The chessboard of the Templar Knights... in Lombardy
Knight Galaad, maybe the imaginary Templar prototype from the Arthurian legend cycle, in battle, from BNF Fr.99, f.591v

The chessboard of the Templar Knights... in Lombardy

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Disclaimer: this blog is on history, but not exactly on chess history. I'm trying to see the circumstances under which a possible symbol was born and used in Italy of the middle ages. The chessboard...

After finding an interesting photo of the Sant'Agata church [Tuscany, Italy], showing an 8x8 chessboard on its external wall as a rhombus [shown in a previous forum], I've searched a little in the web... and it was surprising that this wasn't a unique case. There're and other examples of more or less similar chessboards in churches, that can be found mainly in mid-North Italy - if I restrict the search to the 8 x 8 boards only, and not just checkered patterns. And in many articles & books that I've looked at, some of these chessboards are associated with the Templar Knights.

Templar Knights. Two on a single horse as a poverty sign, bearing the baussant, their black and white war flag, in Corpus Christi MS 026, f.110v [13th c., Matthaei Paris Chronica Maiora I]

Reminding you briefly:

The Templar Knights were a Catholic military order founded in 1119, after the suggestion of its first grandmaster, French knight Hugues de Payens, for the protection of the pilgrims in the recently at the time captured Holy Lands. Pope Innocent II in 1139 issued the Omne datum optimum, recognizing the Templars Order as independent & as answering only to him, and approved its Latin Rule of 1129. The order was raising in power during the following years, owning land in many different sites all over Western Europe and along the Mediterranean Sea to Holy Lands. This gave them the opportunity to create a strong banking system, and maybe were the first in opening accounts for their customers and issuing cheque-notes, allowing them to receive their money from any branch store. In Oct 1307 King Philip IV of France ordered the arrest of the Templars and confessions proving heresy were taken, possibly under torture; confessions later retracted. Pope Clement V was opposed to Philip's actions, as the order was answering only to him, but in the end there weren't much to do. Finally, and after some executions, the order was dismantled and its property was split. On the latter some writers found the main reason for the Philip's actions.

Templars' execution, in Royal MS 14 E V, f.492v [ms of 15th c. from Boccaccio, Des Cas des nobles hommes]

Anyway... the connection between the chessboard and the Templars is based by some authors mainly on their baussant's colors, as a fight between good and evil, but also on some mystical power of the number 64. In some I've also read that this 64 is a symbolism of the impossible squaring of the circle [something like: area of the square with side=8 is equal with the circle area with diameter=9 // A-sq.(l=8) = 64, A-circ.(d=8+1=9) = πr2 = π(d/2)2=63.6].

From Antiche testimonianze degli scacchi in Toscana by Mario Leoncini, p. 8
Italian text Google translation a little modified
Le scacchiere e i pavimenti a scacchi, che ornano le chiese dell'alto medioevo, hanno di solito a che vedere con i Cavalieri Templari, ordine istituito nel 1118, il cui vessillo, il Beauccant, una banda bianca sopra una banda nera, era un'estrema sem- plificazione della scacchiera. Talvolta questa semplificazione veniva meno e il Beauceani era disegnato a quadrati. Il simbolismo degli scacchi ricordava la lotta tra il bene e il male, tra la luce e le tenebre combattuta da un esercito bianco e uno nero. Il numero dei quadrati della scacchiera È sessantaquattro, numero della realizzazione — dell'unità cosmica, numero sul quale vengono costruiti i templi. L'intero gioco era un'unica ricerca del Graal, si doveva combattere contro forze oscure. Nelle enormi scacchiere dei pavimenti templari si camminava come pezzi umani. The chessboards and checkered floors, which adorn the churches of the early Middle Ages, usually have to do with the Templar Knights, an order established in 1118, whose banner, the Beaucant, a white band over a black band, was a extreme simplification of the chessboard. Sometimes this simplification disappeared and Beaucant was drawn in squares. Chess symbolism recalled the struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness fought by a white and a black army. The number of squares on the chessboard is sixty-four, number of the realization - of the cosmic unit, number on which temples are built. The whole game was a single quest for the Grail, you had to fight against dark forces. In the huge chessboards of the Templar floors, people walked like human pieces.

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Battle by Templars. Frescos from the interior wall of the Templar's Chapel in Cressac-Saint-Genis [Aquitaine FRA - 12th c.] ~ photo-collection in wikicommons

I didn't read it only here, and my first thought-reaction was the at the time not so good relationship of the Templars with chess, at least officially. It must be the first community-target of the chess restriction by the Church during the middle ages, since their beginnings in the 12th c. [check a previous blog, ch. 3.4]. But this could be only the official version. A second point was that the majority of these 8x8 boards can be found mainly in Italy.

A Templar Knight in battle, on the interior wall over the entrance in the Templar Church of San Bevignate – Perugia ITA, late 13th c. Photocollection & the church in googlemaps

And continuing, Templars were a known & powerful order, with known places all over Europe [a detailed account in The Templar Order in North-west Italy (1142-c.1330) by Elena Bellomo]. But these Templars' chessboards are appearing only in seemingly unknown to them places, with no clear reference to the Knights. This could be only justified, if these chessboards were a Templar sign for the time after the order was banned and dismantled, since 1312.

But this way we are coming to the most crucial part. The dating of these chessboards... not only many of them were possibly made before 1312, but there are at least 3 cases where their dating can go back even before the foundation of the order in 1119. However, the dating is maybe a grey zone. Even if I've found in some cases detailed accounts, I can't be sure.

Some interesting cases are following with approximate chronological order... [all photos, found in web & being of historical objects dated centuries ago, should be considered in public domain]

The Chessboards
a. Toffia h. Otranto
b. Vico Pancellorum i. Piacenza [a new find]
c. Milano j. Scarperia
d. San Cassiano k. Genoa
e. Krk l. Crema
f. Manfredonia Conclusione
g. Bologna

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01 Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Toffia, Rieti, central Italy [a]       up

There's an interesting little church in Toffia...

facade of San Lorenzo in Tofia. With red arrows are marked the following details...
Right arrow: Right newer photo, left older with more contrast for clarity
Left arrow: Right newer photo, left older with more contrast for clarity

The church of San Lorenzo, mentioned through the ages, has a remarkable facade. Left & right of the door there're two 8 x 8 chessboards!

