Which regions/dynasties do the flags in this Fresco about Byzantine-Persian war represent?

Which regions/dynasties do the flags in this Fresco about Byzantine-Persian war represent?

Piero Della Francesca painted the following Fresco to depict battle between Heraclius of Byzantine Empire and Khosrou II of Persian Empire.

Which regions or dynasties do the flags represent?

From what I can guess:

  1. Black Eagle on Golden field represents the Emperor of Eastern Roman Empire, Heraclius. (As the single headed Roman Eagle remained in use in ERE, albeit rarely. This is attested by presence of Eagle Bearers (Aquilifers/ὀρνιθόβορας) in ERE).

  2. Golden lion on Red field probably represents Macedonia. Pictured below, Coat of Arms of Macedonia from 16th century which represents the ancient Lion of Macedonia:

    It might also be a flag from Armenia as Armenians also used a lion emblem occasionally. Pictured below, a flag of King of Armenia (German Caption on top reads "Der Konig von der Hindern Armenia" and the image also appears in this 16th century book):

  3. The Black head with white Bandanna represents Corsica (even though the flag was adopted centuries after the battle or the painting and I am not sure if Corsica was part of ERE back then but it was a part of ERE back then). Pictured below, flag of Corsica:

  4. The White Cross on Red field seems to be flag of Duchy of Savoy but that can't be right as Savoy was never a part of ERE. Pictured below flag of Savoy:

  5. The white duck on red green field is harder to guess. Maybe it is a swan? If yes, it could be flag of Malta as Pieta, Malta's coat of arms are a white swan on a black field.

So which regions do these flags represent? Or did the artist just made them up in his head?

P.S. Pardon me if I am mistaking between red and green color here.

I can offer a little insight into one of the symbols. The bird in the banner on the left is a goose.
The goose was symbolic to the Romans, dating to a legend concerning geese from a temple of Juno warning the besieged Romans on Capitoline hill of an impending assault on their position during the Battle of Allia, 390 BC. It represents the quality of vigilence, and is mentioned at times as the "Saviour of the Roman Army".This is referenced by the author of books concerning the painter as the "Capitoline Goose":

  • Piero Della Francesca: San Francesco, Arezzo, by Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, 1994
  • Piero della Francesca, Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, 2002

The goose reappears in similar form as part of the flag of a particular Contrade of Siena, the Oca contrade.

Remember, this work was done as a fresco to record the History of the True Cross, and covers the walls of the Basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo Italy. It was never meant to be a historically accurate reenactment of a battle. It was painted around 1452 concerning the Battle of Neneveh, which took place in 627, so knowledge of the particular elements of the forces under Heraclius would have been limited at best. Other elements of the painting do not accurately represent the history of the battle, the faces of the people surrounding Khosrau II are actually the faces of the benefactors of the church, the Bacci family, and the representation of the beheading of Khosrau II is inaccurate in itself, according to the wiki article on the battle:

Khosrau had already fled to the mountains of Susiana to try to rally support for the defense of Ctesiphon… The Persian army rebelled and overthrew Khosrau II, raising his son Kavadh II, also known as Siroes, in his stead. Khosrau perished in a dungeon after suffering for five days on bare sustenance-he was shot to death slowly with arrows on the fifth day.

So don't try too hard to glean historical information from a painting done 825 years after-the-fact.

1) A black eagle on gold is usually used to represent the ancient Roman Empire in Medieval and Renaissance art - usually a two-headed eagle. Starting in the late 1200s heraldic works claimed that the Holy Roman Emperor used a black two-headed eagle on gold and the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Emperor used a gold two-headed eagle on red. But I have seen other images of Heraclius using a black eagle on gold.

2) Lions were and are very common in coats-of-arms. A gold lion rampant on a red field is the coat-of-arms of Bulgaria today, as well as being attributed to Macedonia. A single gold lion on red, but passant, is attributed to the Duke of Aquitaine. Many other coats-of-arms were attributed to Macedonia and Alexander the Great, not just a gold lion on red.

It is possible that the gold lion on red was the coat of arms of some contemporary Italian lord put in the painting for some reason.

A gold lion on red, or a red lion on gold, was used as the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Lesser Armenia. Heraclius did recruit Armenian allies and attacked Persia through (Greater) Armenia.

3) The black head on white was the coat of arms of Corsica, a region near Italy where an Italian dialect was spoken. But it was a Moor's head, used to represent all kinds of Africans, black people, Arabs, Turks, and Muslims. Thus it might also be used to represent non-Christian Persians. So maybe Piero della Francesca used it as Chosroes's flag. It would be interesting to know the various coats of arms of ancient Persia used in various paintings and illustrations.

3b) What about the blue and gold flag? What was its design and was it supposed to some kind of Persian flag?

4) Yes a white cross on red was the coat of arms and banner of the Count and later Duke of Savoy. But the Count of Savoy might have copied it from his overlord. One flag used by the Holy Roman Empire was allegedly a white cross on red. It is possible that the Emperor's vassals such as the King of Denmark and the Count of Savoy copied it to show their loyalty. And it is also claimed that some Ghibelline cities in Italy used a white cross on red as their coat of arms while many Guelph cities used a red cross on white as their coat-of-arms. Pavia, Novaro, Como, Treviso, and Asti are Ghibeline cities with white crosses on red.

Piero della Francesca was probably familiar with the coats-of-arms of several Italian cities and may have used a red flag with a white cross to symbolize a particular Italian city for some reason. Or maybe to symbolize Christendom - presumably the use of such a flag by the Emperor was to symbolize overlordship of Christendom.

5) To me the "white swan on black" looks like "a pelican in it's piety" a bizzare looking pelican wounding it's breast to feed its young on drops of its blood. The white bird on green looks to me like its legs are a bit too long to be a duck.

