The Guelphs and the Ghibellines

This page discusses the political factions known as The Guelphs and the Ghibellines. Conflict between these two groups led to civil war in the city state of Florence and the banishment of Dante from his home city.

GUELPHS AND GHIBELLINES were the names of two important political parties that contended for supremacy in Germany and Italy from the 11th to the 14th centuries. The conflict between these parties mirrored the struggle for supremacy between the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope, as well as various city states for supremacy in Italy and Germany.

The party names originated from two families known as the Waiblingen and Welf, who were rival parties in the German Empire, the latter being still represented in the ruling house of England. These names sprang into existence from the Battle of Weinsberg, which occurred between Emperor Conrad of Hohenstaufen and Welf in 1140.

The Guelphs and the Ghibellines

The Welfs became known as Guelphs, receiving their chief support in the Italian cities of Bologna, Florence, Vienna, Modena, and Milan, while the Waiblingens took on the name of Ghibellines and were supported principally by the cities of Lucca, Pisa, and Arezzo.

During the conflicts many of the cities and communities changed in accord with the interests peculiar to different localities. In the main the Ghibellines supported the imperial authority of Germany in Italy, against that of the Pope, while the Guelphs were in opposition and supported the papacy. Toward the latter part of the 13th century the bitter feuds partook more of the nature of a personal warfare. After the 14th century both parties disappeared from history.

Dante was aligned with the Ghibelline party, which at the time opposed the power of the Pope. As a consequence of his political activities, Dante was exiled from his home city of Florence. The Divine Comedy was written mainly while Dante was in exile.

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