The War of the Fists: Popular Culture and Public Violence in Late Renaissance Venice / Edition 1

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Overview

The War of the Fists is a study of seventeenth-century worker culture in the city of Venice, focusing on the mock battles, or battagliole, which the town's two popular factions waged on public bridges. These "little battles" were partly festive battle, partly sport, and partly thinly veiled plebeian mayhem: they could involve as many as a thousand fighters on each side and attracted crowds of thirty thousand or more. Their importance in the city's plebeian life makes bridge battles an extremely valuable point of entry for exploring structures of Venetian popular culture, a task which Robert Davis attempts at four levels: the social geography of Venetian factionalism; the combat itself, and its relationship to social culture; the festive world which grew up around the encounters; and the response of Venice's patrician state to this largely uncontrollable worker celebration.
From the study there emerges a popular world often surprisingly rich: with plebeian honor, status, and neighborhood loyalties that flourished in parallel and sometimes in competition with a patrician domination of urban life at the city's geographic center. In a sense, these encounters represented popular culture "in the making," as Venice's marginal classes fashioned out of apparent chaos the ritual structures they needed to satisfy social needs that otherwise went unmet in their aristocratic state.
As a microhistory that uses Venetian bridge battles as a key to understanding many facets of popular society, The War of the Fists will be of interest to social historians and historical anthropologists, as well as historians of urban society, gender, workers, sports, social geography, popular art and culture, and the absolutist state.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Davis tells a colorful story with verve and acumen, and couches it comfortably in matters of import for the larger social history of pre-modern Europe."—Journal of Social History

"Davis describes in great detail this little-known feature of Venetian popular culture, drawing out its social ramifications. Based on a range of original sources and graced with illustrations and maps, this is an excellent study of plebeian life in early modern Europe."—Choice

"In this fascinating and well written book Robert Davis opens up a surprisingly new and challenging vision of the social world and violent life of late Renaissance Venice from the apparently humble and insignificant perspective of regular battles waged by artisans and lower class toughs for the honor of dominating certain bridges in the city. This book can be read as an exciting example of the new social/cultural history, as a stimulating prototype of microhistory, as a rather different direction to take the history of sport, or simply as an intriguing read on the complex and still surprisingly unknown world of everyday life in the early modern period. Not only is this history that is fun to read and think about, it is history that will be most intriguing to build upon."—Guido Ruggiero, University of Connecticut

"This is a fascinating evocation of the passions and behavior of the ordinary citizens of Renaissance Venice. Professor Davis vividly exposes the tensions that lay below the surface of that smoothly-functioning Republic, and suggests that the battles on the bridges provided an outlet for anger and rivalry that helped the Serenissima maintain its aura of social order and political calm. If topography and the involvement of all levels of society made Venice unique, this account nevertheless reveals the roots of modern public sports events in the confrontations, the maneuvers, and the forms of popular recreation that Davis here brings so colorfully to life."—Theodore K. Rabb, Princeton University

"This study provides great insight into a characteristic of the popular culture of Venetian society too often neglected in the depiction of life in this Renaissance republic. Davis allows the reader to gain a more complete understanding of the various dynamic forces at work in the social and cultural world of the 'Queen of the Adriatic.' This well-written and intriguing study will be of interest to both cultural and social historians not only of Venice, but sixteenth-century society as a whole. Davis contributes to our further understanding of the complexity of this unique republic at a moment when it enjoyed the reputation of stability and tranquility among the Italian city-states of the Renaissance."—Sixteenth Century Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195084047
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/28/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.54 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert C. Davis is Assistant Professor of Renaissance Italian History at Ohio State University and the editor of News on the Rialto, a newsletter for Venetian historical studies.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Chronicler's Art 3
1 Why Bridges? 13
Castellani and Nicolotti 19
A World of Faction 32
2 Horatius on the Bridge 47
The Art of the Pugni 49
The Battle for the Bridge 72
The Lords of the Bridges 78
3 The Spoils of War 89
The Honor of Working Men 90
Naming and Belonging 109
The Pride of the Neighborhood 117
4 The View from the Balcony 129
The Pastime of Aristocrats 131
The Pugni Out of Control 140
The Ambiguities of Absolutism 155
Epilogue: The End of the Pugni 165
Notes 173
Bibliography 219
Index 227
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