Padgett, John F. 1994. Marriage and Elite Structure in Renaissance Florence, 1282-1500. Paper delivered to the Social Science History Association.
The paper demonstrates the process of elite transformation in Florence between the end of the 13th and the 15th century and discusses the cause and effects connected to it. Padgett applies network theory and methodology to understand the political history of Florence during that particular time period. The analysis of events and relations in the paper is part of a bigger project which aims to explain the formation of the Renaissance state in Florence and the rise of the Medici family (see among other publications: Padgett and Ansell 1993: Robust Action and the Rise of the Medici, 1400-1434. AJS 98: 6: 1259-1319).
The focus of this paper is not the Medici family but the different patterns of "endogamy" within and across three groups of elite families: the magnates (rich patricians who didn't have access to political office), the popolani (rich patricians who did hold political positions) and new men (newly admitted members to the political class). Data evidence and models derived from it prove that approaches of network theory and methodology can serve to trace and explain historic changes as well as events and processes leading to those transformations.
The data set has five parts: marriage networks, economic networks, other social networks, attributional information and political party/faction membership. Data for the study came mostly from archives in Italy and the US. Padgett sampled 10,500 marriage relations in over 960 families of which he used data on 500-600 family-clans for this analysis. In addition he explored ancient tax records and censuses as a source for economic data and secondary literature for attributional information.
For explanation of historic events which facilitated the shift of power from a "team" of magnate and popolani families to a combination of popolani and new men families (with marginalized magnate families) the author concentrates on the period between 1343 (and 1348 respectively) and 1378 as a watershed for turnovers in the Florentine elite structure. Both in 1343 and 1378 huge numbers of new families were admitted to the Signoria, the city parliament of Florence. In 1343 a political turmoil took place, followed by the black death in 1348. The year 1378 saw the Ciompi rebellion. Another important date is the year 1434 when the Medici clan took over (reign of Cosimo di Medici 1434-1465, Lorenzo di Medici 1465-1494).
The means of analysis of the transformation process and the differences between the three groups of elites and among their members are the following six measures of: - centrality, micro-relation (dyads and triads), residential endogamy, social class endogamy, wealth endogamy and multidimensional scaling to explore the social distances between families and their positions in relation to each other.
The results show that the overall elite concentration increased. Even though the degree of concentration of families and their clan size decreased after 1343, the increase of their structural concentration in terms of betweenness (position of a family-clan within the network of elite families as an indicator for positional power) before 1343 was maintained (and even grew) in the time period until 1500. Meanwhile the occurrence of asymmetric marriage ties (dyads with hierarchical order between two family clans of different social background) decreased after 1343/1348. Less hierarchy is another indicator for the concentration of the actual network of all elite families.
In addition the importance of residential endogamy - defined as the rate at which Florentine elite families married their "neighbors"/co-residents within one of the four city quarters - declined over time. After 1378 each neighborhood saw a less strongly hierarchical concentration of families than before. A change of linkage patterns is also visible from the analysis of the degree of social class endogamy. The magnate families developed a greater class endogamy after 1343 (starting at 1314) by marrying less popolani family member than predictable by chance and almost no new men family members. New men did strive for marriage ties with popolani. The popolani families themselves had no explicit strategy - a resemblance of their position of social prestige and political power which had no need for identity confirmation through class endogamy.
Wealth endogamy which occurs when family clans can be distinguished in either very poor ones or very rich ones decreased after 1402 (a point which is still open for explanation in Padgett's work).
The MDS (multidimensional scaling) technique shows the dramatic centralization of the elite after 1343 and the emerging polarization between magnates and new men family-clans creating a hole in the center of society. Popolani families maintained their position as a bridge between them.
This set-up of the elite network led to the establishment of the Medici power base. The Medicis used to be at the fringes of society due to their marriage policy and even voluntarily remained in this position after 1434. In the years to come Cosimo di Medici showed a 'structuralist principle' in his "reactions" by creating structural isolation (barriers, holes) through segregated social relations. Lorenzo di Medici applied an 'interactionist principle' in his "actions". He developed friendly ties between clans in order to sustain the Medici network (which ultimately failed and brought loss of power to the Medici).
How did the network of Florentine elite families form ? The popolani families applied no strategy at all. The magnate families reacted with a marriage strategy of class endogamy in an unsuccessful attempt to keep their central position in the hierarchy present before 1343. The new men consciously formed linkages within the existing structure which led to a higher degree of betweenness-centralization of the overall network and more positional power for their own group.