The Siege of Padua in 1257, according to Rolandino Patavino

Padua, a major Italian city during the Middle Ages, got caught up in the struggle between the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire in the thirteenth century. In 1237, the city was captured by Ezelino III Da Romano in the name of the Emperor Frederick III. For the next twenty years Ezelino’s arbitrary rule over the city alienated the Paduans. In 1256, a group of Paduan exiles, sponsored by Pope Alexander III, were able to liberate the city from its tyrant, but Ezelino remained powerful enough to attempt to capture the city again. It is this siege that is written about below by a native of Padua, Rolandino Patavino. He became a notary like his father, but eventually went on to become a professor of grammar and rhetoric at the University of Padua. Over the years Rolandino took notes on the events of his time, and soon after Padua was freed from Ezelino’s rule, Rolandino’s colleagues persuaded him to write a history of the recent events in Padua. There are many similarities between this account and the one written by his former teacher Boncompagno da Signa. Ezelino is portrayed as cruel villain, while the people of Padua are the real heroes of this story. The section below is the first half of Book 10 of his work.


I. Here the Paduans build a wall for the safety of their city.

Ezelino believes that the time is ready for him to take back Padua, whether unharmed or harmed. So one night, sleepless and concerned, among the other great and hazardous deeds that he turned around in his proud breast, he said to himself alone: “Behold now the enemies have fled from the field and they did it for one of two reasons, or perhaps for both. Either there is dissension and sedition among them or perhaps they were afraid. So I shall gather my forces and crush the Paduans, with the help of Cod, beneath my feet, or I shall dash the backs of the traitors.” And so as soon as he had entertained these thoughts, although he had a large number of men at Vicenza, he sent letters and messengers everywhere that he hoped he could swell his host. For he knew that abundant caution does no harm and the man who is ready for opportunity will never be laughed at. Then, whether by rumor which no secret keeps hidden or by the spies that report the affairs of one city to another, it was learned in Padua that Ezelino proposed to invade the Paduan district. So a council was held and the Paduans decided to construct a moat and a wall on the west of the city, where it seemed necessary in view of the future arrival there of the enemy, about 300 paces beyond the wall; and although it was a very difficult task, everyone worked willingly and completed the great labor in a few days, that is, they dug the ditch, about three miles long and as wide as the Brenta. After they had finished the moat, they built a long wooden wall along the whole course, very strong and solid, with wooden towers, too, and trebuchets or catapults at certain places, so that if some enemy came too close in his foolhardiness, he would return with shame and injury. But no one should ascribe this work to cowardice; in fact it was built more for the adornment of the city. For those who could later fight more safely within the wall, would most often go outside, as was clear in the later fight, and fighting manfully against the host outside the wall, they captured some of them, put many of them to flight, wounded some and killed others.

II. Here Montegalda and Montegaldella are captured and Ezelino comes against Padua in warlike array.

In these days, too, the enemy and persecutor of Padua proceeded and had this one purpose on his mind, to seize Padua, if he could. He first went to the place mentioned earlier, Longare, where he had the darn or retaining wall built more firmly so that the waters around Padua would dry up. Then he went to Montegalda and Montegaldella, places in the Vicentine district, which had surrendered to the Church and abandoned the rule and faction of Ezelino. He did not want to delay there personally, but he left the Vicentines there with the strict orders that they should besiege both places and not leave until they had personally seized the traitors of both places and brought them in chains to him. So he came to Arlesega, a part of the Paduan district, with a great crowd of people and a large army, and and his people were daily growing in number. But while the Vicentilles were besieging those places they had been commanded to, a few days after Ezelino’s departure, a fight occurred there and many were killed on both sides; but at last Montegalda was surrendered to the Vicentines and those who surrendered it left in their shirts and pants only. And so later when the victors demanded the tower of Montegaldella, those who defended it refused; and while those on the outside were getting ready to attack the tower, those within saw they would perish, and they all surrendered the tower and themselves at once. And so they were bound with chains and brought to Ezelino, who had them blinded; Ire ranted and raved that they had not surrendered but that they had been captured by force. And all of this happened towards the end of August of 1256.

