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The History Of Italy
Author: Hallam, Henry

Part V

State of Italy after the Extinction of the House of Suabia - Conquest of
Naples by Charles of Anjou - The Lombard Republics become severally subject to
Princes or Usurpers - The Visconti of Milan - Their Aggrandizement - Decline
of the Imperial Authority over Italy - Internal State of Rome - Rienzi -
Florence - Her Forms of Government historically traced to the End of the
Fourteenth Century - Conquest of Pisa - Pisa - Its Commerce, Naval Wars with
Genoa, and Decay - Genoa - Her Contentions with Venice - War of Chioggio -
Government of Genoa - Venice - Her Origin and Prosperity - Venetian Government
- Its Vices - Territorial Conquests of Venice - Military System of Italy -
Companies of Adventure - I, Foreign; Guarnieri, Hawkwood - And 2, Native;
Braccio, Sforza - Improvements in Military Service - Arms, Offensive and
Defensive - Invention of Gunpowder - Naples - First Line of Anjou - Joanna I.
- Ladislaus - Joanna II. - Francis Sforza becomes Duke of Milan - Alfonzo King
of Naples - State of Italy during the Fifteenth Century - Florence - Rise of
the Medici, and Ruin of their Adversaries - Pretensions of Charles VIII. to

From the death of Frederic II. in 1250, to the invasion of Charles VIII.
in 1494, a long and undistinguished period occurs, which it is impossible to
break into any natural divisions. It is an age in many respects highly
brilliant: the age of poetry and letters, of art, and of continual
improvement. Italy displayed an intellectual superiority in this period over
the Transalpine nations which certainly had not appeared since the destruction
of the Roman empire. But her political history presents a labyrinth of petty
facts so obscure and of so little influence as not to arrest the attention, so
intricate and incapable of classification as to leave only confusion to the
memory. The general events that are worthy of notice, and give a character to
this long period, are the establishment of small tyrannies upon the ruins of
republican government in most of the cities, the gradual rise of three
considerable states, Milan, Florence, and Venice, and the naval and commercial
rivalry between the last city and Genoa, the final acquisition by the popes of
their present territorial sovereignty, and the revolutions in the kingdom of
Naples under the lines of Anjou and Aragon.

After the death of Frederic II. the distinctions of Guelf and Ghibelin
became destitute of all rational meaning. The most odious crimes were
constantly perpetrated, and the utmost miseries endured, for an echo and a
shade that mocked the deluded enthusiasts of faction. None of the Guelfs
denied the nominal but indefinite sovereignty of the empire; and beyond a name
the Ghibelins themselves would have been little disposed to carry it. But the
virulent hatreds attached to these words grew continually more implacable,
till ages of ignominy and tyrannical government had extinguished every
energetic passion in the bosoms of a degraded people.

In the fall of the house of Suabia, Rome appeared to have consummated her
triumph; and although the Ghibelin party was for a little time able to
maintain itself, and even to gain ground, in the north of Italy, yet two
events that occurred not long afterwards restored the ascendency of their
adversaries. The first of these was the fall of Eccelin da Romano, whose
rapid successes in Lombardy appeared to threaten the establishment of a
tremendous despotism, and induced a temporary union of Guelf and Ghibelin
states, by which he was overthrown. [A.D. 1259.] The next and far more
important was the change of dynasty in Naples. This kingdom had been
occupied, after the death of Conrad, by his illegitimate brother, Manfred, in
the behalf, as he at first pretended, of young Conradin the heir, but in fact
as his own acquisition. [A.D. 1254.] He was a prince of an active and firm
mind, well fitted for his difficult post, to whom the Ghibelins looked up as
their head, and as the representative of his father. It was a natural object
with the popes, independently of their ill-will towards a son of Frederic II.,
to see a sovereign on whom they could better rely placed upon so neighboring a
throne. Charles Count of Anjou, brother of St. Louis, was tempted by them to
lead a crusade (for as such all wars for the interest of Rome were now
considered) against the Neapolitan usurper. The chance of a battle decided the
fate of Naples, and had a striking influence upon the history of Europe for
several centuries. [A.D. 1266.] Manfred was killed in the field; but there
remained the legitimate heir of the Frederics, a boy of seventeen years old,
Conradin, son of Conrad, who rashly, as we say at least after the event,
attempted to regain his inheritance. He fell into the hands of Charles; and
the voice of those rude ages, as well as of a more enlightened posterity, has
united in branding with everlasting infamy the name of that prince, who did
not hesitate to purchase the security of his own title by the public execution
of an honorable competitor, or rather a rightful claimant of the throne he had
usurped. [A.D. 1268.] With Conradin the house of Suabia was extinguished; but
Constance, the daughter of Manfred, had transported his right to Sicily and
Naples into the house of Aragon, by her marriage with Peter III.

