Preparations for War in Florence and Venice in the Second Half of the Fifteenth Century
By Michael Mallett
Florence and Venice: Comparisons and Relations. Acts of two Conferences at Villa I Tatti in 1976 and 1977, organized by S. Bertelli, N. Rubinstein, and C.H. Smyth (Florence, 1979-80)
Introduction: In a famous passage of the Discorsi, Machiavelli drew a parallel between the failures of Florence and Venice to gain strength from their territorial expansion because of their unwillingness to adapt their institutions to the new military necessities. By failing to concern themselves with the new demands of defence, and by entrusting that defence to others, they had in fact made themselves “piu deboli quando l’uno aveva la Lombardia e l’altro la Toscana, che non erano quando l’uno era contento del mare a l’altro di sei miglia di confini.” Venice, as Machiavelli pointed out frequently and with almost polemical fervour, was even more to blame than Florence because she had known success and glory at sea when she was led by her own nobles and defended by her own subjects: “Ma come cominciarono a combattere in terra, lasciarono queste virtu, e seguitarono i costumumi d’Italia.”
To question long-standing assumptions about the similarities between Italy’s two largest surviving republics in the fifteenth century is one of the aims of this symposium, and it seems to me that on the question of military attitudes and relative military strength we have been seriously misled by Machiavelli. On the other hand, his view that the military attitudes and stances of a society are a reflection of its innermost hopes and fears is a valid and important one. But it is essential to have a clear view of what those attitudes and stances were before we can proceed to a true comparison.