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season one

Episode 12: The Founder of the Dynasty

Portrait of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici (c. 1563) by Cristofano dell’Altissimo. Source: Palazzo-medici.it.

We close out Season 1, “The Early Medici”, with a look at the life and death of Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici, whose descendants would become the branch of the family we usually mean when we talk about the Medici. Not only is the first prominent member of the family, however, he also founded the dynasty in the sense that he started the tradition of sponsoring forward-thinking artists, writers, and architects and in how his apparent reluctance to be a public figure actually inspired a formula for political success that would carry his descendants to greater heights than even his more ambitious forebears could have imagined. 

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season one

Episode 11: Sin and Profit

A portrait of bankers at a traditional banking table. Source unknown.

We take a step back from the life of Giovanni di Bicci dei Medici to look at banking, commerce, and religious and legal attitudes about usury and luxury in Renaissance Florence. How did the Medici and other Florentine dynasties prosper in banking when loans with interest were considered a grave sin and a form of theft? 

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season one

Episode 10: The Duke’s Wife and God’s Banker

A miniature depicting Valentina Visconti, Duchesse d’OrlĂ©ans, with the symbols of Milan and the Visconti family, from a copy of Cicero’s De natura deorum, c. 1400. Source: anne-marie.eu.

Around the dawn of the fifteenth century, two developments unfolded that would sooner or later change the future of the Medici family forever. In one, Valentina Visconti enters a miserable marriage with a French royal. In the other, Giovanni de Bicci de’ Medici takes advantage of Europe being split between two and even three rival popes by (allegedly!) bankrolling the church career of a former soldier who hobnobbed with pirates and robbers that eventually sees him become Pope.

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season one

Episode 9: Revolution

A statue of Michele di Lando in the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo. Source: Saliko via Wikimedia Commons.

After Salvestro de’ Medici helps stoke the flames of revolution, violence breaks out on the streets of Florence and a wool-comber is installed in the highest office of the republic. But who will really benefit from this proletariat revolt in the long term?

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season one

Episode 8: Unholy War

The papal palace at Avignon. Source: about-france.com.

In a time of simmering class tensions and growing exploitation of the poor, Salvestro de’ Medici turns against his conservative comrades and declares he’s on the side of the downtrodden. On his political agenda? Backing an all-out war against the Pope.

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season one

Episode 7: Apocalypse

In the spring of 1348, the Black Death reaches Florence, devastating its population but also clearing new avenues for the non-rich. In the aftermath, a moderately affluent landowner, Salvestro de’ Medici, embarks on a political career. Just how far can Salvestro make it, between siding with the conservative establishment against his own family’s populist sympathies and the antics of his violently unstable brothers?

Titled The Holy Trinity (c. 1427), this is a fresco by Masaccio that lies in the Santa Maria Novella in Florence. The realistic depiction of human remains is characteristic of the art trends that emerged during the half century following the Black Death.

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season one

Episode 6: King Walt

A fresco of St. Anne and the expulsion of Walter of Brienne, today in the Palazzo Vecchio.

Facing famine, plague, an unending war, and an economic recession, the Florentines resort to handing the keys over to a French nobleman with a glamorous but mostly empty title. Meanwhile the Medici, although still lurking in the shadows from our point of view, manage to establish themselves as populists during the chaos and violence to come.

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season one

Episode 5: Boom Town

A picture of the Mugello Valley in Tuscany. Source: Christian Lorenz

Sometime before the dawn of the fourteenth century, a family named the Medici moved from a small village in the Mugello Valley in the Apennines to the bustling city of Florence. Eventually, they became successful bankers and one member was elected to the republic’s top office. They also jumped right into the city’s latest violent class and factional civil war. 

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season zero

Episode 4: Republic of Guilds

With Florence free of foreign interference (for once), a medieval “class traitor” spearheaded reforms that severely weakened the nobility’s grip on the government and gave a lot of formal power to the city’s merchant and artisan guilds. In this episode, I delve into the nuts and bolts of how this guild regime operated. Also, I talk about whether or not we can talk about Florence as part of an “Italian nation”, even though a unified Italian nation state was still about 600 years from being born. 

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season zero

Episode 3: Gang War

Starting out as an ill-advised prank at a party, the feud between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines in Florence forever changed the city’s history. It would wrap Florence up in the struggle between the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, eventually toppling the city’s aristocratic republic and creating something rather new in its place, the Primo Popolo.

A map of Italy around the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Source: Muir’s Historical Atlas via Fordham University’s Medieval History Sourcebook.
The Florentine Guelf flag, which became the official flag of the City of Florence.
The Bargello, formerly the Palazzo del Popolo. Source: VisitFlorence.com.

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