The True Story Behind the War of the Bucket

The True Story Behind the War of the Bucket

It’s the early 14th century and northern
Italy is in a continuous state of battles, wars and feuds that have persisted for several
centuries now. The source of most of this discord is the
divide between the two Italian factions each supporting rivaled political claims by the
Holy Roman Empire and the Pope. The cities that support the pope are called
Guelfs or the church party and the cities that support the Holy Roman Empire are called
Ghibellines or the imperial party. If you want to find out more about the complicated
political relationship between these two factions watch my “””Empire vs The Papacy”””
video. During this politically divided time the bordering
cities of Bologna and Modena, which where natural rivals at the best of times, found
themselves at opposing sides. With Bologna being a starch church party supporter
and Modena a starch imperial party supporter. This meant that the already existing bad blood
between the cities got drastically multiplied by the outside influences of the Pope and
the Holy Roman Emperor. Due to all this, the lands of Modena and Bologna
became a constant bickering battleground of opposing ideologies. For example in 1249 after the Battle of Fossalta,
in which both Modena and Bologna participated, supporting their respective factions, the
victorious Bolognese thought it would be funny to launch a live donkey over the walls of
Modena and so they did. Humiliating the Modenese. Continuing from there in 1296 Bologna managed
to captured a few border towns from Modena and the Pope quickly acknowledged the new
holdings as core Bolognese territory. But this wasn’t just a one sided conflict. For example the leader of a starch pro empire
leaning Mantua Passerino Bonacolsi also managed to become the leader of Modena in 1308. He was known as a loyal agent to the Emperor
Luis the 4th himself and actively waged war against the cities of Parma and Reggio both
members of the church faction. He also lead a bunch of retaliation raids
in to the Bolognese territory. These militant actions along with his loyalty
to the emperor, got Passerino excommunicated by the Pope, who promised to grant indulgences
befit of a crusader if they harm Passerino or his possessions. Continuing on from there, not much change
for most of the early 14th century, with Modena and Bologna being continuously at each other’s
throats until 1325, when the feud escalated in to an all out war. It started off in July of that year, with
Bolognese troops entering Modenese territory and laying waste to border towns and fields. In retaliation, Passerino used the Mantuan
army and entered Bolognese territory besieging the fortified stronghold of Monteveglio. Monteveglio was a very important Bolognese
fortress because it, along with Zappolino protected the city from any direct seages. This was due to the fact that if any army
decided to besiege Bologna, they would be vulnerable to a rear attack directed from
these two fortresses. Unfortunately for Passerino this also meant
that Monteveglio was a very well fortified stronghold due to its strategic importance. However an interesting thing occurred when
Passerino besieged the fortress. It turned out that the ruler of Monteveglio
was a secret supporter of the imperial party and switched his allegiance when Passerino
arrived. Whether Passerino knew about this or not is
unknown but now with Monteveglio in the hands of the Imperial party, Zappolino was the last
remaining fortress on the road to Bologna and with that the die was cast for the next
stage. Passerino didn’t push deeper in to the Bolognese
territory because A. he didn’t have enough soldiers and B. he technically wasn’t at
war with Bologna, yet. Now it is at this point that most english
sources including Wikipedia, militaryhistorynow, amusing planet, logan productions, zepherus,
qxire, real life lore, and many more will tell you about the amusing way the war started. Although to be fair to real life lore, he
did delete his video after my mention of it in the last video. The story goes that during this tumultuous
time, some Modenes soldiers managed to sneak in to the center of Bologna. Here they found a well with a bucket, which
depending on what source you believe was either a simple empty bucket or was filled with loot
from the most recent Bolognese raid and put on display in the center of town. The Modenes soldiers naturally decide to steel
this bucket, either as a symbol to humiliate the Bolognese, or due to the possible loot
that was stored in the bucket. When the Bolognese found out about this, they
were humiliated, angry, and asked the Modenese to return the bucket. When Modena refused to return the bucket. Bologna declared war. Now this would be a very entertaining and
funny story, if it were true. Sadly, it isn’t. The best way I can put it, is that “The
Idea of Modenes soldiers being able to get in to the center of Bologna during this time,
whether trying to infiltrate or not, is just as ridiculous as the idea of Bologna having
a bucket full of loot on display in the center of the city.” This story of a stolen a bucket being a catalyst
for a declaration of war, was most likely a misinterpretation of a 17th century poem
about the war, combined with the fact that the Modenes soldiers did steel a bucket during
this war, but that definitely happened at the end of the war not at the start. So the actual reason for the declaration of
war by Bologna was a combination of many things, including internal politics, the taking of
the Monteveglio by Passerino, the overarching Empire vs the Papacy factions and the fact
that Bologna knew they were able to raise more men if they declared war right now, then
Modena was. And so, Bologna declared war. Bologna was able to muster up around 20 to
30 thousand infantry and 2000 to 2500 cavalry knights. Modena on the other hand, had to ask for help
from other pro imperial cities since they didn’t have a big army. In the end thanks to the help from Verona,
Mantua and some Germanic cities, the Modenes where able to muster up around 5 to 8 thousand
infantry and roughly the same amount of cavalry knights as Bologna. However even though the Bolognese had a much
larger force the composition of these two armies was quite different. The Bolognese infantry although much larger
was ill equipped, inexperienced and over all had low moral as a large portion of the soldiers
were forced in to service. The Modenes infantry on the other hand, was
largely composed of trained retinue of the various nobleman from the aforementioned cities. They where highly skilled, experienced and
well equipped. When it comes to the cavalry knights, both
sides where roughly on same footing with, experience, equipment and training. The first move of the war was by the Bolognese
