The medieval city-states of northern Italy were more competitive than any given Kardashian battling her sister for more Snapchat followers. Time and again, the cities of Modena and Bologna put their dukes up, but the former pulled one over on its rival by stealing a bucket…that later inspired an epic poem.
In 1325, after a series of back-and-forth skirmishes, the Modenese planned a sneak attack to show how they were better than the Bolognese. They went in and out of Bologna without their enemies noticing; as a trophy, the Modenese stole a bucket from a well, a symbol of their successful covert ops skills and one-ups-manship. This ‘what-the-bucket’ move became legendary.
Why were Modena and Bologna going at it for so many years? In the 14th century, the Holy Roman Empire lost its Teutonic touch on northern Italy broke off. As a result, “the Italians [had] a big power vacuum to fill, and the result was city-states and petty princedoms,” says Carrie Beneš, associate professor of medieval and Renaissance history at the New College of Florida. No centralized power had ever really ruled in the area, so it was natural that each city was all for itself—and against its neighbors, observes Beneš. City feuds resulted from competition over trade, land, and resources.
Medieval Bologna (public domain)
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