The Avellano Castella Medieval Democracy Model in Northern Tuscany

Fascinating piece of democratic history by Alessio Bini:

(look for Vellano in the province of Pistoia)

“In the Middle Ages, in the north of Tuscany, the little towns were organized like a little state. There was no feudal lord: no boss, no emperor, no king that controlled the people.

The little countries had ramparts and each one was denominated “castellum”, “castella” for the plural.

In particular, we have the statute of the little state Avellano, that in the 1367 obtained the freedom of Republic of Florence, freedom that in the fact was in the Avellano people life since ancient ages.

To administrating the everyday life there was two important authority: the Parliament and the Council.

The Parliament was composed by every head of household, older than 20 years.

The Council was composed by 18 men considered “good and wise”.

This authority decided by 2/3 of the members, included the absentees.

Who was absent by no grounded reason must to pay a penalty, but the minimal number to make decision of the authority remained the same.

There was also a group of “4 wise men” (“I quattro savi”, in italian) that examined the questions presented by the citizens. The most interesting questions were presented to the Parliament and to the Council by a decision by at least of 3 of the 4 wise man.

The decisions by 2/4 or ¾ did not permit social divisions and tensions and also they constrain every member of the authority engaged in analyzing every point of view.

The most important feature of democratic life of Avellano was the procedure by which was chosen the citizen in the Council: the “imborsamento”, which means “putting in the bag”.

Each name of a man older than 20 years was written on a card. Those cards were put in a bag and a child pull out the card to nominate members of the Council.

For the next election, the card pulled out in the previous time remained out of the bag, for 5 years.

Avellano had some hundreds of people, in some ages perhaps some thousands.

In other “castella” near Avellano, the “imborsamento” operate until each citizen was extracted by a child. When no card was remained in the bag, the “imborsamento” procedure restarted.

So more a society is little more each member of this society is considered in the public life.

The candidacy method of modern life facilitate the most vain persons.

In the “castella” model, no candidates, no vanity, no personal choice influenced the participation to public life. It was a must.

And if a citizen was extracted by the child and he refused the election, he must to pay a penalty of 10 lire. It was an monster penalty. And then he must to carry out the role, anyway. So, why the penalty?

Because he has damaged the trust in the public life.

Out of the institution, the duties continue.

Each citizen must provide for a piece of common security.

Every six month, they must provide for the restoration of the streets.

Every august, they must provide for the restoration of the little canal that preserved Avellano from the flooding.

Every time necessary, each citizen must provide for pruning of the hedges.

For the food self-sufficiency of Avellano, a census of the vegetables gardens was made and each owner of these had to cultivate 2 hundred cabbages and 4 hundred leeks. If not, there was a penalty of 10 “soldi”. The “soldo” was a gold coin. So the penalty was very very strong.

Every year in january, the statute of Avellano was publicly read and each citizen had to listen to the reading.

Every year in may, each citizen was accompagnied along the boundaries, because each citizen had to know them so as to avoid quarrel with nearby little States. The penalty to be absent of the boundary recognization was 40 “soldi”.

An other interesting article is dedicated to the lost objects.

Each citizen must to give in the church of Saint Michele all the lost objects that he found. So no object was really lost in Avellano city.

Very interesting was the articles 36 in the fifth book of the statute. It claims that every duty was valid at the same time for the male gender and for the female gender.

Only duties?

Every duty of a citizen is a right of an other citizen.

So both the male and the female had duties and rights.

More century lather, in the 1860, Giuseppe Mazzini wrote a book entitled “The duties of the human being”. The central thesis of the book was that we speak always of rights, but making so we forget that exist “the other side of the coin”, such as the duties. And this forgetful approach will bring the human kind in a age of decay …

The other consideration that we can make is that the society was not an abstract subject, but the algebraic sum of all citizen and the basic cell of the society was the family. In fact, in the Parliament was present each head of household, older than 20 years.

In the end, we can note that the ethics was more important than rational capacity of each citizen. There were 4 good and wise men, not 4 able men! Same thing for the Council: it was composed by 18 good and wise men.

Today Avellano had lost the “A” and it name is Vellano, but the every day life looks very much like the Middle ages and it’s statutes were valid until 1928, when it became a municipality.”

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