The article takes a first look at Game of Thrones‘ Free City of Braavos and Florence. Given Braavos is a lagoon city that is famed for its banking and skilled assassins, it seems possible Venice and Florence inspired it. This article takes a first look at some of the similarities between Florence and Braavos – and in particular, the Braavosi assassins.
While the Wars of the Roses raged on in England and English nobles tried to increase their power while aligning themselves with the winning side, in democratic Florence, the power games centered around ferocious political competition that manifested itself in assassination attempts, patronage of the arts, and attempts to build power through marriages.
The climate could be so violent that the rich and powerful did not venture out onto the streets of Florence without an entourage of coarse aggressive thugs — known as in English as Bravoes (Bravi or Bravo in Italian) — accompanying them. Although the Game of Thrones Braavosi assassins — Faceless Men of Bravoos –- have a far more exotic origin (from the volcanic slave mines of Valyria), the real-life Bravoes almost certainly lent their name to Georege RR Martin’s assassins.
In fact, it isn’t surprising Martin chose a variation of the thugs’ name since it draws out an often overlooked trait of medieval and Renaissance cities. By giving the city the name Braavos, it symbolizes the flavor of medieval Italian cities: violent, commercial.
The most famous description of the bravoes is in the 1827 historical fiction novel The Betrothed (Italian: I promessi sposi)by the Alessandro Manzoni. The Betrothed is one of the most widely read novels in the Italian language, so it is fantastic that George RR Martin would give a nod to Italian literature by alluding to some of the novel’s themes.
The novel opens in northern Italy in 1628 the night before Renzo and Lucia, a young couple near Lake Como, are supposed to get married. Two bravoes accost the priest and warn him not to marry the couple: their employer, a local baron, forbids it.
The beginning of The Betrothed refers extensively to the bravoes. Apparently, Manzoni researched the novel extensively before he wrote it, so the descriptions are supposed to be fairly realistic.
The Faceless Men of Bravoos may be inspired by the nameless bravoes in The Bethrothed. According to Wikipedia, “Nibbio, who works for l’Innominato, has a multitude of bravi under his command but, like his master, they are nameless.”
The bravoes functioned like retainers in medieval England – except instead of being made up of gentry, the Italian retinues comprised non-aristocratic thugs. Like other northern Italian cities, the Florentine power brokers used bravoes to protect them from society’s rougher elements and, perhaps more importantly, the other elite families.
Competition between political rivals in Florence was literally cut-throat.
In April 1478, the Pazzi family, a rival of the Medicis, conspired eliminate their competition in what became known as the Pazzi Conspiracy. The Pazzi family sent assassins to slay the co-rulers of Florence, Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano de Medici, during mass. The assassins attacked Giuliano with swords and he bled out on the cathedral floor while Lorenzo fled to safety.
What’s interesting about the bravoes is that the artistic creations often overshadow the violence of Renaissance Florence. A democratic city in which people hire those who are the most effective – whether as their retinue or their artists – is nothing like Northern Europe where only aristocrats become knights. Is greater egalitarianism what made society so violent? The drive for success in a world where failure could mean starvation created great stakes for everyone.
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