whom divided there army in to two. One part of the army was set to besiege Monteveglio
and the second part was ordered to prevent the Modenes army from crossing the Panaro
river. At first this strategy seemed to have proved
effective as the Modenes army was struggling to get around the Bolognese defences. However one night they devised a plan. They faked an attack on a bridge down the
stream which forced the Bolognese to redirect more troops from the mountains. Right after this the Modenes under the cover
of night quickly moved most of their army up the stream, leaving only small contingencies
of soldiers along the bank of the river. Then early dawn on November 15th the Modenes
army appeared at the bank of the Panaro river near Marano surprising the ill prepared Bolognese
defenders that did not expect to fight most of the Modenes army this far up in the mountains. The bolognese defensive river line quickly
shattered, and with the momentum on their side the Modenese pushed all the way to Serravalle
where they lit signal fires to let the remaining soldiers guarding the river bank know the
main army successfully crossed the river. Ones regrouped the Modenes started to march
towards the second most important Bolognese forretress, Zappolino. Bologna couldn’t afford to lose Zappolino
specially with Monteveglio in Modenes hands and so they lifted the siege of Monteveglio
and ordered the entire army to regroup at Zappolino. With this order, the site of the deciding
battle was set, at the end of the Castalleto plateau by the foothill of the Zappolino fortress. By the time both armies could see each other,
it was already late in the day and there’s no doubt that the soldiers on both sides were
quite tired. Usually at this point in most medieval wars
the leaders would signal to build a camp and wait till the next day to engage in a battle. However, Modenes leaders were convinced the
only way to defeat the superior Bolognese numbers was to deal a quick surprising and
decisive blow early in the war. This combined with the Modenes momentum throughout
the day and the fact that the Bolognese army was not yet fully organize as more soldiers
were still coming in. Meant that Modena had to fight here and now
if they ever hope to win. At least that’s how they saw it. This resulted in the fact that the battle
itself started around 3:30 to 4 pm giving only around 2 hours of usable daylight, after
which if the Modenese didn’t score a decisive victory they would have to do a long retreat
as they were deep in Bolognese territory. None the less this was a gamble they were
willing to make. And so with the sun behind them, they lined
up on the plateau, with cavalry behind infantry and started to march to the beat of the drums
towards now hastily deployed Bolognese line. As the setting sun glimmered off of the armor
of the bolognese infantry which was a mass of up to 30 thousands men pact title between
the mountains and the volgolo stream, it became clear that even though they had the higher
ground and superior numbers they wouldn’t be able to use that effectively in such a
tight spot. Suddenly the drums stopped … and the Modenes
infantry along with the cavalry charged straight into the Bolognese line. However what the Bolognese didn’t notice,
was that part of the cavalry diverged from the main group crossing the stream and going
around a small nearby hill. After which when they crossed the stream again,
they suddenly emerged on the rear side of the Bolognese army. The Bolognese were caught by surprise and
even though they tried to use their cavalry to stop the rear attack, it was too late. Seeing the enemy cavalry on their rear many
Bolognese soldiers thought they got fully encircled and started to retreat from the
battle. Breaking the lines and creating a full panic
amongst rest of the troops. However trapped in a valley with the only
escape route now being blocked by the enemy cavalry meant that most of the soldiers had
to try climbing up the hill to the Zappolino fortress. 2000 thousand of them didn’t make it, with
about 500 more dying during the battle itself. The modenes on the other hand suffered only
around 500 casualties. The battle lasted less than 2 hours and Modena
had it’s decisive victory, with the remaining Bolognese infantry scattering around the countryside
and the cavalierly being chased back all the way to Bologna. After this victory, the following day Modena
besieged and destroyed several fortifications plus the locks on the Rena river. When the army finally reached the walls of
Bologna they made camp but didn’t attempt to seage the city. Instead they basically through a 3 day long
celebration party and forced the Bolognese to watch. After the three days and with I imagine a
terrible hangover the Modenes withdrew back to their city but not before some of the soldiers
decided it would be funny to steel a bucket from a well outside of the city walls. Why did they do this? Well you see it was symbolic. The Modenes where skilled at making artesian
wells, which are wells that use the physics of liquids to basically work as a quote unquote
fountain. Meaning you don’t need a bucket to get the
water out. Bolognese however didn’t know how to make
these artesian wells and so they had traditional wells with buckets. So the Modenes soldiers stealing the bucket,
where basically saying, “ha look at those dumb Bolognese, they can’t even get some
water without a bucket”. According to tradition, this symbolic bucket
was kept at the Modenes Cathedral after which, in modern times it was replaced by a replica
and the orginal was transferred to the City hall. Now it is debated whether even this original
bucket in the city hall is truly the bucket from 1325 or just a very old symbolic replica. As far as I know there has been no carbon
dating done on the bucket but at the same time there hasn’t been any reliable source
that would cast suspicion on the originality of the bucket. So far now it is probably safe to say that
the bucket in the city hall is original. After these events not much more happened
in the war and a few months later in 1326 a peace treaty was signed. This peace treaty basically stated that Bologna
will pay heavy war reparations to Modena if Modena returned the conquered territory. And so the war ended as it started with the
Status Quo unchanged. If you want to know more about the battle
of Zappolino and the war of the bucket and can read Italian, I highly recommend the book
The Battle of Zappolino and the kidnapped bucket, sadly it’s only in italian, but
it is most likely the best source on the subject outhere. For those who don’t follow me on twitter,
I sadly had to skip the April video as I was too busy but now we should be back on track
with one video a month as always. And not to spoil anything but the June and
July videos are going to be big ones, so stick around, for history.