This success of a monarch selected by the Roman pontiffs as their
particular champion, turned the tide of faction over all Italy. He expelled
the Ghibelins from Florence, of which they had a few years before obtained a
complete command by means of their memorable victory upon the river Arbia.
After the fall of Conradin that party was everywhere discouraged. Germany
held out small hopes of support, even when the imperial throne, which had long
been vacant, should be filled by one of her princes. The populace were in
almost every city attached to the church and to the name of Guelf; the kings
of Naples employed their arms, and the popes their excommunications; so that
for the remainder of the thirteenth century the name of Ghibelin was a term of
proscription in the majority of Lombard and Tuscan republics. Charles was
constituted by the pope vicar- general in Tuscany. This was a new pretension
of the Roman pontiffs, to name the lieutenants of the empire during its
vacancy, which indeed could not be completely filled up without their consent.
It soon, however, became evident that he aimed at the sovereignty of Italy.
Some of the popes themselves, Gregory X. and Nicholas IV., grew jealous of
their own creature. At the congress of Cremona, in 1269, it was proposed to
confer upon Charles the seigniory of all the Guelf cities; but the greater
part were prudent enough to choose him rather as a friend than a master. ^a

[Footnote a: Sismondi, t. iii. p. 417. Several, however, including Milan,
took an oath of fidelity to Charles the same year. Ibid. In 1273 he was lord
of Alessandria and Piacenza, and received tribute from Milan, Bologna, and
most Lombard cities. Muratori. It was evidently his intention to avail
himself of the vacancy of the empire, and either to acquire that title
himself, or at least to stand in the same relation as the emperors had done to
the Italian states; which, according to the usage of the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, left them in possession of everything that we call
independence, with the reservation of a nominal allegiance.]

The cities of Lombardy, however, of either denomination, were no longer
influenced by that generous disdain of one man's will which is to republican
governments what chastity is to women - a conservative principle, never to be
reasoned upon, or subjected to calculations of utility. By force, or
stratagem, or free consent, almost all the Lombard republics had already
fallen under the yoke of some leading citizen, who became the lord (signore)
or, in the German sense, tyrant of his country. The first instance of a
voluntary delegation of sovereignty was that above mentioned of Ferrara, which
placed itself under the lord of Este. Eccelin made himself truly the tyrant
of the cities beyond the Adige; and such experience ought naturally to have
inspired the Italians with more universal abhorrence of despotism. But every
danger appeared trivial in the eyes of exasperated factions when compared with
the ascendency of their adversaries. Weary of unceasing and useless contests,
in which ruin fell with an alternate but equal hand upon either party, liberty
withdrew from a people who disgraced her name; and the tumultuous, the brave,
the intractable Lombards became eager to submit themselves to a master, and
patient under the heaviest oppression. Or, if tyranny sometimes overstepped
the limits of forbearance, and a seditious rising expelled the reigning
prince, it was only to produce a change of hands, and transfer the impotent
people to a different, and perhaps a worse, despotism. ^b In many cities not a
conspiracy was planned, not a sigh was breathed, in favor of republican
government, after once they had passed under the sway of a single person. The
progress indeed was gradual, though sure, from limited to absolute, from
temporary to hereditary power, from a just and conciliating rule to extortion
and cruelty. But before the middle of the fourteenth century, at the latest,
all those cities which had spurned at the faintest mark of submission to the
emperors lost even the recollection of self-government, and were bequeathed,
like an undoubted patrimony, among the children of their new lords. Such is
the progress of usurpation; and such the vengeance that Heaven reserves for
those who waste in license and faction its first of social blessings, liberty.

