corsica and ceded part of Sardinia to Genoa in 1299. Moreover, the Aragonese conquest of Sardinia, which began in 1324, deprived the Tuscan city of dominion over the lands of Cagliari and Gallura.

Included in the Papal States since 774, Ancona came under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire around 1000, but gradually gained autonomy to become fully independent with the coming of the communes in the 12th century.

Although somewhat confined by Venetian supremacy on the sea, Ancona enjoyed excellent relations with the kingdom of Hungary, was an ally of the Republic of Ragusa on the other side of the Adriatic Sea, and was also concerned about the power of Venice. Despite the link with Byzantium, it also maintained good relations with the Turks, enabling it to serve as central Italy’s gateway to the Orient.

Ancona spearheaded the Adriatic Renaissance that spread between Dalmatia, Venice, and the Marches, characterized by a rediscovery of classical art. The maritime cartographer Grazioso Benincasa was born in Ancona, as was the navigator-archeologist Ciriaco de’ Pizzicolli who made his contemporaries aware of the existence of the Parthenon in Athens, the pyramids, the Sphinx in Egypt, and other famous ancient monuments believed destroyed. It lost its independence in 1532 when the papacy annexed it by political machinations.

In the first half of the 7th century, Ragusa began to develop an active trade in the eastern Mediterranean. From the 11th century, it emerged as a maritime and mercantile city, especially in the Adriatic. The first known commercial contract goes back to 1148 and was signed with the city of Molfetta, but other cities came along in the following decades, including Pisa, Termoli, and Naples.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, Ragusa came under the dominion of the Republic of Venice, from which it inherited most of its institutions. Venetian rule lasted for one and a half centuries and determined the institutional structure of the future republic, with the emergence of the senate in 1252, and the approval of the Ragusa Statute on May 9, 1272. Like Ancona, Ragusa later became an ally of Hungary, and this alliance enabled the two towns on opposite sides of the Adriatic to resist attempts by the Venetians to make the Adriatic a “Venetian Bay,” which would have given Venice direct or indirect control over all the Adriatic ports. The Venetian trade route went via Germany and Austria; Ancona and Ragusa developed an alternative route going west from Ragusa through Ancona to Florence and finally to Flanders.

Ragusa was the door to the Balkans and the East, a place of commerce in metals, salt, spices, and cinnabar. When the Ottoman Empire advanced into the Balkan Peninsula and Hungary was defeated in the Battle of Mohács in 1526, Ragusa came formally under the supremacy of the sultan. It bound itself to pay him a symbolic annual tribute, a move that allowed it to maintain its effective independence.

Genoa began to gain autonomy from the Holy Roman Empire around 1096, rather late compared with other republics. Moreover it had little or no history with the Byzantine Empire, something that was almost the hallmark of the history of many other maritime republics. In its alliance with Pisa, it liberated the western sector of the Mediterranean from Saracen pirates, with the conquest of Corsica, the Balearics, and Provence. The formation of the Compagnia Communis, a meeting of all the city’s trade associations (compagnie) and the noble lords of the surrounding valleys and coasts, finally signaled the birth of Genoese government.

The fortunes of the town increased considerably when it joined the First Crusade: its participation brought great privileges for the Genoese, which moved to many places in the Holy Land. The apex of Genoese fortune came after the Fourth Crusade in the 13th century with the conclusion of the Treaty of Nymphaeum (1261) with the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaeologus, in exchange for aiding the Byzantine re-conquest of Constantinople. This led to the ousting of the Venetians from the straits leading to the Black Sea, which quickly became a Genoese Sea. Shortly afterwards, in 1284, Pisa was finally defeated in the Battle of Meloria.

In 1298 the Genoese defeated the Venetian fleet at the Dalmatian island of Curzola. The confrontation led to the capture of the Venetian doge and Marco Polo, who during his imprisonment dictated the story of his travels to his cellmate Rustichello da Pisa. Genoa remained relatively powerful until the last major conflict with Venice, the War of Chioggia in 1379. It ended in victory for the Venetians, who finally regained dominance over trade to the east. After that Genoa managed to survive through foreign domination and being closely linked to Spain. Christopher Columbus was from Genoa and served Spain. In the 16th century Genoa became the primary sponsor of the Spanish monarchy, reaping huge profits, which allowed the old patrician class to remain vital for a period. It was finally subdued by Napoleon in 1805 and annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1815, destroying the economy and forcing the emigration of the best workers and most of the rural population to the Americas.