III. Here Ezelino stands near the wall of Padua and the people with him named.

Then the large army of Ezelino proceeded from Arlesega and came towards Padua, it encamped in the neighborhood of Trambacche and Reolda. After one stop had been made there, he came on August 27 and encamped with his whole great army near the Brenta in the village of Vedeita near Padua, about a mile or so away. Then he completely despoiled the villages, ravaged the crops, uprooted the trees, and in general, to tell the truth, stole everything that could be moved, which the inhabitants had been unable to bring with themselves to Padua. But the spoils of those villages were not enough for such a throng. For with Ezelino were all the Veronese for the commune, all the Vicentines, similarly all the Feltrines and Bellunese, the knights of Cremona and Pavia in large numbers, men from Piacenza, Vercelli, Brescia, Bergamo, and other people gathered together from so many different places that it would take a long time to name them individually. There is no need to talk about the Germans, because he had many of them in his pay and he never went anywhere without them. Here stood the most mighty and glorious enemy of Padua and clearly realized that he could not break into the city. So he held many councils, and began to question some Paduans, whom he had brought with himself from Verona, and who knew the terrain quite well; he asked what could be done to confuse the enemy. The Paduans replied, since they did not dare to talk about retreating, as cautiously as they could that this would be the greatest damage and eternal disgrace to the Paduans. So they faithfully advised him that he should stay there with the army and meanwhile send his men to attack and assault the wall, because those who had come to the assistance of Padua would surely not stay for a long time.

IV. Here the Paduans come out against Ezelino and the people are named who are with them.

The Paduans now knew that the army was stationed quite close to the city, and they wanted to go out to confront the enemy. And with their tents, trebuchets, and pavilions they leave their city in majesty and encamp between the old wall of the city and the new one, where the legate and his clergy lived, who had come to live in the spacious monastery of Saint Benedetto so that he could be closer to the enemies. But in this army of the Paduans, or rather of the Church, there was lord Gregorio, the patriarch of the Holy See of Aquileia, with his knights from Friuli, and he had come the day before with an honorable and proper escort; and in his entourage there was lord Biaquino da Camino, a cunning and astute man, sagacious, energetic and wise. Also there was the noble Azo, Marquess of Este and Ancona, who had had the knights of Ferrara come with him; the infantrymen had not yet come, but they would arrive in a short time. The Marquess wanted to bring all of his power to defend his mother Padua, as he said. The knights of Mantua were there in great number, whom a sort of natural love compelled. For those who remember say that a specially vigorous friendship is deeply rooted between Padua and Mantua for a long time past, ever since the time that nine cities of Lombardy came as enemies to Ponte di Brenta at Vigonza to invade Padua. Among these cities was Mantua and an honest knight of Mantua, wise and astute, the ancestor of lord Zucone, the knight of Mantua, wisely and cleverly diverted the enemies of Padua from the siege and destruction of Padua; so still today every year the Paduan commune gives the heirs of lord Zucone a sparrow hawk in tribute. In that army of the Church there was a quite handsome number of men from Venice and Chioggia, and some from Romagna; there were also some men expelled from Verona at the time of Ezelino’s tyranny. But the knights and infantry of Bologna, who had come with Fra Giovanni out of reverence for the holy cross, as they said, behold now with the same Fra Giovanni they left, and abandoned the lord legate and the others who fought for the cross, in the greatest moment of need. But I do not dare to blame them for this, since among those men of Bologna I was nourished in literature and in the year 1221, although unworthy, I received the office of teaching from my lord and master, Boncompagno, a Florentine by birth and eloquence.

V. The first assault that Czelirto made against the wall of Padua.

The men and friends of both sides were ready, as has been said; and Ezelino knew that as far as size was concerned the army of the Church could not be compared with his own, so he wanted to test his fortune. So on Wednesday, August 30, 1256, he sent forward all his knights, a great number of infantry, the crossbowmen, the skirmishers, and all the irregulars. In a wondrous and shrewd way he ordered six ranks of knights, each with its own ensigns and banners, gleaming with their refulgent armor on their horses in full panoply. He himself splendid and fearful was in the seventh rank of his Germans, in which he was accustomed to ride with greater confidence. He commanded the crossbowmen and the skirmishers to go ahead with the ravishers, carrying very sharp hatchets and axes, spades and hoes, to chop down trees and bramble patches, all the vineyards and crops, to level the roads and fill in all the moats, as though he expected the onslaughts of knights and hoped to have a bloody field-battle. After he had arranged his men, he swiftly came to the wall and the moat, which were not completely finished; he hoped apparently that the knights within would also commit themselves to the chances of fortune. Then lord Marco Quirini, the provident podesta of Padua, had the signal sounded there and all the crusaders who were in the city and outside rushed to engage the enemy manfully at the wall. Further, according to the desires of the lord Marquess, the Count Sanbonifacio, lord Biaquino, and other magnates and noblemen, who were energetic and sagacious, both foreign and native, this could have been the day when God gave His judgment and the city of Padua would have seen a due recompense for her great injuries and vengeance. For all the knights of the Church and the legate, refulgent in knightly armor, sitting firm on their warlike chargers, with their lances at rest, no less secure than if they were in a castle, wondrously strengthened with a noble vigor of spirit, were prepared to break through the gate of the wall and with all confidence to risk themselves and their possessions to the hazard of fortune. But the lord legate and the lord patriarch absolutely forbade their knights to go out and imposed a serious penalty affecting them and their goods. So many infantrymen on their own went outside the wall and fought vigorously with the skirmishers and the enemy infantry, which had come ahead of the rest; on this day about 14 of Ezelino’s men returned to their camp wounded, and three lay dead on the field. But a fourth of that tyrannical host, aided by three others, captured a Paduan by the name of Placito, who claimed that he was a man of the court, a singer, and he was, and the captor threatened to hang his captive. But the Paduan was retaken in that same hour by his own men and like a good debtor paid and repaid the man who had threatened him by hanging him on a tree there. Two infantrymen of the legate’s forces died fighting manfully, to tell the truth, against more than 10 of the enemy. Five were wounded and returned to the city. So the knights of Ezelino remained inactive from morning till evening and finally returned to their tents.

