Month: April 2011

Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the last 13,000 Years, Vintage Press, 1998, Chapter 3, Collision at Cajamarca

Guns, Germs and Steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 Years,” is a Pulitzer prized winning book written by the author Jared Diamond a professor of Geography and Physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Diamond’s thesis attempts to explain why the European and North African has endured and subjugated people of Sub-Saharan African, Indigenous Americas or a non-white breed. This is a difficult topic because some of the answers raise the scientific but bigoted question that European supremacy is an inherent genetic trait known only to Caucasian people as opposed to the environmental and geographic location of the land. Nonetheless, professor Diamond, argument is tasteful, insightful and far from bigoted because he never mentions that Caucasians have a superior intellect over darker skinned people.
This Summary and critique analyzes chapter three- titled Collision at Cajamarca. In the chapter Diamond argues that Spanish and Eurasian civilization expanded because of chain developments, each made possible by certain precondition not controlled or foreseen by humanity. A primary example of this theory is the discovery of the Americas by the Europeans who were looking for a trade route to the Far East. Instead of China and the Far East, the Spanish found the Americas and its abundance of precious metals.

Diamond believes that the Spanish had a distinct advantage over the Indigenous people originating in natural preconditions such as the decline of the Ice Age. With the decline of the Ice Age European people upgraded to an Agrarian society domesticating plains animals and crops. An agrarian society provided a clearer sense of property, both of the individual household and of the village as a whole. These agrarian villages developed into stratified communities that were more complex than wandering groups of people. Agrarian communities developed into powerful city-states and kingdom that showed an interest in exploring the world for trade and conquest. Therefore, the change from hunter-gatherer to an agrarian system is a reason to trace the cause and effect of European migration to the Americas.
Upon the meeting between Pizarro and Atahuallpa at Cajamarca, Diamond asks a variety of questions in the chapter but two questions stand out in importance. “The first question is why did Pizarro capture Atahuallpa and kill so many followers instead of Atahuallpa’s vastly more numerous forces capturing and killing Pizarro?” Secoundly, why could not the Indigenous people discover Europe? Professor Diamond argues that military advantages like the horse, gun, and steel proved advantageous for the Spaniards. Furthermore, with population growth, less land and superior technology there was a need for Europeans to discover new territories for trade and expansion.
There is good reason to believe that the Europeans had superior technology because at the, battle of Cajamarca, “historians recounted 168 Spaniards crushing a Native American army 500 times more numerous, killing thousands of natives while not losing a single Spaniard.” The

Spanish were able to defeat the Incas because the horses, steel weapons, astounded the Incas and guns surprised the Indigenous at Cajamarca. However, the Incas organized a resistance force after their defeat by the Conquistadors on horseback, using advanced weapons and chainmail. “Within a dozen years of the conquest, the Incas mounted two well-prepared rebellions against the Spanish.” Professor Diamond believes it was superior equipment as opposed to the indigenous people revering the Spanish as Gods. I agree that superior weapons and instruments would be to an advantage but in respect to the indigenous group. If you were in fact Gods or sent by the God’s presumably, you would have had superior weapons to submit humankind. I could understand the Indians having a difficult decision to attack or face certain destruction of humankind, by the hand of God. Therefore, the God theory supported more by scholars like me as opposed Professor Jared Diamond.
The writing is a brilliant mixture of primary sources and assumptions. More important, Professor Diamond uses simple sentences to prove his point. Simplicity is important for a reader not versed in the subject of history because history is more complex than the study of the monarchy. History embodies the study of science, disease, social thoughts, and migration of animals, religion, and everything present in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising for a physiological scientist like Jared Diamond to be analyzing the history of the Americas.
Another fascinating historical analysis is the history of guns and the lack of importance of muskets to the conquistadors in the 16th century conquest of the Indians. “The guns of those times (so-called harquebuses) were difficult to load and fire, and Pizarro had only a dozen of them. Nonetheless, they did produce a psychological effect on those occasions when they

