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Giovanni Villanis chronicle of Florentine history written before the Black Death contains a famous chapter entitled On the Greatness and State and Magnificence of the Commune of Florence The statistics he includes in this chapter place Florence among the five most populous cities in Europe in 1338 only Paris Venice Milan and Naples were larger in size Florence was also one of Europes wealthiest cities in a large part due to the production and sale of woollen cloth the value of which exceeded one and one-half million florins a year However Villanis survey of the city in 1338 represents a climax in his chronicle depicting the city at the height of its power From this point on the leading families of Florence had the enormous task of maintaining - one could argue in the general interest of the population -if not expanding Florences size wealth and importance in Europe To give sufficiently detailed analysis of both the patrician regimes domestic and foreign policies requires more scope than that which is available therefore this essay will concentrate on the domestic policy of the leading families of FlorenceIt is imperative to examine the structure of the communes political constitution in this period before even considering any assessment of its performance Florence was an independent communal regime and due to its rise in fortune and thus the rise in importance of its mercantile and professional classes its constitution - on paper at least - was remarkably egalitarian for a medieval city The most important element of central government was the Signoria it comprised of eight priors two appointed from each of the four districts and the gonfalonier of justice Even though these nine positions were equally important the position of gonfalonier of justice - who acted as chairman - carried with it the greatest prestige of all governmental posts Meeting with these nine officials in the Palace of the Signoria were two other bodies whose opinion they were
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