The Republic of Venice came into being in 421 as a result of the development of trade relations with the Byzantine Empire, of which it was once formally a part. Around the year 1000 it began its expansion in the Adriatic Sea, defeating the pirates who occupied the coast of Istria and Dalmatia and placing those regions and their principal townships under Venetian control. At the beginning of the 13th century, the city reached the peak of its power, dominating the commercial traffic in the Mediterranean and with the Orient. During the Fourth Crusade (1202–1204) its fleet was decisive in the acquisition of the islands and the most commercially important seaside towns of the Byzantine Empire. The conquest of the important ports of Corfu (1207) and Crete (1209) gave it a trade that extended to the east and reached Syria and Egypt, endpoints of trading routes. By the end of the 14th century, Venice had become one of the richest states in Europe. Its dominance in the eastern Mediterranean in later centuries was threatened by the expansion of the Ottoman Empire in those areas, despite the great naval victory in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 against the Turkish fleet, fought with the Holy League.

But that was already a turn in Mediterranean history.

8.7 The discovery of glass windows, another view on the world

Around the 11th century, Germans invented a new method of making sheet glass by blowing spheres. The spheres were swung out to form cylinders and then cut while still hot, after which the sheets were flattened. This technique was brought to Venice, where it was perfected in 13th century and allowed the manufacture of large panes of transparent, not tinted, glass. Venice became for centuries the main industrial center of the new glass-making technique, and in the 14th century, glass factories were moved to the island of Murano, away from the city center, in order to secure homes from the frequent fires in the factories. Moving glass-making to secluded Murano also helped to keep secret the method that was becoming increasingly important for the spread of this revolutionary product[11].

This technology dramatically revolutionized the structure and philosophy of house-building and the view of the world of the people living inside these new houses. Light could freely flow into the house, keeping cold or heat outside, and people could look at the world while staying safely within the cozy home walls.

Before that glass had been a rare and expensive trinket manufactured in small quantities. Originally, in antiquity, it was used for jewels and decoration, and it is found in almost all ancient civilizations, including China, India, and ancient Rome. Mesopotamia already had glass. The Romans may have been the first to use flattened glass for window panes in public baths[12] and houses of the rich and powerful. However, they were small slabs of semi-transparent glass held together with lead, plaster, or stone. That is, they allowed the light to come in, but one could not clearly see what was happening outside. Most people had windows open and unprotected during the day and then closed them at night with wooden panes, shutters, or curtains made of cloth or hide. The result was somewhat similar to that of the Chinese, who had sheets of paper on the windows to get light in but without being able to see through.

This technique can be found fully developed in early Christian and Byzantine churches, where windows became more numerous and were often glazed, pointing to an even earlier development of glass. The windows of Hagia Sophia at Constantinople (in the sixth century) were filled with pierced marble frames enclosing panes of glass. Islamic mosque builders copied this Byzantine technique of small pieces of glass inserted in a masonry frame and, by substituting cement for marble in the frame, obtained great freedom and richness in pattern design, so that with the use of different colors of glass in the small openings, brilliant effects were produced.

Islamic builders of Egypt and Syria also developed an extremely rich type of domestic window that was usually unglazed. This consisted of a projecting, bracketed framework of wood with its sides entirely filled by intricate grillwork formed by carved, turned, wooden spindles. This created spectacular effects in churches and mosques. Colored glass was used to compose figures and scenes enlivened as light pierced through them for the faithful praying in the temples. In a time without TV, cinemas, or glittering computer and mobile screens, these bright-colored figures through high windows were extremely spectacular and almost miraculous.

This magic was soon to be surpassed by the even greater miracle of being able to look outside while keeping wind and cold out of a home. The windows soon became a luxury of rich people who could afford transparent, large-paned glass windows to look on the street all year long, even with snow or rain outside. It must have been a hundred times better than today’s 3-D large-screen videos. The increasing production of Murano glass slowly spread this relative luxury good to all of Europe, something that changed the way of living for people. The separation between outside and inside became thinner, even apartments without enclosed gardens could enjoy an unfettered and private view outside. High-floor apartments, previously reserved for poorer people, because they had no private access to the outside space, might be an interesting proposition for the rich, who could have large windows looking outside all year around.

