a simple essay
Reflecting Economic Circumstance in Florence from Pitti and Dati
Life in Renaissance Florence was far from dull. The accounts of Buonaccorso Pitti and Gregorio Dati are incredible renditions of society, life, and economics in Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries. Both businessmen portray different views of Florence, as well as expressing different views about modern misconceptions of Florence at this time. While Pitti discusses a great amount about the politics and international ambitions of the city-state, Dati shows a clear example of what the new “free” merchant society was able to give to its citizenry. It is clear that there were many economic opportunities in Florence in the late 14th century, and these opportunities gave way to changes in economic and political structure which not only had a significant effect on the city’s current demographic and economic circumstances, but would eventually lead to new ways of thinking and organizing society.
While Pitti and Dati had much different backgrounds, Pitti is born to a more prestigious family then Dati (not only does Pitti recount the many offices his father had turned down, but claims to have a connection to a contemporary, well known family he is related to by emblem. In contrast, Dati can only recall his family up to his grandfather (his father was only having been elected to one post – after his death). Both men were prominent Florentine Merchants (Brucker, 19-20, 107).
I say the term “Merchant” because both men bought and sold for profit of coin or gold. Pitti describes many such transactions in his memoirs, as there are numerous accounts of him buying horses and wine only to sell them later if he could make some profit. However, Pitti made these dealings regardless of where he was (partly because he was a gambler) and although there is not a single account of any loss in his abridged writings, there is a good example of an unsafe investment in which he comes out on top:
“I found a Burgundy wine merchant from whom I bought 110 casks […] for which I gave 400 in cash and the Duke of Burgundy’s letter of credit for 600 francs. […] I had the wine put in two cellars and, as no one would offer me more than 500 francs for it, left it there and told the steward not to sell it for less than 1000. [… ] [O]ne night in late April, the vines in the area were all nipped by frost. […] When I got back to Paris I sold 100 casks at 14 francs cash apiece. I made 400 gold francs on the transaction […]. Thus I was lucky with two of the chanciest of all commodities: horses and wine” (49-50).
But wine and horses were not the only ventures on which Pitti embarked. On a trip to England, Pitti had bought some wool which he claims he “had made 1,000 gold florins on the venture” after the “wool was sold and the money collected” (47). Pitti’s diary records many such events, so one could classify him as trader or a wholesale merchant.
Dati, on the other hand, was more of a retail merchant. The accounts in his diaries tend more on the partnerships and ventures he went on with other people. This is mostly because unlike Pitti, Dati’s first commercial contract, he starts indebted, “I am to invest 300 gold florins which I have not, being actually in debt to the business” (108). For Dati, profit was only made after his partnerships were dissolved; in one such enterprise Dati’s earnings was “reckoned as 1,416 florins” (109). He seems to prize himself on his individual endeavor in the middle of the 1390’s where he ended up with 600 florins because of the selling and buying of goods from Valencia and other places (111). It is important to note, however; that Dati was also a part of the Wool Guild, and made Guild Consul several times (108,128).
Being part of guilds was an important portion of Florentine society and economics. As noted in professor Patrouch’s class, the patrician oligarchy, which ruled Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries, was influenced greatly by the guilds (20 September). Furthermore, with regards to Prof. Patrouch’s lecture that day, besides the importance of guilds in the city, patricians could only be elected to positions in the city if they own property in the city. Even though Dati’s businesses never made much profit through dowries and smart investments, he had several properties in Florence (Brucker, 16, 123). Pitti also had many farms and properties; at one point he counted putting 2,500 florins into upkeep for one of his properties (47).
Because of each man’s achievement, they were both able to be elected once to Florence’s highest post: the Standard Bearer of Justice (15). Pitti served in 1422 while Dati served in office in 1429 (105,137). Here the guilds and Florence’s economic system played a great role, and it is this particularly that had an effect in the city’s circumstances. While its reliance on trade and merchants helped it prosper, Florence had some hard economic times, but the same merchant economy allowed new people to come in and help out in these tough times. With the help of guilds, it was easy to climb up the ranks as Prof. Patrouch explained in his lectures (20 September). This upward mobility changed Florence into a dynamic society with a smarter and self governing people. There were now a higher percentage of people that had easy accessibility to economic means not only for supporting themselves, but they were also able to gain more wealth, and prosperity.
There were many resources available, and Florence at this time, as seen through these two men, was a society that was moving forward. The changing economics can be seen in the people of Florence, and also can be seen as somewhat inspirational to people today. Here is the start of society and the economy as we know today, an economy filled with merchants that go into enterprises and who are able to rule themselves. Although both Pitti and Dati talk about Kings and Emperors, and it is clear to see that both still honor the idea of “nobility.” They plainly have disdain toward Kings and Emperors who have a direct say in their City’s affairs. Pitti and Dati’s ability to freely come in and out of merchant enterprises alludes to the free political and economic structure that it seems Florence is trying to build at this time.
Brucker, Gene, ed. Two Memoirs of Renaissance Florence: The Diaries of Buonaccorso Pitti & Gregorio Dati. Ed Gene Brucker. Prospect Heights, Illinois: Waveland Press, 1991
Brucker, Gene. “Introduction: Florentine Diaries and Diarists.” Brucker 9-18.
Dati, Gregorio. “The Diary of Gregorio Dati.” Brucker 107-141.
Patrouch, Joseph. EUH 2021 Class Lectures. Ryder Business Building - FIU University Park, Miami FL. 20 September 2004.
Pitti, Buonaccorso. “The Diary of Buonaccorso Pitti.” Brucker 19-106.