Anja Thaller (Universität Stuttgart)

Games – power – politics: Communal feasts and games in the Marca Trevigiana

Civic elements are interwoven throughout the feasts and games contained in the thirteenth century Marca Trevigiana. These festivities were acts of self-expression and glorification, of consolidation and stabilisation of a sense of community and corporate identity, as well as acts of imitation of courtly culture and representation, especially when it came to competitions between neighbouring cities.

The example of a courtly game, held to celebrate the conclusion of a peace agreement, which became a trigger for a war, leads us to questions regarding the importance and role of politics inherent to gaming that are somehow particularly striking when games ‘fail’. The ludus Tarvisii, better known as the “Castle of Love”, held in May of 1215 in Treviso, is one of the most prominent examples of medieval feasting culture in Northern Italy. It is famous because of its elaborate and detailed account in Rolandino da Padova’s Cronica in factis et circa facta Marchie Trivixane, which is the earliest description of the realization of a motif that was later on used repeatedly in literature and art.

In this game, adolescent males from Padua, Venice and Treviso aimed to conquer an artificial castle defended by young ladies. They fought with ‘courtly’ weapons like flowers, spices, fruits and perfumes. In the game’s final phase, the honor of Venice was damaged, which led to an abrupt ending and resulted in violent consequences. Through these implications, the regional political network and the politics of power become evident. The war between Padua and Venice, characterised as werra non modica or bellum atrox in the sources, was terminated in the spring of 1216 by a peace treaty. In other cases, chronicles report kidnappings and even assassination attempts that took place in the course of communal games.

In the light of other examples of feasts and games from the Marca Gioiosa, this talk discusses the question of what the historiographical sources of the participating cities can tell us about these feasts and games, especially about their political implications and reciprocal relationships, and thereby examines how games as a cultural phenomenon reflect political aspects.


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