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Bloodlust in medieval Perugia

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Medieval Perugia was evidently a hell of a place to be. “The most warlike of the people of Italy”, wrote the historian Sismondi, “who always preferred Mars to the Muse.” Male citizens played a game (and this was for pleasure) in which two teams, thickly padded in clothes stuffed with deer hair and wearing beaked helmets, stoned each other mercilessly until the majority of the other side were dead or wounded. Children were encouraged to join in for the first two hours to promote “application and aggression”.

In 1265 Perugia was also the birthplace of the Flagellants, who had half of Europe whipping itself into a frenzy before the movement was declared heretical. In addition to some hearty scourging they took to the streets on moonlit nights, groaning and wailing, dancing in white sheets, singing dirges and clattering human bones together, all as expiation for sin and the wrongs of the world. Then there were the infamous Baglioni, the medieval family who misruled the city for several generations, their spellbinding history – full of vendetta, incest and mass slaughter – the stuff of great medieval soap opera.

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