The best books on medieval Florence

Who am I?

I write historical fiction set in medieval Italy, in that lesser-known territory somewhere between ancient Rome and the Renaissance. I’m fascinated by the period before the Medici, before Michelangelo, sometimes even before Dante. The seeds of the Renaissance are hidden in that turbulent time, and I love to hunt for them. I also like to write about marginalized people—the obscure, unfamous, forgotten folk plucked from the footnotes. I’m happy to introduce some of the excellent history books that help me do that. These five books are specific to Florence, the city of my heart.

I wrote...

A Thing Done

By Tinney Sue Heath,

Book cover of A Thing Done

What is my book about?

Florence, 1216: Juggling is easy – unless it’s juggling two sides of a lethal vendetta. Corrado the Fool’s prank-for-hire began it, but where does it end? Florence’s enraged nobles rashly force Corrado to serve both factions. A peacemaking marriage might quiet the turmoil, but that fragile alliance will crumble under pressure from an interfering woman, a scorned bride, and a cry for revenge. And only Corrado, the reluctant messenger, sees it all taking shape.

He doesn’t care who comes out on top, but he does care a lot about protecting himself, those he loves, and his city. Will his famous wit and ingenuity be enough? Will anything? Inspired by real events, A Thing Done tells of a hapless David caught between warring Goliaths.

The books I picked & why

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The Florentine Magnates: Lineage and Faction in a Medieval Commune

By Carol Lansing,

Book cover of The Florentine Magnates: Lineage and Faction in a Medieval Commune

Why this book?

It’s impossible to understand the turbulence that frequently swept over Florence in those years without some sense of what the magnate class was all about: its pride and its violence, its lawlessness, its emphasis on knighthood, and its private military forces. Lansing shows how the magnate class evolved as a distinctive culture, becoming powerful and disruptive to the city’s peace well beyond even what its considerable economic clout would suggest. She places a lot of emphasis on the role of women among the magnates, even though women could never be full members of the lineage, since they married into other lineages. Lively and readable, with lots of stories of interesting individuals.

History of Florence 1200-1575

By Najemy,

Book cover of History of Florence 1200-1575

Why this book?

This concise history of Florence is a great starting point. It traces the evolution of the city from a medieval commune to a republic, covering intellectual, political, cultural, religious, and economic trends and developments over the centuries. Its scope is broad, and one of its strengths is its continuity, as it follows various threads through time. Najemy is a well-known historian of Florence, and this popular history is an excellent resource.

Florence and Its Church in the Age of Dante

By George W. Dameron,

Book cover of Florence and Its Church in the Age of Dante

Why this book?

To know medieval Florence, you have to have a sense of the enormous role the Church played in people’s lives. Here, Dameron concentrates on the 50-year period 1265-1321 (Dante’s lifetime), during which Florence went from something of a backwater to one of the wealthiest and most influential cities in all of Europe. Separation of church and state was simply not a thing back then; the concept would have bewildered medieval Florentines. All aspects of the city, from the legal system to charity efforts, were affected by religious institutions. This knowledgeable account will give you a rich, full picture of that aspect of medieval Florentine society.

Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence

By John Henderson,

Book cover of Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence

Why this book?

In The Florentine Magnates we looked at Florence’s magnates, the powerful ruling class. Now we get a look at the people they lorded it over—the “popolo minuto” or the little people. We see them struggling, never able to get far enough ahead to get through a bad harvest, a year of terrible weather, or an epidemic with any security. Both church and commune recognized the need to come to the assistance of the masses of poor; this book tells us how they went about it and how successful they were (or weren’t). It deftly traces the role of religious confraternities in Florence’s charitable institutions. It’s been described as “one of the most detailed analyses of charity in late medieval Italy.”

Dino Compagni's Chronicle of Florence

By Daniel E. Bornstein (translator),

Book cover of Dino Compagni's Chronicle of Florence

Why this book?

If you want to learn about medieval Florence, why not go directly to the source? Dino Compagni was a Florentine merchant, a member of the silk guild, and an active member of the city’s government, contemporary with Dante. He was right in the middle of things during that turbulent period—he saw it all and took part in a lot of it. His chronicle, which covers from about the year 1280 to the beginning of the fourteenth century, relates the harm he perceived coming from factional strife. Bornstein’s translation is clear and readable, and his extensive notes and introduction help to make sense of this long-ago time.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Florence, church and state, and the Middle Ages?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Florence, church and state, and the Middle Ages.

Florence Explore 27 books about Florence
Church And State Explore 9 books about church and state
The Middle Ages Explore 216 books about the Middle Ages

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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