The oldest notice of the presence of the crossbowmen in Lucca dates back to 1169. In fact, during the war with the neighbour town of Pisa, the government, which was concerned about the constant assaults on behalf of Pisa, asked the town of Genova for help. Genova sent a certain number of crossbowmen with the aim to raise the power of the defence of Lucca and in particular, these of the fortresses of Corvara and Agnano. Other documents come from the statute of the municipality of Lucca in 1308, which dictates specific rules and specifies that everyone caught in act shooting out arrows with the crossbow from one’s home will be punished with a penalty of 500 pounds and the destruction of the habitation (ad fundamentam..).
In a statute of 1372, it is accurately noted that the local crossbowmen were divided into constables or corporals and armed men. The constables were armed with an armoured protection made of iron to protect the head, the sword, quiver of arrows and crossbow. The armed crossbowmen instead were armed with armoured protection for the head, sword and crossbow.
The document which dates back to 26/4/1381, stipulates the new organization of the army in relation to the exurban territory and includes 2000 armed men, 1350 crossbowmen, 400 paves men and 250 squires. The crossbowmen were obliged to a series of mandatory exercise scheduled by the government. Those exercises were executed under the supervision of the officers in charge or the “Milite della Podestà” and a public notary. The penalty for a non-justified absence was of 20 small money. The exercises were planned to take place on the town’s outskirts of Pontetetto, Ponte San Pietro and San Piero a Vico.
Castruccio Castracani delli Antelminelli (1290-1330), Sir of Lucca from 1305 to 1330, introduced a prize to reward the strongest crossbowmen in order to make membership (ad defensionem strumentum aptissimum) attractive to young men. Subsequently, the Palio, which was held since 1300 in the town, was organized on the occasion of the main popular festivities.
The document “ordo pro balistari” which is still kept at the State Archive of Lucca and which dates back to 26 June 1443, establishes all the rules for the Palio of the crossbowmen. It is an important document because it seems to be the oldest regulation for archery competitions in Europe.
Still today, the Palio of San Paolino is held in accordance to the rules written six centuries ago by our ancestors even though, because of technical reasons, some changes were necessary which however, do not alter its original meaning.
The Palio is held on the 12th July in the evening (on occasion of the town patronage celebration) between the Terzieri crossbowmen that can participate only if they own the crossbow and arrow according to the Jury’s rules.