The church was probably built before 964 AD, year that was considered as a temporary seat of Sabina. The latter, as the previous one in Foronovo was evacuated due to Saracens' raids. A hint that maybe moves the dating even before 915 AD, year of the Battle of Garigliano, defeat of Saracens and retreat from their local stronghold, that was their base for these raids. But it seems that there's also a mention in a document of 940 AD [found reproduced in 1765], where the author describes San Lorenzo as the old parish church [Memorie di tre antiche chiese di Rieti by Pierluigi Galletti, 1765, pp. 120.fn2-122, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica, vol LX, 1853, p.72 & Medieval Italy by Pasquale Villari, p. 46]

The church probably hasn't changed its appearance. I say this cause besides these boards, there're Roman fragments in the facade [as some kind of mosaic parts] dated since 2nd c. BC, something that can allow us to believe that all were inserted from the beginnings. However the medieval chessboards don't seem just as previous fragments like the roman ones, but as been made this way, if their border tells us the truth.

At the time Toffia should be considered part of the Papal States.

further links:

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02 Pieve di San Paolo in Vico Pancellorum, Bagni di Lucca, Toscana [b]       up

Band over front door, a Cross, a Tree of Life, a Knight with a sword, a chessboard and a Madonna enthroned, & in googlemaps
the chessboard

According to the official Tuscany site the church is remembered since 873 AD, while from the rest objects the oldest seem to be some frescos since 14th c.

This 873 AD [April, 24] is mentioned back in 1841, as a reference published in some T. V P. II delle Memorie lucchesi, the latter without given date [local archive?]. While according to the researcher Longhi a "promise" of 36 soldi, with this same date [24.04.0873], was given between two priests, as a rent for the church. Ridolfi & Bertoncini are giving some more historical archive mentions of the church, dated during 10th & 11th c. [in Em. Repetti in Dizionario d. Toscana v.4, 1841, p.43, Il Segreto della Scacchiera, 2018, by G. M. Longhi, Basiliche medioevali by E. Ridolfi & P. Bertoncini, p. 194].

Generally the church is dated between this 873 AD and 11th c. with no further info given for restorations, additions etc. At the time Vico Pancellorum should be part of the March of Tuscany, but in general it should be considered an unstable period regarding the history of this region. It could be considered a land under question...

A notable recorded event is a possible conflict between the March of Tuscany and the forces of Conrad II, Holy Roman Emperor, in 1027 near the city of Lucca. According to the synchronous account of Wipo of Burgundy, Conrad, on his way to Rome for his coronation in early 1027, was stopped near Lucca by the forces of Rainier, Margrave of Tuscany. A Conrad's delay is just mentioned and a possible Rainier's defeat. Poor accounts and sources are found around Rainier [Reginhero in Latin], who seems to rule in the area during 1014-1027, while he wasn't a descendant of any previous marquis, neither left some heir [in Gesta Chuonradi II by Wipo, ed. 1878, p.27, ch.15, & more sources in treccani encyclopedia].

A really important figure of the time was Matilda di Canossa, the Great Countess of Tuscany & daughter of Boniface III, who was the successor of Rainier. She ruled in Tuscany during 1052-1115, and her reign could be considered as successful. Supporter of the Pope, she came in an open war against Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, for the control of the area since 1081 ca, in which she actually prevailed in the end. These battles took place mainly northern. "Henry was welcomed to Lucca in 1081 by the enemies of Bishop Anselm II who had expelled him from the city after Matilda’s defeat at Volta the previous October."

Maybe in Matilda one can find the Guelph tradition in North Italy, as his second husband was Welf II, Duke of Bavaria [Henry IV of Germany 1056-1106 by I. S. Robinson, pp. 211ff, Matilda of Tuscany by N. Duff, 1909, Matilda, Countess of Tuscany by M. Huddy, 1906].

Matilda on right with Abbot Hugh of Cluny, while Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV is asking her to intervene in Henry's dispute with Pope Gregory VII, after possibly the famous Walk to Canossa of 1077, from Vita Mathildis (c. 1115), Ms Vat.Lat 4922, f49r

Besides these, I really loved this band... like a message I have to decode, but without some luck!

further links:

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03 Basilica di Sant'Ambrogio, Milano [c]       up

And we come in something more crowded and with more info...

an 8 x 8 chessboard in rhombus shape just right of the central portal of Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan & in googlemaps

If there weren't some more clues, maybe this chessboard would seem like some kind of joke. Doesn't it look like more recent? But Sant'Ambrogio has two more examples like this... Firstly a 7x7 chessboard up right of the big central portal. But also two more inside, on the left wall. A 7x7 and a 5x5 checkered boards...

background b+w photo from the Goodyear collection [1901] in wikicommons, left colored detail more recent & in googlemaps
Not so clear. One more in here & in googlemaps

As one can see, all these checkered patterns are on the main wall body of the church.

I've found really detailed accounts, but in Italian. The church was founded in the late 4th c. and surely since 789 AD, under Charlemagne's rule, a monastery seems to be functional, whose monks have shown some work on the Basilica. During the 9th c., mainly with Angilberto II & Ansperto as archbishops of Milan, some major [re]constructions seem to be started and possibly concluded. In any case till the end of 11th c. everything seem to be as it is today, except the left tall tower [dei canonici], that was made between 1128-1144. The main body seems to be built [facade etc] since Ansperto [late 9th c.], but for sure existed since late 11th c. [among others & links, check Le origini della architettura Lombarda by G. T. Rivoira, 1901, p. 242 & really detailed in many pps, some conclusion in pp. 383-384, Milano ne' suoi monumenti by C. Romussi, 1912].

One interesting thing I've read in Romussi, is some possible influence of the Comacine masters (magistri comacini), a major Lombard corporation of stonemasons, since the early middle ages, that seems to be involved in Basilica's works since the time of the monastery, late 8th c. One of them in fact, maybe a leading, wrote his name, Adam magister, on a column of the central portal [p. 370]. I couldn't help but a thought occurred, connecting these chessboards with them, although I didn't find any solid clues. Just to say that the work of these stonemasons has been tracked all over Europe, even in Sweden.

