The best books on medieval Florence

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Tinney Sue Heath Why did I love 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.

By Carol Lansing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Florentine Magnates as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 1290s a new guild-based Florentine government placed a group of noble families under severe legal restraints, on the grounds that they were both the most powerful and the most violent and disruptive element in the city. In this colorful portrayal of civic life in medieval Florence, Carol Lansing explores the patrilineal structure and function of these urban families, known as "magnates." She shows how they emerged as a class defined not by specific economic interests but by a distinctive culture. During the earlier period of weaker civic institutions, these families built their power by sharing among themselves crucial…


Book cover of History of Florence 1200-1575

Tinney Sue Heath Why did I love 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.

By Najemy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked History of Florence 1200-1575 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this history of Florence, distinguished historian John Najemy discusses all the major developments in Florentine history from 1200 to 1575. * Captures Florence's transformation from a medieval commune into an aristocratic republic, territorial state, and monarchy * Weaves together intellectual, cultural, social, economic, religious, and political developments * Academically rigorous yet accessible and appealing to the general reader * Likely to become the standard work on Renaissance Florence for years to come


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

Tinney Sue Heath Why did I love 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.

By George W. Dameron,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Florence and Its Church in the Age of Dante as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the early fourteenth century, the city of Florence had emerged as an economic power in Tuscany, surpassing even Siena, which had previously been the banking center of the region. In the space of fifty years, during the lifetime of Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321, Florence had transformed itself from a political and economic backwater-scarcely keeping pace with its Tuscan neighbors-to one of the richest and most influential places on the continent. While many historians have focused on the role of the city's bankers and merchants in achieving these rapid transformations, in Florence and Its Church in the Age of Dante, George…


Book cover of Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence

Tinney Sue Heath Why did I love 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.”

By John Henderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Piety and Charity in Late Medieval Florence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

John Henderson examines the relationship between religion and society in late medieval Florence through the vehicle of the religious confraternity, one of the most ubiquitous and popular forms of lay association throughout Europe. This book provides a fascinating account of the development of confraternities in relation to other communal and ecclesiastical institutions in Florence. It is one of the most detailed analyses of charity in late medieval Europe. "[A] long-awaited book...[It is] the most complete survey of confraternities and charity, not only for Florence, but for any Italian city state to date...This book recovers more vividly than other recent works…


Book cover of Dino Compagni's Chronicle of Florence

Tinney Sue Heath Why did I love 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.

By Daniel E. Bornstein (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dino Compagni's Chronicle of Florence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Dino Campagni's classic chronicle gives a detailed account of a crucial period in the history of Florence, beginning about 1280 and ending in the first decade of the fourteenth century. During that time Florence was one of the largest cities in Europe and a center of commerce and culture. Its gold florin was the standard international currency; Giotto was revolutionizing the art of painting; Dante Alighieri and Guido Cavalcanti were transforming the vernacular love lyric. The era was marked as well by political turmoil and factional strife. The inexorable escalation of violence, as insult and reprisal led to arson and…


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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

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By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

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