Page:Cambridge Modern History Volume 1.djvu/551

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influences were at work elsewhere which tended to the growth of a new economic system; many of the cities of Italy and of Germany had become great territorial Powers, and, with a keen eye to business, they were endeavouring to devise schemes of policy which should enable them to reap the greatest advantage from their acquisitions.

It is of course true that many European cities had from the earliest period of their development had landed possessions and agricultural interests, and that the burgesses had enjoyed rights in respect of tillage and pasturage. But the questions which arose under these old circumstances were very different from those which presented themselves to citizens ruling over a large province and controlling the development of a considerable territory. Several of the cities of Italy and of the Rhineland had attained to great political importance in the early part of the fourteenth century; in some cases they were successful in military operations and extended their domain by conquest; in others the power of some city promised protection and attracted neighbours to commend themselves to a civic superior; in other instances land temporarily assigned to some town as a pledge for money borrowed was permanently transferred, when the borrower proved quite unable to repay his debt. In these various ways civic control came to be exercised over considerable areas, and civic authorities were concerned in regulating a large territory, with its distinct and conflicting interests, in such a way as to produce the best results for the commonwealth as a whole.

The great Italian towns, which were the seats of manufactures, had considerable difficulty in obtaining a sufficient food-supply for the very large population which had been attracted to them, or had grown up within their walls. Venice was forced to control the agricultural produce of her own district, and to prevent all other towns, such as Ancona, Ferrara and Bologna, from competing with her in Lower Italy, the district from which she obtained corn, eggs, and other produce; to purchase these commodities, the neighbouring towns were compelled to frequent the Venetian market. Florence and Milan, Bern and Basel, Ulm and Strassburg had alike to give close attention to the question of food-supply, and pursued a similar object, though with such modifications as the special circumstances of each town might suggest.

There was a marked contrast between the expedients adopted by the Venetians and those which commended themselves to the Florentines. The merchant princes of Florence bought large estates in Tuscany, and devoted themselves to agriculture. The conditions of the rural population were such that capitalist farming could be easily introduced; serfdom had entirely disappeared in this neighbourhood, and money dealings permeated the whole fabric of rural society; but agriculture cannot have been a very profitable investment. The policy of the city was that of providing cheap food for the consumer; export was forbidden, and the price at which corn might be sold was fixed by a tariff.