The Prehistory Of The Florentine Ghetto:
Magistrato Supremo 4449 And 4450
In 1570-71, Grand Duke Cosimo I de'Medici
created the first Ghetto in Florence.
For many years, he had withstood heavy political and moral pressure
from Pope Pius V and King Philip II of Spain to limit the freedom of
his Jewish subjects. Cosimo's decision to ghettoize but not expel them
was in fact a gesture of pragmatic liberalism.
The Jews in Tuscany numbered only 795, according to
the official Jewish census of 1570 (in Magistrato Supremo 4450,
pp.179-80.) Living in small scattered communities, they had long
enjoyed cordial relations with the Medici family and the Medici state.
Most of these Jews were directly or indirectly involved in banking and
their financial network was essential to the Tuscan economy.
To resolve the Jewish question in an orderly
manner, Cosimo I de'Medici turned to the Magistrato Supremo, a
five-man executive council under direct granducal control. He
authorized Carlo Pitti, his agent on this council, to prepare a full
report on the Jews in Tuscany and then issue an official
recommendation regarding their fate. Magistrato Supremo 4449 and 4450,
two volumes of documents in the Florentine State Archive, chronicle
this process with almost clinical precision.
Magistrato Supremo 4449 is titled DEI
CAPITOLI D' EBREI ("The Charters of the Jews") and contains
245 pages of documents, mostly in Latin. The council's first task was
to determine the current state of Jewish settlement and Jewish
business activity in Tuscany, in order to determine the legal and
practical ramifications of any eventual decision. In this volume, they
assembled all the "charters" of commercial privileges
granted to Jews since 1547, forming a detailed record of Jewish
financial practice throughout the mid-sixteenth century. After the
institution of the Florentine Ghetto in 1570-71, the council continued
to file such charters for another thirty years, fully documenting the
reorganization of Jewish businesses in the early Ghetto period.
Magistrato Supremo 4450 is titled PROCESSO
CONTRA LI EBREI CHE NEL DOMINIO DI SUA ALTEZZA STAVANO ET HABITVANO
DICONO CHE HOGI E STATO LORO PROHIBITO, 1570. ("Proceedings
Against the Jews Who in the Past Stayed and Lived in His Highness's
Dominion, Which Is Now Forbidden to Them, 1570.") These 270 pages
of documents, largely in Italian, record another phase of the
information-gathering process. Under Carlo Pitti's direction, the
council sent agents throughout Tuscany to gather complaints against
the Jews from their neighbors and Christian business associates. These
complaints focus almost exclusively on the moral and practical
implications of usury in Christian society, offering many insights
into the evolution of state-sponsored anti-Semitisim
in early modern Europe.
THE MEDICI ARCHIVE PROJECT is now preparing
complete transcriptions of both Magistrato Supremo 4449 and 4450.
These documents will be published in a definitive critical edition,
including scholarly essays, English summaries and full indices.
Medici Archive Project