Like Frankforter emphasizes, the Italian city-states were a main jump start to the Renaissance period. A wave of Italian urbanization helped the ports of Naples, Venice and Genoa quickly grow into “hotspots” of international trade. Even landlocked city-states profited through the control of specific trade routes through the mountains.
There is an interesting irony that Frankfort could have emphasized a little more however. The seeming irony is how a place of such unique political and social insecurity can be so influential, intellectually and culturally, to the renaissance period.
This map shows how Italian ports connected the city-states to much of the continent and western world.
Political organization and Social classes were hard to define during these formation of city-states. The communes that were before city-states were run through ineffective town councils with a lack of checks and balances. Families of power would constantly fight among each other for political control. In this sense, the transition to city states was not radically different. Although there came about a different balance of population and industry (Money earned through the trade industry helped the urban banking industry take off), the political power still rested with a wealthy minority while the mass of wage laborers had no voice. An ultimate ruler of Italy was resisted because the Pope wanted to maintain his religious leadership over Europe without a national contender. City-state populations also did not want their monetary assets available towards a monopoly of one ruler’s choosing.
Political and Economic fighting for power among minor city-state rulers wore down Italy as a whole and by the 1350’s most banks were forced to close. Profiting Merchants only supported the wealthy while wage earners were left in the dust. Cosimo de Medici restored the time, using his fathers revenue to buy political power and balance the powers of city-states with the Peace of Lodi treaty.
From here it can be seen how wealth was created in social classes that are not noble. Bankers and merchants were forced to interact directly with Nobles and land owners. With the transition of wealth came a transition of property as Nobles began to default on their loans to Bankers of lower class. It is this unique interaction that set the stage for an open-minded, ambitious, more powerful middle to lower class of intellectuals and artisans. Frankforter explains how artisans become seen as honored guests rather than slave-like people, but it is questionable if he emphasizes enough how this economic shift of the Italian city-states pushed the renaissance in the right direction.
Here is Richard Hooker’s explanations and critique regarding the backgrounds to the Italian Renaissance, which I feel complements those of Daniel Frankforter.