The Guilds of Florence

The guild were the center of the economic activity of Florence. There were over 200 factories in the city and most were guild operated. The city became famous and prosperous as a result of the cloth trade, and this is all tied into the success of the Guilds. They did not only exist for the rich business owners. Most of the working poor served as apprentices for the guilds, so, when the guilds had economic problems, the whole city suffered. They were an integral part in the patronage system of Florence. In the early history of Florence, there were battles between the guilds, which involved ransacking the city. This demonstrates how important the guilds were. They wer e more than just corporations or labor unions.

First there were the "arts." These were the more prestigious guilds. They included the wool traders, the silk traders, the Calimala (who imported raw cloth from Flanders and did finishing), the bankers, the judges, the druggists (who also traded spices and rare gem s), and the furriers. Lower in social status, but still important were the minor arts. These included the butchers, blacksmiths, shoe makers, carpenters, tavern keepers, hotel keepers, tanners, sellers of oil, salt and cheese, linen manufactures, harnes s makers, armor makers, masons, locksmiths, and bakers.

Everyone in any of these businesses had to belong to the guild, and the guilds kept tight control on many aspects of the business. There were rules against gambling on the premises and aga inst street displays. The guilds exercised control over the cash boxes and with whom business could be conducted. In some cases they even regulated whether a businessman could marry someone from outside of Florence. The guilds also did good works for th e city. They provided the money for charities including the hospitals.

Lucas Dubreton. Daily Life in Florence. trans.A.Lytton Sells. New York: Macmillan, 1961.
Staley, Edgcumbe. The Guilds of Florence. Chicago: A.C.McClurg, 1906.
Brucker, Gene. The Society of Renaissance Florence. New York: Harper, 1971.
Staley, Edgcumbe. The Guilds of Florence. Chicago: A.C.McClurg, 1906. p.138 (coat of arms of the Calima la), p.32 (coat of arms of the Mercanzia).