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How to Live Like a Medici

Updated on July 15, 2014

Modern Billionaires Have it All Wrong

As an aspiring billionaire, I have long studied the behavior of the wealthy, both modern and historical, to try and locate the proper way of both becoming a billionaire, and the proper way of maintaining that opulence and wealth without either turning my family into drug-addled sex reavers, or becoming the target of an angry mob. Modern wealthy people know nothing about the proper method of securing and maintaining their wealth. Earning a fortune is the easiest part. Historically, and traditionally, lending money to businesses is the best way to make a fortune. Absolutely everyone can participate in this endeavour in the modern era, on the stock market and financial markets. I'm going to assume, then, that this is already something you've mastered, and you're ready to learn how to ball with the Cavalieri of Florence, amassing huge amounts of wealth and influence, while no one would even recognize you in the street.

This mild-mannered simpleton quietly owns you and your land and the city and the police and everyone you know.
This mild-mannered simpleton quietly owns you and your land and the city and the police and everyone you know. | Source

Modesty is the Best Policy

The Medici family, led by Cosimi, avoided public office, avoided grand displays of opulence and wealth, and avoided making big, public scenes of any sort. The rare time Cosimi was seen in public, he wore simple clothes, had a single servant with him, and avoided the ostentatious displays of wealth that lesser families reveled in competitive ornamentation. Fashion was no game for Cosimi. No, he preferred religion. The great success of the Medici family was to become the bankers of Rome. They lent money to the church, and to friends of the church. As the church was large and powerful, so, too, the Medici family grew in size and power.

They avoided large palaces, large displays of their family crest. They avoided, whenever possible, political stances and political offices. When their names came up in lots for the Florentine council, they served quietly, and without enjoyment.

The whole mode of behavior hammered into the sons of the Medici was simple: Be modest, unassuming, and bow to the rich and powerful, while being charitable and generous, but not overtly so, to the lesser classes.

It's a very simple policy. Behind closed doors, their lifestyle was as profligate as any other wealthy Florentine, but in public, they were not great men. They were the people who bankrolled the great men. They rarely stood out in front of their power, wielding the heavy club of authority.

Power is Messy. Stay Clean.

No matter what happens, power will get messy. Wars happen. Murders and assassins will happen. Illegitimate children will be delivered at the door by angry fathers demanding their daughters' honor be respected. Power and influence will get messy.

Despite trying hard not to be involved in politics, Cosimi Medici was summoned and arrested by the Florentines. The rival Abizzi family challenged the Medici banking empire with the very tools of politics that the Medici avoided. Instead of a big, public battle, Cosimi bribed his way out of jail, and accepted exile from Florence. A plea bargain away from the public eye, even with serious consequences, was better than a public spat that dragged on and carries an unknown conclusion. Remember: Certainty, and you're still alive and rich and minimize time in prison, you can work with that. Uncertainty, not so much.

Also, don't kill anyone. If you do kill someone, don't get caught. Never strike in anger, when striking slowly, methodically, and precisely will do.

Cosimi wasn't idle in his exile. He pulled his finances away from Florence, and away from his enemies. He took his enormous power and influence away with him, and the popes that were old allies of the Medici family followed Cosimi away from the treachery of the Abrizzi clan.

Soon, Cosimi returns in glory to take over the whole city of Florence, while the Abrizzi empire falls into a harsh decline, from which the revenge is cold, calculated, and very careful.

In all of the events, Cosimi kept himself clean. He avoided public trials, public pronouncements, and public scenes. Instead, it all happened behind closed doors, among friends and businessmen, and the force of influence and money was slow to build up. When it did, it exploded across Italy and took over the region and time.

The Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore
The Dome of Santa Maria del Fiore

Raise Your Family with Serious Values. Medici Values.

The greatest danger to the super rich are their own spoiled children. These children go to special schools. They live surrounded by wealth, immune to the toils and struggles of the everyday, and insulated from genuine hardship and death. In this, they become like little babies, dancing and drinking and desecrating the good family name with public intoxication, drug abuse, and sexual licentiousness.

In the time of the Medici, power came from the church, and the sons of the family were sent into church service. Even the bastard children of family-owned slaves found their way into the halls of power through the church. Women only left the house at all to go to mass.