I hope my comments are of some use in understanding the problems of identifying the flags correctly.

The Ultimate AP Art HIstory Review

It is believed that the sacrum was an integral part in various Mesoamerican ceremonies involving fertility. The sacrum was thought to specifically transport seminal fluids from the body to the receiving member. Although the sacrum does not actually transport such fluids, even Leonardo da Vinci and his expansive understanding of the human body incorrectly associated the sacrum with reproductive purposes.

Although the sacrum's actual function is not associated with reproduction, the sacrum breeds new insight into the afterlife beliefs of the Mesoamericans. The end of the spine was thought to be a second head, a head that connected the soul to the spiritual world the soul supposedly enters through the head and exits from the end of the spine. Hence, the sacrum bone becomes a powerful, sacred gateway leading to the spiritual world.

The sacrum is also believed to represent an animal spirit from the Otherworld occupying the bone. Therefore, the Mesoamericans believed great ritual and spiritual care was needed to honor this bone and please the spirits and the gods.

Siege of Masada

Following Menahem’s murder in 66 A.D. in Jerusalem, Eleazer Ben Yair fled from Jerusalem to Masada to command a group of Judean rebels. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., the remaining rebels joined਎leazarਊt Masada to live in Herod’s former palaces.

With Jerusalem in ruins, the Romans turned their attention to taking down Masada, the last community in Judea with 960 rebels, including many women and children. Led by Flavius Silva, a legion of 8,000 Romans built camps surrounding the base, a siege wall, and a ramp on a slope of the Western side of the mountain made of earth and wooden supports.

After several months of siege without success, the Romans built a tower on the ramp to try and take out the fortress’s wall. When it became clear that the Romans were going to take over Masada, on April 15, 73ਊ.D., on the instructions of Ben Yair, all but two women and five children, who hid in the cisterns and later told their stories, took their own lives rather than live as Roman slaves.

According to Josephus’s account in The Wars of the Jews:

“They had died in the belief that they had left not a soul of them alive to fall into Roman hands The Romans advanced to the assault … seeing none of the enemy but on all sides the awful solitude, and flames within and silence, they were at al loss to conjecture what had happened here encountering the mass of slain, instead of exulting as over enemies, they admired the nobility of their resolve.”

For several centuries, Masada remained uninhabited. During the Byzantine period, in the fifth century A.D., a group of monks known as the Iaura took of the Masada and built a hermetic monastery.

Two centuries later, as Islam took hold of the region, the site was again abandoned.

Beginning of the conflict [ edit | edit source ]

Byzantine and Sassanid Empires in 600 CE

Upon the murder of Maurice, Narses, governor of the Byzantine province of Mesopotamia, rebelled against Phocas and seized Edessa, a major city of the province. ⎜] Emperor Phocas instructed general Germanus to besiege Edessa, prompting Narses to request help from the Persian king Khosrau II. Khosrau, who was only too willing to help avenge Maurice, his "friend and father", used Maurice's death as an excuse to attack the Roman Empire, trying to reconquer Armenia and Mesopotamia. ⎝] ⎞]

General Germanus died in battle against the Persians. An army sent by Phocas against Khosrau was defeated near Dara in Upper Mesopotamia, leading to the capture of that important fortress in 605. Narses escaped from Leontius, the eunuch appointed by Phocas to deal with him, ⎟] but when Narses attempted to return to Constantinople to discuss peace terms, Phocas ordered him seized and burned alive. ⎠] The death of Narses along with the failure to stop the Persians damaged the prestige of Phocas' military regime. ⎟] ⎡]

Vestibule of the cultural monument

As you enter the vestibule of the monument, you’ll be welcome by four great men of the Serbian, Croatian and Slovene histories. In the photo, you can see Karadjordje (Black George), who was the leader of the First Serbian Uprising (1804 – 1813), and the founder of the modern Serbian state and the Karadjordjevic dynasty. Other imposing sculptures represent Emperor Dusan the Mighty (1308 – 1355), the most powerful Serbian medieval ruler, King Tomislav, the first Croatian king, and Duke Kocelj of the Slovenes.

You’ll see the bust of a legendary Serbian politician Nikola Pasic (by Rosandic) in a niche. Nikola was the prime minister of the Serbian kingdom twice, the mayor of Belgrade as many times, and minister of foreign affairs. He was one of the Serbian leaders through two Balkan Wars (1912 and 1913) and the First World War.

The vestibule is crowned by the central cupola, whose base features bas-reliefs representing hallmarks of the monarchy (griffins) and of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which existed from 1945 to 1992. Its six flames represent six Yugoslav republics, which were members of the union – Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia and Herzegovina is one republic).

Overview of Mayan Art

The 700 years of the Mayan Classical saw a great flowering of Mayan art. Stone carvings became ubiquitous throughout the Mayan region. The Mayan covered buildings and pyramid stairways with depictions of rulers and hieroglyphic writings. They also created thousands of stone stelae, great slabs of limestone carved into images of kings and nobility and covered with writings describing their lineages and deeds of valor.

The Mayan Classical age reveals an abundance of energetic artworks in stone, shells, bone, wood, obsidian, jade, silver, clay, stucco, textiles and precious metals. Gold and silver were never abundant in Mayan regions, so artists mainly forged gold and silver into jewelry. Elite Mayans, the rulers and nobility, commissioned works of art in order to establish their status as elites. Painted vessels, stucco portraits, carved obsidian mirrors and tiny clay figurines all turn up in the tombs of nobles and kings. While kings commissioned great works of art for public viewing such as statues, stelae and temple murals, nobles more often bought smaller, exquisite art works for personal adornment and home decoration.