Part of the Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire since 774 AD, Milan shows some social upheaval during 11th c., along with all Northern Italy, but maybe a little more intense than other cities. During a period where one can find possibly some roots of the following war between Guelphs and Ghibellines, in Milan the society seems to be divided in capitanei [noble Knighthood], valvassores [nobility] & generally cives [or sometimes popolo, being mainly at the beginnings on the side of church], with church having still great secular power. Revolts broke out [mainly of 1036-7, 1040, 1042-3] with civil war characteristics between these classes and changing sides and alliances, causing the reaction of the Holy Emperor who from the beginnings supported valvassores and opposed in the end with Milanese warrior archbishop Ariberto da Intimiano [1040 ca]. By the early 1100s the things seem more balanced while the commune was born. The war of Guelphs and Ghibellines will start some decades ahead [among others detailed in many pps The Growth of the Medieval City by David Nicholas pp. 118ff & 163ff, Italy in the Central Middle Ages by David Abulafia, p. 29ff].

later the Siege of Milan of 1158 in BNF Latin 4915, 370v Mare historiarum, Joanne de Columma, 1250

Templars had a basis in Milan, documented since 1140s. But as you can understand it's a little later than the possible construction dating [check list in The Templar Order in North-west Italy (1142-c.1330) by Elena Bellomo, p. 359].

further links:

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04 Pieve di San Cassiano di Controni, Bagni di Lucca, Toscana [d]       up

An interesting marble 8x8 chessboard can be found inside the church of San Cassiano di Controni...

photo by Enzo Venturelli found in https://unoscacchista.com/2018/11/07/una-gita-tra-amici-e-antiche-scacchiere/ and in googlemaps
a wider aspect, screenshot from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=20&v=TpwDXVFPJBM

The floor has also another 10x8[?] board with different colors...

The church, firstly documented in 722 AD from a cleric's Charta promissionis to a Bishop to be ordained priest soon, it seems to stay in silence until its 2nd mention in 1260. It probably was built in the early 12th c., as an expansion of the pre-existing bell tower of 1030 [according to the official site, giving also some bibliography here, & also in the Tuscany site]. However there's some different dating, published previously back in 1905, according to which the church built over a previous temple of Diana, is of 10th c. while the facade of 13th c. [Collezione di monografie by A. Bonaventura, 1905, p. 69].

It seems to be agreed that the marble inlay floor, that interest us, is the original one.

San Cassiano probably has a similar history background as this of the aforementioned Vico Pancellorum [b].

further links:

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05 Church of St. Lucy, Jurandvor, Krk, Croatia [e]       up

A really interesting find, that its history concerned me a lot, as it's of the few ones lying outside the Italian regions... or not?!

Church of St. Lucy in Krk island & in googlemaps
the chessboard, photo found in here

This church is generally a great historic monument. It's the place where the famous Baška tablet was found. According to translations [that can be found here & here], abbot Držiha declares that the land of the church was given by Zvonimir, Croatian King [important as it seems to be a known name], while the abbot built the church with 9 of his brothers during the days of some Prince Kosmat [possibly Byzantine ??].

the Baška tablet

The Baška tablet is dated around 1100 AD, according to all sources, so the church too. Mentioning Zvonimir, who was King of Croatia and Dalmatia during 1076-1089, sets an early limit of dating. The name of prince Cosmas probably excludes the following members of Francopan family, who ruled the island since 1118 after Venice's permission [check article in Croatian Biographical Lexicon]. But must be added some history fragments that maybe underline an earlier Venice connection.

Venice was present in Krk island and generally Dalmatia coastal land since 1000 ca, when Pietro II Orseolo, Doge of Venice, made a successful naval expedition to these lands. I've read slightly different approaches about when they left the places - dates are between 1024 and 1058 - but in any case in 1024 is said to be somehow substituted by the Byzantines, seemingly allies, and mainly from the south. While in 1058 with Dalmatia becoming part of the Kingdom of Croatia, Western Church is said to retain some power after the Schism of 1054, officially recognizing the aforementioned union. In 1118 Venice came back for good, as the threat of the Hungarian empire appeared in the area, and stayed one way or another for centuries with some gap. [among others check Early Medieval Balkans by J. Fine, p. 276ff, Byzantium's Balkan Frontier by Paul Stephenson, p. 197ff, East Central Europe in the Middle Ages by J. Sedlar, p. 371].

But the most clear passage I've read is the following: "In 1000 the island of Krk, among others, had passed into Venetian hands and remained so with a Croat interlude (1058-1118) until the middle of the fourteenth century" [in The Entry Of The Slavs Into Christendom by A. P. Vlasto, p. 201].

Although all these are underlining some connection of Krk island with Venice, Krk was possibly of the most difficult places regarding the latinization attempt by the Western church of the time. It seems that some rebel Bishop of Krk was still using officially the Slavonic liturgy in the late 1000s, overlooking Pope's indications and official Croatian-Dalmatian attitude [Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages by Florin Curta, p. 335]. However, it should be also remembered that this Demetrius Zvonimir, King of Croatia and Dalmatia, was probably grand son of Hicela, daughter of the Venetian Doge Pietro II Orseolo [History of the Venetian republic by William Carew Hazlitt, 1860, p. 225].

In the end, it must be mentioned some expressed interpretation on this chessboard, maybe extreme seemingly but I can't know. It has been noted as an early form of the Croatian checkered coat of arms, eg in here [also mentioned as an opinion in wiki & in Ethnic and national identities, p. 78, fn. 2]. Officially used as an emblem for first time since the late 15th c., I've found the aforementioned approach a little extreme.

further links:

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06 Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore di Siponto, Manfredonia, Puglia [f]       up

Maybe some of the exceptions... being seemingly away from a North Italy's influence

Santa Maria Maggiore di Siponto & in googlemaps
the chessboard, (ph.arch. M.di Lauro) found in here

Wherever I've looked, the dating is said to be since 1117 AD or more generally of 12th, and sometimes 13th c. Reading more detailed essays, the topic seems slightly more grey and this concerned me mainly regarding the possible Templars' appearance, as for this particular location there's some tendency to be related with [& expected if one thinks its location - a pilgrim's port to the East].

Surely documented since 1117 AD, a first building of Santa Maria seems to be made during late 11th - early 12th c., next to another older paleochristian church [then Cathedral and now destroyed]. This older one possibly was based on the ruins of an ancient Diana temple. Both churches, having similar square base shape, were totally aligned, while through the ages and after destructions, invasions-raids, earthquakes, even some depopulation of the local town, material and artifacts seem to be transferred or exchanged.

After one of these earthquakes of 1223, Santa Maria started to be restored, but a little unclear to what degree. Eg. a change of a portal's placement is noted as possible, but generally I find it unlikely the same material not to be used, meaning inter alia and a possibly already existing chessboard. Times seem difficult, as described, for a totally new building. A crypt was probably the new thing of this restoration of 1223 ca, under the floor of Santa Maria. Later, in a depopulated area of the 16th c., an other restoration is possibly noted, a little obscure, but maybe not so big.