18 thoughts on “The True Story Behind the War of the Bucket

  1. Great video M. Laser! I love that you actually went over the general context and significance of this war rather than focusing on the meme aspect of the war like others do. I didn't know the significance of taking a well bucket to basically mock how backward Bologna was – pretty clever imo.

  2. Literally no one:
    Every single history youtuber: Did you know that there was a WAR over a bucket?? ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜‚

  3. In an increasingly crowded utube of guys doing the same subjects.. this is an EXCELLENT take on history
    Try the US/Brit "War of the pig" . (canada border war)

  4. Thanks for putting the book recommendation at the end. Those Italian lessons finally paid off. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  5. This channel is so underrated (probably also because of the youtube algorithm). The ammount of research and work and the quality of information are a few times better than many popular history yt channels. Your research is always one step ahead of most channels I know. I really apreciate how you're willing to dig deeper into subjects seemingly well-known like the king Venceslaus carol video or this one. Keep up your great work. If I was earning my own money, I'd definetely become a patron.

  6. Grew up in Modena, have seen the bucket. Can confirm, its a good bucket. 10/10, would have stolen again

  7. Somewhere, even before the battle began, I hear something familiar…

    Was that a Simutrans soundtrack?

  8. Australia: We declared war on some flightless birds.
    Italy: We had a civil war because of a damn bucket.

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