Let’s talk about another important family of Florence, this time with the Bartolini Salimbeni .. that were actually native of Siena, and exactly at the time when these two cities were bitter enemies: during the fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines, in the 13th century. Their last name was then just Salimbeni, and its members were, in fact, Ghibellines: thanks to their merchants’ money, they were able to help the Senese Ghibelline troops against the Guelph troops of Florence in the Battle of Montaperti (1260). After its great defeat, Florence will become Ghibelline for about six years: the Guelph power will be restored only six years later, after the defeat of Manfred of Sicily in the Battle of Benevento (1266). But this is another story!
Let’s go back to our family, that very soon moved right to Florence, to follow the paths of commerce and mercantile activity. It was Bartolino Salimbeni that wanted to move, and so the last name was first changed to Bartolini, so to hide their true identity of Ghibellines in enemy territory, but it was later integrated with the original name, that became so Bartolini Salimbeni.
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.