The spread of transparent glass windows in the 14th and 15th centuries interestingly corresponded also with the development of research and studies of perspective in painting. It is as if the new glass windows created new opportunities and more comfortable conditions for painters and artists to look at nature, city landscapes, and people. Thus they tried to reproduce on canvas with colors what they saw through a window frame. Certainly this was possible also because of the revolution in thought brought, as we saw, by Francis and Thomas, which found the divine, the work of God, in normal human professions and not only in the lofty missions of kings and high lords. But perhaps we should not underestimate the use of glass windows, as art historians have noted that many Renaissance paintings are composed as if the picture was seen through a window or a frame. The same concept then evolved into cinema, TV, and modern computers, where a popular application is called just that, Windows, which suggests not the ancient holes in walls, but the Italian Renaissance glass windows.

The early secret of large, paned glass was high-tech at the time. Murano’s glassmakers were soon the island’s most prominent citizens, and they were not allowed to leave the republic. But many took a risk and set up glass furnaces in surrounding cities and as far afield as England and the Netherlands, places where industrial and trade development started to flourish after the decline of Venice and the Mediterranean Sea in the 16th and 17th centuries.

8.8 The Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople

The Crusades—which began to save Constantinople and the Eastern Empire from the invading Muslims—in about a century turned to bringing Constantinople to its knees and destroying the remains of the Eastern Empire. This coincided with the full return of the power of Italy, no longer under the rule of Rome, be it the republic or empire, but in the shape of competing maritime republics who through wealth, guile, diplomacy, and warfare came to gain the upper hand in Mediterranean and European politics. The republics did not impose their direct rule over extensive territories. However, their control of commerce put them in control of politics and economics in very large portion of the Western world. In this way, again their rule seemed inspired by the feats of Athens and the old Greek city-states, which expanded influence and trade privileges.

To manage this, the western republics first brought down Constantinople, a feat that German emperors had failed to achieve. Then the territorially tiny Italian city states within a few years managed to achieve the impossible: they defeated first the Western emperors of the German Empire, and then the Eastern Byzantine emperors, and in the meantime put the Muslims on the defensive. They seemed unbeatable—or could only be beaten by fellow competing Italian republics.

The preparation for the Fourth Crusade effectively started after Sultan Saladin conquered most of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, including the ancient city itself, in 1187. The crusader states had been reduced to three cities along the sea coast: Tyre, Tripoli, and Antioch.

The Third Crusade (1189–1192) reclaimed much territory for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, including the key towns of Acre and Jaffa, but failed to retake Jerusalem. The crusade had also been marked by a significant escalation in long-standing tensions between the feudal states of Western Europe and the Byzantine Empire.

Constantinople was the largest and most sophisticated city in Christendom. Almost alone amongst major medieval urban centers, it had retained the civic structures, public baths, forums, monuments, and aqueducts of classical Rome in working form. At its height, the city held an estimated population of about half a million people behind some 20 kilometers of triple walls. Its planned location made Constantinople not only the capital of the surviving eastern part of the Roman Empire but also a commercial center that dominated trade routes from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, China, India, and Persia[13]. As a result, it was both a rival and a tempting target for the aggressive new states of the west, notably the rising ambitions of the Republic of Venice, once a vassal of the Byzantines.

In this Venice had a precedent. During the Third Crusade Frederick I Barbarossa plotted with the Serbs, Bulgars, Byzantine traitors, and even the Muslim Seljuks against the Eastern Empire and at one point sought papal support for a crusade against the Orthodox Byzantines. Crusaders, we saw it, also seized the Byzantine province of Cyprus, and rather than return it to the empire, they sold it to the Knights Templar. Barbarossa died on the crusade, and his army quickly disintegrated.

Pope Innocent III succeeded to the papacy in January 1198, and the preaching of a new crusade became the prime goal of his pontificate. His call was largely ignored by the European monarchs: the Germans were struggling against papal power, and England and France were still engaged in warfare with each other. However, a crusading army was finally organized and the leaders sent envoys to Venice and Genoa—the states that had or could build a fleet for naval transport—to negotiate a contract for transport to Egypt, the new goal of the crusade that this time would avoid the old land route through the Byzantine territories of the Balkans and Anatolia. An attack on Egypt would clearly be a maritime enterprise, requiring the creation of a fleet. Venice agreed to transport 33,500 crusaders, a very ambitious number.

