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The Ubaldini

Origins and rise to political fortune

The powerful Ubaldini family, which dominated the Mugello and the Apennines over the ages, originally belonged to that select group of aristocratic families forming part of the entourage of the Tuscan Margrave and was, in particular, closely connected to the Canossa lineage. Such relations with the powerful enabled some of the members of the family to gain access to the city of Florence around the mid-XI century and join the patronage of the bigger religious institutes of the city, such as the bishopric. It was, however, their position in the circle of the Margrave which led to their social ascent and enabled them to establish a stronghold over the Mugello area during the course of the XII century, after the demise of the Tuscan margrave. In fact, with the death of Matilda of Tuscany, the Ubaldini transferred all their interests to the area with the aim of creating a noble dominion for themselves based on the vast lands they owned.

The constitution and extension of the signoria

It was under Ubaldino, documented from 1098 to 1105, the first of his line to bear the name despite not being the forefather, that the prestige of the family was to grow considerably, so much so that they took his name. However, the political success which enabled the family to constitute the famous and resistant rural signoria was also due to other factors: firstly as a result of adopting an unusual genealogical strategy which tended to privilege the offspring of the first born. The division of any inheritance between successors was thus avoided and the assets of the family remained intact, leading to the full control of the territory and its resources. It was only towards the end of the XII century that the children of Ubaldino di Mugello, grandson of the former, divided the vast territory into the three branches which were to characterise its vicissitudes in the years to come. It was on this on this basis that the family came to be divided among the properties in Galliano, Senni and Montaccianico, where the larger branch of the family remained. During this period the Ubaldini possessed vast estates, bearing various rights and controlled numerous castles, exercising their power through strong military and legal control of the populations over a vast area reaching from the hills north of Florence along the Faltona valley as far as the heart of the Bolognese Apennines, with offshoots into the upper Sieve and Santerno valleys. In modern terms this area would cover the municipal boroughs of Borgo S. Lorenzo, Scarperia, Firenzuola and Monghidoro, and in part Barberino di Mugello, S. Piero a Sieve and Vicchio. By owning estates along both sides of the Apennines the family was thus able to control the main routes connecting Florence to Bologna and the Po valley, including some highly strategic points such as the Apennine passes.


Of the three branches which formed within the family the most powerful was that of Montaccianico, whose members later extended their estates towards the valley of the Senio and Romagna, as well as Umbria and Montefeltro. When the Ubaldini of Montaccianico acquired institutional legitimacy granted by special right by the emperor Frederick II in 1220 and renewed in 1246, their signoria achieved political maturity.  Grateful for the favours they had been granted they remained faithful to the Empire, seen as the legitimate source of their sovereignty before taking up position at the highest levels of the Tuscan Ghibelline party. In fact they joined the Ghibelline League of Tuscany in the summer of 1251, thereby giving rise to a century of war with Florence. The most famous members of the family naturally belonged to the Montaccianico branch: in particular cardinal Ottaviano (1213-1272), and his older brother Ubaldino della Pila (1205c.-1289), as well as Ruggieri, his son, who was archbishop of Pisa from 1278 to 1295 and condemned Count Ugolino to death, having him immured in the “Torre della Fame”, an episode to which Dante dedicated the entire XXXIII canto of his Inferno, then Ugolino da Senni the nephew of the aforementioned brothers.  (1238-1293).

