The Renaissance was the period from 1350-1600. The Renaissance began first in the city-states of Italy for many reasons. Although most of Europe had become a big economic crisis during the late Middle Ages, Italy managed to avoid everything and their towns remained important centers of Mediterranean trade and boost their production of textiles and luxury goods. Town life was bigger in Italy than in other parts of Europe.
Therefore, most Italians could easily discard feudalism and other medieval institutions.Because Italy was wealthy and successful, they became independent city-states, each of which included a walled urban center and the surrounding countryside. The Italian city-states started a new social order. It was that wealth and ability mattered more than aristocratic titles and ownership of land. Wealthy merchants and bankers replaced the nobles in the upper class. Shopkeepers and artisans ranked below the wealthy merchants, forming a moderately prosperous middle class that employed a lot of poor workers. Most of these workers came from the countryside. And at the very bottom of the social ladder, were the peasants who worked on the country estates for the wealthy classes.
During the Renaissance, Italy was not under one government, but was divided into the city-states. Each of these were ruled by wealthy families whose fortunes came from commercial trading or banking. A lot of times, workers rebelled against the upper classes. Their demands for equal rights and lower taxes, however, remained unspoken. During the 1400s, social conflicts became so bad, that many city-states decided to turn over all political authority to one single powerful leader to restore peace. These leaders were known as signori. At times, city-states would have territorial disputes.Since military service would interfere with conducting business and trade, the signori chose to replace citizen-soldiers with hired soldiers known as condottieri.
The major city-states were Florence, Venice, Rome and Milan. A banking family known as the Medici ruled Florence in the 1400s. The Medici rulers helped to keep the spirit of humanism alive in the city-state’s scholars and artists. With the spirit alive, Florence became known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Lorenzo de’ Medici (also known as “the Magnificent” as a result of the city’s prosperity and fame) ruled Florence from 1469-1492. He used his wealth to support artists, philosophers, and writers, and to sponsor public festivals. During the 1490s, Florence’s economic prosperity began to decline due to increasing competition with English and Flemish cloth makers.