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Petrarch's War
Florence and the Black Death in Context


  • Date Published: May 2018
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781108424011

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About the Authors
  • This revisionist account of the economic, literary and social history of Florence in the immediate aftermath of the Black Death connects warfare with the plague narrative. Organised around Petrarch's 'war' against the Ubaldini clan of 1349–1350, which formed the prelude to his meeting and friendship with Boccaccio, William Caferro's work examines the institutional and economic effects of the war, alongside literary and historical patterns. Caferro pays close attention to the meaning of wages in context, including those of soldiers, thereby revising our understanding of wage data in the distant past and highlighting the consequences of a constricted workforce that resulted in the use of cooks and servants on important embassies. Drawing on rigorous archival research, this book will stimulate discussion among academics and offers a new contribution to our understanding of Renaissance Florence. It stresses the importance of short-termism and contradiction as subjects of historical inquiry.

    • Proposes a new understanding of the impact of the Black Death in Florence
    • An integrated study of the impact of war on Florence, which examines its effect on public finance, the economy, and political institutions
    • Contextualises Florentine history and crosses disciplinary boundaries, connecting literature and history through the surprisingly neglected phenomenon of war
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In Petrarch's War, William Caferro magisterially opens a window onto the complexities and unintended consequences of past lived experience, enlisting economic, military, literary, and social history into a densely contextualized snapshot of Florence in the aftermath of the Black Death. In this important book Caferro shows us how the war waged by Florence against the Ubaldini clan in 1349–50 is an integral part of a cultural mosaic that encompasses tesserae as diverse as soldiers' wages and the power plays of intellectuals.' Teodolinda Barolini, Columbia University, New York

    'Once again, William Caferro has produced a first-rate book. Based on vigorous and meticulous archival digging, shaped by his acute intelligence, and drawing on his sympathetic but not uncritical knowledge of the existing historiography, Caferro has produced a highly original interpretation of mid-fourteenth-century Florentine history. Cutting through compartmentalized subjects that are often examined in isolation from each other … Caferro has fashioned an analytical narrative that is bound to attract the attention of all scholars of late medieval and early modern Europe … William Caferro can now rightfully claim a place among the most original and productive historians of his generation.' Anthony Molho, European University Institute, Florence

    'A strikingly original study that mixes military history, economic history, and literary analysis, Petrarch's War will interest historians across fields and disciplines. Specialists of Renaissance Florence will contend with something new. Anyone grappling with questions of method will find it thought-provoking.' Francesca Trivellato, Yale University, Connecticut

    'History is a story that relies on details and imagination. This microhistory is an excellent example of this approach; it sheds new light on three critical years in mid-14th-century Florence: 1348, 1349, and 1350. Readers learn new facets of Petrarch's and Boccaccio's roles in the war with the Ubaldini clan and with each other. Exploration and analysis of archival sources reveal the scope of the Florentine army and its expenses, pay grades, and civilian support. … An exciting read that will force numerous reassessments of the historical art. Highly recommended.' S. Bowman, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2018
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781108424011
    • length: 238 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 158 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.47kg
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    Introduction: plague in context: Florence 1349–50
    1. Petrarch's war
    2. The practice of war and the Florentine army
    3. Economy of war at a time of plague
    4. Plague, soldiers' wages, and the Florentine public workforce
    5. The bell ringer travels to Avignon, the cook goes to Hungary: towards an understanding of the Florentine labor force, 1349–50
    Epilogue: why two years matter (and the short-term is not inconsistent with the long-term).

  • Author

    William Caferro, Vanderbilt University, Tennessee
    William Caferro is Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor of History and Professor of Classics and Mediterranean Studies at Vanderbilt University, Tennessee. He has held fellowships at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, Villa I Tatti in Florence and the Italian Academy at Columbia University and, in 2010, he received a Simon R. Guggenheim fellowship. He has written widely on medieval and Renaissance Italy, including Mercenary Companies and the Decline of Siena (1998), The Spinelli of Florence: Fortunes of a Renaissance Merchant Family (2001), John Hawkwood: An English Mercenary in Fourteenth-Century Italy (2006), which won the Otto Gründler Award from the International Medieval Congress, and Contesting the Renaissance (2010).

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