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The first crusades brought huge amounts of people and wealth into cities such as Amalfi (Southern Italy), Pisa, Genoa, and Venice.
This, in turn, generated the growth in both population and trade throughout Northern Italy, making its cities powerful and well able to defend themselves.
(In this period the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope, the two major powers in Medieval Italy and Continental Europe, were in conflict and thus weakened.) Many of the cities had become self governing and had broken away from the Medieval feudal system.
It is therefore no coincidence that the Palio del Drappo Verde foot race held in Verona celebrated the victory of the Verona City Republic over the Counts of San Bonifazio and the Montecchi family. (This difference in date could be attributed to 1207 being the date of the battle, and 1208 being the first actual footrace.) Prior to this first footrace, there was an annual horse race held, dating back to 1198, perhaps a decade earlier than the foot race.
From 1207 until 1450 the races were held on the First Sunday in Lent, but from 1450, after Verona came under the control of Venice, it was held on Fat Thursday which is the Thursday before Ash Wednesday.
This period in Italy from Fat Thursday (gioved grasso) through to the Fat Tuesday (marted grasso) is traditionally the time for staging carnivals and for eating well before the restrictions of Lent.
The Pienza race likewise was held for a prize of four ells of cloth.
Marco Polos journeys in China led to the development of commercial exchanges between East and West, and to an ever-increasing use of silk in Western Europe. Venetian merchants traded extensively in silk and encouraged silk growers to settle in Italy.
However silk was still was very much a luxury, and the prize of silk cloth would have been much sought after.
Here is an article I wrote about a medieval Italian race. An article written by Indro Neri in Italian language, which is based on a piece, he wrote called Dante was a runner.
The traditions of the Verona Palio races, like those held in other Italian towns in the Medieval period, are believed to be rooted in ancient games dating back possibly as far as 500 BC to the Etruscan period.
With the two running events, the men would seek to win a red cloth, with the traditional rooster to the last runner. The palio verde that had previously been reserved for men, now was reassigned by Giangaleazzo Visconti to women.
The fastest woman would receive the green cloth, the slowest would be given a rooster.
Prior to its construction by the Romans during the second century B.