Mad blood stirring: vendetta in Renaissance Italy
Muir, Edward. Johns Hopkins University Press,1998.
Mad Blood Stirring vendetta in renaissance Italy is a Marraro Prize winning book written by the author Edward Muir a professor in the Arts and Sciences, from Rutgers University who specializes in Italian social and cultural history from the Renaissance period. This book is about a history of Friuli, an event during carnival and the result.
In the introduction, Professor Muir recounts the earliest move of the Venetians out of their protective lagoon to struggle against the patriarchs of Aquileia, and had set up a rival patriarchal seat. “This struggle seems to have concluded in 1420 when Venice conquered the Patria Del Friuli and the last temporal ruler, Ludwig of Teck (1412-39), went into exile in Germany, leaving the territory to the Venetians.” Scholars such as Muir believe that the conquest only served to present other forms of rebellion of the Friulian people from their Venetian usurpers.
Rebellion is an important element to Muir’s thesis, a thesis out-lined in three different parts. The first part of the thesis attempts to explain the importance of vendetta to the region of Friuli. Moreover, vendetta had long been a special concern for the peasants of Friuli who faced Venetian wartime taxation, economic decline, ethnic mixed group of people living together and oppression from local feudal lords. Finally, Muir’s thesis attempts to explain to the reader that the form of feud known as the vendetta was born and bred in the region of Friuli. This summary and critique analyzes vendetta, economical situation of Friuli and the riot at the carnival of 1511.
During the renaissance period and early antiquity Friuli was a strategic geographic region that was important to trade and to check the borders for foreign invasion. By the 16th century, Friuli was a desolate chaotic region that followed a mixture of Venetian and old feudal laws that implemented and orchestrated the law of vendetta. Some of the Friulian nobles backed by Venice welcomed Venetian rule many of these nobles divided on who they should support some welcomed the alliances with Austria, German, Switzerland or the papal state of Italy. The Castilians favoured the old feudal regime and warrior society that they had brought to Friuli. The peasant society welcomed any reprieve from heavy taxation or the burden associated to the peasant class and the tributes owed to the local lord. The peasants would have welcomed Ottoman rule if given reprieve from heavy taxation and freedom of religion. Muir depiction of the social and political situation in Friuli makes the reader aware of the many different cultures that have settled in Italy.
In chapter, one titled, The Friulan Engima, Muir researches the intense poverty that contributed to the animosity of the people of Friuli towards their Venetian rulers. Evidence of this intense poverty is in the primary source of “Marco Sanudo who in 1483 was one of two circuit judges elected to tour the region of Friuli. His handwritten accounts document the decay of the villages and the disease-encountered amongst the inhabitants. Marco Sanudo states that the deterioration of the ancient Roman city and palace of Aquileia is the most shocking devastation to the region of Friuli. The Friuli citizens used poverty and disease as fuel for their hatred of their overlords. This rejection of Venetian rule eventually steered the people to fight for a form of independence under the captaincy of Antonio Savorgnan.
“Even though they are impoverished, “the people are handsome” wrote Count Girolamo of Porcia of his fellow Friulans, especially the nobility. They speak a difficult language and to be understood they speak Italian.” Muir describes the Friulan people as quasi-barbaric in customs and with a temperament given to the vendetta. The term revenge explains what was happening in their society. The vendetta became a direct revolt against Venetian and popular Renaissance politics. Vendetta was born in the hills of Friuli its fire flowed in the bloodline of artisan, peasants, and noblemen who ventured out of the region for an education only to return to establish the ideology of renaissance in their attempts for independence.
In the sixteenth century, among the general population there were four different languages spoken in the region. At the base were the speakers of Friulan, the language of the uneducated peasant and artisan. Friulan survived as a language employed to rebel or stay away from authority. The Venetians found it hard to implement their laws in a region where the people could not understand the law and there was far less police forces to enforce the law. Vendetta culture made it extremely difficult for the Venetian government to recruit police officers to govern the region. Venetian delegates had to rely on unemployed soldiers or Croatian or Albanian shepherds often forced into service by threat. If these substitutes failed then they accepted the help of private persons who agreed to do job for pay but also to cover private vendetta assignment. No matter how trust worthy the officers were the region was too large to rule and the old feudal lords in more feudal areas like Friuli could not be control because they could muster far larger groups of men for a militia. In Friuli, the old feudal law remained
cohabiting with Venetian laws. Friuli was similar to the rest of the Italy because all regions of Italy had some form of feud. However, the feud within the region of Friuli took on a different entity because of the ethnic differences of the people of Friuli in comparison to the rest of Italy.
For more than two centuries the Savorgnan and Della Torre clans fought a on and off vendetta that recurrently expanded into factional warfare. The followers of the Savorgnan called themselves the Zambarlani, those of the Della Torre the Strumieri. “The story of the Savorgnan and Della Torre vendetta began in 1339 when Ettore Savorgnan bought from a rich Udinese the castle of Ariis in Lower Friuli. Because the Della Torre claimed to possess rights to the castle, they disputed the purchase, and Ermacore Della Torre defended his families’ interests by attacking Ettore.” It is from this vendetta the Udine carnival on Fat Thursday, 1511, glorified by historians to symbolize the meaning of hot blood spilled.