[Footnote b: See an instance of the manner in which one tyrant was exchanged
for another, in the fate of Passerino Bonaccorsi, lord of Mantua, in 1328.
Luigi di Gonzaga surprised him, rode the city (corse la citta) with a troop of
horse, crying, Viva il popolo, e muoja Messer Passerino e le sue gabelle!
killed Passerino upon the spot, put his son to death in cold blood, e poi si
fece signore della terra. Villani, l. x. c. 99, observes, like a good
republican, that God had fulfilled in this the words of his Gospel (query,
what Gospel?), I will slay, my enemy by my enemy - abattendo l'uno tiranno per

[Footnote c: See the observations of Sismondi, t. iv. p. 212, on the conduct
of the Lombard signori (I know not of any English word that characterizes
them, except tyrant in its primitive sense) during the first period of their
dominion. They were generally chosen in an assembly of the people, sometimes
for a short term, prolonged in the same manner. The people was consulted upon
several occasions. At Milan there was a council of 900 nobles, not permanent
or representative, but selected and convened at the discretion of the
government, throughout the reigns of the Visconti. Corio, pp. 519, 583. Thus,
as Sismondi remarks, they respected the sovereignty of the people while they
destroyed its liberty.]

The city most distinguished in both wars against the house of Suabia for
an unconquerable attachment to republican institutions, was the first to
sacrifice them in a few years after the death of Frederic II. Milan had for a
considerable time been agitated by civil dissensions between the nobility and
inferior citizens. These parties were pretty equally balanced, and their
success was consequently alternate. Each had its own podesta, as a
party-leader, distinct from the legitimate magistrate of the city. At the
head of the nobility was their archbishop, Fra Leon Perego; the people chose
Martin della Torre, one of a noble family which had ambitiously sided with the
democratic faction. In consequence of the crime of a nobleman, who had
murdered one of his creditors, the two parties took up arms in 1257. A civil
war, of various success, and interrupted by several pacifications, which in
that unhappy temper could not be durable, was terminated in about two years by
the entire discomfiture of the aristocracy, and by the election of Martin
della Torre as chief and lord (capitano e signore) of the people. Though the
Milanese did not probably intend to renounce the sovereignty resident in their
general assemblies, yet they soon lost the republican spirit; five in
succession of the family della Torre might be said to reign in Milan; each,
indeed, by a formal election, but with an implied recognition of a sort of
hereditary title. Twenty years afterwards the Visconti, a family of opposite
interests, supplanted the Torriani at Milan; and the rivalry between these
great houses was not at an end till the final establishment of Matteo Visconti
in 1313; but the people were not otherwise considered than as aiding by force
the one or other party, and at most deciding between the pretensions of their

The vigor and concert infused into the Guelf party by the successes of
Charles of Anjou, were not very durable. That prince was soon involved in a
protracted and unfortunate quarrel with the kings of Aragon, to whose
protection his revolted subjects in Italy had recurred. On the other hand,
several men of energetic character retrieved the Ghibelin interests in
Lombardy, and even in the Tuscan cities. The Visconti were acknowledged heads
of that faction. A family early established as lords of Verona, the della
Scala, maintained the credit of the same denomination between the Adige and
the Adriatic. Castruccio Castrucani, an adventurer of remarkable ability,
rendered himself prince of Lucca, and drew over a formidable accession to the
imperial side from the heart of the church-party in Tuscany, though his death
restored the ancient order of things. The inferior tyrants were partly Guelf,
partly Ghibelin, according to local revolutions; but upon the whole the latter
acquired a gradual ascendency. Those indeed who cared for the independence of
Italy, or for their own power, had far less to fear from the phantom of
imperial prerogatives, long intermitted and incapable of being enforced, than
from the new race of foreign princes whom the church had substituted for the
house of Suabia. The Angevin kings of Naples were sovereigns of Provence, and
from thence easily encroached upon Piedmont, and threatened the Milanese.
Robert, the third of this line, almost openly aspired, like his grandfather
Charles I., to a real sovereignty over Italy. His offers of assistance to
Guelf cities in war were always coupled with a demand of the sovereignty.
Many yielded to his ambition; and even Florence twice bestowed upon him a
temporary dictatorship. In 1314 he was acknowledged lord of Lucca, Florence,
Pavia, Alessandria, Bergamo, and the cities of Romagna. In 1318 the Guelfs of
Genoa found no other resource against the Ghibelin emigrants who were under
their walls than to resign their liberties to the King of Naples for the term
of ten years, which he procured to be renewed for six more. The Avignon
popes, especially John XXII., out of blind hatred to Emperor Louis of Bavaria
and the Visconti family, abetted all these measures of ambition. But they were
rendered abortive by Robert's death and the subsequent disturbances of his