The artists and artisans creating these works came from every level of society. Many were elites themselves, the sons and daughters of rulers and government officials. Others were commoners whose talents and artistic genius led them to their crafts. For some Mayans, their art or craft was a family business, where every member of the family had a role. Mayan ceramic workers, potters and figurine makers, expressed individual talents in their work, even signing their finished products. An individual artist’s works occasionally drew the attention of the nobility, and elites competed to obtain those particular creations.

While most Mayan textiles have not survived the ages, bas relief, statues and murals show examples of the textile artisans’ work. Mayan women were the main textile workers, weaving and dyeing the fabrics—cotton, maguey cloth or woolens—then embroidering or otherwise embellishing the cloth. While Mayan clothing was generally simple, clothing decorations were not. Woven tapestries and brocades decorated homes as curtains, drapes and floor coverings. Mayan communities had their own textile design that women would weave into the cloth produced there.

Mesoamerica’s humid climate ravaged paints as well as textiles, but many examples of Mayan paintings survived in Mayan cities in the homes of the elite. Walls, ceilings, temple arches and caves are covered in murals depicting the gods, elites or even scenes from daily life. Red and black are the most common colors of paint, but yellow and especially Maya blue can still be found. The bright turquoise Maya blue color was unique to the Maya, who invented the technique of making the color.

From the great public stone works to the tiny molded figurines depicting humans, animals or mythic creatures, the Mayan Classical era produced a huge variety of artworks. Regional styles in ceramics or textiles were traded throughout the Mayan region. Some Mayan cities reveal the influence of other Mesoamerican cultures such as the Toltec or Teotihuacan. Nevertheless, all the artworks of this exuberant culture are distinctly Mayan.

This article is part of our larger resource on the Mayans culture, society, economics, and warfare. Click here for our comprehensive article on the Mayans.


The Byzantine Empire was a theocracy, said to be ruled by God working through the Emperor. Jennifer Fretland VanVoorst argues, "The Byzantine Empire became a theocracy in the sense that Christian values and ideals were the foundation of the empire's political ideals and heavily entwined with its political goals." [186] Steven Runciman says in his book on The Byzantine Theocracy (2004):

The constitution of the Byzantine Empire was based on the conviction that it was the earthly copy of the Kingdom of Heaven. Just as God ruled in Heaven, so the Emperor, made in his image, should rule on earth and carry out his commandments . It saw itself as a universal empire. Ideally, it should embrace all the peoples of the Earth who, ideally, should all be members of the one true Christian Church, its own Orthodox Church. Just as man was made in God's image, so man's kingdom on Earth was made in the image of the Kingdom of Heaven." [187] The survival of the Empire in the East assured an active role of the Emperor in the affairs of the Church. The Byzantine state inherited from pagan times the administrative, and financial routine of administering religious affairs, and this routine was applied to the Christian Church. Following the pattern set by Eusebius of Caesarea, the Byzantines viewed the Emperor as a representative or messenger of Christ, responsible particularly for the propagation of Christianity among pagans, and for the "externals" of the religion, such as administration and finances. As Cyril Mango points out, the Byzantine political thinking can be summarised in the motto "One God, one empire, one religion". [188]

The imperial role in the affairs of the Church never developed into a fixed, legally defined system. [189] With the decline of Rome, and internal dissension in the other Eastern Patriarchates, the Church of Constantinople became, between the 6th and 11th centuries, the richest and most influential center of Christendom. [190] Even when the Empire was reduced to only a shadow of its former self, the Church continued to exercise significant influence both inside and outside of the imperial frontiers. As George Ostrogorsky points out:

The Patriarchate of Constantinople remained the center of the Orthodox world, with subordinate metropolitan sees and archbishoprics in the territory of Asia Minor and the Balkans, now lost to Byzantium, as well as in Caucasus, Russia and Lithuania. The Church remained the most stable element in the Byzantine Empire. [191]

The official state Christian doctrine was determined by the first seven ecumenical councils, and it was then the emperor's duty to impose it to his subjects. An imperial decree of 388, which was later incorporated into the Codex Justinianus, orders the population of the Empire "to assume the name of Catholic Christians", and regards all those who will not abide by the law as "mad and foolish persons" as followers of "heretical dogmas". [192]

Despite imperial decrees and the stringent stance of the state church itself, which came to be known as the Eastern Orthodox Church or Eastern Christianity, the latter never represented all Christians in Byzantium. Mango believes that, in the early stages of the Empire, the "mad and foolish persons", those labelled "heretics" by the state church, were the majority of the population. [193] Besides the pagans, who existed until the end of the 6th century, and the Jews, there were many followers – sometimes even emperors – of various Christian doctrines, such as Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Arianism, and Paulicianism, whose teachings were in some opposition to the main theological doctrine, as determined by the Ecumenical Councils. [194]

Another division among Christians occurred, when Leo III ordered the destruction of icons throughout the Empire. This led to a significant religious crisis, which ended in mid-9th century with the restoration of icons. During the same period, a new wave of pagans emerged in the Balkans, originating mainly from Slavic people. These were gradually Christianised, and by Byzantium's late stages, Eastern Orthodoxy represented most Christians and, in general, most people in what remained of the Empire. [195]

Jews were a significant minority in the Byzantine state throughout its history, and, according to Roman law, they constituted a legally recognised religious group. In the early Byzantine period they were generally tolerated, but then periods of tensions and persecutions ensued. In any case, after the Arab conquests, the majority of Jews found themselves outside the Empire those left inside the Byzantine borders apparently lived in relative peace from the 10th century onwards. [196]

Georgian monasteries first appear in Constantinople and on Mount Olympos in northwestern Asia Minor in the second half of the ninth century, and from then on Georgians played an increasingly important role in the Empire. [197]


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1980b “Ru·Kokku shūshū saiiki hekiga chōsa, 2: Kijiru dai san ku maya do hekiga seppō zu - jō - zoku” ル・コック収輯西域壁畫 調査2: キジル第三區マヤ洞壁畫説法圖—上 (續) [Research on the mural paintings from the Western Regions collected by Le Coq, 2: Mural paintings of preaching scenes in Māyāhöhle, 3. Anlage, first part (sequel)]. Bijutsu kenkyū 美術研究 [Journal of art studies], no. 313 (March), pp. 91–97.

