During the Renaissance, Florence was a city-state ruled by powerful families. The social class system was characterized by four classes: the nobility, merchants, middle class and lower class. The city-state system was more democratic than other systems in Europe during that era because status was primarily determined by occupation instead of family lineage.
The nobility of Italy owned most of the land and wielded power over the city. They had conflicts with merchants, who were the second-highest ranking class. The city-states of Italy were bustling centers of trade and commerce, which allowed people to gain wealth through trades such as manufacturing, banking and clothes-making. These trades were government-protected jobs called guilds. This created an opportunity for social-climbing, which made the nobility uncomfortable.
The middle classes of Florence were mainly shopkeepers and skilled laborers, such as masons. The lowest class consisted of unskilled laborers. They did not have job security and often had unsafe working conditions.
One of the most well-known families throughout Renaissance Europe was the Medici family from Florence. The Medici family were patrons of many great artists and musicians of the Renaissance, which helped the culture of Italy flourish during that era. Most of the great Italian artists descended from merchants and craftsmen.