Battle of Montaperti
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|Battle of Montaperti|
|Part of Guelphs and Ghibellines|
Knights of King Manfred
Perugia and Orvieto
|Commanders and leaders|
|17,000 troops||33,000 troops|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Montaperti was fought on September 4, 1260, between Florence and Siena in Tuscany as part of the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines. It gained notoriety for an act of treachery that turned the tide of the battle, which was immortalised by Dante Alighieri in his epic poem Divine Comedy.
The Guelphs and Ghibellines were rival factions that nominally took the parts of the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, respectively, in Italy in the 12th and 13th centuries; in practice, their allegiances often had more to do with competing local interests than with the contesting claims of the papacy and the Empire.
In the mid-13th century, Guelphs held sway in Florence whilst Ghibellines controlled Siena. In 1258, the Guelphs succeeded in expelling from Florence the last of the Ghibellines with any real power; they followed this with the murder of Tesauro Beccharia, Abbot of Vallombrosa, who was accused of plotting the return of the Ghibellines.
The feud came to a head two years later when the Florentines, aided by their Tuscan allies (Bologna, Prato, Lucca, Orvieto, San Gimignano, San Miniato, Volterra and Colle Val d'Elsa), moved an army of some 35,000 men toward Siena. The Sienese called for help from King Manfred of Sicily, who provided a contingent of German mercenary heavy cavalry. The Sienese forces were led by Farinata degli Uberti, an exiled Florentine Ghibelline. Even with these reinforcements, though, they could raise an army of only 20,000.
The two armies met at the hill of Montaperti, outside Siena, on the morning of September 4; at the head of the Sienese army was the formidable band of German mercenary cavalry. The battle raged all day, but despite their superior numbers, the Florentines were unable to make headway against the determined Sienese. As evening approached and the Florentines exhausted themselves on their opponent's defensive lines, the Sienese forces launched their counterattack, led by the Count of Arras.
The charge of the Sienese was a signal to a member of the Florentine forces, Bocca degli Abati. Bocca had been a partisan of the Guelph for the sake of complex allegiances, but was at heart a Ghibelline.
At the sign of the counterattack Bocca made his way across the Florentine lines toward the standard-bearer of the Florentines and hacked off the hand that held the standard, causing the Florentine colors to fall. As land battles were waged at that time, the standard was vital; it showed that one's forces were intact and fully engaged. The fall of the standard caused provoked confusion among the Florentines.
Seizing the opportunity, hundreds of Florentine Ghibellines attacked their Guelph compatriots as the main Sienese army charged, and the Florentine Guelphs were routed, pursued by their enemies as they fled. It is estimated that 10,000 men died on the Guelph side.
After the battle, the German soldiers in the Sienese army used part of their pay to found the Church of San Giorgio in Pantaneto—the Germans had called on Saint George as their battle-cry during the battle.
Depiction in the Divine Comedy
Dante studied under Florence's Chancellor Brunetto Latini, who was himself away from the battle scene, on embassy in Castile seeking help for Guelph Florence from Alfonso X el Sabio. Dante would have learned of the battle, its preparations (documented by Latini in the Libro di Montaperti), strategies and treachery, as well as those of the Battles of Benevento and Tagliacozzo, from the Chancellor, using material also to be gleaned later by Giovanni Villani, the Florentine merchant and historian. As a result Dante reserved a place in the ninth circle of Hell for the traitor Bocca degli Abati in his Divine Comedy:
- 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!"
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