This agreement required a full year of preparation on the part of the Venetians to build numerous ships and train the sailors who would man them, all the while curtailing the city’s commercial activities.

The Venetians had performed their part of the agreement: there awaited 50 war galleys and 450 transports—enough for three times the assembled army. The Venetians would not let the crusaders leave without paying the full amount agreed to, originally 85,000 silver marks, but the crusaders could only initially pay 35,000 silver marks. The doge threatened to keep them interned unless full payment was made, so a further 14,000 marks was collected. This had been disastrous to the Venetians, who had halted their commerce for a great length of time to prepare this expedition. In addition, about 14,000 men or possibly as many as 20–30,000 men (out of Venice’s population of 60–100,000 people) were needed to man the entire fleet, placing further strain on the Venetian economy.

Venice was caught in a bind: with or without the crusade, Venice would be bankrupted by the preparations. The doge turned this difficulty into an advantage and proposed that the crusaders pay their debts by intimidating many of the local towns down the Adriatic, culminating in an attack on the port of Zara in Dalmatia, a rival and competitor of Venice. Zara was under the protection of the king of Hungary, also a member of the crusade. Nevertheless the crusaders occupied Zara and destroyed the city walls. In the meantime the crusaders’ leaders met with the Byzantine prince Alexios IV Angelos, brother-in-law of the reigning Byzantine emperor. Alexios IV offered to pay the entire debt owed to the Venetians, give 200,000 silver marks to the crusaders, provide 10,000 Byzantine professional troops for the expedition, maintain 500 knights in the Holy Land, deliver the service of the Byzantine navy to transport the crusader army to Egypt, and place the Eastern Orthodox Church under the authority of the pope, if the new armada would sail to Byzantium and topple the reigning emperor Alexios III Angelos.

This proposal reached the leaders of the crusade on January 1, 1203 as they wintered at Zara. For the Venetian Doge Dandolo, whose city was verging on bankruptcy for the enterprise, it was god-sent. He became a fierce supporter of the plan and managed to sway most of the crusaders. The pope had firmly opposed the attack on fellow Christian Zara and was even more opposed to the political intervention in Constantinople, however he did not have much clout with the crusaders, now short of funds and in the hands of the Venetian fleet.

When the army reached Constantinople on June 23, 1203, the city had a population of approximately 500,000 people, a garrison of 15,000 men, and a fleet of 20 galleys. For both political and financial reasons, the permanent garrison of Constantinople had been limited to a relatively small force made up of elite guard and other specialist units. At previous times in Byzantine history when the capital had come under direct threat, it had been possible to assemble reinforcements from frontier and provincial forces. On this occasion, the suddenness of the danger posed by the Fourth Crusade put the defenders at a serious disadvantage.

After a siege, the crusaders took the city but emperor Alexios III fled with 1,000 pounds of gold and a fortune in jewels. His successor Alexios IV realized it would be difficult to satisfy the promises made to the crusaders and ordered the destruction and melting of valuable Byzantine and Roman icons to extract their gold and silver. But even then he could only raise 100,000 silver marks. In the eyes of all Greeks who knew of this decision, it was a shocking sign of desperation and weak leadership, which deserved to be punished by God. The Byzantine historian Nicetas Choniates characterized it as “the turning point towards the decline of the Roman state[14].” Forcing the populace to destroy their icons at the behest of an army of foreign schismatics estranged the emperor from the populace. In August, riots broke out and a number of Latin residents were killed. In retaliation armed Venetians and other crusaders entered the city from the Golden Horn and attacked a mosque (Constantinople at this time had a sizable Muslim population), which was defended by Muslim and Byzantine residents. In order to cover their retreat the Westerners instigated the “Great Fire,” which burned from August 19–21, destroying a large part of Constantinople and leaving an estimated 100,000 homeless.