managed to fire.” It is hard to believe that less than 200 men could kill thousands of natives while not losing a single Spaniard. Diamond argues that muskets did not do the damage. His primary sources reveal that the four battles involved “a mere 80, 30, 110, and 40 Spanish horsemen, respectively, in each case ranged against thousands or tens of thousands of Indians.” The author credits the steel armour horses and swords as a deciding factor to the defeat of the native armies.
In addition to guns and steel as a vital factor in the conquest of the Inca’s professor Diamond introduces the theory of germs having some factor to the decisive victory of Pizarro and his conquistadors. The question of why Atahuallpa was at Cajamarca? This is an important question in proving Diamonds thesis and linking the deciding factor in the battle to disease. For example, he talks of a civil war that left the Incas divided and vulnerable. Diamond believes that Pizarro took advantage of those divisions and exploited them. The virus known as small pox was an indirect cause of the Indigenous civil war. The virus spread quickly from Spanish settlers in Panama and Columbia, “killing the Inca emperor Huayna Capac and most of his court around 1526, and then immediately killing his designated heir, Ninan Cayuchi.” These events opened a contest for the throne between Atahuallpa and his half- brother Huascar. History accounts for smallpox, bubonic plague and other diseases being widespread in the devastation of the indigenous population.
How did the Europeans get to the Americas? Why did the Indigenous people instead not sail to Europe? The author speaks of the advanced European technology and the centralized political organization that enabled Spain to finance, build, staff, and equip the ships. The Inca has also a

centralized political organization. However, their system of government worked to their disadvantage, because the Spanish killed their leader and his chief ministers, placing the Inca state in disorganization. On the other hand, Europe had already created a monastic teaching institute since the time of Charlemagne and history shows that the oldest university founded in 1088 in the city of Bologna trained lawyers and other administrative councillors. “Whereas the ability to write was confined to small elites among some peoples of modern Mexico and neighbouring areas far to the north of the Inca Empire.”
To continue, Diamond argues that with no perception or understanding of Pizarro and his Conquistadors ambitions to subjugate the Indians. It was easy to enslave and ultimately destroy the Inca nations. As a result, the author still leaves us with the fundamental question why all those immediate advantages came to lie more with Europe than with the indigenous people to the Americas. The questions posed by the author and not answered give this chapter summary a low grade. This chapter does not get high marks because Professor Diamond fails to touch on the importance of disease not only being harmful to the population but to the environment.
Domestic animals posed problems to the ecological environment of the Americas. The Europeans also brought over rodents, which were the carriers of various diseases harmful to people who had not built up the immunity to the germ. Domestic animals such as the goats and pigs eat everything. In fact, the domestic pig is the ancestor of the wild boars of the Americas. It is not only the destruction these animals caused but also the psychological and changing effect it had on the indigenous people. The indigenous people had a connection to nature and environment through their religion and everyday life. When the Spanish conquered the

Americas, they stopped the Indians from writing and speaking their own tongue. Immediately the language of the Indian people became secoundary to the language of the various conquerors. In addition, professor Diamond fails to identify the degrading practice of forcing Indigenous women into prostitution and concubine marriages. By placing the offspring’s of Indian women higher in the pecking order to the full blooded Indian but lower in respect to the full blooded white European, the Spanish established a social barrier that placed the importance of Catholicism and European culture over native indigenous superstition. This was a common practice also noted with the African slaves imported to work the plantations due to the genocide death of indigenous people caused by disease and war.
Diamond tries not to be racist but his weak argument and questions endear him to the defenders of Imperialism and indirectly to white supremacy. Imperialism denotes the stronger group usurping the weaker group in order for the stronger and weaker groups to survive and society on a whole to develop and expand. Imperialism and similar studies serves to present a positive reason for racial segregation, war and the survival of white supremacy and protection of the Anglo-Saxon and white European race. Diamond avoids the argument of racism but by regarding, that history denotes agricultural society as superior is clearly a weak argument based on loose assumptions. Many of the indigenous tribes of North America were agrarian none of these tribes developed societies capable of venturing across the Ocean to conquer. The reason for the conquest is well versed and Diamond with all his intelligence does a poor job of proving his thesis, because the answer his already known to scholars. Moreover, his use of the word Eurasian

