Myth or Fact: The Medici Family

By: John Miller

Fact or myth: In the 1500s, the House of Medici was a famous family from Italy.

The House of Medici was a renowned Italian family based in the area of Italy. To be a Medici imparted great power in this region in the 1500s.

Fact or myth: The Medici family was known for its medical knowledge.

The Medici family was famous for its banking and financial prowess. They were also very active on the political front.

Fact or myth: Gold mining was the way the Medici family first became wealthy.

Actually, the family first flourished thanks to the textiles trade, particularly in wool. From there, the clan developed expertise in other aspects of the region’s economy.

Fact or myth: The Medici family produced seven Catholic Popes.

The Medici family was incredibly powerful on every front, including politics and religion. The family produced four popes.

Fact or myth: Piero de’ Medici only maintained power for half a decade, in part because of his gout.

He was called "Piero the Gouty" because of the terrible gout in his foot, an affliction that led to his early death. He had power for only around five years.

Fact or myth: The Medici invented the calculator.

No, but the Medici were incredibly adept with numbers. They were expert accountants and were early adopters of advanced accounting practices.

Fact or myth: Leo X was a Medici who became pope and ruled with an iron fist.

Leo X, known as Giovanni in his younger days, helped the Medici return to power after a short downfall. As a pope, he was known not for violence but for his love of art.

Fact or myth: Cosimo de’ Medici was better known as Cosmo.

Cosimo de’ Medic was the first in the family to rise to power. He’s best known as Cosimo the Elder.

Fact or myth: Cosimo was essentially a king of Florence in the 1400s.

Although he was technically uncrowned, Cosimo the Elder ruled as a monarch in Florence. His power jump-started the Medici empire.

Fact or myth: The Medicis used massive armies to negotiate with and subdue their enemies.

Why use violence when gold will do? The Medicis weren’t soldiers, they were bankers. They bought off their enemies to gain more power.

Fact or myth: The Medicis dominated Florence politics for nearly 1,500 years.

This is a myth. The family was incredibly powerful for about 300 years, long enough to establish a timeless legacy in Western history.

Fact or myth: The family was famous for its love of the arts.

Few families in Western civilization have been such generous patrons of the arts. The Medici reveled in the arts and spent vast fortunes on artistic works.

Fact or myth: There were three primary family lines of power in the Medici family.

There were indeed three primary Medici lines, from Chiarissimo II, which was a failure, to the more successful principate and grand duchy lines.

Fact or myth: In 1397, Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici founded a major bank in Florence.

It’s a fact - Giovanni di Bicci de’ Medici founded the Florence bank that gave birth to the Medici family empire. The bank, created in 1397, turned into Europe’s most powerful financial institution.

Fact or myth: The Medicis were haters of scientific thinking.

The Medicis loved both the arts and sciences, funding research in both areas. They were friendly with some of the era’s greatest thinkers.

Fact or myth: The family was a major component of the Renaissance.

With its adoration of artwork of all kinds, the Medici family paid for and helped to promote many artists and thinkers during the Renaissance era.

Fact or myth: In the 15th century, the family’s biggest enemy was a local religious man.

A friar named Girolamo Savonarola saw the Medici as corrupt overlords, and he publicly challenged their values. He helped run the family out of Florence... but he made the mistake of challenging the Catholic Church, too, and paid for it with his life.

Francis, son of Cosimo I, was known partly as a tax-crazed maniac.

Oh sure, Francis loved the arts. And you know how he paid for that art? On the backs of the citizens he taxed into oblivion.

Fact or myth: One of the family’s famous members was called Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Not only was he a prolific and aspiring poet himself, he was also a huge supporter of artists. No wonder they called him Lorenzo the Magnificent - much better than Piero the Gouty.

Fact or myth: Lorenzo the Magnificent was a warmongering tyrant.

Lorenzo the Magnificent was taken with the beauty of the arts and maintained peace in the region. When he died, misfortune of all kinds overtook the family.

Fact or myth: Lorenzo the Magnificent’s heir became known as "Piero the Unfortunate."

Piero di Lorenzo de' Medici was heir to his father’s empire - and he blew it, losing the family’s grip on power. He earned the nickname "Piero the Unfortunate."

Fact or myth: Piero the Unfortunate made citizens angry because he signed a peace treaty with France.

Piero did make peace with France, and the terms were very favorable for the French, a fact that infuriated the Italians. "The Unfortunate" one last just two years in power.

Fact or myth: The family hosted an artist named Michelangelo.

As lovers of art, the Medicis were happy to let a young artist named Michelangelo live with them. The young artist was so talented that the family embraced him as one of their own.

Fact or myth: A mordant called alum was key to Medici wealth.

Alum was a necessary binder that made dyes stay on textiles, and the Medici had a virtual monopoloy on the alum trade. That fact was kind to their bank accounts.

Fact or myth: The 1478 Pazzi conspiracy helped the Medici family steal rubies from rivals.

That’s a myth. The Pazzi conspiracy was a plot by rivals to get the Medicis out of power. Giuliano de Medici was killed, but Lorenzo survived the assassination attempt.

Fact or myth: Leo X loved the arts and nearly bankrupted the Vatican.

Sure, Leo X had a blast as Pope and ruler, but he spent far too much money, nearly bankrupting the Vatican. Being fun doesn’t mean you’re smart.

Fact or myth: Galileo was broke and worked as a tutor for the Medici family.

Before he became a scientist for the ages, Galileo was just a smarty-pants guy who needed money to support his family. He helped to tutor the Medici children in the sciences.

Fact or myth: Piero the Unfortunate’s daughter Catherine rose to great power in Europe.

Piero the Unfortunate was unfortunate indeed, but his offspring fared better. Catherine even became queen consort of France, the very country that Piero was demonized for befriending.

Fact or myth: The seventh and final duke in the family lived a depraved lifestyle.

Gian Gastone de’ Medici was the seventh duke of Tuscany and used his wealth and power for a depraved life of excess. He did, however, try to rule fairly. The family fell from grace during his reign.

Fact or myth: The Medici reign came to an end due to a huge army invasion.

Actually, the Medici rule ended because the seventh duke didn’t produce an heir. No sons ... no more Medici empire.

Explore More Quizzes

Image: Luca Giordano

About This Quiz

Sure, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have so much money they could build skyscrapers made of cash. But their little empires are only decades old. Some family enterprises span centuries — and come to dominate entire nations, too. What do you know about the famous and powerful Medici family that rose to dominance in Europe starting in the 1400s? In this quiz of fantastic wealth and influence, we’ll see how much you really know about what it means to be rich and famous in the days of yore!

In the 1400s, life in Europe was dominated by monarchs and religious figures. Some of them came by their power through force. Others, like the Medicis, earned their reigns through other means, including nearly unfathomable wealth. Do you think you know the myths and false statements about the Medicis and their calculating ways?

The family slowly gained more and more power, thanks in large part to one industry. Do you know the economic forces that helped the Medicis take a stranglehold on Florence and Tuscany in the 15th and 16th centuries?

In spite of their successes, the Medicis were not immune to failure. Enemies and rivals plotted against the clan, and they were at times run out of their own country. What do you know about the family’s returns to power?

Were they born royalty or simply dedicated businessmen and crafty women? Spin the wheels of fortune and see if you can separate the myths from facts in this Medici family quiz!

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!