How did developments in trade and commerce create conditions for the renaissance?
A unique set of social, political, and economic conditions were the basis of Burckhardt’s arguments about Renaissance in which he saw the emergence of a new culture. Moreover, he linked it to Italian humanism. It may be noted that this new culture might appear to be the product of the growth of commerce and cities in northern Italy from the late 11th century.
However, urban growth and commercial expansion since the 11th century, does not explain why the new culture flowered almost at the end of the 14th century while Italy during the 12th and 13th centuries had become the most highly;developed, the wealthiest and the most urbanized region if Europe.
On the one hand, the urban and commercial growth had taken place in Italy and on the other, the scholastic philosophy, Gothic art, and vernacular literature of these centuries in the parts of Europe in the north of the Alps were clearly associated with the clergy and the feudal aristocracy of the medieval age.
Although Italy was not totally free of this older aristocratic and clerical culture, but the northern Italy was dominated not by clerics and feudal nobles but by wealthy urban merchants.
Thus, during the 12th and 13th centuries, the cities of northern Italy in alliance with the popes broke the military and political power of the German kings, who called themselves Roman emperors and attempted to assert control over northern Italy. In this sense, northern Italy was dotted With virtually independent urban republics. It may be observed that most of the Italian towns existed as markets for local communities, as links between the surrounding country and the distant markets, generally purchasing its cereals from the vicinity.
Moreover, some large urban formations, Genoa or Florence, were centres of international trade during the 12th and 13th centuries. The administration of these towns came to depend increasingly on a professional civil service with legal training.
However, over time however, the existence of the city republic in many instances became precarious. The townsmen were fighting each other, a feature that Machiavelli, the great Florentine thinker of renaissance Italy explained as a result of enmity between the wealthy and the poor. The situation was further complicated by factional rivalries within the ruling groups.
The city councils became so divided along factional lines that in most cities before the end of the 14th century the regime of a single individual began to be increasingly preferred. To escape the problem of civic strife, most cities turned from republicanism to signoria.
The signoria city states with enlarged functions including diplomacy, warfare, taxation and governance in an expanding and complex urban environment was an ideal breeding ground for a certain consciousness of citizenship.
The kind of control that the municipal authorities imposed on traders and artisans fell far short of free private enterprise, but it is possible to argue that the development of private wealth against the backdrop of an expanding commerce and a measure of involvement of the cities elites in the actual governance of the city were capable of reinforcing the individualist self consciousness in some. of the city’s leading men.
In the commerce dominated society, the lawyers and the notaries became important as they drew up and interpreted the rules and written agreements without which trade on a large scale was not possible. The large scale of commerce produced an acute need for men skilled in drafting, recording, and authenticating contracts and letters.
Thus, in the Italian cities these activities Were pursued by members of the new professions unlike in the Middle Ages when virtually all intellectual activities were carried on by churchmen. Therefore, they were the real precursors to renaissance humanism in more than one sense.