The Medieval Italian Battle Seemingly Fought Over A Bucket

According to legends, two Italian city-states clashed because one stole a bucket from the other.
The Medieval Italian Battle Seemingly Fought Over A Bucket

According to legend, all that it took to spark a war between rival medieval Italian city-states was a stolen bucket. The war, which earned the appropriate title of the War of the Oaken Bucket, involved tens of thousands of troops and resulted in more than 2,000 deaths.

Not to ruin things too quickly, but the bucket was probably not the cause of the fighting. Instead, the War of the Oaken Bucket was one episode in a long-running conflict between cities with different allegiances. A bucket does get involved at the end, though, so don't worry.

The War of the Oaken Bucket involved one battle, the Battle of Zappolino, fought between the northern Italian city-states of Modena and Bologna in 1325. Italy, and much of Europe overall, was split between loyalties to the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor. In Italy, those loyal to the Pope were known as Guelphs, while those loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor were known as Ghibellines. 

Modena was a Ghibelline city, and Bologna was a Guelph city, which meant that tensions between the two were always high. Seeing as the two sides were always a few mean words away from stabbing each other, a stolen bucket would be as good of a reason as any for swords to start swinging. 

The story goes that some troops from Modena stole a wooden bucket from a well in Bologna. Humiliation from the theft led the Bolognese to bring an army to meet the Modenese and reclaim their bucket.

The Mary Rose Trust/Wiki Commons

This might not be the same bucket, but come on. Who wouldn't go to war for this?

In reality, Bolognese likely prepared for battle to reclaim a fort that had been taken by the Modenese. Again, due to their opposing sides, it was not uncommon for one city to burn the other's fields or, in this case, take over a fort. 

Regardless of whether the War of the Oaken Bucket was truly a war over a bucket, what is known is that it resulted in Modena winning despite overwhelmingly bad odds. Bologna's army in the Battle of Zappolino involved more than 30,000 troops, compared with Modena's 7,000. After more than 2,000 casualties in total, the Modenese forced the Bolognese to retreat. 

For those waiting for the definite appearance of the bucket, here it is. After chasing the Bolognese army back to Bologna, the Modenese spent time essentially mocking their defeated foe. This culminated in stealing a bucket and taking it back to Modena.

Bologna never regained their bucket, and to this day, it remains in Modena. As for the overarching conflict between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, city-states in Italy continued to fight until regimes and conditions changed a century later, but the War of the Oaken Bucket continues to stick out for the scale of its lone battle.

Top Image: Adeodato Malatesta/Wiki Commons


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