Naval warfare between Pisa and Genoa in 1284

Salimbene de Adam provides this account of a naval battle between Genoa and Pisa, followed by the sad fate of the Pisan prisoners.

The fierce sea battle between the Pisans and Genoese in this year.

In the year of the Lord 1284, the Pisans seeing all the evil inflicted on them by the Genoese and wishing to avenge themselves, built a large number of ships, galleys, and sea vessels on the river Arno, and then enacted a law that everybody between twenty and sixty years of age was required to go to war. And they sailed along the whole of the Genoese coast, destroying, burning, killing, capturing, and pillaging. Moreover, they sailed along the entire coastline from Genoa into Provence by the maritime cities of Noli, Albenga, Savona, and Ventimiglia, seeking out the Genoese. The Genoese, in the meantime, enacted the statute that no one between the age of eighteen and seventy was exempt from war. And so they went to sea, seeking out the Pisans. Finally, the two fleets met between Capo Corso and Gorgona, and they tied their ships together in the usual fashion of a naval battle. And there was such great slaughter on both sides at that place that the heavens appeared to weep in sympathy. Huge numbers were killed on both sides and many ships were sunk. And just as the Pisans appeared to be victorious, a large number of Genoese ships arrived and rushed upon the already exhausted Pisans. And another fierce battle was fought. Finally, seeing themselves overwhelmed, the Pisans surrendered. The Genoese then killed the wounded and imprisoned all the others. Yet neither side can boast of victory, for both sides suffered terribly. And so great was the weeping and crying in both Genoa and Pisa that the like was never heard “from the day of . . . creation” [Ezechiel 28.15] in either of those cities until the present day. Who without weeping and great sadness can recount or even think about how these two noble cities, from which all Italians have received so much good, have mutually destroyed one another out of pride, ambition, and vainglory because the one sought to conquer the other, as if the sea were not sufficient for the two of them.

One should never take vengeance, however good the case,
If it makes matters worse and ends in disgrace.

These things took place on a Sunday, August 13, the feast of the holy martyrs Hypolitus and Cassian. I have not recorded the number of killed and captured because the reports are so various. Yet the bishop of Pisa specified a number in a letter to the bishop of Bologna, his brother. I have not given this number either, because I am awaiting word from the Friars Minor of Genoa and Pisa who will give a more accurate number. And take note that this battle and this slaughter was forecast long before it took place. For in the village of San Ruffino in the bishopric of Parma, some women who were washing flax by night saw two large stars fighting with one another, and they drew apart many times and came back together in battle.

A sad narrative of the Pisan ladies sorrowing for their beloved.

Also in that year after the battle between the Pisans and the Genoans, many Pisan women – beautiful, noble, rich, and powerful ladies – went in groups of thirty and forty, walking on foot from Pisa to Genoa in order to inquire about and to visit the captives. For one had a husband there, another a son, brother, or other relative, men whom God [Psalms 105.46]: “gave unto mercies, in the sight of all those that had made them captives.” And when they asked the jailers about the captives, they were told, “Yesterday thirty men died and today forty, and we threw them in the sea. It is the same every day with the Pisans.” And when these ladies heard such things about their loved ones, and when they could not find them there, they fell prostrate out of their great fear and distress, and from pure anxiety and pain of heart they could scarcely breathe. Then on reviving they clawed their faces with their nails and tore their hair. And they wept aloud with great lamentation and “wept till they had no more tears” [I Kings 30.4]. Then the Scripture in I Machabees l [.27-28] was fulfilled: “The beauty of the women was changed. Every bridegroom took up lamentation: and the bride that sat in the marriage bed, mourned.” For needy and poor and hungry and wretched and distressed and sorrowful, the Pisans died in their prisons, because [Psalms 105.41-42]: “They that hated them had dominion over them. And their enemies afflicted them: and they were humbled under their hands,” and they were not [Acts 5.41] “accounted worthy” to be buried “in the sepulchres of” their “fathers” [I Machabees 2.70], but were denied burial altogether. Moreover, when these women returned home, they even found those whom they had left safe at home dead.

This text was first published in The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam, translated by Joseph L. Biard (Binghampton: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, 1986). This work is part of Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies. We thank the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies for allowing us to republish this text.

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