According to what I've read, Santa Maria seems to have surely the same appearance as after the 13th c. restoration, but with doubt since early 12th c & with already used material and same form [?]. So more possible seems that the chessboard was there before the Templars [most detailed account regarding dating in La cattedrale di Santa Maria by C. Serricchio, in Archivio Storico Pugliese 1986/69, also check Casi di reimpiego by L. Di Cosmo in Archeologia Classica Vol. 48 (1996), pp. 193].

Just to note further that here, too, was found an inscription of the 11th c. of some David magister.

probably the crypt as was drawn in Voyage Pictoresque by J. C. R. de Saint Non, v3, 1783, p. 19

The church is an example of Norman-Arab culture, with Byzantine architecture elements - maybe expected & underlining that Santa Maria had this form since Apulia was part of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, during 11th-13th c. The 8 x 8 chessboard, rhombus shaped, is on the right side of the church. But it's not the only diamond shaped artifact. Adolfo Avena was writing in 1902 [Monumenti dell' Italia Meridionale, p. 202]

Italian text: Google translation
Nel basso, fra le colonne, sono scolpite quattro grandi formelle quadrate disposte con la diagonale verticale. Hanno le cornici incassate ed i fondi sono variamente lavorati, alcuni a rosette, a trifogli ed altri a scacchiera. La quale ultima chiaramente rivela la sua origine dall' impresa araldica di quei Normanni, che pellegrinando pel Gargano, sostavano a Siponto per venerare 1' immagine della Madonna, prima d' intraprendere la via di Gerusalemme. In queste formelle si vede anche la croce gerosolimitana che i crociati portavano incisa sugli scudi. In the lower part, between the columns, four large square tiles are carved arranged with the vertical diagonal. They have built-in frames and the bottoms are variously worked, some with rosettes, clovers and others with a checkerboard pattern. The latter clearly reveals its origin from the heraldic enterprise of those Normans, who, on pilgrimage to the Gargano, stopped in Siponto to venerate the image of the Madonna, before embarking on the road to Jerusalem. In these panels you can also see the Jerusalem cross that the crusaders carried engraved on the shields.

Santa Maria is built on a square base [not a so common case], aligned with the of similar dimensions older church, now in ruins. Do you know anything about Christian church orientation? I knew that the axis central gate - altar is always West - East. Something that, after some reading, seems in general to be the rule [in some cases as East was considered the exact point of sunrise of a specific day]. Cases also have occurred where the above don't apply, but in the field of randomness, forced eg by the city plan, roads-other buildings etc; in any case not by a rule [Theology in Stone by R. Kieckhefer, p. 154 & Architecture in Communion by S. J. Schloeder, p. 173].

What of the above do you see in the following?

screenshot from googlemaps. The red lines are the coordinates N - E - S - W and are exact as vertical and horizontal lines. The blue ones are approximately drawn by me with the square being perfect. Result just 2.3 degrees south from the East coordinate line

I see none. I just see an orientation of the axis of the corners, instead of the gate-altar one! Something like pointing the four corners of the world. Two degrees difference is really small I think, that could be their mistake, if not intended for some reason, an earthquake result or even more possibly mine in the drawing. I don't think that this kind of orientation occurred by coincidence. The older paleochristian church should have the same, as aligned. I see the same diamond symbol that is on the external walls of the church... something that can imply that the idea of the chessboard maybe is earlier here.

Maybe these looking for patterns thoughts came up as Santa Maria is said to be full of symbols of mysticism. Anyway...

Siponto [Manfredonia], until the Norman rule that began in 1042 ca. substituting somehow the Lombards, seems to be a city mostly of the Lombard Duchy of Benevento for ages, with main rivals the Byzantines [Catepanate of Italy]. Being almost on the borders of the two aforementioned states, was probably a troubled location [The Age of Robert Guiscard by Gr. Loud, p.97ff & others,  Before the Normans by B. Kreutz, p.xvi & others].

further links:

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07 Basilica del Sepolcro in the building complex of Santo Stefano, Bologna [g]       up

An orgasm of checkered patterns, seemingly for decorative reasons. Not including a 8x8 chessboard, it's presented here mainly for comparison, as in brackets...

wider aspect, photo collection in wikicommons & in googlemaps
two details

Holy Sepulchre in Bologna is dated in 1160 ca. Possibly built over a previous church building complex of 5th-6th c., is probably an imitation of the Anastasis Rotunda from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem - a Crusades' result. Some restorations followed. A disastrous one of the early 19th c. seems that didn't touch these exterior walls. [Lombard architecture by A. K. Porter, 1915, p. 124ff & The Church of Santo Stefano by R. G. Ousterhout in Gesta Vol. 20, No. 2 (1981), pp. 311-321].

Interesting seems to be the at the time history of Bologna. In 1151 a ruler of the city is mentioned, being a local landowner, possibly a first form of podesta. The times were intense in N. Italy regarding the relationship with the Holy Roman Empire. In 1158 "among the rights claimed by Frederick [Barbarossa] at the diet of Roncaglia three years later was the appointment of civic magistrates; when, after he had destroyed Milan in 1162, the rebellious communes began to submit to him once more, Barbarossa tried to ensure their obedience by sending his own men to take charge with the title of imperial vicar or podesta. Not unnaturally these powerful outsiders aroused great hatred in the cities, and it was primarily against them that the communes rose and formed the Lombard League in 1167" [Society and Politics in Mediaeval Italy by J.K. Hyde, p. 101].

Rebelious actions had been noted in N. Italy during this period and Bologna joined the Lombard League in 1167. After the battle of Legnano [1176], that actually ended the first phase of the war between Guelphs and Ghibellines in Italy, and with the Peace of Constance of 1183, Bologna earned some autonomy towards the Holy Roman Empire, along with the rest cities of the Lombard League.

*Guelphs and Ghibellines were the two main parties that were active in the cities-communes of Central & North Italy, during 12th-14th centuries. Their names were probably derived respectively, by the two rivals for the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, the house of the Bavarian Welfs & the house of Hohenstaufens of Swabia, who were based on the castle of Waiblingen. In Italy they had also religious and social characteristics. Generally speaking, Guelphs were on the side of the Pope, based at the beginnings on the merchant class, having some patriotic background [it has been also called party of the popolo, possibly by an early support, although popolo has supported occasionally both parties]. Ghibellines were with the Emperor's side, supported mainly by nobles with landowning rights, that the Emperor had acknowledged. As parties, they could succeed one another regarding the rule of each city. And this succession was often followed by exiles. However some cities are known mostly for their Guelf or Ghibelline action, that could give the character of their at the time history. Example of the latter could be the cities that participated in the first Lombard League and the battle of Legnano, though this shouldn't be taken in account stricto sensu. The Guelf or Ghibelline character could also be given by just the war between two Italian cities for the control of the region, without the direct Emperor's involvement. Since the 2nd half of 13th c. [& followed by the death of the emperor Frederick II in 1250, the battle of Benevento of 1266 and the defeat of Napo della Torre in the Battle of Desio 1278 for the Milan control], these characteristics seem to fade and many sides seem to change [many sources on this complex topic, but scattered. Three accumulated detailed accounts I've found, but long and older, in History of the Italian republics in the middle ages by Simonde de Sismondi, 1906, in The Lombard communes by W. F. T. Butler, 1906 & in Guelphs & Ghibellines: 1250-1409 by O. Browning, 1894].