and Indian clearly defines his weakness in the area of history. A bettor term would have been indigenous and Eurasian implies that European is of Asian and Caucasian bloodline. Maybe this distinction is to identify with the Arians of North Africa who were a barbarian people from Germanic Europe, Eastern Europe and an Asian-Mongolian mixture of Caucasian from the eastern steppes of the continent.
The indigenous people come from a culture that produced architectural structures that compare with the Ancient buildings of Rome, Greece and the pyramids of Egypt. If not for the native people, many Europeans would have died of starvation or succumbed to fevers. These people understood the importance of the environment and the use of plants for medicinal purposes. Indigenous people had a complex written and spoken language that the Spanish and other conquering Europeans tried to destroy. Forbidding a group of people to speak in their language and practice their culture is an effective way of destroying the structure of the group.
Finally, this is a difficult subject to write about in one chapter because you need the opinions of European historians and scholars who are versed in the primary sources of indigenous manuscript, art, and songs. One such writer Juan De Betanzos wrote one of the most important sources on the conquest of the Incas. His book titled, Narrative of the Incas, a primary source the testimony of his wife, who had been previously married to Incan King Atahualpa as well as conducting interviews of Incans who had taken part in the Battle of Cajamarca or been in Atahualpa’s camp. The book is coming from an Indian perspective and it gives you a different perspective.

Courtney Duncan


Mad blood stirring: vendetta in Renaissance Italy Muir, Edward. Johns Hopkins University Press,1998.

Mad blood stirring: vendetta in Renaissance Italy
Muir, Edward. Johns Hopkins University Press,1998.

Mad Blood Stirring vendetta in renaissance Italy is a Marraro Prize winning book written by the author Edward Muir a professor in the Arts and Sciences, from Rutgers University who specializes in Italian social and cultural history from the Renaissance period. This book is about a history of Friuli, an event during carnival and the result.
In the introduction, Professor Muir recounts the earliest move of the Venetians out of their protective lagoon to struggle against the patriarchs of Aquileia, and had set up a rival patriarchal seat. “This struggle seems to have concluded in 1420 when Venice conquered the Patria Del Friuli and the last temporal ruler, Ludwig of Teck (1412-39), went into exile in Germany, leaving the territory to the Venetians.” Scholars such as Muir believe that the conquest only served to present other forms of rebellion of the Friulian people from their Venetian usurpers.
Rebellion is an important element to Muir’s thesis, a thesis out-lined in three different parts. The first part of the thesis attempts to explain the importance of vendetta to the region of Friuli. Moreover, vendetta had long been a special concern for the peasants of Friuli who faced Venetian wartime taxation, economic decline, ethnic mixed group of people living together and oppression from local feudal lords. Finally, Muir’s thesis attempts to explain to the reader that the form of feud known as the vendetta was born and bred in the region of Friuli. This summary and critique analyzes vendetta, economical situation of Friuli and the riot at the carnival of 1511.

During the renaissance period and early antiquity Friuli was a strategic geographic region that was important to trade and to check the borders for foreign invasion. By the 16th century, Friuli was a desolate chaotic region that followed a mixture of Venetian and old feudal laws that implemented and orchestrated the law of vendetta. Some of the Friulian nobles backed by Venice welcomed Venetian rule many of these nobles divided on who they should support some welcomed the alliances with Austria, German, Switzerland or the papal state of Italy. The Castilians favoured the old feudal regime and warrior society that they had brought to Friuli. The peasant society welcomed any reprieve from heavy taxation or the burden associated to the peasant class and the tributes owed to the local lord. The peasants would have welcomed Ottoman rule if given reprieve from heavy taxation and freedom of religion. Muir depiction of the social and political situation in Friuli makes the reader aware of the many different cultures that have settled in Italy.
In chapter, one titled, The Friulan Engima, Muir researches the intense poverty that contributed to the animosity of the people of Friuli towards their Venetian rulers. Evidence of this intense poverty is in the primary source of “Marco Sanudo who in 1483 was one of two circuit judges elected to tour the region of Friuli. His handwritten accounts document the decay of the villages and the disease-encountered amongst the inhabitants. Marco Sanudo states that the deterioration of the ancient Roman city and palace of Aquileia is the most shocking devastation to the region of Friuli. The Friuli citizens used poverty and disease as fuel for their hatred of their overlords. This rejection of Venetian rule eventually steered the people to fight for a form of independence under the captaincy of Antonio Savorgnan.