Muir describes the tale of a dreadful massacre, first in Udine, North Italy, on Carnival’s Fat Thursday, 1511, and then throughout the region. The leader Antonio Savorgnan, a man from a noble family and defender of the peasants and artisans, turned on the clans of his hereditary enemies, the castellans of the Strumieri faction, butchering them like meat sold at a market. The carnival inherited meanings from the social environment and from certain universal process. One of these process was the killings of animals the killing of humans. Carnival helped sustain certain beliefs about killings which were shared by both vendetta practices and hunting. “Carnival and
vendetta were different but Muir believes that the act of vendetta, hunting and carnival were similar and blurred that the vendetta could easily adapt the act of hunting or the presentation of the carnival.”
Muir tries to prove this point by reminding the reader that carnival and the murders took place on Fat Thursday a time of heavy drink, dance, and gluttony. In addition carnival took place during lent therefore there was a direct connection between Carnival and lent but more closer to the connection of the fat and lean. “Given the long history of Savorgnan patronage of the peasants and artisans on the one hand and Castilian hostility to agrarian fiscal reform on the other, it is not far-fetched to imagine that the Zamberlini took on the role of the fat and the Strumieri the lean.”
Carnival was a time to enjoy and let out frustrations. Muir fails to explain in detail how historians knew that it was in the Friuli culture or nature to kill in art form or consider vendetta and hot blood killing a way of letting out frustration and bringing peace to nature. People murder out of retaliation, anger, cruelty, or warfare, but to equate murder with the butchering of animals at a carnival, this statement was not convincing in its analyses. Muir follows the tale to how they butchered the noblemen and his factions. They hung them like meat for sale. “Forced to beg for their lives then butchered a noble man died a common death. Moreover, the mobs disposed of the body in symbolic ways. Some were left in the streets to rot for days, some were thrown into latrines, and others were systematically dismembered.”
A martyr Antonio was finally assassinated Friulan style. His enemies bribed the imperial guards to stay away from the cathedral when Antonio attended church. The attackers waited for him and split his head open with a sword. The macabre of a dog eating his brains became famous to historians and lovers of Friulan history. Muir believes that feeding of human flesh to the dogs displays a ceremonial act within the Friulan culture. However, scholars cannot prove that the dogs actually ate the brains of Savorgnan. Muir describes the killers as presenting an honourable form of display when presenting themselves to the heads of council. They killers never severely punished for this crime because of power of Austrian council.
The depiction of murder, serving of human flesh to dogs and pigs this is an act of revenge. There is no primary sources in European history that depict such debauchery by peasants or nobles except for the Romanian Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia. Vlad was a cruel ruler who fed is victims to animals or impaled them on crosses. My research provides evidence of the Friulan language being of Romanian descent. This may have some connection to the violence done at the carnival. Furthermore, my analyses comes from the depiction of when God commanded the angels to caste the evil spirits out of the man and into the swine’s thus condemning it unclean for all people of Abram to consume the flesh of a pig. In addition, the hounds of Udine could have been Rottweiler’s, Bull Mastiffs or any large hunting dog’s characteristics of the hounds of hell. This would have been fitting punishment in the afterlife to have your flesh devoured by an animal such as the hound of hell or an unclean animal in the Judaic sense such as the pig. This meant a certain servile position in hell.
The events of the rebellion and carnival forced Venice to consider implementing stricter rule in Friuli. The tale ends with Savorgnan enemies backing the German Empire in a desperate war. Muir follows the tale through Savorgnan’s treason, deposition, flight, and murder, and then traces the blood feud through its vicissitudes as it dwindles into points of honour and then, finally, the nobles ostracizing themselves from peasant culture of blood feud and implementing the duel.
It provides for a good story but an abbreviated account of Friulan history that has a connection to Romanians, German’s, Turkish, Constantinople and the Castilian people of North Eastern Spain who invaded the region and presented the feudal castle building and agrarian lordship over the Romanian speaking Friulan peasant class. Muir depiction of the carnival riot and its connection to the nature of the people being violent towards the noble this point is debatable. It is more believable that Antonio Savorgnan used is education and wit to influence the lower caste people of region to incite violence under their Castilian masters. The price was freedom from centuries of heavy labour and constrictive nature of feudalism. Though dying political entity feudalism was alive in other forms in Western Europe, therefore an immediate distrust of the Austrian Emperor and his political design would place the peasants in confidence with Savorgnan.
The previous point and Savorgnan close relationship with the peasants should be researched in detail because contradicts the peasants hatred of the Venetian, who were supportive of their leader Antonio Savorgnan a man aligned with the Venetian delegates in certain dealings.
In addition, the riot at the carnival points more towards a dispute or series of actions that escalated into a tragic situation. Hunting has no connection with the artisan, peasant classes this form of sport, and culture was exclusive to the nobility. Throughout medieval history, peasants were restricted in hunting certain animals and certain forest of the nobility. Hunting was ritual practiced by the nobles. The explanation of vendetta is very believable because it resembles certain feudal laws where the lord takes to account an eye for eye or monetary value for a life. Muir describes Fruilan peasants taking their grievances to the local lords.
In conclusion, this was a brilliant book or abridgement of the original book, nonetheless, the author refuses to research further the groups of people who settled in the region. There is no research on the Castilians lords or an accurate study of the Fruilian language, which we learn is predominantly Romanian influenced by some German and other Eastern European tongues. This misconception not cleverly hidden from a medieval scholar like myself who can identify the Lombard’s, Frankish people, Castilians and many other foreign people settling the region of Friuli. Nonetheless, Muir recognizes the insignificance in wealth of the Friulan region but importance of geographic location and culture to the study we know as renaissance history.
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