The Mediterranean city-states of the late medieval/early Renaissance present a paradox. On the one hand they show a vibrant, somewhat chaotic, dynamism in commerce, politics and urban life. In Florence and Venice, for example, different factions of the elite battled for supremacy. These struggles were so sharply contested that defeat might mean banishment. Yet these same struggles took place within a framework of government and office that appeared so stable and ordered that it could, like the structure of government in Venice, be described in geometric metaphors. What was the reality? Political life might be portrayed in terms of a strong ideology of order, hierarchy and structure, but were offices and councils of government neatly arranged? Did office-holders move through them in a regular fashion? It is clear that people living at the time tended to think so. But what was their actual experience of politics and government and how did it relate to the images and ideals which they held?
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