At the latter end of the thirteenth century there were almost as many
princes in the north of Italy as there had been free cities in the preceding
age. Their equality, and the frequent domestic revolutions which made their
seat unsteady, kept them for a while from encroaching on each other.
Gradually, however, they became less numerous: a quantity of obscure tyrants
were swept away from the smaller cities; and the people, careless or hopeless
of liberty, were glad to exchange the rule of despicable petty usurpers for
that of more distinguished and powerful families. About the year 1350 the
central parts of Lombardy had fallen under the dominion of the Visconti. Four
other houses occupied the second rank: that of Este at Ferrara and Modena; of
Scala at Verona, which under Cane and Mastino della Scala had seemed likely to
contest with the lords of Milan the supremacy over Lombardy; of Carrara at
Padua, which later than any Lombard city had resigned her liberty; and of
Gonzaga at Mantua, which, without ever obtaining any material extension of
territory, continued, probably for that reason, to reign undisturbed till the
eighteenth century. But these united were hardly a match, as they sometimes
experienced, for the Visconti. That family, the object of every league formed
in Italy for more than fifty years, in constant hostility to the church, and
well inured to interdicts and excommunications, producing no one man of
military talents, but fertile of tyrants detested for their perfidiousness and
cruelty, was nevertheless enabled, with almost uninterrupted success, to add
city after city to the dominion of Milan till it absorbed all the north of
Italy. Under Gian Galeazzo, whose reign began in 1385, the viper (their
armorial bearing) assumed indeed a menacing attitude: ^d he overturned the
great family of Scala, and annexed their extensive possessions to his own; no
power intervened from Vercelli in Piedmont to Feltre and Belluno; while the
free cities of Tuscany, Pisa, Siena, Perugia, and even Bologna, as if by a
kind of witchcraft, voluntarily called in a dissembling tyrant as their

[Footnote d: Allusions to heraldry are very common in the Italian writers. All
the historians of the fourteenth century habitually use the viper, il
biscione, as a synonym for the power of Milan.]

Powerful as the Visconti were in Italy, they were long in washing out the
tinge of recent usurpation, which humbled them before the legitimate dynasties
of Europe. At the siege of Genoa in 1318 Robert King of Naples rejected with
contempt the challenge of Marco Visconti to decide their quarrel in single
combat. ^e But the pride of sovereigns, like that of private men, is easily
set aside for their interest. Galeazzo Visconti purchased with 100,000
florins a daughter of France for his son, which the French historians mention
as a deplorable humiliation for their crown. A few years afterwards, Lionel
Duke of Clarence, second son of Edward III., certainly not an inferior match,
espoused Galeazzo's daughter. Both these connections were short-lived; but
the union of Valentine, daughter of Gian Galeazzo, with the Duke of Orleans,
in 1389, produced far more important consequences, and served to transmit a
claim to her descendants, Louis XII. and Francis I., from which the long
calamities of Italy at the beginning of the sixteenth century were chiefly
derived. Not long after this marriage the Visconti were tacitly admitted
among the reigning princes, by the erection of Milan into a duchy under
letters-patent of the Emperor Wenceslaus. ^f [A.D. 1395.]

[Footnote e: Della qual cosa il Re molto sdegno ne prese. Villani, l. ix. c.
93. It was reckoned a misalliance, as Dante tells us, in the widow of Nino di
Gallura, a nobleman of Pisa, though a sort of prince in Sardinia, to marry one
of the Visconti. Purgatorio, cant. viii.]

[Footnote f: Corio, p. 538.]

