Battle of Meloria

Article

August 19, 2022

The Battle of Meloria was a historic naval battle that involved the fleet of the Republic of Genoa and that of the Maritime Republic of Pisa. The battle, which took place on August 6, 1284 off the coast of Porto Pisano, strongly weakened the Pisan naval fleet, starting the slow decline of Pisa as a seafaring power in Italy during the Middle Ages.

Background

General causes

At the end of the 13th century Pisa and Genoa were two seafaring cities which in the last decades had had a great economic and demographic development. Their proximity and their profitable trades, which covered the entire Mediterranean Sea, contributed to multiplying their contrasts, conducted in order to obtain hegemony over strategic territories and commercial traffic. This situation was the prerequisite for a significant armed conflict like the one that occurred at Meloria.

Alliances

The enmity between the cities of Genoa and Pisa began with the San Saba War. During this war, the Pisans, who were initially allied with the Genoese, broke the alliance in 1257 and allied themselves with the Venetians. The king of Sicily Charles of Anjou was very hostile towards Ghibelline cities such as Genoa but had commercial and military agreements with Pisa. Genoa and the Byzantine Empire had allied themselves against Venice to reconquer Constantinople. Then gradually two camps were formed: the first made up of Pisa, Venice, the Papal State and the Kingdom of Sicily; the second would include Genoa and the Byzantine Empire. The Pisan city therefore had valid chances of victory thanks to its network of alliances.

The years before the battle

The first looting

The hostilities in the Mediterranean began gradually and the responsibility for the conflicts seems to lie mainly with the Pisans. Pisa had had a lower economic and demographic growth than that of Genoa but could count on the alliances stipulated with Venice and Charles I of Anjou. The years before the battle of Meloria mainly saw a racing war between the two cities, which consisted of rapid and unpredictable looting that had the aim of sabotaging the adversaries' trade.

The start of the war

The clashes intensified in 1282 and a real war began between the two maritime cities. Two events, in particular, caused the outbreak of the war. The first was an attack by two fast Pisan ships that seized, near Naples, a galley of the Genoese Guglielmo de Mari, taking the owner as a hostage. The city of Genoa asked for the hostage's release and compensation for the damage caused, but received no response. The second event was the election by the Pisans of Sinuccello della Rocca as Count of Corsica. Sinuccello immediately began to raid, attacking anyone who approached Corsica. The municipality of Genoa received constant complaints and therefore in May 1282 sent four war galleys to fight Sinuccello della Rocca, who was defeated and had to take refuge in Pisa, which considered him an ally. Then thirty-five warships departed from Genoa, commanded by Admiral Nicolino Spinola on 10 August 1282. Near the Secche della Meloria the Genoese found thirty-two Pisan galleys and then retired after a few hours, probably because they were frightened by the Pisan fleet. Furthermore, the peasants who had been drafted needed to dedicate themselves to the grape harvest. In the meantime, a few hundred Pisan soldiers landed in Corsica together with the Judge of Cinarca and conquered many castles that were occupied by the Genoese. Then they went to the island of Palmaria, which belonged to Genoa, and devastated it. More than half of the Pisan fleet, however, was destroyed by a shipwreck, during the return home. At this point war was inevitable and both cit