Franco Franceschi
University of Siena



 An ancient Etruscan settlement located in the Valdichiana, along the border between  Tuscany and Umbria, Cortona has attracted renewed interest over the last two decades among historians of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Falling into this line of research is the publication of the communal statute from 1325, when the government handed the reins of power to the seigneurial regime revolving around Ranieri Casali. In the same year, Cortona became an episcopal seat and thus also gained the status of a city proper. Through a careful analysis of this extraordinarily rich source, the article outlines the salient aspects of the city’s economy and society, with a focus on its environmental resources and urban activities, the distribution of wealth and its poor relief, the condition of women, and the topography of social relations. The picture that emerges from this analysis is that of a lively and dynamic city, arguably at the peak of its development, at a time when many urban centres in Italy and across Europe were already experienc-ing a downturn after the economic expansion of the Middle Ages.


Cortona, Casali city lordship, city statute, crafts, guilds, wealth distri-bution, the condition of women, sociability

In the landscape of late medieval Tuscan towns, Cortona, an ancient Etruscan city located in the south-eastern part of the region along the border with Umbria, presented some rather peculiar features. Indeed, at the peak of its demographic development, around 1300, its population is likely to have exceeded 10,000 inhabitants: at the time, this was comparable to Pistoia or Volterra, which in medieval Italy can be considered midsize cities.  At least since the beginning of the thirteenth century Cortona was led by a communal govern-ment, and over the course of the century it expanded its jurisdic-tion across the surrounding territory, reaching a point where – in the Valdi chiana, which it overlooks – it controlled an area of about 350 square kilometres. Protected by a sturdy walls circle, its material structure was manifold and complex, while its social strati fi cation was typically urban. It was home to numerous religious congregations, prominent among which were mendicant orders, and in worship the townspeople identi fi ed strongly with Saint Margaret (1247–97), who was born in the village of Laviano, a stone’s throw away from

Lake Trasimeno, but still her name became inseparably associated with Cortona.  These attributes of the urban condition, however, did not include the one that most typically distinguished an Italian city, namely, the presence of a bishop. Although the claim has been made that an episcopal seat existed here in the early Christian age, 4 throughout most of the Middle Ages Cortona and its territory fell within the diocese of  Arezzo, and only in 1325 did Pope John XXII, over the strong objec-tions of Bishop Guido Tarlati of Arezzo, make Cortona an episcopal seat.