The War Games of Central Italy

Raymond E Role explores the evolution of the intramural games that began in the Middle Ages and still flourish in Italy today.

Italy's enervating summers are invigorated by the pageantry of annual sporting events, with Siena's bare-back horse race, La Corsa del Palio, being the most famous. Unforgettable as visual experiences, full of the bold patterns and colours of period costumes, these events have roots that reach deep into a less languid medieval past.

Beginning around the year 1080 in a few cities like Pisa and Lucca, the commune, a republican form of political system, emerged, and by 1143 communes had been established in all major cities from Rome to the Alps. City-dwellers were elevated to citizenship by taking an oath of obedience to the commune, which in effect governed a city-state whose inhabitants spanned all circumstances and means. Italian nobility increasingly participated in the commercial life of the cities, while the urban merchant class steadily increased its wealth, so that many of the distinctions between these two classes diminished. They began to share a common style of life, and became the cities' political class.

As the rural nobility began living in cities during the early twelfth century, they brought their aristocratic mentality with them. Soon city folk of middling rank were emulating the nobles' ostentatious, arrogant and violent behaviours, including the vendetta. With lawlessness endemic among the urban elite, the custom of the vendetta seems to have spread quickly to all levels of society, so no medieval citizen was ever far from a potential street fight.

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