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Orange festival of Ivrea. Source: Umur / Adobe Stock.

Italy’s Battle of the Oranges Signifies a Maiden’s Revenge Against Her Lord


When one thinks of battles, the imagery that comes to mind usually involves swords, shields, and soldiers. But in a small town in Northern Italy, the weapon of choice is... oranges? Each year, Ivrea, a town in the Piedmont region, becomes a battleground where thousands of citizens engage in an exhilarating citrus skirmish. But the Battle of the Oranges finds its origins in a tragic tale of defiance against tyranny.

From Tyrant Lords to Brave Maidens

The roots of this peculiar battle trace back to the 12th century and involve a heinous right that lords were believed to hold called the "droit de seigneur". According to legend, a wicked lord named Ranieri of Biandrate, tried to exercise this right on a young bride named Violetta on her wedding night. But Violetta, in an act of sheer defiance and courage, decapitated him. This sparked a massive rebellion, where the oppressed townspeople of Ivrea rose against their rulers and overthrew them.

To commemorate and symbolize this victory against oppression, the townspeople adopted the orange. In the reenactment, the oranges are symbolic of the decapitated lord's head and the ancient rocks and arrows used by the townspeople in their revolt. The choice of oranges, while seemingly whimsical, carries with it the weight of that momentous act of resistance by Violetta and the ensuing revolution.

The orange symbolizes the decapitated lord’s head. Source: Fabrizio / Adobe Stock.

The orange symbolizes the decapitated lord’s head. Source: Fabrizio / Adobe Stock.

The Battle's Formation

In the Orange Festival, the reenactment of this historical revolt is far from chaotic. Participants are divided meticulously: the "cart-riders" signify the tyrant lord's guards, and on the opposing side, the "revolutionaries" represent the brave townsfolk. As carts weave through the streets of Ivrea, the air becomes thick with flying oranges, symbolizing the intense conflict of that bygone era.

These aren't your everyday oranges but bitter ones, specifically sourced for the event. By the battle's end, the streets bear witness to the mock warfare with a pulpy residue of the fruit everywhere, reminiscent of the chaos that might have ensued during the actual revolt.

While today's Battle of the Oranges is a spectacle, at its heart, it remains a solemn nod to a town's resilient spirit. The reenactment serves as a yearly reminder of the lengths to which the oppressed will go to claim their freedom.

Top image: Orange festival of Ivrea. Source: Umur / Adobe Stock.

By Joanna Gillan

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Joanna Gillan is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. 

Joanna completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in Australia and published research in the field of Educational Psychology. She has a rich and varied career, ranging from teaching... Read More

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