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The Rule of the Nine in Siena

Between 1285 and 1355, writes Judith Hook, the turbulent Sienese enjoyed a period of unaccustomed peace.

Even by the standards of communal Italy, the medieval city-state of Siena enjoyed an unenviable reputation for the instability of its government. Proverbially seen as ungovernable, Siena was a faction-ridden city, whose ruling regimes rose and fell at increasingly frequent intervals. To this general picture of instability, however, one exception has always been recognized.

This was the regime of the ‘Nine Governors and Defenders of the Commune and People of Siena’ who ruled from 1285, when they first seized power, until the descent of the Emperor-Elect, Charles IV, of Luxemburg into Italy in 1355. Almost three generations of Sienese citizens, therefore, enjoyed the benefits of the stable, prosperous and peaceful rule brought to their city by the Nine. To create such a sixty-year period of stable rule was, within the context of Sienese politics, a remarkable achievement.

Two main causes suggest themselves for the survival of the Nine when so many other regimes foundered, or were to founder in the future, on the rock of factionalism. The first was the broad basis of the regime, and the second the care which the Nine devoted to their own protection and the reinforcement of their authority.

Although an oligarchy, the Nine were representative of a large body of Sienese citizens. By and large they were drawn from the gente di mezzo - the middling sort of people - or that category officially described as, ‘good and loyal merchants devoted to the Guelph party’. Within that category could be found wide disparities of wealth and status and also great diversity of occupation.

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