In 1204 Alexios Doukas became the leader of the anti-crusader faction within the Byzantine leadership. He led Byzantine forces during the initial clashes with the crusaders, winning respect from both the military and populace, and moved against Alexios IV, whom he overthrew, imprisoned, and had strangled in early February. Doukas was then crowned Emperor Alexios V. He immediately moved to have the urban fortifications strengthened and summoned additional forces to the city. Yet this did not end the fights. The crusaders and Venetians demanded the contract that Alexios IV had promised, when the Byzantines refused, the crusaders assaulted the city once again. There was also a rift between the local clergy and the pope in Rome. The pope asked the crusaders not to attack the clergy, but the crusaders claimed that “the Greeks were worse than the Jews” and invoked the authority of God and the pope to take action. On April 12, 1204, the weather conditions finally favored the crusaders. A strong northern wind aided the Venetian ships in coming close to the walls, and after a short battle, about 70 crusaders managed to enter the city. They completely took the city on April 13.

The crusaders went wild on a savage sack of Constantinople for three days, during which many ancient Greco-Roman and medieval Byzantine works of art were either stolen or wrecked. The magnificent Library of Constantinople was destroyed. Despite their oaths and the threat of excommunication, the crusaders ruthlessly and systematically violated the city’s churches and monasteries, devastating, defiling, or stealing all they could lay hands on; nothing was spared. It was reported that the total amount looted from Constantinople was about 900,000 silver marks. The Venetians received the 150,000 silver marks, their due, while the other crusaders received 50,000 silver marks. A further 100,000 silver marks were divided evenly between crusaders and Venetians. Some crusader knights privately kept the remaining 500,000 silver marks back. It was an event possibly as great as the sack of Rome by Alaric in 410, and it also left an unforgettable wound in Christianity, to the point that later some Eastern Christians trusted Muslims more than Western Christians. Muslims, as we saw, had fought with Greeks against Latin invaders.

According to a vivid description, “the Latin soldiery subjected the greatest city in Europe to an indescribable sack. For three days they murdered, raped, looted, and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals and Goths would have found unbelievable. Constantinople had become a veritable museum of ancient and Byzantine art, an emporium of such incredible wealth that the Latins were astounded at the riches they found. Though the Venetians had an appreciation for the art which they discovered (they were themselves semi-Byzantines) and saved much of it, the French and others destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox clerics. The Crusaders vented their hatred for the Greeks most spectacularly in the desecration of the greatest church in Christendom. They smashed the silver iconostasis, the icons, and the holy books of Hagia Sophia, and seated upon the patriarchal throne a whore who sang coarse songs as they drank wine from the church’s holy vessels. The estrangement of east and west, which had proceeded over the centuries, culminated in the horrible massacre that accompanied the conquest of Constantinople. The Greeks were convinced that even the Turks, had they taken the city, would not have been as cruel as the Latin Christians. The defeat of Byzantium, already in a state of decline, accelerated political degeneration so that the Byzantines eventually became an easy prey to the Turks. The Fourth Crusade and the crusading movement generally thus resulted, ultimately, in the victory of Islam, a result which was of course the exact opposite of its original intention.”[15]

The pope might have realized the future disaster, and Innocent III strongly rebuked the crusaders. Nevertheless, he accepted the new situation, and when the crusaders took some of the piles of money, jewels, and gold that they had bagged in the sack of Constantinople to Rome, Innocent III accepted the stolen pieces. Furthermore, the pope welcomed and recognized Western prelates from the sees established in the conquered lands—thus recognizing their legitimacy over formerly Orthodox areas.

For a few centuries this coldly laid the foundation of the Italian dominance in the world of that time. The Venetians and then the Genoese came to inherit much of the former Byzantine power, and while Constantinople carried on for some 250 years, it was a pale image of its old self, more like a rump state under the competing influence on the Italian republics.

On the religious front, the schism between Eastern and Western Christianity was solidified, and the recovery of the Holy Lands from Islam was to be forgotten. The Christian states could not count on the support of Constantinople, and the Italian republics started a policy of balance of power between European and Islamic states in which they thrived for some three centuries. That was to end only in the late 15th century.

The Latin Empire was soon faced with a number of enemies. Besides the individual Byzantine Greek states in Epirus and Nicaea, there were also the Seljuk Sultanate and the Bulgarian Empire. The Greek states fought for supremacy against both the Latins and each other.