In the time, the power of a family came through public service. Large scrolls were kept, with records of every time a progenitor had served on the Florentine council. Boys were taught from a young age that public service was critical to success. Boys were taught from a young age to despise ostentation. The households of the Medici were famous for their lack of grand displays. The walls were mostly bare and white. The family seal, when present, was always small. The clothes were simple and plain - well-made, but bland - and the ribaldry, when it occurred, happened in strict,circumscribed locations. The family purchased slaves, maintained multiple households, and what prostitutes the young men pursued kept their doors and windows closed to outsiders. From a young age,the young men were hammered into the family business through the family values: Modesty, lack of ostentation, being kind and charitable to the poor, and allowing them that seek power to do so without involvement.

Political power was not the goal of the Medici, though it came to pass that they acquired quite a lot of it. In fact, Cosimi Medici would always go to great lengths to take no public position about anything. Even when agreeing to a controversial tax scheme of his day, he eloquently continued on with so many conditions that the scheme he was nominally supporting was rendered meaningless.

Family was everything to the Medici. The sons served the bank or the church. The daughters were cloistered in family chapels, drilled into a reverence for God that would impact the next generation of sons for generations.

You know you're a rich man when Michelangelo does your tombstone. That guy up above? This is his tombstone.
You know you're a rich man when Michelangelo does your tombstone. That guy up above? This is his tombstone.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

When the Medicis did rule, the most important things they did, that have lasted for generations, were commissioning great public works, and supporting charities that aided the poor. Not only did these great, massive public works, like the roof of a difficult cathedral, and all the great painters and sculptors of the day, fuel the Medici myth in the minds of the public that would be constantly reminded of the greatness of the old family, but it would also put people to work and give the public beautiful churches and sacred spaces. When the lower classes struggled, the Medici did not say "Let them eat cake!" They were always sponsoring charitable causes and commissioning the great artists of their day to work.

My advice to aspiring super-rich is to take such guidance to heart. Build churches and hospitals. Sponsor an orphanage. Create organizations that help reformed criminals rebuild their ruined resumes with work.

Remember: It isn't about political power. It's about protecting your wealth and family by keeping the unwashed hordes at bay. You aren't doing this to save your soul. You're doing this to build up your family's glory through art and public spaces, and to build up the love of the common people that will protect your family from the pitchforks that are always on the horizon. This generosity does more than just make people love you, too. It also preserves the status quo from which the family has generated so much profit.

The family crest. Not much to look at. But, it trembled knees in its time.
The family crest. Not much to look at. But, it trembled knees in its time.

To Live Like a Medici, Never Take a Selfie

A "Selfie", or a "Twitter-feed", or any sort of display of self is contrary to the hardline values of the Medici. Other people may build a temple in your name, but you will stand outside of it and pretend to be indifferent to the glory that it brings you. Above all these worldly concerns, you will focus on developing both your soul, and the next generation of your family, to preserve the high and lofty place you have established here on this earth.

Everyone in the family works for the family, remains modest, and worships God. The family honor is preserved at great cost, and no amount of tomfoolery or public prancing about is permitted in the strict Medici code. Honor is always maintained. The only thing anyone knows publicly about the Medici is that they are a good, honorable family, who never speak ill of anyone, and always have a few coins to lend in need. Business is business. Family is family. Permit other men to seek honor, and be charitable and kind to the poor and those in need.

The Original Godfathers were the Leaders of Florence

Modern men watch the Godfather for a business guide, instead of looking back to the original source. The real power and grace and lasting influence does not come from a life of crime. Instead, it comes from a life as a legitimate businessman, in the business of lending money to powerful people and institutions. And, the establishment of a lasting, powerful, and resonant legacy does not come from fancy cars or flashy living. Instead, the strict morals and ethics, the strict code of conduct of the "made men", with all the criminality removed, comes from the bankers of Florence, who made kings kings, and popes popes.

Remember, no ostentation. Strict moral codes of behavior for the children, grooming them always to be the next generation of the family business. And, the vast accumulation of power and influence turned toward the establishment of both a legacy, and the betterment of the community. In these, the billionaires and super rich have much to learn from the lasting legacies of the past. Generational wealth is as fragile as a cocaine habit, and as delicate as a new twist in the tax code. Anything that can cause the children to stumble, or the hordes to come with pitchforks and torches will cause the decline. In this, always stay true to family values.


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    • Matthew Hargis profile image

      Matthew Hargis 

      4 years ago from Minnesota



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