Locked away in the Torre della Ghirlandina — a bell tower in Modena, Italy — sits a wooden bucket that is the namesake of a war. The conflict began in 1325, fought between Modena and Bologna, neighboring city-states with a history of political differences. (The Bolognese supported the pope, while the Modenese supported the Holy Roman Emperor.) It should have been a forgotten political skirmish, but the War of the Bucket went down in history — thanks to the humble oaken pail for which it was named.
According to popular legend, the war began when the wooden bucket kept in the Bologna town well was allegedly stolen by Modenese soldiers who snuck into town, leading the Bolognese to retaliate in an all-out war. More likely, it started after an invasion of Bologna by the Modenese, and the bucket was a trophy gathered at the end of the war by the victorious Modenese, who were elated at their triumph despite being woefully outnumbered. The role of the bucket was exaggerated as the story was passed down through generations, and the myth was cemented by the poet Alessandro Tassoni’s 1622 satirical poem “La secchia rapita,” in which he joked that the Bolognese offered hostages, towns, and more in exchange for their stolen bucket. One aspect of Tassoni’s poem still rings true, however: He wrote, “the Bucket was soon to be locked away, in the tallest tower it remains to this day, up on high the trophy hangs bound, by a great chain nailed far off the ground.”