“Even though they are impoverished, “the people are handsome” wrote Count Girolamo of Porcia of his fellow Friulans, especially the nobility. They speak a difficult language and to be understood they speak Italian.” Muir describes the Friulan people as quasi-barbaric in customs and with a temperament given to the vendetta. The term revenge explains what was happening in their society. The vendetta became a direct revolt against Venetian and popular Renaissance politics. Vendetta was born in the hills of Friuli its fire flowed in the bloodline of artisan, peasants, and noblemen who ventured out of the region for an education only to return to establish the ideology of renaissance in their attempts for independence.
In the sixteenth century, among the general population there were four different languages spoken in the region. At the base were the speakers of Friulan, the language of the uneducated peasant and artisan. Friulan survived as a language employed to rebel or stay away from authority. The Venetians found it hard to implement their laws in a region where the people could not understand the law and there was far less police forces to enforce the law. Vendetta culture made it extremely difficult for the Venetian government to recruit police officers to govern the region. Venetian delegates had to rely on unemployed soldiers or Croatian or Albanian shepherds often forced into service by threat. If these substitutes failed then they accepted the help of private persons who agreed to do job for pay but also to cover private vendetta assignment. No matter how trust worthy the officers were the region was too large to rule and the old feudal lords in more feudal areas like Friuli could not be control because they could muster far larger groups of men for a militia. In Friuli, the old feudal law remained

cohabiting with Venetian laws. Friuli was similar to the rest of the Italy because all regions of Italy had some form of feud. However, the feud within the region of Friuli took on a different entity because of the ethnic differences of the people of Friuli in comparison to the rest of Italy.
For more than two centuries the Savorgnan and Della Torre clans fought a on and off vendetta that recurrently expanded into factional warfare. The followers of the Savorgnan called themselves the Zambarlani, those of the Della Torre the Strumieri. “The story of the Savorgnan and Della Torre vendetta began in 1339 when Ettore Savorgnan bought from a rich Udinese the castle of Ariis in Lower Friuli. Because the Della Torre claimed to possess rights to the castle, they disputed the purchase, and Ermacore Della Torre defended his families’ interests by attacking Ettore.” It is from this vendetta the Udine carnival on Fat Thursday, 1511, glorified by historians to symbolize the meaning of hot blood spilled.
Muir describes the tale of a dreadful massacre, first in Udine, North Italy, on Carnival’s Fat Thursday, 1511, and then throughout the region. The leader Antonio Savorgnan, a man from a noble family and defender of the peasants and artisans, turned on the clans of his hereditary enemies, the castellans of the Strumieri faction, butchering them like meat sold at a market. The carnival inherited meanings from the social environment and from certain universal process. One of these process was the killings of animals the killing of humans. Carnival helped sustain certain beliefs about killings which were shared by both vendetta practices and hunting. “Carnival and

vendetta were different but Muir believes that the act of vendetta, hunting and carnival were similar and blurred that the vendetta could easily adapt the act of hunting or the presentation of the carnival.”
Muir tries to prove this point by reminding the reader that carnival and the murders took place on Fat Thursday a time of heavy drink, dance, and gluttony. In addition carnival took place during lent therefore there was a direct connection between Carnival and lent but more closer to the connection of the fat and lean. “Given the long history of Savorgnan patronage of the peasants and artisans on the one hand and Castilian hostility to agrarian fiscal reform on the other, it is not far-fetched to imagine that the Zamberlini took on the role of the fat and the Strumieri the lean.”
Carnival was a time to enjoy and let out frustrations. Muir fails to explain in detail how historians knew that it was in the Friuli culture or nature to kill in art form or consider vendetta and hot blood killing a way of letting out frustration and bringing peace to nature. People murder out of retaliation, anger, cruelty, or warfare, but to equate murder with the butchering of animals at a carnival, this statement was not convincing in its analyses. Muir follows the tale to how they butchered the noblemen and his factions. They hung them like meat for sale. “Forced to beg for their lives then butchered a noble man died a common death. Moreover, the mobs disposed of the body in symbolic ways. Some were left in the streets to rot for days, some were thrown into latrines, and others were systematically dismembered.”