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2008 “Towards a More Reliable Chronology for the Site of Kizil.” In Kizil on the Silk Road: Crossroads of Commerce & Meeting of Minds, edited by Rajeshwari Ghose, pp. 32–39. Mumbai: Marg Publications National Centre for the Performing Arts.

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The Golden Age of India

The prosperity of the Gupta Empire produced a golden age of cultural and scientific advancements.

Learning Objectives

Understand the significance of the Golden Age of India

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Prosperity in the Gupta Empire initiated a period known as the Golden Age of India, marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy.
  • Chandragupta II promoted the synthesis of science, art, philosophy, and religion, in part because his court contained the Navartna, or the Nine Jewels, a group of nine scholars who produced advancements in many academic fields.
  • Chinese traveler Fa Xian visited India from 399-405 CE, during the reign of Emperor Chandragupta II. He recorded all of his observations in a journal that was later published.

Key Terms

  • Golden Age of India: A period at the height of the Gupta Empire, marked by extensive inventions and discoveries that contributed to Hindu culture, in subjects such as science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy.
  • Chandragupta II: His reign, from 375-415 CE, promoted the synthesis of science, art, philosophy, and religion during the Golden Age of India.
  • Fa Xian: A Chinese traveler who recorded detailed observations about his experience in the Gupta Empire in his journal. It was later published.
  • Navartna: Also called the Nine Jewels a group of nine scholars in the court of Chandragupta II who contributed many advancements in their academic fields.
  • ayurvedic: A form of alternative medicine established in India.

The prosperity created under the leadership of the Gupta Empire, which covered much of the Indian subcontinent from approximately 320-550 CE, enabled the wide pursuit of scientific and artistic endeavors. This period became known as the Golden Age of India because it was marked by extensive inventions and discoveries in science, technology, engineering, art, dialectic, literature, logic, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy. These discoveries crystallized elements of what is generally considered Hindu culture.

Science, Literature, and Art

Although Chandragupta I and his son, Samudragupta, were prominent rulers, the reign of Chandragupta II included the greatest promotion of science, art, philosophy, and religion by the government. Chandragupta’s court was even more influential than those that came before or after because it contained the Navaratnas, or the Nine Jewels, a group of nine scholars who produced advancements in many academic fields.

These scholars included Aryabhata, who is believed to have envisioned the concept of zero, as well as working on the approximation for the long-form number Pi. Aryabhata is also believed to be the first of the Indian mathematician-astronomers who postulated the theory that the Earth moves round the Sun and is not flat, but instead is round and rotates on its own axis. He also may have discovered that the moon and planets shine due to reflected sunlight.

Varahamihira was an astronomer, astrologer, and mathematician, whose main work is a treatise on mathematical astronomy. Sushruta, a famed Indian physician of the Gupta period, wrote the Samhita, a Sanskrit text on all of the major concepts of ayurvedic medicine, with innovative chapters on surgery. Other scholars of the Golden Age helped create the first Indian numeral systems with a base of ten. The game of chess also likely originated during this period, where its early form, Chaturanga, contained game pieces for infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots, each of which would evolve into the modern pawn, knight, rook, and bishop, respectively.

Krishna and Radha playing Chaturanga: Scholars during the reign of Chandragupta II contributed many scientific advancements in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.

Kalidasa, considered the greatest poet and dramatist of the Sanskrit language, also belonged primarily to this period. He wrote plays, such as Shakuntala, which is said to have inspired the famed German writer and statesman, Johann von Goethe, centuries later. Kalidasa also became renowned for his study of the shringara, or romantic, element of literature. The Indian scholar and Hindu philosopher Vatsyayana, authored the Kama Sutra, which became a standard work on human sexual behavior, while Vishnu Sharma was thought to be the author of the Panchatantra fables, one of the most widely-translated, non-religious books in history.

The cultural creativity of the Golden Age of India produced magnificent architecture, including palaces and temples, as well as sculptures and paintings
of the highest quality. The walls of Buddhist shrines and monasteries were decorated with colorful frescoes, a type of wall paintings. These showed scenes from the life of the Buddha, the ascetic and philosopher, who lived in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between 6th and 4th centuries, on whose teachings the Buddhist religion is based. Some shrines were cut out of the cliffs, and although dark, they were also decorated with sculptures and paintings.

The Dashavatara Temple: The Golden Age of India produced many temples, decorated with various sculptures and paintings, such as the Dashavatara Temple, also known as the Vishnu Temple, in central India.

Influence on East and Southeast Asia

The Gupta Dynasty promoted Hinduism, but supported Buddhist and Jain cultures as well. Gupta Buddhist art influenced East and Southeast Asia as trade between regions increased. The Gupta Empire became an important cultural center and influenced nearby kingdoms and regions in Burma, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. Classical forms of Indian music and dance, created under the Guptas, are still practiced all over Asia today.

Fa Xian was one of the first Chinese travelers to visit India during the reign of Gupta Emperor Chandragupta II. He started his journey from China in 399 CE, and reached India in 405 CE. He recorded all of his observations in a journal that was eventually published.

During his stay in India, until c. 411 CE, Fa Xian went on a pilgrimage to Mathura, Kanauj, Kapilavastu, Kushinagar, Vaishali, Pataliputra, Kashi and
Rajgriha. His writings express pleasure in the mildness of the administrations in these places.

