La petriata: when the neighborhoods and neighboring villages threw stones at each other

by Federico Quagliuolo

In the useless fights between kids for reasons of "belonging" to the neighborhood that occasionally tarnish the city news there a very ancient and violent ritual which, unknowingly, carries on from the Middle Ages to the III Millennium. In the past it was called petriata and it was literally the "stone thrower", a duel between poor people to the sound of stones. It was often also famous as "sheath“.

There were some points of the city in which the Neapolitan people met to make violent settlements of accounts between neighborhoods throwing stones at each other. In the rest of the Campania, on the other hand, the petriate took place between cities and neighboring countries: memorable is for example that between two hamlets of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, Sant'Andrea dei Lagni and Macerata: despite the mourning for the war against the Garibaldians last year, the people could not give up his violent pastime. And the August 15, 1861 there was one of the most violent petriate that history remembers, in which 50 people even challenged each other with gunfire, which were normally prohibited.

When intervened i Piedmontese bersaglieri to quell the fight, since they were not used to observe these behaviors, all the citizens stopped killing each other and concentrated their fire on the regiment, forcing them to retreat. Then they resumed the war.

A petriata between two different hamlets

A violent dilemma of all the Italian people

Strange to say, but we can trace this custom a fragmentary history. It was spread a little in all the big cities of Italy since the Middle Ages and it was a particularly famous custom in Rome, Milan, Mantua and Florence, where dozens of deaths and injuries were recorded annually.

Right there Roman Sassarolata era one of the most violent manifestations, peacefully tolerated at the time of the Papal State since the time of Middle Ages: usually people gathered in the area Trastevere or Testaccio and stones and objects were thrown at each other to seriously injure themselves. Meanwhile, the non-belligerent people rallied around for enjoy the show and laugh at those who were sick. It was a practice abolished only at the time of the Roman Republic of 1849 and many, in protest, simply decided to begin to give them a good reason in other neighborhoods. We have news of sassarolate in the San Lorenzo district even in 1941, in the middle of the war. TO Florence instead it is a custom that has remained in vogue among the peasants until the early twentieth century.

There is even a parchment from Modena, dated 1188, which explains how "extra urbem nostrani erat pratum de batalia”(Outside our city there was a battlefield), referring to these stone wars between citizens.

Paradoxically Naples and its kingdom knew this ritual very late: the fault was of the Spanish dominion, which brought it here in the 1500s. There are different practices of the Spanish viceroys who tried to limit this very violent phenomenon which, after all, was seen as a relief valve for the people. On the other hand, from their point of view, better let them kill each other than to make them unite against power as in the case of massacre of Storace. Also Charles of Bourbon tried to limit this phenomenon, but apparently there was not much effect, if we have any news of Petriate until the end of the 19th century: De Blasio tells us of such a violent fight at the Vomero in 1871, in the Pagliarone area, which the police headquarters were forced to send a cavalry regiment!

petriata Roma sassaiola
A stone-throwing in Rome, in front of the church of San Giovanni decollato

A pretext is enough to trigger the petriata

The reason that moved a petriata between neighborhoods it simply stood for absolutely banal and unpredictable pretexts: it was enough an offense, a dirty look or a taunt to a boy from another neighborhood who, having retired home, he told all his relatives, friends and acquaintances about it. There was a great shouting and then the punitive expedition in the opposite quarter immediately started, with groups of guagliuncielli who went to scream threats, insults and insults to the inhabitants of the other neighborhood. Clearly then the boys from the threatened neighborhood would reorganize and launch their own counter-offensive. It always started with bad words, blasphemies and personal insults because, if families were involved, the parents. And there usually you could even end up with the knives.

The most detailed sources on the story are those of Raffaele D'Ambra, Neapolitan historian, and Abele De Blasio, particularly fond of criminal anthropology various oddities: explains that the favorite area for settling scores it was initially San Giovanni a Carbonara, then with the expansion of the city it went to the parts of the Red Bridges, which in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were still an immaculate area with a large Roman aqueduct remained on the surface. The area of the Marinella (where the commercial port is today) was a place used for this custom.
In general where there were stones, we fought by throwing stones with slings with the aim not of killing, but of seriously injure others: the saying was in fact famous "take the big ones, the little ones go in the eye!“.

The scheme was this: takes, aims, leads and fuje (take, aim, throw and run). Those who received the stone, however, had another code: look, dodge, catch, lead and run away.

Scugnizzi a Napoli
Scugnizzi in Naples, 1946

"But let them vent, they're boys!"

Era a "game" mostly for young people which, over time, was linked to the urchins: the young people born in the fondaci without hope, waited for it with great anxiety e any pretext was enough to trigger the violence. It was the moment you could vent your social frustration, enjoying himself in a violence tolerated in the same way as the feasts of the Cuccagna, which instead involved adults.
Often killed or seriously injured himself for absolutely futile reasons, at other times there were settlements dictated by dislikes and rivalries between neighbors.
Residents of Capuana they were in fact hated by those of Montesanto; those of Neighborhoods they hated Pignasecca; the old Port area hated those of Market Square. In short, everyone hated everyone. And the only way to resolve these differences was beating wildly without meaning. If we go to the province, however, De Blasio reminds us that Cerreto Sannita it was one of the most popular countries famous for its petriate against the neighbor San Lorenzello, that counted some such good shooters that they could throwing stones with the slingshot synchronizing it perfectly with your eyes.

"Puozz 'avé mez'ora' e petriata dinto a narrow alley and ca nun sponta, pharmacies' closed and miedece guallaruse!".

Literally: may you be stoned for half an hour in a narrow and dead end alley, with closed pharmacies and doctors slowly helping you.

A curse of the people is enough to sum up more or less everything the useless, primitive and violent sense of the petriata.

-Federico Quagliuolo

Abele De Blasio, Uses and customs of the Camorristi, 1889
Museum of the Risorgimento of Santa Maria Capua Vetere, The National Guard, Santa Maria Capua Vetere, 2004
Carlo D'Addosio, The duel of the Camorra, Pierro Editore, Naples, 1893

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