Ugolino della Gherardesca, Count of Donoratico, was a great but treacherous Italian nobleman and politician. He was a member of the Ghibellines, the rival political faction to the Guelphs (Dante's own faction). Always pitting one man against another as blood spilled, he thought of no one other than himself, hoping to protect his own power. Ugolino had betrayed the Ghibellines and his own birthplace of Pisa multiple times to the Guelphs, yet always managed to wriggle out of penalties, and regain his influence over the city. He had negotiated with Archbishop Ruggieri degli Ubaldini in order to establish himself as overlord of Pisa instead of his nephew, Nino Visconti. However, Ruggieri not only attempted to turn Ugolino against Visconti, the archbishop himself betrayed Ugolino after Ruggeri's own nephew was murdered by the count during a riot, rallying the embittered villagers against their overlord. Ugolino was captured and he, alongside his two sons and grandsons, was locked up in the Tower of Muda, in Pisa. Ruggieri locked the door, had the keys thrown into the nearest river, and left the family to die from starvation, while the archbishop declared himself head of the city. In some versions of the story, and recorded in the Inferno, when his sons and grandsons all die before him, Ugolino remains alive for a time by eating their bodies (though scientific analysis of the remains had disproven this idea).
- In The Inferno, Dante and Virgil witness the soul of Count Ungolino, frozen within the ice of Cocytus' second round, Antenora, for betraying his country. He is gnawing on the head of his lifelong foe, Archbishop Ruggieri, and he tells Dante and Virgil his sad story of how Archbishop Ruggieri turned on him, resulting in Count Ugolino's ultimate imprisonment and death from starvation. He is the only shade in this region allowed some revenge for his death, being allowed to feed on the man who caused his death (in a twist on how Ruggeri chose to kill him).
- Ugolino's vengeance on Ruggieri in Hell is reflected in the downloadable relic "Brains of Ruggieri".
- Ugolino is the final Condemned Soul to absolve or punish in order to unlock "The Damned" achievement.
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