VI. Here Ezelino makes a second assault on the wall.

The next day Ezelino moved forward his knights and his infantry and again returned to the wall; he either expected that the Paduan army would doubtless come out to engage him in battle, or perhaps he hoped that strife or dissension would be stirred up in the city. For he wanted to enter the castle, which he had constructed in Padua, if he could; if he had succeeding in doing so, which God forbid, Padua would no longer be called Padua. O how many times that day did Ezelino in his rage and fury wish for the death penalty for Vendramo of Pedemonte and for sufferings that would last beyond death forever. He had once trusted in him beyond all others and had appointed him as captain of the castle in Padua; trusting as he did in him, he believed that he would never lose control of the city and so he never had any worry about the whole March. Before it happened he never would have believed that Vendramo would ever surrender the castle entrusted to him to the enemy; he would rather endure death and whatever could be more terrible than death. The knights of Ezelino took their position and many of his infantry proceeded with the skirmishers quite swiftly to approach the gate of the wall. But since the knights of the legate were not allowed to go out, some infantry from Padua and from other places went out to meet the enemy as they approached the wall. Among them was a vigorous man, mighty in arms, by the name of Bonsemblante, who had once for a long time, because of the handsomeness of his person and his integrity, been very dear to Ezelino and had been by his side in many crises, always showing himself to be fearless and secure. After a long time he realized that the tyranny of his lord Ezelino was getting worse each day; he was staying with him at Verona, but he shrewdly and astutely employed a ruse that he had thought up a long time earlier. So in this place Bonsemblante with other warriors for the cross engaged in a battle on foot with the infantry hostile to the holy cross, and in a short time slew three, and forced two, mortally wounded, to return to their sinful camp. And so with those who followed him he astutely tore up a barrier that his enemies had constructed and with his words and deeds he so heartened his companions that from those of the other side on that day, whether by his hands or those of his fellow fighters for the holy Church of God, about 40 lay dead on the field and more than 50 returned wounded to the tents of Ezelino, staining the roads with their blood. Of the infantry of the Church three earned the prize of holy death and about 25 returned wounded to the city, once their enemies had fled to their camp. Behold now the evening had come and Ezelino, who cared nothing at all about the death of his infantry but was waiting for the knights to come out of the city, had not allowed his knights to move at all. And so when he was cheated of this rabid hope of his, he turned with all of his knights and rode towards the roads and highways that come from the direction of Bassano, to provide escort and protection to the supplies of food which were being brought from Bassano to his army. For quite recently during these days the astuteness of the knights and infantry whom the legate had stationed at Rovolone had violently seized around 40 wagons of wine with their oxen and drivers, which by order of lord Ezelino, Mainardo, the captain of Bassano and Pedemonte, sent to the army of Ezelino.