A martyr Antonio was finally assassinated Friulan style. His enemies bribed the imperial guards to stay away from the cathedral when Antonio attended church. The attackers waited for him and split his head open with a sword. The macabre of a dog eating his brains became famous to historians and lovers of Friulan history. Muir believes that feeding of human flesh to the dogs displays a ceremonial act within the Friulan culture. However, scholars cannot prove that the dogs actually ate the brains of Savorgnan. Muir describes the killers as presenting an honourable form of display when presenting themselves to the heads of council. They killers never severely punished for this crime because of power of Austrian council.
The depiction of murder, serving of human flesh to dogs and pigs this is an act of revenge. There is no primary sources in European history that depict such debauchery by peasants or nobles except for the Romanian Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia. Vlad was a cruel ruler who fed is victims to animals or impaled them on crosses. My research provides evidence of the Friulan language being of Romanian descent. This may have some connection to the violence done at the carnival. Furthermore, my analyses comes from the depiction of when God commanded the angels to caste the evil spirits out of the man and into the swine’s thus condemning it unclean for all people of Abram to consume the flesh of a pig. In addition, the hounds of Udine could have been Rottweiler’s, Bull Mastiffs or any large hunting dog’s characteristics of the hounds of hell. This would have been fitting punishment in the afterlife to have your flesh devoured by an animal such as the hound of hell or an unclean animal in the Judaic sense such as the pig. This meant a certain servile position in hell.

The events of the rebellion and carnival forced Venice to consider implementing stricter rule in Friuli. The tale ends with Savorgnan enemies backing the German Empire in a desperate war. Muir follows the tale through Savorgnan’s treason, deposition, flight, and murder, and then traces the blood feud through its vicissitudes as it dwindles into points of honour and then, finally, the nobles ostracizing themselves from peasant culture of blood feud and implementing the duel.
It provides for a good story but an abbreviated account of Friulan history that has a connection to Romanians, German’s, Turkish, Constantinople and the Castilian people of North Eastern Spain who invaded the region and presented the feudal castle building and agrarian lordship over the Romanian speaking Friulan peasant class. Muir depiction of the carnival riot and its connection to the nature of the people being violent towards the noble this point is debatable. It is more believable that Antonio Savorgnan used is education and wit to influence the lower caste people of region to incite violence under their Castilian masters. The price was freedom from centuries of heavy labour and constrictive nature of feudalism. Though dying political entity feudalism was alive in other forms in Western Europe, therefore an immediate distrust of the Austrian Emperor and his political design would place the peasants in confidence with Savorgnan.
The previous point and Savorgnan close relationship with the peasants should be researched in detail because contradicts the peasants hatred of the Venetian, who were supportive of their leader Antonio Savorgnan a man aligned with the Venetian delegates in certain dealings.

In addition, the riot at the carnival points more towards a dispute or series of actions that escalated into a tragic situation. Hunting has no connection with the artisan, peasant classes this form of sport, and culture was exclusive to the nobility. Throughout medieval history, peasants were restricted in hunting certain animals and certain forest of the nobility. Hunting was ritual practiced by the nobles. The explanation of vendetta is very believable because it resembles certain feudal laws where the lord takes to account an eye for eye or monetary value for a life. Muir describes Fruilan peasants taking their grievances to the local lords.
In conclusion, this was a brilliant book or abridgement of the original book, nonetheless, the author refuses to research further the groups of people who settled in the region. There is no research on the Castilians lords or an accurate study of the Fruilian language, which we learn is predominantly Romanian influenced by some German and other Eastern European tongues. This misconception not cleverly hidden from a medieval scholar like myself who can identify the Lombard’s, Frankish people, Castilians and many other foreign people settling the region of Friuli. Nonetheless, Muir recognizes the insignificance in wealth of the Friulan region but importance of geographic location and culture to the study we know as renaissance history.

Courtney Duncan

Role of Women during the Renaissance period.

