Ghino di Tacco was a lawless nobleman of Siena who flourished in the late 13th century. His intriguing life might have been forgotten if not for the famous Florentine writers, Dante Alighieri (c. 1265-1321) and Giovanni Boccaccio (c. 1313-1375), who both referenced him in their masterpieces of literature. The poet, Dante, briefly alluded to Ghino’s most famous murder in his Divine Comedy, whereas Boccaccio penned out a broader prose outline of Ghino’s life and career in The Decameron. When the two literary references are put together, a vague picture of the Sienese brigand emerges.
Crime, it appears, was a family affair for Ghino di Tacco. Other relatives of his, such as Turrino da Turrita, were also notorious bandits who operated in the region of Tuscany. Ghino, however, had higher ambitions than the usual petty crimes of a highwayman. In one of his most famous heists, he occupied Santafiora Castle in the Tuscan Maremma region. Yet, with this crime, as the saying goes, Ghino di Tacco bit off more than he could chew. The castle theft drew the wrath of the powerful Aldobrandeschi family (who owned the fortress), and the crime ultimately caused Ghino to be exiled from his home city of Siena. Forced to relocate, the bandit moved to a new headquarters at Radicofani, which was perfectly located along the lucrative road between Siena and Rome. This backstory was summarized by Giovanni Boccaccio in his Decameron: “Giovani di Tacco, whose feats of daring and brigandage brought him great notoriety after being banished from Siena and incurring the enmity of the Counts of Santa Fiora, staged a rebellion in Radicofani against the Church of Rome; and having established himself in the town, he made sure that anyone passing through the surrounding territory was set upon and robbed by his marauders” (Tenth Day, Second Story).
Ghino di Tacco and his crew were able to manage public relations by generously dolling out their ill-gotten gains to their host community. Nevertheless, the law and the nobles and the victims of theft could not be placated. Ultimately, several of Ghino’s relatives were arrested and hauled off for trial. A judge named Benincasa of Arezzo executed these captured family members, and when this news reached Ghino he vowed revenge. The vengeful bandit tracked down Benincasa and stabbed him to death in front of many witnesses. It is this killing that Dante Alighieri referenced in his Divine Comedy:
“Here of Arezzo him I saw, who fell
By Ghino’s cruel arm;”
(Divine Comedy, Purgatory, Canto VI)
After the assassination of Benincasa of Arezzo, Ghino’s days were numbered. Yet, in the meantime, an interesting event supposedly happened to the wanted outlaw. The tale was recorded by Giovanni Boccaccio, who claimed in his Decameron that Ghino’s “worth was acknowledged by the Pope [Boniface VIII], who made peace with him and granted him a large priory in the Order of the Hospitallers, having first created him a Knight of that Order” (Tenth Day, Second Story). Despite being allegedly inducted into a holy order, Ghino di Tacco could not escape his criminal life. Around the turn of the 13th century into the 14th century, Ghino was killed by an unknown assailant.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Bandits on a Rocky Coast, painted by Salvator Rosa (c. 1615–1673), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the MET).
- The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by G. H. McWilliam. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.
- Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, translated by Henry F. Cary in the Harvard Classics series, edited by Charles W. Eliot, and published by P. F. Collier & Son (1909, 1937).