The imperial authority over Italy was almost entirely suspended after the
death of Frederic II. A long interregnum followed in Germany; and when the
vacancy was supplied by Rodolph of Hapsburg, he was too prudent to dissipate
his moderate resources where the great house of Suabia had failed. [A.D.
1272.] About forty years afterwards the Emperor Henry of Luxemburg, a prince,
like Rodolph, of small hereditary possessions, but active and discreet,
availed himself of the ancient respect borne to the imperial name, and the
mutual jealousies of the Italians, to recover for a very short time a
remarkable influence. [A.D. 1309.] But, though professing neutrality and
desire of union between the Guelfs and Ghibelins, he could not succeed in
removing the distrust of the former; his exigencies impelled him to large
demands of money; and the Italians, when they counted his scanty German
cavalry, perceived that disobedience was altogether a matter of their own
choice. Henry died, however, in time to save himself from any decisive
reverse. His successors, Louis of Bavaria and Charles IV., descended from the
Alps with similar motives, but after some temporary good fortune were obliged
to return, not without discredit. Yet the Italians never broke that almost
invisible thread which connected them with Germany; the fallacious name of
Roman emperor still challenged their allegiance, though conferred by seven
Teutonic electors without their concurrence. Even Florence, the most
independent and high-spirited of republics, was induced to make a treaty with
Charles IV. in 1355, which, while it confirmed all her actual liberties, not a
little, by that very confirmation, affected her sovereignty. ^g This deference
to the supposed prerogatives of the empire, even while they were least
formidable, was partly owing to jealousy of French or Neapolitan interference,
partly by the national hatred of the popes who had seceded to Avignon, and in
some degree to a misplaced respect for antiquity, to which the revival of
letters had given birth. The great civilians, and the much greater poets, of
the fourteenth century, taught Italy to consider her emperor as a dormant
sovereign, to whom her various principalities and republics were subordinate,
and during whose absence alone they had legitimate authority.

[Footnote g: The republic of Florence was at this time in considerable peril
from a coalition of the Tuscan cities against her, which rendered the
protection of the emperor convenient. But it was very reluctantly that she
acquiesced in even a nominal submission to his authority. The Florentine
envoys, in their first address, would only use the words, Santa Corona, or
Serenissimo Principe; senza ricordarlo imperadore, o dimostrargli alcuna
reverenza di suggezzione domandando che il commune di Firenze volea essendogli
ubbidiente, le cotali e le cotali franchigie per mantenere il suo popolo nell'
usata libertade. Mat. Villani, p. 274. (Script. Rer. Ital. t. xiv.) This
style made Charles angry; and the city soon atoned for it by accepting his
privilege. In this, it must be owned, he assumes a decided tone of
sovereignty. The gonfalonier and priors are declared to be his vicars. The
deputies of the city did homage and swore obedience. Circumstances induced the
principal citizens to make this submission, which they knew to be merely
nominal. But the high-spirited people, not so indifferent about names, came
into it very unwillingly. The treaty was seven times proposed, and as often
rejected, in the consiglio del popolo, before their feelings were subdued.
Its publication was received with no marks of joy. The public buildings alone
were illuminated: but a sad silence indicated the wounded pride of every
private citizen. - M. Villani, pp. 286, 290. Sismondi, t. vi. p. 238.]

In one part, however, of that country, the empire had, soon after the
commencement of this period, spontaneously renounced its sovereignty. From
the era of Pepin's donation, confirmed and extended by many subsequent
charters, the Holy See had tolerably just pretensions to the province entitled
Romagna, or the exarchate of Ravenna. But the popes, whose menaces were
dreaded at the extremities of Europe, were still very weak as temporal
princes. Even Innocent III. had never been able to obtain possession of this
part of St. Peter's patrimony. The circumstances of Rodolph's accession
inspired Nicholas III. with more confidence. That emperor granted a
confirmation of everything included in the donations of Louis I., Otho, and
his other predecessors; but was still reluctant or ashamed to renounce his
imperial rights. Accordingly his charter is expressed to be granted without
diminution of the empire (sine demembratione imperii); and his chancellor
received an oath of fidelity from the cities of Romagna. But the pope
insisting firmly on his own claim, Rodolph discreetly avoided involving
himself in a fatal quarrel, and, in 1278, absolutely released the imperial
supremacy over all the dominions already granted to the Holy See. ^h

[Footnote h: Muratori, ad ann. 1274, 1275, 1278; Sismondi, t. iii. p. 461.]

