14 Reasons Why Medieval Florence was Great

Medieval Florentines were very proud of their city. One 15th-century citizen even wrote down 14 reasons why.

Giovanni Rucellai (1403-1481) was a Florentine merchant who left us a diary. In this work we have an entry from 1457 which states, “most people believe that our age, from 1400 onward, is the most fortunate period in Florence’s history. I shall now explain why this is so.”


Rucellai goes on to give a glowing account of all the good things he sees about Florence, which range from its military success to how pious they were. His list of 14 reasons offer a fascinating insight into what a medieval person valued when it comes to civic pride. Here are the 14 reasons:

Florentines were good at war

Thanks to their intelligence, astuteness, cunning, and strategic ability, the Italians are now the best at seizing cities and winning battles.


Learning in the city

There are more outstanding scholars of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew in Florence than even before. An elegant and pure Latin eloquence, the likes of which has not flourished since Cicero’s time, has finally returned to refine our literature.

Florentines as conquerors

Likewise, the dominion of Florence has considerably expanded since 1400, controlling more land than ever before: it has conquered Pisa, Cortona, Borgo San Sepolcro, and Poppi, as well as many other towns of the Casentino.

Florentine Buildings

The city and countryside have also augmented in beauty – they are now embellished with new churches, hospitals, buildings and palaces with elegant facades and lavishly decorated interiors. Beautiful Roman worked stones – that is, stones worked in the classical Roman style – adorn these constructions.

Florence, Italy – photo by seth m /Flickr

Artists in Florence

The same can be said our masters in painting and drawing, whose ability, sense of proportion, and precision are so great that Giotto and Cimabue would not even be accepted as their pupils. Similarly, we cannot forget to mention our excellent tapestry makers and goldsmiths.


Florentine Fashion

Never before have men and women dressed in such expensive and elegant clothing. Women wear brocade and embroidered gowns covered with jewels and saunters through the streets in their French-style hats that cost at least two hundred florins apiece.

Their Ships

Since 1400, the Florentines have used massive ships to transport their products by the sea – an innovation which has brought great profit to our city, besides making its name world-renowned.

Palla Strozzi

This age has also had four notable citizens who deserve to be remembered. The first one is Palla di Nofri Strozzi, who possessed all seven of the things necessary for a man’s happiness: a worthy homeland, noble and distinguished ancestors, a good knowledge of Greek and Latin, refinement, physical beauty, a good household, and honestly earned wealth. Rarely do we find in a single man so many things conducive to happiness.

Portrait of Cosimo de’ Medici

Cosimo de’ Medici

Then we have Cosimo de’ Medici, probably not only the richest Florentine, but the richest Italian of all time. Cosimo was born into a distinguished family and became a powerful citizen supported by many followers. In the whole of our history, no one has ever been as honoured as Cosimo both in Florence and abroad. Suffice it to say that he managed to control the city government as if it had been his private property.

Leonardo Bruni

The third citizen I shall mention is Messer Leonardo di Francesco Bruni. Although he was born in Arezzo, he was an honorary citizen of Florence. He had a unique knowledge of and expertise in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and was more famous than any rhetorician after Cicero. Bruni revived Latin eloquence and refined it, as he did with the humanities and ancient rhetoric, which was rescued from oblivion.

Filippo Brunelleschi

Finally, Filippo, son of Ser Brunellesco, was a master architect and sculptor. He was an accomplished geometer and was endowed by nature with great intelligence and an artistic genius superior to any since the time of the Romans. He is the one who rediscovered ancient Roman building techniques.

Their Piety

Churches and hospitals are richer than ever, better supplied with gold and silk paraments and precious silver. There are numerous friars and priests caring for these places, which the faithful visit constantly. Men and women attend Mass and other religious ceremonies with greater devotion than ever. I shall but mention the lauds, the gospels, and the rhymed laments that are skillfully sung with sweetness and devotion throughout the whole year, especially during Lent. The citizens perform exquisite mystery plays, especially during the feast of St. John the Baptist.


Their (lack of) Taxes

I must also add that very recently, in October, the government issued a law decreeing that the citizens of Florence were to be free of all taxes for a period of ten years; it would certainly be wonderful thing to have this law enforced.

The City’s Wealth

The citizens have never had so much wealth, merchandise, and property, nor have the Monte’s interests ever been so conspicuous; consequently, the sums spent on weddings, tournaments, and various forms of entertainment are greater than ever before.

A full translation of Giovanni Rucellai’s note about Florence can be found in Images of Quattrocento Florence, edited by Stefano Ugo Baldassarri and Arielle Saiber, published by Yale University Press in 2000.