The Italian diplomat and writer Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) is mainly remembered today for his political treatise Il Principe (The Prince) [ebook/audio], a handbook for unscrupulous politicians (see also the term Machiavellian). Besides being a political scientist, Machiavelli was also a playwright (e.g., Mandragola), a poet (e.g., Decennale primo) and he also wrote extensively on the history of Florence. In Istorie Florentine (1520–1525) (The History of Florence), a work commissioned by Giulio de' Medici (later Pope Clement VII), Machiavelli describes the effects of a tornado that occurred on 24 August 1456. 

In the year 1456, the disturbances occasioned by Jacopo Piccinino having subsided, and human weapons laid aside, the heavens seemed to make war against the earth; dreadful tempestuous winds [tempesta di venti in the original Italian] then occurring, which produced effects unprecedented in Tuscany, and which to posterity will appear marvellous and unaccountable. On the twenty-fourth of August, about an hour before daybreak, there arose from the Adriatic near Ancona, a whirlwind, [turbine in the original Italian] which crossing from east to west, again reached the sea near Pisa, accompanied by thick clouds, and the most intense and impenetrable darkness, covering a breadth of about two miles in the direction of its course. Under some natural or supernatural influence, this vast and overcharged volume of condensed vapor burst; its fragments contended with indescribable fury, and huge bodies sometimes ascending toward heaven, and sometimes precipitated upon the earth, struggled, as it were, in mutual conflict, whirling in circles with intense velocity, and accompanied by winds, impetuous beyond all conception; while flashes of awful brilliancy, and murky, lurid flames incessantly broke forth. From these confused clouds, furious winds, and momentary fires, sounds issued, of which no earthquake or thunder ever heard could afford the least idea; striking such awe into all, that it was thought the end of the world had arrived, that the earth, waters, heavens, and entire universe, mingling together, were being resolved into their ancient chaos. Wherever this awful tempest [turbine in the original Italian] passed, it produced unprecedented and marvellous effects; but these were more especially experienced near the castle of St. Casciano, about eight miles from Florence, upon the hill which separates the valleys of Pisa and Grieve. Between this castle and the Borgo St. Andrea, upon the same hill, the tempest passed without touching the latter, and in the former, only threw down some of the battlements and the chimneys of a few houses; but in the space between them, it leveled many buildings quite to the ground. The roofs of the churches of St. Martin, at Bagnolo, and Santa Maria della Pace, were carried more than a mile, unbroken as when upon their respective edifices. A muleteer and his beasts were driven from the road into the adjoining valley, and found dead. All the large oaks and lofty trees which could not bend beneath its influence, were not only stripped of their branches but borne to a great distance from the places where they grew, and when the tempest had passed over and daylight made the desolation visible, the inhabitants were transfixed with dismay. The country had lost all its habitable character; churches and dwellings were laid in heaps; nothing was heard but the lamentations of those whose possessions had perished, or whose cattle or friends were buried beneath the ruins; and all who witnessed the scene were filled with anguish or compassion. It was doubtless the design of the Omnipotent, rather to threaten Tuscany than to chastise her; for had the hurricane been directed over the city, filled with houses and inhabitants, instead of proceeding among oaks and elms, or small and thinly scattered dwellings, it would have been such a scourge as the mind, with all its ideas of horror, could not have conceived. But the Almighty desired that this slight example should suffice to recall the minds of men to a knowledge of himself and of his power.
— History Of Florence (1532) [1]

Machiavelli did not witnessed the event, since he was born in 1469, but he describes an event that had a strong impact and was keep alive in the memory of Tuscany [2].  It is clear from Machiavelli's description that this event was at least a damaging wind event (tempesta di venti, which can be translated as windstorm). The use of the term turbine (whirlwind), which can be used to describe tornadoes (e.g., Boscovich 1749 [3]) and the description of the phenomena as "ora verso la terra scendendo, insieme si urtavano; e ora in giro con una velocità grandissima si movevano" [4] (translated as sometimes precipitated upon the earth, struggled, as it were, in mutual conflict, whirling in circles with intense velocity or sometimes as furiously towards the Earth, sometimes twisting round like a Cylinder [5]) indicates in my opinion the presence of a tornado or at least of a funnel cloud.  


[1] Machiavelli, N., 1532: History Of Florence And Of The Affairs Of Italy From The Earliest Times To The Death Of Lorenzo The Magnificent. Commentator: Hugo Albert Rennert via

[2] Pedretti, C, 1973: Leonardo: A Study in Chronology and Style. University of California Press, 192 pp.

[3] Boscovich, R. G., 1749: Sopra il turbine che la notte tra gli XI, e XII giugno del MDCCXLIX danneggió una gran parte di Roma (Upon the Whirlwind that on the Night between the 11th and 12th of June 1749 Damaged a Large Part of Rome).Appresso Niccoló, é Marco Pagliarini, 231 pp.

[4] Machiavelli, N, 1532. Istorie Florentine

[5] Machiavelli, N. 1891: The History of Florence From the translation of "The Works of the Famous Nicholas Machiavelli" published in 1675, edited by Sir Henry Morley, LL.D., London, Gerge Routledge and Sons, p. 319–321.

Machiavelli's portrait is by Santi di Tito (1536–1603) via

AuthorBogdan Antonescu