Which regions/dynasties do the flags in this Fresco about Byzantine-Persian war represent? - History

Palio di Provenzano martedì 2 luglio 2019, trionfo la Contrada della Giraffa con Giovanni Atzeni detto Tittia su Tale e Quale

The Palio di Siena

Surrounded by the Chianti region on the north and the Crete senesi on the south, Siena is a sort of watershed between so different landscapes such as that of the Chianti region - made of gentle hills covered with olive groves and vineyards for the production of one of the most famous wines in the world - and that of the Crete Senesi - made of sheer and almost plantless hills.
In Siena, all roads lead to Piazza del Campo. It is the principal public space of the historic center of Siena, and is one of Europe's greatest medieval squares. It is renowned worldwide for its beauty and architectural integrity.
Piazza del Campo is one of Italy's most famous piazzas, mostly because of Il Palio , a bareback horse race that dates back to the Middle Ages and still takes place on the outer section of the square twice a year.

16 Agosto, Palio dell'Assunta

E' la contrada della Selva, con Giovanni Atzeni detto Tittia su Remorex, a vincere il Palio del 16 agosto 2019

The Palazzo Pubblico and its Torre del Mangia, as well as various palazzi signorili surround the shell-shaped piazza. At the northwest edge is the Fonte Gaia.

The twice-a-year horse-race, Palio di Siena , is held around the edges of the piazza. The piazza del Campo was paved in 1349 in fishbone-patterned red brick, which divides into nine sections to commemorate the successful government dei Nove (Nine).

Siena, Piazza del Campo. GeoEye-1.50-meter resolution collected 15 August 2009

The Palio di Siena (known locally simply as Il Palio) is a horse race held twice each year on July 2 and August 16 in Siena, Italy, in which ten horses and riders, bareback and dressed in the appropriate colours, represent ten of the seventeen Contrade, or city wards. The Palio held on July 2 is named Palio di Provenzano, in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano, who has a church in Siena. The Palio held on August 16 is named Palio dell'Assunta, in honour of the Assumption of Mary.

A magnificent pageant, the Corteo Storico, precedes the race, which attracts visitors and spectators from around the world.

The race itself, in which the jockeys ride bareback, circles the Piazza del Campo , on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times and usually lasts no more than 90 seconds. It is not uncommon for a few of the jockeys to be thrown off their horses while making the treacherous turns in the piazza, and indeed it is not unusual to see unmounted horses finishing the race without their jockeys.

The earliest known antecedents of the race are medieval. The town's central piazza was the site of public games, largely combative: pugna, a sort of many-sided boxing match or brawl jousting and in the 16th century, bullfights. Public races organized by the Contrade were popular from the 14th century on called palii alla lunga, they were run across the whole city.

When the Grand Duke of Tuscany outlawed bullfighting in 1590, the Contrade took to organizing races in the Piazza del Campo. The first such races were on buffalo-back and called bufalate asinate, races on donkey-back, later took their place, while horse-racing continued elsewhere. The first modern Palio (called palio alla tonda to distinguish it from the earlier palii alla lunga) took place in 1656.

At first, one race was held each year, on July 2, in honor of the Madonna di Provenzano [1] . A second, on August 16, was added from 1701, though initially the August race was run intermittently rather than every year. The August race (il palio dell'Assunta) which coincided with the Feast of the Assumption was probably introduced 'spontaneously' as part of the feasting and celebration associated with this important festival. The 16th of August was presumably chosen because the other days of the mid-August canonical festival, the 14th and 15th of the month, were already taken up respectively by the Corteo dei Ceri (Procession of the Ceri) and by the census.

The August Palio started out as an extension of the celebrations of the July Palio, and was organized and funded by July's winning contrada, though only if the contrada in question could afford it. After 1802, however, organisation and funding the August race became a central responsibility of the city, which removed annual uncertainty over whether or not an August Palio would run.

In 1729 the city's Munich born governor, Violante of Bavaria, defined formal boundaries for the Contrade, at the same time imposing several mergers so that the number of Senese Contrade was reduced to seventeen. This was also the year of the decree restricting to ten the number of Contrade that could participate in a Palio: the restriction, which remains in force, resulted from the number and extent of accidents experienced in the preceding races.

Art in Tuscany | Siena
Art in Tuscany | Le Crete Senesi

The dramatic Palio edition of 2013 | A documentary

Palioà, a gripping documentary by Cosima Spender, with the epic duel between Gigi Bruschelli aka "Trecciolino", who was 46 years old and had won 13 of the previous 16 Palios, and Giovanni Atzeni aka "Tittia", who was 29 and had won only twice. Cosima Spender (born in Siena) is an Anglo-Italian film director. Palio won the best documentary editing award at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival.

Palio (2015), directed by Cosima Spender
Written by: John Hunt and Cosima Spender

PALIO is the thrilling story of a young 'outsider' keen to break in to the dangerous but lucrative race and the corrupt 'insider' who has manipulated the city of Siena for a decade. Their passionate and dramatic battle is an epic and cinematic tale of Italian life in microcosm.

Siena, Palio, mappa delle contrade 1904

La caduta di Antonio Villella detto Sgaibarre dal cavallo Messi, Quarta prova del Palio di Siena 2011

Tittìa (a sin.) insegue Scompiglio al Palio del 16 agosto 2008

These districts were set up in the Middle Ages in order to supply troops to the many military companies that were hired to defend Siena as it fought to defend its independence from Florence and other nearby city states. As time has gone by, however, the contrade have lost their administrative and military functions and have instead become simply areas of localised patriotism, held together by the emotions and sense of civic pride of the residents. Their roles have broadened so that every important event &ndash baptisms, deaths, marriages, church holidays, victories at the Palio, even wine or food festivals &ndash is celebrated only within one's own contrada.

