Compared to other Italian cities at the time, Genoa was unusual because it had little flat ground around it which meant that the aristocracy was largely city based. This meant it was difficult to become part of the landed nobility as the few large families that did exist, wished to retain the land to maintain their power.
Genoa was very much controlled by its aristocracy until late in the thirteenth century. In 1264, escalating political unrest forced the four main family factions (Grimaldi, Doria, Fieschi and Spinola) to join together in forming the "Council of Eight Nobles", with two representatives from each family joining together to make policy decisions for the city.
However, by this time a new political force was beginning to take shape to challenge the dominence of the aristocracy in government. The "Popolo" or people, was a group of merchants and craftsmen whose aim was to strip the aristocracy of power in Genoa. The Popolo relied on the masses and, as a consequence, Genoese citizenship was granted much more readily (after one years residence in the city) than in other major cities such as Milan or Florence.
By 1320 Genoa, as with most other cities by this time, was firmly under the control of a council system. However, although not governed by the aristocracy anymore, positions on the council were filled by notaries, judges and high ranking merchants. Membership of a guild of some description was crucial for a political career at this time and the more powerful the guild, the more seats in had in the council. Lower ranking trades, such as craftsmen, had little representation in power. Representation was guaranteed to each district of the city.
The most important council at this time was the "council of eight elders" which was the chief magistracy in Genoa. The members sat in office (in principle) for a four month period although it was not uncommon for agreements whereby a certain individual or family to return to office after an agreed length of time. The council, or smaller groups of between 2-5, met daily and nothing could be implemented without its agreement. There were three other councils-finance, sea and the "Officium Gazarie"(?) Which were responsible for commerce and the black sea colonies and they frequently met with the council of elders.