Republic of Genoa

From Academic Kids

The Republic of Genoa, in full the Most Serene Republic of Genoa (known as the Ligurian Republic from 1798 to 1805) was an independent state in Liguria on the northwestern Italian coast from ca. 1100 to 1805, when it was annexed by Napoleonic France. Although its restoration was briefly proclaimed in 1814, following the defeat of Napoleon, this was short-lived, and the Republic was ultimately annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia.

The Republic initially came into existence in the early 12th century, when Genoa became a self-governing commune within the old Regnum Italicum. In its early centuries, Genoa was an important trading city, second only to Venice of the great Italian cities. It had important trading interests throughout the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Its principle rival was Pisa, whom it ultimately defeated, taking the island of Corsica from it in the late 13th century. In the contest between Anjou and the Aragonese for control of Sicily after the Sicilian Vespers of 1283, Genoese merchants luckily chose the winning side and moved into the Sicilian economy with energy, lending money to the ruling class, organizing and controlling the production of sugar and silks and monopolizing the export of Sicilian grain, on which Genoa depended, situated by nature with no grain-growing contada to support its population, but which the maghreb also required. In exchange, Genoa received African gold (Braudel 1984).

Genoa went into a decline after the Chioggia defeat (1380) in the economic retrenchment Europe experienced in the late 14th and 15th centuries. The rising Ottoman power took Genoese emporia in the Aegean, and the Black Sea trade was squeezed off. Genoa was ultimately occupied by the French or the Milanese for much of the period. From 1499 to 1528, the Republic reached its nadir, being under nearly continual French occupation. The Spanish, with their intramural allies, the "old nobility" entrenched in the mountain fastnesses behind Genoa, captured the city on May 30, 1522 and subjected the city to a merciless pillage. When the great admiral Andrea Doria allied with the Emperor to oust the French and restore Genoa's independence, a renewed prospect opened: 1528 marks the first loan from Genoese banks to Charles (Braudel 1984)

Thereafter, Genoa underwent something of a revival as a junior associate of the Spanish Empire, with Genoese bankers, in particular, financing many of the Spanish crown's foreign endeavors from their counting houses in Seville. Fernand Braudel has even called the period 1557 to 1627 the "age of the Genoese", "of a rule that was so discreet and sophisticated that historians for a long time failed to notice it" (Braudel 1984 p. 157), though the modern visitor passing brilliant Mannerist and Baroque palazzo facades along Genoa's Strada Nova or via Balbi cannot fail to notice that there was conspicuous wealth, which in fact was not Genoese but concentrated in the hands of a tightly-knit circle of banker-financiers, true "venture capitalists".

The opening forthe Genoese banking consortium was the state bankruptcy of Philip II in 1557, which threw the German banking houses into chaos and ended the reign of the Fuggers as Spanish financiers. The Genoese bankers provided the unwieldy Habsburg system with fluid credit and a dependably regular income. In return the less dependable shipments of American silver were rapidly transferred from Seville to Genoa, to provide capital for further ventures. The Genoese banker Ambrogio Spinola, for instance, himself raised and led an army that fought in the Eighty Years War in the Netherlands in the early 17th century. The decline of Spain in the 17th century brought also the renewed decline of Genoa, and the Spanish crown's frequent bankruptcies, in particular, ruined many of Genoa's merchant houses.

Genoa continued its slow decline in the 18th century, and in 1768 was forced by endemic rebellion to sell Corsica to the French. In 1797 the Republic was occupied by the French revolutionary army of Napoleon Bonaparte, who overthrew the old elites who had ruled the city for all of its history, and replaced them with a popular republic known as the Ligurian Republic.

After Bonaparte's seizure of power in France, a more conservative constitution was enacted, but the Ligurian Republic's life was short - in 1805 it was annexed by France, becoming the départements of Apennins, Gênes, and Montenotte.

Following the defeat of Napoleon in the spring of 1814, local elites, encouraged by the British agent Lord William Bentinck proclaimed the restoration of the old Republic, but it was decided at the Congress of Vienna that Genoa should be given to the Kingdom of Sardinia. British troops suppressed the republic in December of 1814, and it was annexed by Sardinia on January 3, 1815.

Reference

  • Braudel, Fernand, The Perspective of the World,, part III of Civilization and Capitalism, 1984 pp. 157-174

See also: Genoa, Doges of Genoa.

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