What role did the growth and development of towns and city-states play in the social changes during the High Middle Ages?
The growth and development of towns and city-states played a significant role in the social changes during the High Middle Ages. This essay will primarily focus on how the societies of secular Italian medieval states like Venice, Genoa, and Florence flourished and evolved through their pioneering advances in craft and trade, as well as discussing towns and independent cities of the Holy Roman Empire.
Toward the latter part of the seventh century, the Byzantines still reigned over most of southern Europe. Despite their power gradually waning and vulnerability growing on the frontline, they still managed to maintain control over much of the Mediterranean as well as Sicily and southern Italy, Rome and Genoa. Venice on the other hand democratically elected their first Doge as an opponent to Byzantine rule in 726 AD and was gaining momentum as a de facto independent republic throughout the eighth century. Venice’s rise to prominence as a republic was due to its ability to stand alone with a thriving economy. Two integral attributes which bolstered its reputation as a city-state were its communal organization and a middle-class population.
Given that Venice was a republic democracy, its society benefited from having a voice whereas citizens from neighboring kingdoms had no such privilege. Commerce was prioritized, and Venetians enjoyed the rewards of being part of a wealthy economic powerhouse. Adding to Venice’s success was their involvement in the crusades, from which it seized advantage to establish trading posts on Mediterranean islands and in Levantine crusader states. With new commodities like pepper and textiles introduced to the city, merchants, and artisans opportunistically capitalized on the demand for new products which in turn lead to an economic boom. Subsequently, Venice grew in stature and influence. A more distinguished line between social classes appeared as the government became increasingly bureaucratic and the urban landscape became more hierarchical. With this development and growth, the social changes improved citizens’ quality of life. The flux of trade was constant therefore the requirement for specialist craft guilds such as mercers, spurriers and clothiers were paramount to the prosperity of Venice.