Maybe the first illustration of the battle of Legnano (1176) in BnF, Latin MS 10136 f.105v, 12th c., Annales de Genes, par Cafaro

The whole building complex started being built few decades before, as probably an imitation of the Holy Sepurchre in Jerusalem, something that could justify here a connection between these checkered patterns and the Templars, though they aren't 8 x 8. However, I couldn't help but think that these checkered patters of Sepolcro in Bologna was an imitation of the ones in Saint Ambrogio of Milan [c], the at the time heroic city of the Guelfs.

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08 The Otranto mosaic in the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Annunziata [h]       up

At the same time Southern...

two images' collage for wider aspect, photocollection in wikicommons & in googlemaps
the chessboard, detail

This enormous mosaic, resembling with the mystical Tree of Life, lies on a floor of the Cathedral of Santa Maria in Otranto, Apulia, the latter built since the 2nd half of 11th c. The mosaic should be made during 1163-65 by Pantaleone, of the local monastery of S. Nicola di Casole, commissioned by Archbishop Jonathas [Ionath], as inscriptions of the mosaic tell:

photo found in here: ex Ionath donis per dexteram Pantaleonis / hoc opus insigne est svperans impendia digne. Also here is written that local and Norman craftsmen as well as artisans from Tuscany are mentioned but without any further reference.

Generally speaking, on the mosaic are portrayed many biblical scenes combined with mythical ones, & out of the christian tradition, and some historic fragments [eg King Arthur]. It could be described as "a vast allegory which embraces universal history, the entire life of the world as conceived by the religious philosophy of the epoch." [in The shores of the Adriatic by F. H. Jackson, p. 40].

Regarding the above chessboard, this can be seen at the beginnings, almost on the roots of the Tree. The female hunter [on the left] has been identified as goddess Diana, but also a possibility of an Amazon has been noted. I haven't found some detailed analysis of this particular scene [the rest are dominating the relevant essays], but I think she is Diana, as it's proved by the human-headed deer's presence [on the right], having the chessboard on his head. It's possibly a scene from the myth of Diana and Actaeon, that can be found in Ovid’s Metamorphoses [in latin & english transl. - the same myth of Artemis and Actaeon is also narrated in Bibliotheca of pseudo-Apollodorus, 3.4.4, in anc. greek].

Actaeon, the great hunter, accidentally is seeing the Goddess naked, while taking her bath. Artemis embarrassed and in order this inconvenience to be kept secret, throws some water on Actaeon's face and turns him into a deer. In the end Actaeon, hunted, is killed by his own hounds.

Métamorphose d'Actéon, Ovid, in BNF fr. 137 f.31r

Really interesting that in our mosaic the chessboard is on Actaeon's head! But not exactly as a square halo [nimbus]. Square haloes had been used in early christianity on living persons' heads that enjoyed some respect. Here Actaeon will die! So what is it? Irony, something like he should think before acting?! A sign of cosmic order or justice [derived by the widest interpretation of a Norman Exchequer]?! A ladder's step, logic as a distinctive point between humans & animals?! Can't know!

Regarding the history of the time that is related with the mosaic, a great read, with an insightful historic point of view and interpretation, is Mapping the Road to Knowledge by Nurit Golan [in Travel, Time, and Space in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Time, pp. 188ff]. Interweaving, as written by Golan, two related claims - pertaining to science and religious belief - the mosaic creation is explained in terms of diplomacy & propaganda, with background the recent revolt of 1161 in the Kingdom of Sicily that was put down by William I the Bad.

Otranto was captured by the Normans from the Byzantines in 1066 ca, after some backs and forths. A great strategic location - & port at the end of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem through Via Francigena-Traiana - something that could justify a possible Templar case. The County of Apulia and Calabria was merged into the Kingdom of Sicily since 1130, under the Norman King Roger II of Sicily.

In 1161 violent revolts, supported by Barons, broke out in Palermo, mainly against Kings' authority [& with antimuslim characteristics as seemingly there was some part of muslim population favored by the Kings of Sicily]. The king was captured, but released shortly under the pressure of the Palermitans. The revolts didn't end right away [and maybe were spread out somehow in the rest of the kingdom /Calabria-Apulia], mainly supported by Roger Sclavus and Lombard immigrants; but in the end William I prevailed [among others detailed in Norman Kings of Sicily by Joshua C. Birk, ch.6, pp. 207ff].

The Otranto mosaic, made after the William's win, is explained by Golan as some kind of allegiance-supporting sign to William I, analyzing some parts of it, but unfortunately not the one of our interest. Focus in on an inscription where one can read the phrase "rege... triumphatore".

This chessboard is maybe the only case, where it could have even a negative meaning, as the rest appear solely as emblems. Considering it as an emblem, is the one on the head of the human-deer [Actaeon] as a crown, who according to the myth will die by his own hounds, and not by Diana's arrows. And here still living, is the one that Diana is aiming, while the other deer is hit. And what's this in his mouth? An ils-de-fleur?

In a place that was surely a pilgrim's port to the East and a time when Templars are present, I can't see how this is connected to them. If it was a Templar's sign, here the Templars will die according to the myth.

Getting back to the history version, just to mention that Roger Sclavus, even defeated in 1161 was still alive and possibly died after William I, while he was a descendant of Adelaide del Vasto from Linguria [Genoa's region] & wife of Roger I.

Lombards???

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09 Piacenza, the Basilica of San Savino & the Palazzo communale - Gotico [i]       up

And an other mosaic but northern and here clearly a chessboard... in Piacenza. An other Guelf at the time city that fought in the battle of Legnano (1176)

a detail of the mosaic, the chessboard, although I can't exactly understand the position & in googlemaps

San Savino, surely dated since 1107 AD [more possible earlier] had suffered changes & additions through the ages, with a first radical one since late 15th c. In early 20th c. restorations began in the crypt [where is our mosaic] revealing previous romanesque [lombard] artifacts. Generally the mosaic is said to be of the early 12th c., but maybe Christopher Kleinhenz seems more accurate dating it in 1160-70 ca [in Medieval Italy, vol2, p. 738 //detail account on the church in San Savino at Piacenza by A. K. Porter, American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 16, No. 3 (1912), pp. 350-367].

