Giovanni Villani and the Aetiological Myth of Tuscan Cities
By Francesco Salvestrini
The Medieval Chronicle II (Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on the Medieval Chronicle), edited by E. Kooper (Amsterdam, 2002)
Introduction: Giovanni Villani was undoubtedly one of the most important Florentine chroniclers of the communal era1 . His lifetime spanned the most dynamic period of Florentine medieval history. From what we can discover about his biography (especially from his chronicle), it is clear that he was very much a typical well-to-do Florentine merchant, and his literary work reflected his “bourgeois” vision of his city’s and world’s history.
Born in Florence no later than 1276, the young Villani formed an association with the Peruzzi company, one of the leading trading and money-lending firms in the Tuscan city at the end of the thirteenth century. In 1300 he became one of the shareholders in this important group, at the same time that he joined the Arte del Cambio (Bankers’ Guild). During the same year he went to Rome for the Jubilee as an agent of his company at the Papal court.
Between 1302 and 1307 he travelled widely in Flanders, where he looked after the interests of his company’s branch office in Bruges. Following a common path for Italian merchants of his day, he served an itinerant apprenticeship in international commerce and banking until, in his early thirties, he had acquired the means to establish himself in his native city and to devote himself to civic affairs. In 1307 he returned to Florence and, between 1316 and 1341, followed a public career during which he served as Prior (a member of the Signoria, the supreme magistracy of republican city government) in 1316, 1321-22 and in 1328.