VII. Ezelino asks for advice, how he might break into Padua.

After Ezelino had twice in vain stood at the wall, he tried a new approach and one evening when the camp was clothed in silence he had some Paduans, whom he had brought with himself from Verona, come to him. They were Tommaso di Giovanni Zoti, Vitaliano da Reolda, and Fredolfino the notary, who he said were the most loyal men he had in Padua, and about 12 others. He said to them: “Behold now how our enemies, trusting in their defense works, do not dare to come out against us, but like rabbits they hide inside the wall. So we must see if we can gain access or entry to them anywhere so that we can attack them or at least direct our men to Monselice. For there on the top of the hill and in the castle our faithful Prophet and Gerardo still manfully defend themselves; nay, with catapults and crossbows they rain down upon the traitors and the town and constantly attack and slay them. I do not doubt that if we get there we shall immediately have the town. Once we have Monselice and Monte Ricco, Padua will not defend herself, as she did not once in the past, nor will our enemies find a place to stay in the March.” In response one man arose and said: “It is true that a very great fear has seized the Paduans, since they so swiftly girded themselves with these moats, but there is a place in one of the city’s suburbs, by which an easy access to the city made be had. Where there is the boat harbor in the neighborhood of Saint Croce, the river bed is broader and, I think, can be forded without difficulty. So once the river is crossed there, no further hindrance remains. Once we pitch camp in the Prato delta Valle, there will be no defense of the city. And once the city is taken, Monselice and Monte Ricco and the other places will quickly obey your commands; in fact all the places and castles of the Paduan district will roll to your feet. For when the head bows the other members follow along.”

VIII. Here Ezelino wants to enter Padua at Saint Croce or to go to Monselice.

Strengthened by this advice, at once the next day he ordered all of his knights and had them armed and arranged in the usual way; Ezelino with one contingent of his knights came to the bank of the river across from Saint Croce. The rest of the knights were left near there. But no less swiftly all the knights of the legate were ready on the other side of the river against Ezelino. Then also that roaring lion, seeking those he could devour, considered the situation, and saw a great ditch and across the river a high mound, long, continuous, and bolstered with great fences. There were very many catapults on the bank of the river from the church of Saint Croce all the way to the bridge of Bassanello; and he said to Tommaso, a knight of Padua riding beside him: “See how we have been deceived. The situation is different from what it was said to be; the enemies apparently have not slept; a mighty man-made wall is in our way, a strong defense work; so too is a large number of knights, trusting, though, in the defense works of the place rather than in their weapons.” So he returned and retired at once with those knights who had come with him towards the village called Volta, which is there above the river on the side opposite Ezelino. He reflected on the kind of bend the river makes and since he had been unable to break into the city he plans to cross the river there tomorrow with part of his army or all of it and go to retake Monselice, since his men still hold the top of the hill and the castle. So he ordered one of his men to try to cross the stream; he went into the stream although he was unfamiliar with it; but he wanted eagerly to please his evil lord. His mule lost its footing and he was thrown into the depths along with the mule and the armor which he was foolishly wearing, and he did not reappear above the water. The mule managed to make it to the other side. A countryman of Volta took that mule, since he had been watching everything in safety. For he had been in a tall tree – and there was a signal-glass, what we call a mirror, emplaced there at the very top of the town – and day and night he watched everything that happened in the army of Ezelino and among his men. So Ezelino returned to his tents and had all of his knights return when he learned that he had encamped at Vedeita and in this area of Paduan territory, at the time his contrary sign was in the ascendent. So in his wrath, on the next day, Sunday, September 3, he sent 300 knights to Carturo, a town of the Paduan district, whose owners and lords, the noble lord Cuglielmo and his sons and all who looked to them, had always been servants to Ezelino and his faction. These knights sent by Ezelino found the guards of the castle and the town of Carturo asleep; they slew 15 of them and took 25 captive and brought them back to the army in chains. After they had completely burned Carturo, they returned to the army of Ezelino with their plunder.

IX. Here Ezelino retires from the siege of Padua and comes to Vicenza.

Ezelino now saw that he was keeping his men uselessly in the siege of Padua, so on September 4 he moved his army from Vedeita and went to Brusegana and encamped there, still hoping to cross the river and ride to Monselice, if he could. But the astute legate and the podesta of Padua learned of this and the whole following night they made their knights and infantry stand ready and under arms; for they hoped, that if the enemy tried this, to attack him from the rear and keep him trapped, as sometimes a crafty fox is shut up in a cavern. But the enemy did not care to cross the river nor to take the road that could have been the end of his life; he had all of his men spend the night under arms, for his tired spirit feared that the legate’s men might attack his army. So the next day Ezelino had Brusegana and the other places around there set on fire and destroyed. When the Paduans saw this, they realized that the enemy was retiring and they wanted to follow him like a fugitive; among them was lord Biaquino da Camino, Avvocato of Padua, Bonsemblante and many others of all degrees of the knights and infantry of Padua. But the legate and those who had been given him as counsellors forbade this and, preventing them with the greatest difficulty, they chose perhaps a better and safer course. For it was said that if the numbers of both sides were calculated, Ezelino had more than three times the number of knights; all of these knights and his whole people he had astutely brought together into one force. He went his way in order and returned to Vicenza.



This text is from The Chronicles of the Trevisan March, by Rolandino Patavino, translated by Joseph R. Berrigan. (Kansas: Coronado Press, 1980).

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