Every contrada has its own museum, fountain and baptismal font, motto, allied contrada (only Oca has no allies) and adversary contrada, typically a neighbor (only four, Bruco, Drago, Giraffa and Selva, have no declared adversaries). Often the adversary contrade share borders.

There were originally 59 contrade, but consolidation over the centuries has seen the number reduced to today's 17. During the seventeenth century some contrade were slowly dying out until their abolition, which took place officially in 1729. These districts were: Gallo (Rooster), Leone (Lion), Orso (Bear), Quercia (Oak), Spadaforte (Strong Sword) e Vipera (Viper).
The reasons that led to the abolition of six quarters have always been surrounded by uncertainty. The deletion is traditionally traced to disorders related to the Palio of 1675, according to some because of Contrada Spadaforte (with support of five other Contrade), despite the victory of Lupa, recriminations for himself the victory, according to others it was Spadaforte forbidden to play for the Palio, it can not rely on its actual influence area.[1] The six "rebel" districts were therefore deleted.

In reality, the legend that the six quarters had been dissolved by law because of disturbances caused during the Palio of 1675 has no real foundation document. The reasons that led to the abolition of the six districts were mainly due to poor organization and lack of participation in public life of cities, evidenced in the book of Balia[2].

* Gallo was incorporated into Civetta, Oca, and Selva.
* Leone was incorporated into Istrice.
* Orso was incorporated into Civetta.
* Quercia was incorporated into Chiocciola.
* Spadaforte was incorporated into Leocorno and Torre.
* Vipera was incorporated into Torre.

Today the six abolished contrade are remembered in the historical procession preceding the Palio di Siena: six riders with their helmets lowered, accompanied by a groom, parade in the ninth group of the Corteo Storico Historical Parade.

Siena contrade

Siena, Palio, map of the 17 contrade (1904)

7 Istrice (Crested Porcupine)

17 Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram)

Map of the contrade of Siena, showing their respective banners

Their last victory was on July 3, 1992 (Andrea de Gortes on Vinegar on Floater) and they have had 24 official victories.

Aquila's symbol is a double-headed black eagle holding an orb, a sword and a sceptre. Its colours are yellow, trimmed with blue and black.

Aquila is one of only four nobile (noble) contrade its title was bestowed by the Habsburg emperor Charles V, out of gratitude for the warm reception he received there in 1536.

The contrada's museum is home to the oldest surviving Palio di Siena banner (also called a palio), which dates from 1719.

Aquila's patron saint is La Vergine (the name of the Most Holy Maria), her titulary festival being celebrated on 8 September.

They are allied to the Civetta (Owl) and Drago (Dragon) contrade. They are opposed to the Pantera (Panther) contrada.

Bruco's symbol is a crowned caterpillar crawling on a rose. Its colours are green and yellow, trimmed with blue.

Bruco is one of only four nobile (noble) contrade its title was earned in 1369 by its people's bravery in helping to defeat Charles IV, and consolidated in 1371 when they led the revolt to replace the Sienese council with a people's government.

Its Sede is at Via del Comune, 44.

Its patron Saint is Madonna (Visitation of the Saintest Mary) and the Titulary feast is on 2 July.

Its motto is "Come rivoluzion suona il mio nome" (How revolution sounds my name).

It is allied to the Istrice, Nicchio and Torre contrade and not officially opposed to any other contrade since its animosity with neighbouring Giraffa (giraffe) ended.

Last victory- 16 August 2008. It has 37 official Victories.

Chiocciola's symbol is a snail. Its colours are red and yellow, trimmed with blue. Chiocciola's enemy is the Tortoise. Their last victory was on August 16, 1999.

Civetta's symbol is a crowned owl sitting on a branch. Its colours are red and black striped with white. Its motto is: "Vedo nella Notte" (I see in the night).

For years Civetta was considered the nonna (grandmother) because it had not won a palio for over 30 years. Civetta won the Palio in August 2009, thereby losing the name "nonna".

Drago's symbol is a flying golden dragon carrying a banner with the letter "u". Its colours are red and green, trimmed with yellow.

Giraffa's symbol is a giraffe led by a Moor, and a ribbon bearing the motto "Humbertus I dedit" (Umberto I gave it"). Its colours are white and red.

Giraffa has the title of contrada imperiale (imperial contrada). It was bestowed this title by King Vittorio Emanuele III when it won the palio in 1936, the year the race was dedicated to Italy's empire in East Africa.

Istrice's symbol is a porcupine. Its colours are red, white, blue and black.

Istrice has the title of contrada sovrana (sovereign contrada). It was bestowed this title as a result of it headquartering the Sovereign Military Order of Malta during the 14th century.

Istrice won the Palio in July 2008.

Leocorno's symbol is a unicorn, rampant, with the motto "Humberti regio gratia" ("A kingdom by the grace of Umberto"). Its colours are orange and white, bordered with blue.

Leocorno won the Palio of August 16th 2007.

Lupa's symbol is a female wolf nursing twins. Its colors are black and white, trimmed with orange. The she-wolf of this contrada refers to the legend that Siena was founded by Senius, the son of Remus who, along with his twin Romulus, was raised by a wolf. Because of this, Lupa's sister city is Rome.

The Lupa museum's prize exhibit is a photograph of Giuseppe Garibaldi, which he donated to the contrada on its victory in the Palio di Siena of 1867.

Nicchio's symbol is a crowned scallop shell flanked by two branches of coral. Its colours are blue, with yellow and red trim.

Nicchio is one of only four nobile (noble) contrade it earned its title for bravery shown during the Battle of Montaperti against Florence in 1260, when its soldiers led the attack.

Oca's symbol is a crowned goose wearing around its neck a blue ribbon marked with the cross of Savoy. Its colours are green and white, with red trim.

