The wealthy families of every city are those who influence history and, sometimes, politics. Often they have been important for the economy and for art, turning into patrons of artists, poets, intellectuals and scientists.
Here in Florence these powerful families were numerous, and the majority of them became rich during the Middle Ages, thanks to the two main business activities: banking (they were usurers), and trade. A considerable number of these families were concentrated in a very small historical center, distributed among the districts, allies or rivals with each other. This was the “game” that defined the city history, especially during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but that survived, though in different ways, until modern times. Alliances between families were commonplace: they were built mainly through marriages, and were useful to climb “the ladder” of power, or to defeat common enemies or business rivals. The Florentine government was a Republic, and it turned into a Signoria (“Lordship”) when power was concentrated in the hands of the main Florentine signori (“lords”), who were members of the most eminent families in the city. This government, shared among the main families, was preserved (apparently, at least!) until the arrival of the Medici family: they became very quickly the ruling family, until the extinction of their dynasty. Their status changed with one Medici in particular: Cosimo I, that became Duke of Florence in the mid-16th century, and from that moment on, power passed in the hands of his family, brought forward from generation to generation.