However, some of the most quaint Tuscan villages actually share a long and violent history involving bloody battles, deep deceptions and frightening feuds that spanned centuries.
Some of these battles have become stuff of legend, none more than those depicted in the great works by Vasari in the Salone de’ Cinquecento in Florence’s historic Palazzo Vecchio, such as in the Battle of Marciano.
The biggest feuds were arguably between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, which became all the more legendary due to being referenced in Dante’s Divine Comedy.
In one particularly gory battle, held in Tuscany in September 1260, the two parties warred to support of the battle between the Pope and the Holy Roman Empire respectively.
Or so the (official) story goes.
Local histories tell a slightly different tale of personal treacheries, rivalries and ongoing hostility between the two factions. The Guelphs were the traditional holders of the Florentine territory, whilst the Ghibellines oversaw Siena. When they managed to overthrow the Guelphs from Florence in 1258, it started a massive ongoing feud.
After two years of conflict, an army of 35,000 Florentine soldiers and their allies from San Gimignano, Volterra, Lucca, Prato, Bologna, Orvieto, San Miniato, and Colle Val d’Elsa headed off towards Siena. There, they found some 20,000 Siena-sided troops awaiting them, including many from Sicily and even a German contingent under the care of King Manfred of Sicily.
On the Tuscan hillsides just outside of Siena, war raged. Despite being greater in number, the Florentine force proved not enough to defeat their opponents and after a full day of attacks and counterattacks, it was one great act of betrayal that led to the end of the bloodshed.
Bocca degli Abati, whilst fighting on the Florence side, turned out to be a true Ghibelline.
In days before military uniforms were clear markers of which side you were on, the flag bearer of each side delineated the battle line. Bocca degli Abati walked up to the Florentine flag bearer and with one swift swing of his sword, cut off his hand. With the flag falling, confusion befell the Florentine troops at the loss of their standard.
Seeing the Florentines in panic, the Guelphs seized upon the Florentines. In the end, some 15,000 men lost their lives. Siena gained significant stronghold in the wake of this bloody day, however it was usually the Florentines who claimed victory and indeed eventually Siena was incorporated into Florentine land.
As to Dante, he was a Guelph. Having read an account of the battle written by Florentine merchant and historian Giovanni Villani, he included reference to Bocca degli Abati in the Divine Comedy (keep in mind that ‘bocca’ is also the Italian word for ‘mouth’):
When someone yelled: “What the devil’s eating you,
Bocca? Isn’t it enough to chatter away
With your jaws? Do you have to bark too?”
“So!” I exclaimed. “Now there’s no need for you to say
Anything, you wicked traitor! Now I can expose
The shameful truth about you to the light of day!”
Ever one to judge, Dante even placed Farinata, a Ghibelline commander, in his hell for the apparently horrendous heresy of following the philosophy of Epicurious.
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