In Piacenza it has been recorded an important Templar house, the church of Santa Maria del Tempio, not so close to San Savino. A noticeable information is the good relationships of the Templars with the local Guelphs Scotiis, who probably owned the land of the church and gave it to the Order. Something that maybe can be explained in terms of a general foreign affair point of view. Templars's strongest bases were in France, an antagonist-rival of Holy Roman Empire [in here & in The Templar Order in North-west Italy by E. Bellomo, p. 262 & 173].

But the Scottis are found and somewhere else in Piacenza. The following are pictures from googlemaps. I couldn't find similar anywhere else [do you believe that I've found these by pure luck via googlemaps???]...

Courtyard of Palazzo communale - Gotico in Piacenza
left chessboard
right chessboard

I haven't found some really detailed account on the Palazzo building. However it's written that its construction started in 1281 after Alberto Scoto's initiative and under the supervision of Borghetto, Campanario & de’ Negri. Alberto Scotto [or Scoti], of the known Guelph family of Piacenza, seems to rule in the city during the following years. And although in-Guelph fights have been noted, possibly for the party control, his struggle against Visconti is enough to make him of the Guelphs [for Palazzo: Piacenza official site, Piacenza museums site, Storia dell'arte italiana by A. Venturi, 1901, p. 57, Descrizione dei monumenti by C. Cattanei, Cristoforo, 1828, p. 9. for Alberto Scotto of the most detailed in The Lombard communes by W. F. T. Butler, 1906, p. 386ff]

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10 Pieve di Sant' Agata, Scarperia e San Piero, Florence region, Tuscany [j]       up

a chessboard on the north wall of Sant' Agata & in googlemaps

Sant' Agata seems to be documented for the first time since 984 AD, when a debt of 10 soldi is confirmed to Florentine Bishop. However, the building seems to be dated since 12th c., taking in account an inscription inside the Church [on baptistry], where the year 1175 is written. [official museum site, Dizionario geografico by E. Repetti, vol 1, 1833, p. 52, Saints de la Messe by R. de Fleury, vol 2, 1894, p. 36].

This chessboard has been related with a checkered pattern on the exterior of the near church of San Giovanni Decollato [Cornacchiaia].

half of a 7x7 checkered board, on San Giovanni Decollato [Cornacchiaia], photocollection in wikicommons

Sant' Agata is in the commune of Scarpiera. It lies just 30kms NE of Florence belonging to the area of Mugello, that at the early stage of this period is a part of March of Tuscany. Mugello was ruled by the Ubaldini family, Ghibelline feudal lords, and was a target of the city of Florence since its first days as a commune [early 12th c. - Florence, as many battles can tell, could be considered mainly a guelph city]. A destruction in 1251 of the local Montaccianico Ubaldini castle is mentioned and Florence district limits were surely including the area since late 13th c. The commune of Scarperia was founded by the Florentines in 1306 and as it seems was built around the already existing church [Storia della Toscana, vol 6, 1842, by F. Inghirami, p. 647, Medieval Italy, vol 2, by C. Kleinhenz, p. 1101, Petrarch's War by W. Caferro, p. 23, A History of Florence, by J. M. Najemy, pp. 96-97, Dizionario geografico by E. Repetti, vol 5, 1843, p. 222, Corografia fisica, vol 9, by A. Zuccagni-Orlandini, 1841, p. 821].

The final conflict with Ubaldinis and the built of Scarpiera. No mention of Sant' Agata found, in MS Chig.L.VIII 296 f189r

The above troubled me a little. As we've already seen [and will see] these chessboards are mainly on the walls of churches and cathedrals in regions that had been controlled by the Guelfs. If we set as precondition this Guelf source, this can be explained only as an addition after the Florentine conquest or as a rebellious action of the lonely standing church within the limits of the Ghibelline Ubaldini family, but maybe controlled by the Florentine church. Or it was just earlier. It can be explained this way, but certainly can't be sure...

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11 Cathedral of San Lorenzo, Genoa [k]       up

And we come in Genoa...

the chessboard on the left side & in googlemaps

This chessboard is on a band on the North-left side of San Lorenzo. Looking at it and comparing it, bare eyed, with the even further left wall, it seems to belong to the left depth of the facade construction, that is consisted by grey & white band-stripes. [in googlemaps].

San Lorenzo was consecrated in 1118 and its construction generally is dated during late 9th to early 14th c., with some even later additions. The facade of French-gothic style, where probably our chessboard belongs, is placed over a previous romanesque-Lombard building, and its dating seems to be difficult for the experts. Comparing art styles and written sources, it's placed in the early 13th c. while the official archdiocese website also mentions some first plans and renovating construction since 1230 ca.

It has been advocated that its completion occurred between 1307-1312 and after a fire in 1296 [possibly based on the interpretation of some inscriptions inside], though there're opposite approaches looking earlier. Resuming, I tend to believe that its construction was taking place all over 13th c., as it had been hindered by the Guelphs-Ghibellines wars and financial reasons [check websites of Fo.S.C.A. & wikipedia, where bibliography, also further Visual Culture and Artistic Exchange by R. Müller in Companion to Medieval Genoa, 2018, pp. 300ff, The chronology of medieval and renaissance architecture by J. T. Perry, 1893, p. 79, The City of Genoa by R. W. Carden, 1908, pp. 113ff, an older Il duomo di Genova by G. Banchero, 1859, pp.126ff, Written in stone by St. Gerevini in Viewing Inscriptions, pp. 205ff].

The fact that the chessboard is on the lower bands of the wall, it makes more probable that it was placed from the beginnings of the facade construction, while as of stone, it shouldn't be damaged by the fires of late 13th century at San Lorenzo. It's also really noticeable that instead of some red squares, blue ones have been placed.

from Add MS 27695 f.07r, 1330-1340 c. A part of the Cocharelli codex, here proving the existence of the facade since the early 14th century

A vast period of history to look at, as really intense and maybe complicated. Guelfs and Ghibellines are succeeding one another on the rule of the city [the four families: quatuor gentes - respectively, Fieschi & Grimaldi on the one hand, Doria & Spinola on the other]. While popolo is gaining its identity. But let's give to Genoa [maybe a little arbitrarily] the character of the Guelf...

