Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Economy of Renaissance Florence

Richard A. Goldthwaite has written The Economy of Renaissance Florence, a volume of 659 pages just out from the Johns Hopkins University Press.

I learned a new word early on in my reading of this book: maremme. Apparently, it is Italian for "bayou," -- a marshy area near a seashore. Florence, an inland city, isn't in a maremme, but if you follow the Arno down stream to the sea you'll pass through one on the way there.

Anyway, due in part to the maremme the region is rich in the sort of plants that yield the dyes used to color cloth in the days before synthetic chemistry: saffron, woad, madder.

I learned another new word in the same passage: transhumant. Or rather, I believe I had heard this one before somewhere but it hadn't really stuck. This time I suspect it will. Transhumant, from the Latin humur, for ground, is an adjective for the seasonal migration of livestock from one grazing ground to another, as from summer grazing in the mountains to winter grazing in the lowlands. Sheep can spend their winters in a maremme, for example.

The Tuscan landscape was ideal for the transhumant herding of flocks.

The nearness of high and low elevations, then, along with the presence of those dye-relevant plants, were among the natural resources that encouraged the development of Florence.

Now I know.

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