CARLOS VIRGILIO – The privileges granted by John VIII to Florence in 1439

The privileges granted by John VIII to Florence in 1439.
Carlo Virgilio (Université de Birmingham)

In January 1439 John VIII Palaiologos (1425-1448), together with the Patriarch of Constantinople Joseph II (1416-1439), moved from Ferrara to Florence to carry on the Ecumenical Council. The council was transferred to Florence following the disposition of Pope Eugenio IV. However, it is very likely that the Florentine political establishment also had a central role in this decision, which was to promote the city of Florence as a powerful centre, and to obtain the much-desirable commercial privileges from the basileus.  On account of these happenings, it is not wrong to say that the Union of Churches was a success for the city of the Medici, since it was followed by the concession of two different privileges to the city by John VIII Palaiologos. Most importantly, he granted the city of Florence all the rights in Constantinople and in Romania which had previously belonged to Pisa (cfr. Müller n. 122 = Lampros, pp. 338-344), while other minor privileges were endowed to single aristocratic families like the Fedini-Brancacci.

This paper will analyse the privileges granted by John VIII to Florence. As a matter of fact these grants present many questions which until now have not been disclosed. Why, for example, does it seem that the Florentines did not enact the privileges received by the Emperor? Why did the first Florentine consul appear only during the Ottoman period? Through a comparison between these privileges and those granted in the past by the Byzantine Emperors to the other Italian cities (primarily Genoa and Pisa) I will shed light on the numerous problems that still affect these documents.

This is part of my PhD dissertation which relates about the relationship between the Florentine, Byzantium and the Ottomans under the supervision of Dr. Dimiter Angelov.