"In Italy, Genoa became involved in the wars between the Ghibellines, who supported Emperor Frederick II; and the Guelfs, who opposed him and were allies of the papacy. Genoa became a Guelf town because its own ambitions in southern Italy and its fears of Frederick's territorial aims in the north made it a natural ally of the popes; also, a Genoan, the canonist Sinibaldo Fieschi, became Pope Innocent IV in 1243. However, a Ghibelline party did exist in Genoa and in the subject towns of Liguria." [in Medieval Italy by C. Kleinhenz, vol 1, p. 400].

Although in Genoa Guelfs and Ghibellines are succeeding in power, this Guelf character can be easily understood by many events. Main Genoa's rival is Pisa, an almost pure Ghibelline supporter. If we're going to look at Genoa's battles at the time, we can see her fighting against the Emperor, eg. in Battle of Legnano [1176] with the 1st Lombard League, or the battle of Giglio [1241]. The defeat at this last one helped the Ghibelline party to grow in popularity while I think exiles of some Guelfs followed. But just also look at the battle of Meloria [1284], where Ghibelline Oberto Doria admiral of Genoese fleet, along with ships of the also Ghibelline family Spinola, won decisively the Ghibelline Pisa. It's possible that this character is derived by the fact that Genoa's power was the commerce and wanted probably to be the only boss in the area, minding for her own interests.

The battle of Giglio [1241], in Matthew Paris, Chronica maiora II, Corpus Christi MS 016II, f147r

I don't know if this chessboard was working as an emblem of this autonomy, or when exactly & under which circumstances it was placed on the side of San Lorenzo. However, I think that it should be taken in account that it's on the Cathedral of Genoa. And that also the Genoese Guelf family of Fieschis gave a Pope, Innocent IV [mid 1200s].

In the detailed account by Caro [1975], I've read about two interesting incidents during late 13th century. Two fires were set on purpose at San Lorenzo so to drive out or even kill the besieged inside. Fires that led to the possible restorations of 1307-1312. The first in 1289 was set by popolari probably. The Guelph families Grimaldi, Fieschi and Malocello [but others too, possibly of Ghibellines] tried for a conspiracy against the abate del Popolo [a recent at the time title, probably a representative of popolari], at the same time that an other Fieschi was on the lead of the archbishopric in Genoa. The plotters used as stronghold San Lorenzo while popolari put a fire on it [Caro II, p. 107]. A following fire occurred in 1295 during a Guelph-Ghibelline struggle. Guelphs again were hidden in the Cathedral while Ghibellines tried to drive them out setting a fire [of the latter, the roles of besieged and besiegers are possibly given after interpretation //Caro II, p. 209].

Maybe Cathedral here worked as a last hope. However it's notable that it was probably used by the Guelfs, as their stronghold, as their home [?!] [most detailed account with sources in Genova e la supremazie sul Mediterraneo II (1257-1311) by G. Caro, also look at Political Alliance and Conflict by Antonio Musarra, in Companion to Medieval Genoa, 2018, pp. 130ff, Written in stone by St. Gerevini in Viewing Inscriptions, pp. 205ff].

Just an image to cut the text. A fire in Genoa, during Christmas [again?!] of 1181, in Caffaro's Annals, in BnF MS Latin 10136, f.106v

This Cathedral case concerned me a little...

When first looked for it in the web, I've tracked some Italian sites where 3 possible interpretations were presented [in order of date publication here, here, here & here].

First of course is the Templar case, that it doesn't seem so probable to me. Genoa had an active part in the crusades and Templars seem to have a known basis in Genoa since early 1140s, that is the old church of Santa Fede that at the time seems to be outside city walls, and with a more private quay [?] [The Templar Order in North-west Italy by E. Bellomo, p. 249].

However an interesting Templar mention is made in the so called Cocharelli Codex, regarding mostly how the Order was seen in Genoa of the early 1300s. The Cocharelli Codex is 6 separate parts of a manuscript, splitted to 3 different libraries. It was written in 1330-40 c., by a member of the wealthy merchant Genoese Cocharelli family [later named de Franchi ?] for the education of his sons, via story-told examples and illustrations on virtues & sins. One is written in praise of Corrado Doria, Genoese admiral & of the known Ghibelline family, and of his son Pietro, something that maybe shows some political background [see Unfolding the Cocharelli Codex by C. Concina].

Around Templars an interesting mention is made on the sin of greed...

Philip IV of France leading Templar Knights to execution, detail of Add MS 27695 f.06v. Below is shown the death of Philip IV during a hunt.

Something like crime and punishment. Guided by greed King Philip IV executed the Masters of the Templars, and been punished for it. Concina mentions that this was an opinion very common at the time. However, Templars aren't presented as saints and sinless. In a previous description of the sin of envy, the example of the fall of Acre [1291] is given [the most decisive defeat of the Crusaders], explaining that this happened cause of the envy between Templars & Hospitallers.

Something that troubled me is that after the illustration of the King Philip's sin of greed, a description is given. But fragmentary - the down half part is missing. The confusing part is that above is illustrated as decorative border, the facade of San Lorenzo, shown here 2-3 images above.

In other pages have been noted irrelevant decorative images. But if it is relevant, with whom or what? Templars? More prabably Philip? Or an other example of greed, as the down text is missing?

An other story that is presented as related with the chessboard [in the aforementioned websites], is one said to be found in Annales Ianuenses, mainly written by Caffaro. In this one, the chessboard is a memory of a Genoa's victory over Pisa [is given as a metaphor, battle = chess game]. I've searched in the Annals but I couldn't track it. The only chess mention I've found is the following:

The following are words said by Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, to Pisans [?] in 1244 [in Annali Genovesi, vol3, 1923, p. 155]:

Dum luderem cum papa ad ludum scacorum, habebam talem partitam de ludo, quod dicebam ei scacum matum vel portabam raucum; et venerunt Ianuenses et manus iniecerunt per tabulerium et linierunt totum ludum. When I was playing chess with the Pope, I had such a position, that either I would say check mate or take a rook; and the Genoese came in and put their hand on the table [board ?] and throw the whole game.

Anyway...