The war against Florence and the fall of Montaccianico

Given that the Florentine rulers claimed as theirs a fair portion of the territory included in the districtus Ubaldinorum, war appeared the only possible solution in their relations with the Ubaldini dynasty, given the risk they represented in their eyes.  In actual fact the clique presented itself as a strong, united and hostile force, capable, given its stronghold over the people, of effectively opposing the territorial expansion of the city.  At the beginning of the 1300s war became fiercer following the division of the Guelph party into the factions of the Blacks and the Whites, and consequent political and military support proffered by the Ubaldini to the first Florentine exiles starting from 1301. In the summer of 1302, the Whites allied themselves with the Ghibellines in Romagna, to start a military alliance with the Ubaldini through the famous pact of San Godenzo, which Dante Alighieri took part in. The castle of Montaccianico became, along with the city of Pistoia and Bologna, the bastion of the fight against the Florentine Blacks and their allies. The struggle continued with varied outcomes until 1306 when after the volte-face of Bologna and the fall of Pistoia following a siege at the beginning of the year, the Florentine Commune and its allies decreed a resolute action against the Ubaldini and their fortress. After four months of siege the Florentines obtained the surrender of the Montaccianico, paying a high price for it (two parts of the castle cost at least 15,600 gold florins), following which they promised to construct a garrison on the “new land” of Castel S. Barnaba (Scarperia) with the aim of establishing a base from which to take over direct control of the population from the Ubaldini.

The last remnants of resistance and the fall of the signoria

Although the Florentine rulers had been effective in taking the family’s main castle and in destroying it in 1306, the same cannot be said of their control of the population, entirely failing in the Apennine area where the Ubaldini soon reorganised, preventing the infiltration of the Commune. In fact, after an initial formal act of submission  in 1309, they soon took up their arms against the city once again  openly  siding with the Emperor Arrigo VII (1312-1313),  offering their support and participation in the siege of Florence itself. Then again with Ludovico IV (1325-1330), Pisa (1342) and the archbishop of Milan, Giovanni Visconti (1351-1353). It was only thanks to the weakening of family ties caused by further divisions in other branches of the lineage and the consequent sharing out of its assets that Florence was able to get the better of its opponents. The war ended in 1373 with the definitive submission of the Ubaldini to the Republic through its surrender of the last fourteen castles owned by the dynasty between the  Alpes Ubaldinorum (Valle del Santerno)  and the Podere (area of Palazzuolo sul Senio  and part of Marradi),  and consequent delegitimation of its noble powers.


Alcuni dei più noti personaggi della famiglia degli Ubaldini, tutti appartenenti al ramo di Montaccianico, non potevano sfuggire alla penna di Dante, e di fatti furono dal “Sommo Poeta” inseriti tra gli innumerevoli personaggi che appaiono nella Commedia. Questi sono:

il “Cardinale” Ottaviano, figlio di Ugolino di Albizo, fu il presonaggio più noto del casato, Dante lo colloca assieme all’imperatore Federico II nell’Inferno, c. X, vv. 118-120, tra gli epicurei e negatori dell’anima, come ricorda al Poeta Farinata degli Uberti con le seguenti parole:

Dissemi: Qui con più di mille giaccio:

qua dentro è ‘l secondo Federico,

e ‘l Cardinale; e delli altri mi taccio.

Ubaldino della Pila, fratello maggiore del cardinale, fu il capo politico della consorteria che guidava con il fratello, nonché uno dei capi Ghibellini toscani. Dante lo incontra tra i golosi nel Purgatorio, c. XXIV, vv. 28-30:

Vidi per fame a voto usar li denti

Ubaldin dalla Pila e Bonifazio

che pasturò col rocco molte genti.

Ugolino di Azzo, forse Ugolino figlio di Azzo da Montaccianico, cugino dei primi due, oppure Ugolino da Senni, nipote degli stessi e quindi figlio di loro fratello Azzo della Pila. Ricordato anch’esso nel Purgatorio, c. XIV, vv. 103-105 da Guido del Duca:

Non ti maravigliar, s’io piango, Tosco,

quando rimembro con Guido da Prata

Ugolin d’Azzo che vivette nosco,

Arcivescovo Ruggeri, figlio di Ubaldino della Pila, fu l’arcivescovo di Pisa che condannò a morte il conte Ugolino facendolo rinchiudere nella “Torre della Fame”, assumendo così il potere sulla città di Pisa. A tale episodio dedica parte del XXXII e quasi tutto il XXXIII canto dell’Inferno, c. XXXIII, vv. 13-15:

Tu dei saper ch’i fui conte Ugolino

e questi è l’arcivescovo Ruggieri

or ti dirò perch’i son tal vicino.