The originality of the city-state of Florence during the Renaissance lay not only in its remarkable artistic accomplishments but also in the brilliance of its political structure. The Renaissance fostered forms of individuality that historians believe to have been the foundation of modern society. However, this movement went back before it went forwards because the individuality achieved during the Renaissance flourished for the most part in men because the male-dominated society considered women too weak to rule a community or to make decisions with respect to their lives. Legally, women remained subject to men because their fathers forced them into a marriage not of their choice, society denied them a higher education, and handicapped by a judicial system that favoured men Florentine women suffered in silence.
The values and demands of a society structured around a male- dominated hierarchy placed women in a subjugated position. This essay examines the writings of Christine Klapisch-Zuber, Benjamin G Kohl, Stanley Chojnacki, Gene A Brucker, and Francesco Barbaro and their views on the position of women in Florentine society.
In Florentine society, the family was the basic unit and blood ties were the most powerful cohesive agent. Florentine marriages were no different in design from the culture of the early middle ages and the society of late antiquity that was so admired. Women seldom married for love, due to the father’s personal interests in finding an ideal marriage partner, inevitably to strengthen the family’s position in the community. “Therefore, marrying into a respected house such as the Medici or Strozzi was a mark of honour and distinction, because it elevated the prospective marriage partner’s family to a higher social status.” This is proof that the father’s honour was valued more than the daughter’s personal feelings towards a potential marriage partner.
It seemed that a woman’s only purpose was to produce an heir for her husband. Young women never experienced a period in life when they only dated, and attend parties. A woman could only trust that her father would find a handsome or suitable husband. Florentine marriage proposals were like bidding for a prize racehorse, as exemplified in “the marriage negotiations of the Strozzi family in 1464-65. This matter concerned Francesco Tanagli who proposed a marriage of his daughter to a man in exile from the city of Florence.” Francesco Tanagli sold his daughter in the guise of a marriage because he had a large family, so he could only afford a small dowry. A father would use a daughter to strengthen his fortune by marrying her to a rich man. It is easy to compare the position of a Florentine woman to a pawn in a political chess game.
Women had no personal option in the choice of a marriage partner. The role of women continued to be to serve their husbands because the church, communal laws and judicial laws at this time favoured the ambitions of men. It seemed that Renaissance women were cast into a subservient state from the time of birth. Many families viewed girls as a liability because they needed a dowry.
Women were only seen as a guest in their father’s house. If the father died, he would leave instructions about the daughter’s future with no regard for the girl’s thoughts on the matter. This picture is very different from the love of women and romantic stories associated with Renaissance Florence. It is not wrong to assume that the Renaissance may have reduced a woman’s social freedom because it seems that all the opportunities were open to men.
Marriage presented no great freedom. Confined to the house, women could never venture out alone in public. In the case of an elite or aristocratic woman, the only functions she attended were a church, weddings of her husband’s family or private functions at her husband’s estates. Women did not form friendships with other men or women. A woman dressed to please her husband or family as opposed to herself. Everything she did took into account the honour of her husband and his family. This is further proof that women had no personal identity or the individuality so experienced by men living in 15th century Florence.
Female children were a liability because of the dowry presented during a betrothal. If a father had many daughters, he could find himself in financial ruin. Some fathers would enter their daughters in convents. Life in the convent provided some escape because they were places of study. Women living in convents studied all the subjects acquired by young men attending the university. Women living in Florence during the Renaissance were the most educated in Europe although opportunities to serve assembly government, teach at the universities or to produce books of personal perspective on life were restricted to women.
On the contrary, artisan women differed from elite women because they were able to work within the community. Working outside the home enabled artisan women to form friendships with people other than their husbands or families. These women would have received a far lower salary than their male counterparts would, therefore: proving the theory that Renaissance culture did not provide equal opportunity and education. The Renaissance did not break the chains of bondage. These restrictions “were embedded,” in the laws of the Florentine, communal and ecclesiastical system. The position of women was constricted due to the various laws instituted to solidify a male hierarchy.
