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Economics and Politics

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A Spanish flint pistol with a battery lock

The Political Influence of Technology in Italy

The development of Pistols, such as the one shown above. Was a significant technological change over the course of the Early Modern Period. Pistols were a sign of political prestige’s, which was how nobles distinguished themselves on the battlefield. It was also a used as a way for the nobility to “both use gunpowder and yet stay above the infantry - figuratively and in actual combat” (Wiesner Hanks 93).  Political and military tacticians such as Machiavelli wrote about military strategies before the development of these arms, which would play a significant role in developing new military strategy. This advancement of firearms led to “troops on foot became the heart of early modern armies” (Wiesner Hanks 92). Because of this heavy reliance on infantry soldiers and the advancement of deadlier weapons, wars resulted in heavy casualties and lasted for longer periods of time, which expended more resources. It is because of the advancement of military weapons, that battle deaths began to exceed previous numbers and even reach 1,251,000 deaths in the War of Spanish Succession (Lynn). The advancement of technology during the Scientific Revolution, such a pistoles was a vital part of the early modern period and influenced the desire of technological development.

Firearms created a unique political environment, where commanders had to reinvent new tactics, because previous military would not be as effective against Musketeers. In addition to diminished role of cavalry, there was an increase of combat mortality among political leaders, due to the increased effectiveness of the weaponry. This instilled fear in the nobility, which caused many leaders to be reluctant to enter a battle and instead played a more supportive tactician role. Because of their lesser role, “monarchs also hired professional military contractors”, which they employed instead of their citizens (Wiesner Hanks 95). With the development of military technology, political leaders played a diminishing role in engagements of combat.

 

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A Papal State coin created in the mid 15th century

Economic Developments in Italy and the Political Repercussions

In addition to weaponry, coins provided a common currency for the Papal states during the mid to late 15th century, which was essential for economic development. Politically currency was important to the Papal States, so they could continue to hold sway over the Italian city states and rest of Europe. However, between 1300s-1600s, it is clear Italy is the poster child of child of economic decline, which needs to be seen through a political lens. Italian city-states, such as Florence were dependent on agriculture as well as luxury industry, which primarily dealt with high quality textiles (Lachmann 354). It was partly because Italian textiles were costlier to produce in comparison to Britain (Hanlon 205). In addition, the shift to trading in the Atlantic dried up many of the city states main consumers leaving them with a much smaller number of potential consumers. Ironically, the Italian city-states were at the height of their power regarding their influence in trading with their neighbors. Once the Atlantic began, Italian city states suffered a massive decrease in there trading profits.

Economic developments in the Italian city states, were grounded, by the inability of the political elite to create political policies, that could reform their economic system and help them survive economic disasters. The economic hardships Italian, such as Florence, faced, were due to mainly political reasons. In Florence, it was mainly due to the consolidation of economic power under the Medici’s and the “continuing power of guilds that supported the ruling elites” (Lachmann 357). The political policies adopted by Italian city states had an adverse effect on Italy’s economic growth in the early modern period.   

 

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The Cover of Ferdinando Galiani's Dialogos Sobre El Comercio de Trigo a book describing the economic policies of Italy

Economic Political Theories on Economic Situation of Italian City States

Although currency was a significant part of economic developments in Italy, Italian economic political theory also played an important role during the age of crisis and throughout the enlightenment. Economic theorist Ferdinando Galiani focuses on Value and Interest theory as well as Economic Policy (Ferdinando). He specifically argued that the commodity demand was inversely proportional to the price and compared relative scarcity to diminishing marginal utility (Ferdinando). In addition to Value Theory, he contemplated over the morality of interest loans and eventually concluded that interest “compensates the lender for the risk entailed in parting with his money” and is therefore legal and moral (Ferdinando). He also argues to a lesser degree for mercantilism protectionist international trade policy regarding specific products (Ferdinando).

His view of economic policies during the age of crisis and the rise of the Northern Europe play an instrumental role in understanding economic development during this time period. Historian Paolo Malanima, provides a unique understanding of the age of crisis in Italy with an assessment that the GDP increase, even when wars, plagues, and poor harvests decimated Italy’s population. She even goes as far to mention “specific innovations and examples of growth in Italy in these centuries” during this “so-called crisis” (Malanima 25). Other historians such as Gregory Handlon argue on the opposite side of the spectrum. He claims that due to the shift to the Atlantic, plagues, poor crop yields, and war all contributed the Italy’s collapse. Ferdinando during this debate, would recognizes the agriculture and manufacturing problems facing Italy. From a political view, these economic hardships, would prevent the Italian states form unifying and growing strong enough to establish themselves as one of the leading colonizers during the age of exploration.