Battle of Meloria (1284)

Battle of Meloria (1284)

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Meloria

image size=150px
caption=Fresco commemorating the battle. Diano Castello, Liguria, Italy.
date=August 6 1284
place=Meloria islet, off Livorno, Italy
result=Decisive Genoese victory
commander1=Oberto Doria
Benedetto Zaccaria
Oberto Spinola
commander2=Alberto Morosini
Ugolino della Gherardesca
Andreotto Saraceno
strength1=93 war galleys, "galeotte" and "fuste"
strength2=72 galleys, "galeotte" and "fuste"
casualties2=5,000/6,000 dead, 11,000 prisoners, 50 ships sunk or captured

The Battle of Meloria was fought on Sunday August 6 1284 near the Meloria islet, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was a typical medieval sea-fight, and accomplished the ruin of Pisa as a naval power.


The long rivalry between Pisa and Genoa had broken out for the last time in 1282, the immediate cause being the incompatible claims of the two cities to sovereignty over the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. The earlier conflicts of the war in 1282, 1283 and the spring of 1284 had been unfavorable to Republic of Pisa. Although the city was united with the Catalans and with Venice in hostility to the Republic of Genoa, and though it had chosen a Venetian, Alberto Morosini, as its Podestà, it received no help from either.

The Genoese, who had the larger and more efficient fleet, sent their whole power against their enemy. When the Genoese appeared off Meloria, the Pisans were lying in the river Arno, at the mouth of which lay Porto Pisano, the port of the city. The Pisan fleet represented the whole power of the city, and carried members of every family of mark and most of the great officers of state.

The battle

The Genoese, desiring to draw their enemy out to battle, and to make the action decisive, arranged their fleet in two lines abreast. The first was composed, according to Agostino Giustiniani, of fifty-eight galleys, and eight "panfili", a class of light galleys of eastern origin named after the province of Pamphylia. Oberto Doria, the Genoese admiral, was stationed in the center and in advance of his line. To the right were the galleys of the Spinola family, and of four of the eight "companies" into which Genoa was divided: Castello, Piazzalunga, Macagnana and San Lorenzo. To the left were the galleys of the Dorias, and of the other four companies, Porta, Soziglia, Porta Nuova and Il Borgo.

The second line of twenty galleys, under the command of Benedetto Zaccaria, was placed so far behind the first that the Pisans could not see whether it was made up of war-vessels or of small craft meant to act as tenders to the others. Yet it was near enough to strike in and decide the battle when the action had begun.

The Pisans, commanded by the Podestà Morosini and his lieutenants Ugolino della Gherardesca and Andreotto Saraceno, came out in a single body. It is said that while the Archbishop was blessing the fleet the silver cross of his archiepiscopal staff fell off, but that the omen was disregarded by the irreverence of the Pisans, who declared that if they had the wind they could do without divine help.

The Pisan fleet advanced in line abreast to meet the first line of the Genoese, fighting according to the medieval custom to ram and board. The victory was decided for Genoa by the squadron of Zaccaria, which fell on the flank of the Pisans. Their fleet was nearly annihilated, the Podestà was taken, and Ugolino fled with a few vessels.


As Pisa was also attacked by Florence and Lucca it could never recover from the disaster. Two years later Genoa took Porto Pisano, and filled up the harbor. As a permanent consequence of this defeat, Pisa lost once and for all its role as major Mediterranean naval power and as regional power of Tuscany, being overshadowed and finally conquered, in 1406, by Florence.

The count Ugolino was afterwards starved to death with several of his sons and grandsons in the manner made familiar by the 32nd canto of Dante's "Inferno". One famous captive of the battle was Rustichello da Pisa, who cowrote Marco Polo's account of his travels, "Il Milione".

ee also

*History of Genoa
*History of Pisa
*Genoese crossbowmen



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