Italy, 1419. A penninsula divided, most of all against itself. A penninsula in transition, but no-one knows what to. The long struggle of the Emperors and the Popes - and their puppet factions, the Ghibellines and Guelphs - has long ruined any tradition of unified government. And when in the last century the wars at last subsided, a new wave of conflict rose up to replace it, the struggle between the trading cities, Venice and Genoa and Pisa and Naples, a struggle for control not of Italy's land but its wealth. This too ended, in exhaustion rather than victory, leaving a land of mini-states, petty feudal lordships interspersed with oligarchic free cities, all armed against each other and their own internal foes. There will be no Italian equivalent of the centralised monarchies that are rising in France and Spain and England. It is not that the throne of Italy is empty, it is that there is no throne to claim.
In Italy, all power is illegitimate. There is the Church, there is the Empire, but the Popes are corrupt and the Emperor is far away. There are Dukes and Counts and even Princes, but the noble families of these days produce more bastards than lawful heirs and inheritance often turns on the point of a sword. There are republics, the great trading cities, but they are torn by faction, dominated by wealth, ever prey to some ambitious demagogue or unscrupulous intriguer. This is the condottiere century, where a leader of men buys their loyalty for coin and sells it onwards for status and power. Who deserves power? He who can wield it (Machiavelli did not invent Italian politics, he merely described it). How is it wielded? In defence, in ambition, in the eternal search for more. What if it is lost? There was no injustice, another deserved it more.
Welcome to Italy, signore. Welcome to the most divided part of the divided land, the most corrupt, unstable, turbulent statelet of them all - and thus the one most pregnant with possibilities. Welcome to Genoa.
Genoa's arm was long, once. A hundred years ago, its bankers outdid the Florentines, its traders matched the Venetians, its influence was felt across the Mediterranean and beyond. But the long losing war with Venice, and the rise of the Turk in the East, ruined its Levantine empire. By 1419, all that is left in Genoese hands are the rump of her Black Sea holdings and the island of Corsica - and the city's rule even there is tenuous, challenged by local rebellion and powerful factions at home. But she still has influence - Genoese bankers and mercenaries are common from Constantinople to Flanders - and she still has wealth. The markets are full still and the port bustles, even if the ships now come from foreign lands. And in Italy, wealth is power.
Genoa is a republic, though an unusual one. Like the rest of Italy, the citizens are divided into nobles and commoners, and so the republic must be carefully balanced - half the public offices for the nobility, half for the populo. In practice the distinction means little and is coming to mean less.A de-facto ruling governing class has arisen, mostly from rich commoner families, who now control the dogeship and and the council. Unlike the other cities of Italy, the populo grasso divide themselves not by families but by clans, 'alberghi', ready-made factions in internal disputes. Each claims a section of the city, centred on its own piazza where its own buildings cluster - stronghouse, warehouse, bathhouse, church.
In Genoa, the council is weak - it meets only at the request of the doge, and control of government finances has been farmed out to a seperate organisation, the Bank of Saint George. The doge should be strong - but the doge serves only as long as he commands the support of the popular assemblies. In Genoa, a popular assembly all-too-often means a gathering of partisans of one faction or another, all armed to the teeth and disinclined to hear opposing viewpoints. The Bank is theoretically just a commercial organisation - it administers the public debt, secured against the state's revenues. It has no political authority at all, but it controls the money, and in Italy, money does not talk, it screams.
Welcome to Genoa, signore.
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Playing Genoa (natch), v1.08, vanilla GC, Very Hard/Normal.
To dominate Italy.
To make as much money as possible. (Conquest is for nobles, merchants prefer cash.)
To have an interesting story to tell.
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Historical rulers of Genoa in this period usually secured themselves against the city's impossible internal divisions by vassalising the state to an external protector (France, Spain, Milan or Ferrara). I will not be resorting to this (unless things get really desperate).