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12 Duomo di Crema, Cathedral in Crema, Lombardy [l]       up

An other heroic city of the Guelphs...

total aspect of Duomo. The chessboard is on right of the right up window of the facade // photocollection in wikicommons & in googlemaps
details

In 1160 Frederick I Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor, besieged the rebellious Guelph city of Crema [as Milan]. Many destructions occurred. One probably was the Cathedral, an at the time basilica of the 11th c. It's said that the rebuilding started since 1185, halted in 1212 and restarted in 1284, while completion occurred in 1341. Not all sources mention the 1185 start-year [official Diocesi di Crema site favors this date while the one of the commune not]. But all agree for the 1284-1341 period [from the older Storia di Crema by F. Sforza Benvenuti, 1859, p. 166, Le chiese d'Italia by G. Cappelletti, vol 12, 1857, p. 253, Storia urbana di Crema by Paolo Favole, 1996, Il campanile del Duomo di Crema by Lidia C. Ermentini, 1988].

Crema was of the cities of the 1st Lombard League, fought in the Battle of Legnano [1176] against imperial forces and generally participated in many war affairs on the Guelph side till 1250 ca. Then seems to pass in the Ghibelline hands while Guelf revolts and coming backs are mentioned in the early 14th c. Since 1335 ca Azzo Visconti [Ghibelline at the time ?], Lord of Milan, took the control over Crema. Crema's rival was at the beginnings the Ghibelline Cremona, while it seems to act like a Milan's satelite sometimes [from older, The Lombard communes by W. F. T. Butler, 1906, Storia di Crema by F. Sforza Benvenuti, 1859].

During the crucial period, 1284-1341, Guelphs and Ghibellines seem to be on the rule for equal time, but in any case these terms had lost their initial meanings. However I've found two excerpts relevant to this relationship. The first is from Le chiese d'Italia by G. Cappelletti, vol 12, 1857, p. 253:

Dicono le storie bergamasche, essere stato eretto questo tempio a spese dei guelfi; ma si sa d' altronde, che all' erezione di esso concorse la pietà di tutto il popolo di Crema. Bergamo's stories say that this temple was built at the expense of the Guelphs; on the other hand, it is known that the compassion of all the people of Crema contributed to the erection of it.

Don't know where's the truth... however Ghibellines aren't mentioned. Just Guelphs and popolo!

Another is found in The Lombard communes by W. F. T. Butler, 1906, p. 348:

"The climax was reached when the soldiers of Milan in the fifteenth century tore the figure of Christ from the cross in the Duomo of Crema 'because it inclined the head to the Guelf side'".

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and some with accumulated entries:

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Conclusione       up

When I started looking at the aforementioned cases, I wasn't negative with the Templar idea. But finding more and more info, the Guelph case seemed more probable. However, maybe it wasn't purely the Guelphs, but the Lombards that inserted as a patriotic idea in the Guelph party at the beginnings. Even if it was a Templar sign, it seems to be borrowed [or at least having a side meaning]. It could be also just a Papal sign, used by the Guelves.

But firstly lets take a look at the geography of these chessboards:

in https://mapfling.com/qxmgwa2

By a quick look, 8 out of 12 are located in NW Italy. These first eight cases can serve generally the aforementioned idea of a Lombard-Guelph origin. From the rest, the Krk case [Croatia] can be related easily with Venice. Although Venice was out of the initial territories of the Kingdom of the Lombards [remaining a region connected with the Byzantines], it participated in the first Lombard League of the 12th c. Toffia can be related with the Guelph cause as in Papal States, but surely was also part of the Kingdom of the Lombards. As was Manfredonia too, though it has more a mystical sense. Finally Otranto case is out of all these, but possibly the chessboard there, was used for declaring a similar meaning of origin [as I analyzed above [h]].

So I started searching in the Lombard history, as narrated in mss, in order to find some chessboard or even a checkered pattern. I wasn't lucky... just two cases

Left: The conquest of Milan by the Lombards in 569, in Mare historiarum, BnF, Latin MS 4915 [13th-14th c.], f.296r. Down left a possible Lombard emblem......... & Right: Pepin the Short defeating the Lombards [755 ca ?], in Les Grandes chroniques de France, Royal MS 16 G VI [ca 1332-1350], f. 121r. Here Lombards have as emblem three circles
But searching all around I've found the following...

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Piacenza's older coat of arms in mosaic around the Palazzo gotico & in googlemaps

Don't know when exactly this particular Piacenza's emblem was made, however this square on the right really attracted my attention. Reading I've found that this square [called dado] is considered an older symbol compared to the she-wolf on the left. Said that can be found on Palazzo Gotico since 1281, though I couldn't track it...

left photo from wikicommons // right drawing from Lo Stemma della Citta di Piacenza by B. Pallastrelli, 1869, p. 57. I can't see the square. Anyway...

But it's been related with Sant Antonino of Piacenza, too. Looking for photos, I've tracked it in the columns of the cloister of the Balisica of Sant Antonino, written that was built since late 15th c. [official site of the basilica, of the commune, and in araldicacivica].

a restoration-rebuilt of the side attached to the church, of early 20th c, is mentioned in the basilica's site. However I think that at least the left one is since 15th c., as it was specified in the site, photocollection in wikicommons

Don't know but this resembled in my eyes more to the chessboard I was looking for...

This square [dado] is said to be an emblem representing the ancient Roman camp [castrum], related & with Sant Antonino of Piacenza [as an emblem of the Theban Legion ??]. I don't know if the given there explanations were convincing, but I remembered the Turin city plan of middle ages, from a previous forum.

Turin's city plan in 1572 [Augusta Taurinorum, by Giovanni Caracha, engraving by Giovanni Criegher, 1572], in museo torino & in Philiberti's Augusta Taurinorum, 1577

Turin's obvious chessboard pattern, after comparisons and archaeological research, has been associated with the ancient Roman castrum of the city. Seems that this was the shape of the Roman walls since 1st c. [check this by Marco Vitali, also Southern Europe: International Dictionary of Historic Places, p. 725, and this where some more drawings are presented].

Ancient Romans weren't exactly Lombards. But they were really closer to the citizens of the Lombard communes, rather than the German Holy Roman Emperor.

So an emblem-declaration of a commune, that is independent! This explanation could serve the cases of Milan, Bologna, Piacenza, Genoa & Crema easily. And reflectively some more too. But also this could give an imaginary approach for the chessboards on the wall of the Sala degli Scacchi in the Pope's palace in Anagni [1300 ca, Palazzo di Bonifacio VIII, also check this by R. Cassano].

Sala degli Scacchi from photocollection in wikicommons

Something like the Pope, during his resting hours, is looking at his rebellious allied communes. Imaginary!

But maybe better the chessboard could be a land-defending statement. A war declaration sign against foreign forces that were claiming one's land. This interpretation could serve all the cases!

I know that it can't be proved and personally I'm not sure, but it suits better to my thinking...

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Thanx for reading....