Calcio Fiorentino (also known as Calcio Storico) is a sport that recalls a game called harpastum in Latin is an early form of soccer (football and rugby) that originated in 16th century Italy.
In antiquity, numerous cultures developed sports that use spherical bodies of varying sizes.
Spheromachy was a game played in Ancient Greek later adopted by the Romans, With the name of Harpastum, from the Greek verb ἁρπάζω (harpázō) “to tear, to catch, to take away by force”.
The Harpastum was played (probably with a ball stuffed with rags or leather) on a sandy ground by two teams of equal numbers of players who had to follow very precise regulations.
Given the virile nature of the competition, made up of close fights and continuous melee for possession of the ball, the Harpastum was very popular especially among the legionaries who thus contributed to its diffusion in the various areas of the Roman Empire.
Suetonius, for example, tells of the emperor Augustus:
“Immediately after the civil war he gave up exercise with horses and arms in the Campus Martius, at first turning to pass-ball and balloon-ball, but soon confining himself to riding or taking a walk, ending the latter by running and leaping, wrapped in a mantle or a blanket.”
Tradition has it that Florentine football is a direct continuator of this Roman game.
Team games with the ball, often of a rather violent nature, are attested in the Middle Ages in different regions of Europe. Outside Italy we have examples in England and in France, especially in Normandy and Picardy with soule.
However, despite these origins, the first sources that speak of it are only late medieval, in the Renaissance period.
In the second half of the fifteenth-century football had spread so much among young Florentines that they practiced it frequently in every street or square in the city. Over time, however, especially for public order problems, it went towards greater organization and football began to be practiced especially in the most important squares of the city. The players (calcianti) who took to the field were mostly noble (including future popes) from 18 to 45 years old and dressed in the sumptuous liveries of the time, which then gave the name to this sport (Calcio Fiorentino is also known as Calcio in livrea).
The matches were usually organized during the Carnival period but not only. The most famous is certainly the one played on February 17, 1530, which inspired the modern re-enactment, when the Florentines besieged by imperial troops, of Charles V, showed off carelessly by playing the ball in Piazza Santa Croce. Florence was subsequently conquered and surrendered to the Spanish-imperial forces of Charles V in the siege of Florence on August 12, 1530.
The popularity of this game lasted throughout the seventeenth century, but in the following century, a slow decline began which led to its disappearance, at least as an organized event.
The last official game that we know of was played in January 1739 in the square of Santa Croce, in the presence of Maria Teresa, future empress of Austria.
Excluding the two re-enacting games played in 1898 and 1902, almost two centuries passed before the city of Florence could see its ancient game resurrect.
However, the game continued to be played in the streets and alleys of the neighborhoods by young Florentines. In 1930 for the four-hundredth anniversary of the Siege of Florence, the first tournament between the districts of the city was organized by the fascist hierarch Alessandro Pavolini.
From 1930, except for the war period, the games between the players of the four historic districts of Florence took place on time.
The regulation of such an ancient game as Florentine football has undergone significant changes over the centuries; today, however, we play with very specific rules that refer to those of the 16th century.
The rules in force in the late sixteenth century were summarized in the regulation of 33 articles (“Chapters”) by Giovanni de ‘Bardi (1580).
The game must be played on a certain square (Piazza di S. Croce), during the Carnival period, before evening, etc.
Matches last 50 minutes and are played on a field covered in sand, twice as long as it is wide.
Each team has 27 players and no substitution are allowed for injured or expelled players.
The teams are made up of 4 goalkeepers (Datori indietro), 3 fullbacks (Datori innanzi), 5 halfbacks (Sconciatori), 15 forwards (Corridori o Innanzi).
The referee and 6 linesmen officiate the match in collaboration with a Judge Commissioner while the Captain and Standard Bearer’s tents sit at the center of each goal net.
When the game begins, the 15 forwards begin fighting in a mix of martial arts, kicking, punching, hacking, tackling and wrestling with each other to tire opponents’ defenses.
Once there are enough incapacitated players, the other teammates head to the goal.
Here is when the Caccia begins. The caccia is the effort to get the ball into opponents’ goal. The teams change sides with every goal scored.
Featured image: wikimedia (photo by Lorenzo Noccioli)
Topics: calcio storico, calcio storico Florence, calcio storico history, florentine football