In 1325, an ordinary bucket gained unprecedented notoriety as the alleged trigger for the War of the Bucket in medieval Italy. Legend has it that Modenese soldiers infiltrated Bologna, snatching a bucket from a well, sparking a conflict that claimed around two thousand lives.
Some versions embellish the tale, claiming the bucket held riches or was left empty, heightening the absurdity of the war supposedly fought over its theft. However, historians challenge this narrative.
Given the historical tensions between Modena and Bologna, it seems improbable that Modenese soldiers could have covertly entered Bologna’s center and pilfered a bucket without detection. Moreover, evidence suggests that the stolen bucket was a post-war trophy rather than the instigator of hostilities.
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Despite the skepticism surrounding the bucket story, the conflict’s roots run deep in the complex politics of medieval Italy. The War of the Bucket became a chapter in the ongoing struggle between the Ghibellines, aligned with the Holy Roman Empire, and the Guelfs, supporting the papacy.
Bologna, having lost Monteveglio to Modena, declared war in 1325, initiating the brief but impactful Battle of Zappolino. The legend of the stolen bucket, though entertaining, serves as a curious entry point to a conflict driven by larger geopolitical forces and longstanding rivalries.
Top image: The stolen bucket from the War of the Bucket preserved inside the Tower Ghirlandina. Source: Marzia58 / CC BY-SA 4.0