According to Renaissance Florence, it was a man’s world. “Men made “Houses” and male branching of genealogies drawn up by historians shows determined kinship towards men and little importance was given, after one or two generations, to kinship through women.” In Florence, inheritance was through the male line only. The ancient medieval communal laws practised in the Renaissance era stated that only men were groomed for a leadership role in the organizations of the Florentine republic. Florentine laws restricted women from writing books on their thoughts on the political situation of Florence and their social and economic situation in comparison to men. Only personal letters of Florentine women and legislative proceedings are our knowledge of the history of Florentine women. The Florentine culture was clearly a masculine oriented one. Marriage pushed a woman out of the house and widowhood brought her back home.
“Nonetheless, women had some choice. She could live with her husband’s family, by her children’s side; or she could live independently close to her children, or she could also remarry and leave her first husbands family.” Women never lived alone; she never had full control of her dowry to experience the pleasures of single life like women of the 21st-century experience. Widows were welcomed home if they were young, but if they were older they were advised to stay with their family of her husband. A widow living with her husband’s family did not earn the freedom to make her own decisions or decisions for her children. The eldest male member of the family became the head of his kin estate. This arrangement was set until the oldest male child of the widow had reached an age of maturity. The elder widow had no claim to their husband’s assets, if they chose to leave, it was with the dowry they came into the marriage with.
Florentines structured their laws to restrict women’s legal rights to their children when they left the house in order to remarry. All contact was lost with maternal children. Under no circumstance would a woman be able to manipulate the situation in a case of her husband dying. Once she became a widow, she relinquished a great deal of power in her own home. If her husband had instructed her to raise the children to adulthood in lieu of his death, this would have been appropriate to the husband’s family. Even after death, a husband could control the movements of his wife. Florentine laws blocked women from inheriting or receiving their dead husband’s property and the widowed wife would only be able to raise her children to maturity. This was how a 15th-century Florentine male oriented judicial system served to protect the economic power of men, therefore, restricting a woman’s ability to control her own life.
If the widowed were young and beautiful, her family would take her back and arrange another suitor immediately. Women who left their children in search of a new husband were cruel mothers. Florentine laws were not designed to support women in widowhood. Even the church supported a movement of suppressed female sexuality. Widowed women living independently presented a problem for church and community. Florentine society had strong ties to the Church. From the beginning of its conception in the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, Christianity had a system skillfully set in place to suppress the female gender.
The role of women continued to be to serve their husbands or, in some cases, their lovers. Florentine law urged a woman not to seek compensation in a courthouse because a judicial court was no place for an elite man yet still an elite woman to bring legal actions against a man. This was the subject of the primary document dealing with Giovanni and Lussana, researched by Gene Brucker. Lusanna has taken her supposed husband to court because he married another woman. “Lusanna is a rich artisan woman who caught the eye of the elite Giovanni.” Lusanna is initially married but it was common for established men to have concubines between peasant, servant, and artisan women. During the court case, one realizes that Giovanni might escape prosecution. Brucker describes “Giovanni as young, handsome, virile and rich; Lusanna was old (at least forty, he claimed) she was sterile, and her social condition was vastly inferior to that of her lover. A marriage between these two individuals would have been unthinkable.” The judgement was in favour of Lusanna but Giovanni had the marriage annulled because of class status.
“Marriage in 15th century Florence was a legal contract between the families. A marriage involved expensive gifts such as clothes, jewels, and perfumes. These gifts were kept in a [cassoni] or treasure chest.” For a marriage to be legal in Florence there was a procession where the groom would serenade his wife through his neighbourhood streets to show the community that he has taken a wife. In the Lussana and Giovanni trial, Giovanni tells the judge that he never presented Lussana to the community because he realized that his father would never approve of the marriage.
If Giovanni had accused Lausanne of adultery, the court could have ordered her banishment from the city of Florence or imprisoned. Though rare, it was within a man’s right to stone a woman to death for adultery. “Florentine law and culture required wives to be perpetually silent whenever there is an opportunity for frivolity, dishonesty, and impudence.” A woman accepted her role and position in society. A woman’s role implied that she does not challenge the laws of Florentine society because these laws were established for men to maintain their dominance over women. Fifteenth century Florence was the most unlucky city in which a woman could have been born because the church laws, judicial laws, and communal laws only enslaved women.
This paper provides a feminist stance in analyzing the world of Renaissance Florence. This world of great merchants, humorists and painters, was not a feminine city. From the time they were born women were in a submissive role to men. Women could not distinguish themselves in the artistic, political, and scientific movement of the Renaissance world. There are very few primary documents from the Renaissance period written by women. This is definitive proof that the Renaissance only served to eradicate the mind of the Florentine woman.

By Courtney Duncan