Oca is one of only four nobile (noble) contrade it earned its title for its people's bravery during many battles fought by the former Sienese Republic.

The most recent palio win for Oca was in the July 2, 2007 race on Fedora Saura.

Onda's symbol is a dolphin. Its colours are white and sky blue and the condrada describes itself as "The colour of Heaven, the force of the sea"

Onda has the title of contrada capitana (captain contrada) because in the past its soldiers mounted guard at the Palazzo Pubblico. One of the famous members of Onda was the sculptor Giovanni Duprè, after whom the main street in Onda is named. Onda's adversary is Torre.

Pantera's symbol is a rampant panther. Its colours are red, blue and white.

Selva's symbol is a rhinoceros at the base of an oak tree hung with hunting tools. Its colours are green and orange, bordered with white.

Winner of the Palio, on August 16 2006, with Salasso on Caro Amico. Won the Palio last on July 2, 2010, to much upset from Nicchio (favored to win).

Tartuca's symbol is a turtle with alternating Savoy knots and daisies. Its colours are yellow and deep blue.

Winner of the Palio, on July 2 2009, with Giuseppe Zedde on Già del Menhir. Tartuca last won the Palio on 16 August 2010

It is opposed to Chiocciola (snail).

Torre's symbol is an elephant (the contrada's original name was Liofante or Lionfante) with a tower on its back. Its colours are crimson, striped with white and blue.

Torre is the enemy of both Onda (wave) and of Oca (goose). It is the only contrada to have two enemies, making it the most contentious contrada in Siena.

Valdimontone's symbol is a crowned rampant ram, with a blue shield emblazoned with the letter "u" for Umberto. Its colours are red and yellow, with white trim.

It is allied with Onda (Wave) and opposed to Nicchio (Shell), its neighbour.

The first race (Palio di Provenzano) is held on July 2, which is both the Feast of the Visitation and the date of a local festival in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano (a painting once owned by the Sienese leader Provenzano Salvani, which was supposed to have miraculous curative power). The second race is held on August 16 (Palio dell'Assunta), the day after the Feast of the Assumption, and is likewise dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After exceptional events (e.g. the Apollo 11 moon landing) and on important anniversaries (e.g. the centennial of the Unification of Italy), the Sienese community may decide to hold a third Palio between May and September. The most recent was in 2000 to mark the Millennium.
The field consists of ten horses, so not all seventeen contrade can take part in the Palio on any occasion. The seven contrade which did not take part in that month of the previous year are automatically included three more are chosen by draw (twice a year, in the last days of May and at the beginning of July). Private owners (among them, some jockeys) offer the pick of their stables, selected during the year after trial races, other Palio races in Italy and veterinary examination, from which main representatives of the participating contrade, the Capitani, choose ten of approximately equal quality, three days before the race. A lottery then determines which horse will run for each contrada. Six trial races are run, the first on the evening of the horse selection and the last on the morning before the Palio. The devout residents of each contrada, known as contradaioli, invoke the sacred aid of their patron saint for their horse and jockey.
The worldly improve their odds with arguably dubious methods, chiefly bribery and doping. The sensible simply keep a close watch on their stable and their rider.
The horses are of mixed breed no purebred horses are allowed.
The race is preceded by a spectacular pageant, the Corteo Storico, which includes (among many others) Alfieri, flag-wavers, in medieval costumes. Just before the pageant, a squad of carabinieri on horseback, wielding swords, demonstrate a mounted charge around the track. They take one lap at a walk, in formation, and a second at a gallop that foreshadows the excitement of the race to come, before exiting down one of the streets that leads out of Piazza del Campo. Spectators arrive early in the morning, eventually filling the centre of the town square, inside the track, to capacity the local police seal the entrances once the festivities begin in earnest. Seats ranging from simple bleachers to elaborate box seats may be had for a price, but sell out long before the day of the race.
At 7.30 p.m. (July) / 7 p.m. (August), the detonation of an explosive charge echoes across the piazza, signaling to the thousands of onlookers that the race is about to begin. The race itself runs for three laps of the Piazza del Campo, the perimeter of which is covered with several inches of dirt, tuff (imported and laid for the occasion at great expense to the city), and the corners of which are protected with padded crash barriers for the occasion. The jockeys ride the horses bareback from the starting line, an area between two ropes. Nine horses, in an order only decided by lot immediately before the race starts, enter the space. The tenth, the rincorsa, waits outside. When the rincorsa finally enters the space between the ropes the starter (mossiere) activates a mechanism that instantly drops the canapo (the front rope). This process (the mossa) can take a very long time, as deals have usually been made between various contrade and jockeys that affect when the rincorsa moves - he may be waiting for a particular other horse to be well- or badly-placed, for example.

On the dangerous, steeply canted track, the riders are allowed to use their whips (in Italian, nerbi, stretched, dried bull's penises) not only for their own horse, but also for disturbing other horses and riders. The Palio in fact is won by the horse who represents his contrada, and not by the jockeys. The winner is the first horse to cross the finish line &mdash a horse can win without its rider (a condition known as cavallo scosso). A horse can also win without its decorative headgear (spennacchiera), although the opposite belief is widely held even among the Sienese. The loser in the race is considered to be the contrada whose horse came second, not last.
The winner is awarded a banner of painted silk, or palio, which is hand-painted by a different artist for each race. The enthusiasm after the victory, however, is so extreme that the ceremony of attribution of the Palio is quite instantaneous, being the first moment of a months-long celebration for the winning ward. There are occasional outbreaks of violence between partisans of rival contrade.
There may be some danger to spectators from the sheer number of people in attendance. There have also been complaints about mistreatment of horses, injuries and even deaths, especially from animal rights associations and even from some veterinarians. In the Palio held on August 16, 2004 the horse for the contrada of Bruco (the Caterpillar) fell and was badly trampled as the race was not stopped, despite possible additional safety risks for other horses. The horse died of its injuries, raising further complaints from animal rights organizations, which do not recognize the municipality's efforts to improve the safety of the race and the exceptionality of that accident.