The Latin Empire always rested on shaky foundations. Constantinople was recaptured by the Nicaean Greeks under Michael VIII Palaeologus in 1261, and commerce with Venice was reestablished. In the middle of the 15th century, the western church tried to organize a new crusade aimed at restoring the Byzantine Empire, which was gradually being torn down by the advancing Ottoman Turks. The attempt failed as the vast majority of Greek civilians and a growing part of their clergy refused to recognize and accept the short-lived near-union of the churches of the east and west signed at the Council of Florence and Ferrara by the ecumenical patriarch Joseph II of Constantinople.

The Greek population, reacting to the Latin conquest, believed that the Byzantine civilization that revolved around the Orthodox faith would be more secure under Ottoman Islamic rule. Overall, religious-observant Greeks preferred to sacrifice their political freedom and political independence in order to preserve their religious traditions and rituals in separation from the Roman see that had had abetted or consented to a plunder that had fatally wounded the empire. Still, this was only part of the story. Had the rivaling byzantine factions not encouraged and helped the crusaders, the 4th crusade might well have been the end of then fledgling Venice and a halt to all attempts of the Latins to wrest the Levant from Islam.

8.9 The invention of double-entry accounting

Shortly after sacking Constantinople Italy was preparing to take on the world not only with its weapons and new combative mettle, but mostly with its trade, and the ingenuity of its systems. This started with new mathematics and new ways to keep the accounts.

Modernity, finance, and capitalism could have never have happened without the invention of double-entry accounting in Florence in the 13th century. This was facilitated first by the revolution in mathematics brought forth by Leonardo Bonacci (c. 1170–c. 1250), known as Fibonacci[16]. He brought the Hindu-Arabic numeral system to the Western world, which previously used the cumbersome Roman numerals, and the concept of zero, fundamental to evening out accounts.

Young Leonardo followed his father in his business travels, and in what is now modern Bejaia, Algeria, he discovered these numbers and realized the many advantages of the new system. His Liber Abaci showed the practical use and value of the new Arabic numerals by applying them to commercial bookkeeping, converting weights and measures, calculating interest, money-changing, and other applications. The book was well received throughout educated Europe and had a profound impact on European thought.

It replaced the Roman numeral system and its ancient Egyptian multiplication method that it is simple to grasp but makes complex calculation extremely long and awkward. It does not require multiplication tables, only the ability to multiply and divide by 2 and to add. Fibonacci popularized the use of an abacus and made business calculations easier and faster, which led to the growth of banking and accounting in Europe.

The book also explains the uses of Arabic numerals for example in converting different currencies, and calculating profit and interest, which were important to the growing banking industry. He also introduced algebra and algorithms.

These elements were crucial to bring about the first double-entry form of bookkeeping, which came from Florentine merchant Amatino Manucci at the end of the 13th century[17]. This method was later adopted by the Medici bank in the 14th century. However, the oldest discovered record of a complete double-entry system is the Messari accounts of the Republic of Genoa in 1340. By the end of the 15th century, the bankers and merchants of Florence, Genoa, Venice, and Lübeck used this system widely, revolutionizing trade and finance.

About a century later, the Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli first codified the system of double-entry bookkeeping in his mathematics textbook Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità (Treatise on arithmetic, geometry, proportions, and principles of proportions) published in Venice in 1494. Benedetto Cotrugli also wrote a manual on a double-entry bookkeeping system in his 1458 treatise Della mercatura e del mercante perfetto (On trade and the perfect trader). At the time in Europe, double-entry bookkeeping gained also theological and cosmological connotations, recalling “both the scales of justice and the symmetry of God’s world”—possibly a way to call the wrath of God on those who did not pay their debts.

Pacioli’s impact upon the subsequent development and standardization of professional accounting methods was so great that he is often referred to as the “father of accounting.”

His ninth chapter in particular discusses various topics relevant to business and trade, including barter, bills of exchange, weights and measures, double-entry bookkeeping, trial balances, balance sheets, and various other tools still employed by professional accountants. The business chapter also introduces the rule of 72 to calculate the time to double an investment, anticipating the development of the logarithm by more than century.

These techniques did not originate with Pacioli, who merely recorded and explained the established best practices of contemporary businesspeople in his region. While the Summa contained little or no original mathematical work, it was the most comprehensive mathematical text ever published at the time. Its thoroughness and clarity (and the lack of any other similar work available in print) made it a basic point of reference for European mathematicians through the 16th century and beyond.

