Republic of Lucca
A small Italian city-state from 1100 until its dismemberment by Napoleon
in 1799, the Republic of Lucca
was for centuries capital of Tuscany, and rivalled Florence
in greatness. However, it is usually relegated to a mere footnote
in history texts, if mentioned at all, so I made an effort to chronicle its history below.
It is believed that the first settlers of Lucca were Ligurians, as the Ligurian word "luk" means swampy area, which Lucca once was. After 180 BC Lucca became a Roman city, which quickly grew in influence and wealth. However, in 476 AD Lucca was overran by Goths, followed by Byzantines and Lombards, becoming the residence of one of the three Lombard dukes in Tuscany. In 774 Frankish counts replaced the Lombard dukes, but the population remained largely Lombardian.
Throughout the Dark Ages Lucca remained the political and economic center of Tuscany, and when the Middle Ages began it was in a good position to grow. It commanded one of the principal roads between Lombardy and Rome, the Via Francigena, and in 1061 it had gained European recognition when the bishop of Lucca, Anselmo da Baggio, was elected Pope as Alessandro II. As well, it had sent a large number of troops to battle during the 1st crusade in 1099, so it was rewarded the status of a "free commune", essentially ensuring its independence, by the Holy Roman Empire.
Although it was a free commune, it had not yet become truly autonomous. However, given its importance in Tuscany, it was chosen by Lothair III as the seat from which imperial acts were promulgated. As well, Lucca was also led by able people, the greatest of which was countess Matilda of Canossa who helped broker one of the key agreements between the Pope and Holy Roman Emperor during the Lay Investiture Controversy at her castle at Canossa, near Lucca. For her help, Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa in 1164 awarded Lucca by guaranteeing the city control beyond its medieval curtain walls into the Sei Miglia, the surrounding district, to a distance of six miles. With political and economic independence, Lucca was ready to flourish.
Under countess Matilda, Lucca began a series of massive public works projects, including a massive second wall encircling the city, and the building of the romanesque San Michele Cathedral with an exquisite marble façade. As well, Lucca remained the center of trade in Tuscany, though by 1200 it was quickly becoming overshadowed by Florence.
Luccan Economy and Politics
As capital of Tuscany, and center of its own new republic, Lucca's economy after 1100 rapidly grew. It became renowned across Europe for its fine silks, and merchants from across Europe would flock to Lucca to purchase its fine silk and wool products. As well, Lucca during this period became a center for banking, trade and commerce, regularly dealing with Genoa, Venice and Florence.
Lucca was a republic in name only. In terms of politics, it resembled many of the other Italian city-states, such as Florence, Verona and Milan, in that it was a political oligarchy ruled by several select families. Originally, the Canossa family, which were dukes of Tuscany, had wielded power, but in the 12th century the Canossas inherited Florence, which led to Lucca's downfall. The Canosas were replaced by the Ghibelline and Guelf factions, who fought between each other for the better part of 100 years.
In 1314, a tyrannical Ghibelline, Uguccione della Faggiola, took power, and proceeded to plunder and devastate the city into economic disater, on levels that even Machiavelli would disagree with. As with what usually happens to tyrannical dictators, Faggiola was deposed and replaced in 1320 by Castruccio Castracani, a powerful leader elected the lifetime Lord of Lucca. Under his rule Lucca extended its rule to the Arno River and the town of Lunigiana, bending in a crescent of sorts around Lucca's archrival, Pisa. Under Castracani, Lucca experienced the zenith of its power, politically and economically.
Foreign Domination and Downfall
After the death of the strong Castracani, Lucca practically wilted. It was left with no quantifiable ruling family, so it was easily taken over by Pisa, its archrival, followed by Florence, another rival. Under the power of these two republics, Lucca suffered greatly, and it finally managed to regain independence in 1369 after petitioning emperor Charles IV of the Holy Roman Empire, which had only the slightest of authority in the area. After regaining independence, Lucca flourished for a short time, further developing arts, commercial businesses and agriculture.
However, the good times did not last. New outbreaks of the plague devastated Tuscany and Lucca, as well as famine and other diseases. This made the political situation unstable, and in 1400 Paolo Guinigi, another tyrant, was elected the "People's Captain". His plundering was not as rampant as Uguccione della Faggiola, but he was in power for much longer, ruleing the city for more than 30 years, thanks to the skills of his advisors, chiefly Giovanni Sercambi.
In the early 1500's, there was a crisis in Lucca; under the superb organizational skills of Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine army had captured Pisa, with Florentine territory surrounding Lucca on three sides; Lucca was next in Florence's path. However, after desperate pleas Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I came to Lucca's aid, once again, and defended the small republic from the Florentine aggressors.
Renewed Peace and Calm
After the Florentine threat had passed, and with political calm in the city, Lucca could now focus on domestic projects. Although there had been a small "straccioni" revolt in 1531 of lower-class textile workers, work was began on a massive third ring of walls surrounding the city, just in case Lucca's excellent diplomatic skills failed. These walls were state-of-the-art urban defense systems, which, in the words of Florentine novelist Guido Piovene, "hides it from the eyes of anyone arriving from the surrounding plain".
The peaceful times allowed Luccan leader Martino Bernardini to reform the constitution. As well, he introduced oligarchical government, as opposed to the previous two-party government, which assured an effective stability during the 17th century, but by the 18th century some changes were needed which allowed for political change and turnover.
End of the Republic
Luckily for Lucca, its small size and specialized industry and commerce allowed it to mostly bypass the economic problems plaguing other Italian republics during the 17th and 18th centuries, namely Venice and Genoa. During this time Lucca walked a tightrope of diplomacy, somehow managing not to anger one of their much larger neighbours for over 200 years. However, by the end of the 1700's, trouble was brewing in France and Lucca, whose foreign policy closely followed that of Austria, was not surprised when the French infantry marched into Italy.
Lucca, despite its massive triple encirclement of walls, knew a fight against Napoleon's forces would be pointless, so it capitulated to French general Saurrier in 1799, upon which Napoleon dissolved the 700-year-old republic and turned it into the Principality of Lucca, given as a gift to his sister Elisa Bonaparte. Lucca, then absorbed into the Duchy of Tuscany, was no more.
Encylopedia Britannica, 2002 edition