The Palio differs from "normal" horse races in that part of the game is for the wards to prevent rival contrade from winning. When a contrada fails to win, its historical enemy will celebrate the fact nearly as merrily as a victory of its own, regardless of whether adversarial interference was a deciding factor. Few things are forbidden to the jockeys during the race for instance, they can pull or shove their fellows, hit the horses and each other, or try to hamper other horses at the start.

The most successful ward is Oca, the Goose, which has won 63 races (at least according to their records, which start from 1644), followed by Chiocciola, the Snail, with 51, and Tartuca, the Tortoise, with 46. Oca is also the contrada with the most wins in recent history (from 1900 to 2010) with 21 victories, followed by Selva, the Forest, with 18, and Drago, the Dragon, with 17.
Among jockeys, the most victorious of all time is Andrea De Gortes nicknamed "Aceto" (or "vinegar") with 14 wins (from 1964 to 1996), followed by Angelo Meloni, nicknamed "Picino", who won 13 times between 1897 and 1933. Luigi Bruschelli, nicknamed "Trecciolino", who is still active, is third in the number of wins with 12 successes.
The most successful horses were Folco and Panezio with 8 wins each, followed by Topolone with 7.
In recent history (from 1900 to the present), only two wards have ever succeeded in winning both the July and the August races in a single year (the term in Italian is "fare cappotto"). These are Tartuca (the Tortoise), which won both Palii in 1933, and Giraffa (the Giraffe) in 1997 with jockey Giuseppe Pes, nicknamed "Il Pesse".

The Palio di Siena is more than a simple horse race. It is the culmination of ongoing rivalry and competition between the contrade. The lead-up and the day of the race are invested with passion and pride. Formal and informal rituals take place as the day proceeds, with each contrada navigating a strategy of horsemanship, alliances, and animosities. There are the final clandestine meetings among the heads of the contrade and then between them and the jockeys. There is the two-hour pageant of the Corteo Storico, then all this is crowned by the race, which takes only about 75 seconds to complete. Although there is great public spectacle, the passions displayed are still very real.

There is also particular attention to the ward that has been the longest without a victory. In this case the contrada is nicknamed "nonna", or "grandmother". Civetta (the Owlet), had the title from 1979 until 2009, when it won the August 16 race. Torre, the Tower, had this title for being without victory for 44 years (from 1961 to 2005) and also Bruco, the Caterpillar, held the title for not winning over 41 years (from 1955 to 1996). The current "nonna" is Lupa (the She-Wolf), which has not had a victory since 2 July 1989, a period of 21 years, 255 days.

The drappellone (banner), or palio, known affectionately as "the rag" in Siena, is the trophy that is to be delivered to the contrada that wins the Palio.
The palio is an elongated rectangular piece of silk, hand-painted by an artist for the occasion. It is held vertically on a black-and-white shaft halberd and topped by a silver plate with two white and black plumes draped down the sides.
The palio, along with the plumes, remains the property of the contrada. The plate is returned to the city of Siena before the two Palii of the following year, after the date and the name of the victorious contrada are inscribed on its back. There is one silver platter for the Palio in July and another for the August Palio. The plates are replaced approximately every ten years.
The value of the banner is unique, because it represents a particular historical period of the city of Siena. The palii often reflect the symbols of the various governments that have presided, at various times including the crest of the grand duchy of Lorraine, the crest of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the crest of the Kingdom of Savoy of Italy, symbols from Fascist Italy, and most recently imagery of the Republic.
The process that an artist should follow in designing the palio is rigid: it must follow a precise iconography that includes some sacred symbols, as the July Palio is dedicated to the Madonna of Provenzano, and that of August to the Madonna of the Assumption. It must present the insignia of the city, those of the third part of the city, and the symbols or colors of the ten contrade participating in the race. There are, however, no limits regarding the style of the art. The palio is first presented at a press conference in the courtyard of the Podestà of the City Hall about a week before the race.

The Palio runs throughout the year

Although many activities take place within each Contrada, the organization of the Palio is still the largest, since it is not just in two races each year. Each time, the festival itself runs for four days of intense rich and various events, the preparation of which lasts all year.
From early winter the leaders are talking and developing strategies, making contacts with the jockeys and horse owners. These prepare those who run in square or taking part in minor Palios (la cosiddetta provincia ) and bringing them to training courses organized by the city in the spring.
The full activities of the Palio start to grow in momentum towards the end of May, with the drawing of lots of the three remaining contrade that will join the seven that have won the right to race. With districts and teams outlined Contrade begin to talk about "deals" (engagement of jockeys) and "parties" (secret pacts for the win), despite the not knowing which horse that will be drawn in the lot.
About a week before the race the Palio (Drappellone) itself is presented to the City who has commissioned a local artist (in the case of the Palio of July) or internationally recognized (in the case of the Palio of August or a special Palio). Also at this time prior visits occur to where the horse will be presented for the lottery.
In the first of four days of festival the lottery is held, and subsequent combination of the Barbero (The term racehorse in the city of Siena and Tuscany) to districts in the race. The stone race track around the square is covered with a layer of dirt composed of a mixture of tuff, clay and sand. Six trials are run, during which the riders have the opportunity to better understand the behaviour of the horse that they have mounted and do get used to the square, its sounds and rhythms of the race. Although the trials are followed by many tourists and Contrada members in square, barriers are mounted on the outside of the track.
Among the events that mark the approach of the Palio are the rehearsal dinner, the "mass" of the jockeys, and the blessing of the horse and jockey.

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