This is a leading epoch in the temporal monarchy of Rome. But she stood
only in the place of the emperor; and her ultimate sovereignty was compatible
with the practicable independence of the free cities, or of the usurpers who
had risen up among them. Bologna, Faenza, Rimini, and Ravenna, with many
others less considerable, took an oath indeed to the pope, but continued to
regulate both their internal concerns and foreign relations at their own
discretion. The first of these cities was far preeminent above the rest for
population and renown, and, though not without several intermissions,
preserved a republican character till the end of the fourteenth century. The
rest were soon enslaved by petty tyrants, more obscure than those of Lombardy.
It was not easy for the pontiffs of Avignon to reinstate themselves in a
dominion which they seemed to have abandoned; but they made several attempts
to recover it, sometimes with spiritual arms, sometimes with the more
efficacious aid of mercenary troops. The annals of this part of Italy are
peculiarly uninteresting.

Rome itself was, throughout the middle ages, very little disposed to
acquiesce in the government of her bishop. His rights were indefinite, and
unconfirmed by positive law; the emperor was long sovereign, the people always
meant to be free. Besides the common causes of insubordination and anarchy
among the Italians, which applied equally to the capital city, other
sentiments more peculiar to Rome preserved a continual, though not uniform,
influence for many centuries. There still remained enough in the wreck of
that vast inheritance to swell the bosoms of her citizens with a consciousness
of their own dignity. They bore the venerable name, they contemplated the
monuments of art and empire, and forgot, in the illusions of national pride,
that the tutelar gods of the building were departed forever. About the middle
of the twelfth century these recollections were heightened by the eloquence of
Arnold of Brescia, a political heretic who preached against the temporal
jurisdiction of the hierarchy. In a temporary intoxication of fancy, they
were led to make a ridiculous show of self-importance towards Frederic
Barbarossa, when he came to receive the imperial crown; but the German sternly
chided their ostentation, and chastised their resistance. ^i With the popes
they could deal more securely. Several of them were expelled from Rome during
that age by the seditious citizens. Lucius II. died of hurts received in a
tumult. The government was vested in fifty-six senators, annually chosen by
the people, through the intervention of an electoral body, ten delegates from
each of the thirteen districts of the city. ^j This constitution lasted not
quite fifty years. In 1192 Rome imitated the prevailing fashion by the
appointment of an annual foreign magistrate. ^k Except in name, the senator of
Rome appears to have perfectly resembled the podesta of other cities. This
magistrate superseded the representative senate, who had proved by no means
adequate to control the most lawless aristocracy of Italy. I shall not repeat
the story of Brancaleon's rigorous and inflexible justice, which a great
historian has already drawn from obscurity. It illustrates not the annals of
Rome alone, but the general state of Italian society, the nature of a
podesta's duty, and the difficulties of its execution. The office of senator
survives ^* after more than six hundred years; but he no longer wields the
"iron flail" ^l of Brancaleon; and his nomination proceeds, of course, from
the supreme pontiff, not from the people. In the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries the senate, and the senator who succeeded them, exercised one
distinguishing attribute of sovereignty, that of coining gold and silver
money. Some of their coins still exist, with legends in a very republican
tone. ^m Doubtless the temporal authority of the popes varied according to
their personal character. Innocent III. had much more than his predecessors
for almost a century, or than some of his successors. He made the senator
take an oath of fealty to him, which, though not very comprehensive, must have
passed in those times as a recognition of his superiority. ^n

[Footnote i: The impertinent address of a Roman orator to Frederic, and his
answer, are preserved in Otho of Frisingen, l. ii. c. 22; but so much at
length, that we may suspect some exaggeration. Otho is rather rhetorical.
They may be read in Gibbon, c. 69.]

[Footnote j: Sismondi, t. ii. p. 36. Besides Sismondi and Muratori, I would
refer for the history of Rome during the middle ages to the last chapters of
Gibbon's Decline and Fall.]

[Footnote k: Ibid., p. 308.]

[Footnote *: A.D. 1818.]

[Footnote l: The readers of Spenser will recollect the iron flail of Talus,
the attendant of Arthegal, emblematic of the severe justice of the lord deputy
of Ireland. Sir Arthur Grey, shadowed under that allegory.]

[Footnote m: Gibbon, vol. xii. p. 289; Muratori, Antiquit. Ital. Dissert. 27.]

[Footnote n: Sismondi, p. 309.]

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