The book also marks the beginning of a movement in 16th-century algebra toward the use of logical argumentation and theorems in the study of algebra, following the model of classical Greek geometry established by Euclid. It includes the first printed example of a set of plus and minus signs that were to become standard in Italian Renaissance mathematics: “p” with a tilde above (p̄) for “plus” and “m” with a tilde (m̄) for minus.

Contemporary to the new mathematics for accounts, the Italians developed the all new system for finance that was later used during the Industrial Revolution, perhaps most notably perfecting of the rules of insurance.

Methods for transferring or distributing risk were practiced by Babylonian traders as long ago as the third or second millennia BC[18] and by early Mediterranean sailing traders. If a merchant received a loan to fund his shipment, he would pay the lender an additional sum in exchange for the lender’s guarantee to cancel the loan should the shipment be stolen or lost at sea. In the first millennium BC, the inhabitants of Rhodes created the “general average” that allowed groups of merchants to pay to insure their goods being shipped together. The collected premiums would be used to reimburse any merchant whose goods were jettisoned during transport, whether due to storm or sinkage.

However the Genoese in the 14th century perfected and made widespread the system that was used in Italy and beyond, and received its first literary reference, in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. Separate insurance contracts (i.e., insurance policies not bundled with loans or other kinds of contracts) were invented and the different policies placed in insurance pools backed by pledges of landed estates. It was the first modern insurance system. These new contracts allowed insurance to be separated from investment, a separation of roles that first proved very useful in marine insurance.

[1] See for this Davis, R. H. C. A History of Medieval Europe, From Constantine to Saint Louis. 1966.

[2] For this section see Magdalino, Paul. The Empire of Manuel I Komnenos, 1143–1180. Cambridge University Press, 2002. And Magdalino, Paul. “The Byzantine Empire (1118–1204).” The New Cambridge Medieval History. Ed. Rosamond McKitterick, Timothy Reuter, Michael K. Jones, Christopher Allmand, David Abulafia, Jonathan Riley-Smith, Paul Fouracre, David Luscombe. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

[3] See also Curta, Florin. “Chronology.” Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

[4] For the part on Frederick see Raccagni, Gianluca. The Lombard League (1164–1225). Oxford University Press, 2010.

[5] Angold, Michael. “Church and Politics under Manuel I Komnenos.” Church and Society in Byzantium Under the Comneni, 1081–1261. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

[6] Angold, Michael. The Byzantine Empire, 1025–1204. Longman, 1997. 25–26.

[7] For this section see Raccagni, Gianluca. The Lombard League (1164–1225). Oxford University Press, 2010.

[8] Cantor, N. F. Medieval History. Macmillan and Company, 1969. p. 340 and following.

[9] See παστός, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, Perseus Digital Library. Also for this section Serventi, Silvano and Francoise Sabban. Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food. Translated edition.. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002. Flandrin, Jean Louis and Massimo Montanari. Food, A Culinary History. Columbia University Press, 2013.

[10] For this section see Benvenuti, G. Le Repubbliche Marinare. Amalfi, Pisa, Genova, Venezia. Rome: Newton & Compton, 1989. Bragadin, Marc’Antonio. Storia delle Repubbliche marinare. Bologna: Odoya, 2010. 240

[11] See also

[12] For this see, Venice Glass Museum Official Website, How Murano Glass is made and history, and Murano glass, what is so special about it?

[13] For this section see Hindley, Geoffrey. The Crusades: A History of Armed Pilgrimage and Holy War. New York, NY: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2003. New edition: The Crusades: Islam and Christianity in the Struggle for World Supremacy. New York, NY: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 2004. Lilie, Ralph-Johannes. Byzantium and the Crusader States, 1096–1204. Translated by J. C. Morris and Jean E. Ridings. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993. Madden, Thomas F. Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

[14] Phillips, Jonathan. The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople. New York: Viking, 2004.

[15] Vryonis, Speros. Byzantium and Europe. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967. 152.

[16] See

[17] See Sosnowski, Roman. Origini della lingua dell’economia in Italia dal XIII al XVI secolo. Milan: Franco Angeli, 2006.

[18] See Franklin, J. The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and Probability Before Pascal. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 274–277.