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Medieval and Byzantine History Medieval and Byzantine History Forum - Period of History between classical antiquity and modern times, roughly the 5th through 16th Centuries

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Old January 30th, 2016, 05:53 PM   #1
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Quattrocento Italy - Culture, Corruption and War

The fifteenth century in Italy (the Quattrocento) is known for high cultural achievements - art and architecture; humanist thinking; the flowering of business, of civic responsibility, and of diplomatic practice. It is also a period of intrigue; murder; and the corruption of both personal and public morals, and of the Catholic Church.

The fifteenth century - for its first half at any rate - was also a period of warfare characterized by the expansion of city-states to territorial states, and impacted by mercenary soldiery (condottieri) who served their employers - and themselves.

Let's discuss. I will start with a list of the most prominent condottieri, and whatever comment follows is welcome:

Before the Quattrocento: John Hawkwood (died 1394 in Florence).

Alberico da Barbiano (died 1409).

Braccio da Montone (Andrea Fortebracci - 1368-1424).

Muzio Attendolo/Sforza (1369-1424).

Francesco Bussone (Count of Carmagnola - 1382-1432).

Niccolo Piccinino (1386-1444).

Erasmo da Narni (aka Gattamellata - 1370-1443).

Bartolomeo Colleoni (1400-1475).

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (1417-1468).

Federigo da Montefeltro (1422-1482).

There were many, many others, but these are some of the most notable. Of the Popes, and of their military commanders (condottieri one and all) there are too many to name.

My own bias is political, diplomatic and military. What does anyone else have to say, or to contribute, to the convoluted - and colorful - history of 15th century Italy?
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Old January 31st, 2016, 09:24 AM   #2
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It is good idea to discuss 15c. Italy. It was very interesting period of history, especially for cities of Northern Italy.

I think condottieri leaders exploited fragmented, small-state context of central Italy, where 2-3 thousands mercenaries could extort and plunder enough to sustain themselves.

With time their role changed a bit.

John Hawkwood envisaged his primary role as a contractor in the service of territorial powers. His famous White company was offered to local rulers and served in Pisa, Milan and the Papacy.

Francesco Maria della Rovere, duke of Urbino, in 1530s started to use his own subject as soldiers. Many followed his example later.

Vespasiano Gonzaga, prince of Sabbioneta, gained a ducal title, vice-royaltyof Valencia as a result of his service to Philip II.

There were many famous Italian fencing styles, with rapier, schiavona and big swords.

The shipbuilding was too very important.
Galeazza - is one of my favorite ship types. Unfortunately the drawings of it are very rare.
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Old January 31st, 2016, 09:39 AM   #3

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I guess it's because he lived overall in XIV century, but early XV century still saw Facino Cane on the scene and I don't see him in the above mentioned list.

May be he has been one of the most cruel condottiero in Italian history. At only 26 he became condottiero for the Scala family ["Scaligieri", Verona], after fighting for Ottone IV. As any traditional condottiero, after a tremendous defeat at Padova, he passed [after a period in prison] to the victorious family [the Carraresi family].

Regarding the XV century, when you think to Visconti family, to remind Cane and his victorious campaigns. A curiosity: he got married with a daughter of a causing of his ... he met Lady Death during a campaign [at Bergamo], but not in battle, for a illness.
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Old January 31st, 2016, 10:28 AM   #4

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I have loads of books on the condottieri and warfare in Renaissance Italy (altough most of them deal with post-1494 events, the beginning of the Italian Wars)...I don't even know where to start.

Federico da Montefeltro and Bartolomeo Colleoni definitely are one notch above the others on the list. They were both great military commanders and charismatic leaders; moreover, Federico, as a feudal lord himself, was also a very good politician and an important.
The most interesting thing is that basically the whole peninsula waited with passion the result of the battle of Molinella, which pitted the Federico and Bartolomeo, the two most famous condottieri of the age, in order to determine who was the best in the business, only to found out that the outcome was indecisive.

Note that there's a difference between some of the early figures (Hawkwood, Barbiano) who are mercenary captains and condottier (figures like Sigismondo Malatesta and the likes),with Braccio da Montone and Muzio Attendolo Sforza a sort of the joining link.
The difference are sometimes blurred, but they mostly revolved around the organization and administration of the units.
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Old January 31st, 2016, 10:52 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by AlpinLuke View Post
I guess it's because he lived overall in XIV century, but early XV century still saw Facino Cane on the scene and I don't see him in the above mentioned list.

May be he has been one of the most cruel condottiero in Italian history. At only 26 he became condottiero for the Scala family ["Scaligieri", Verona], after fighting for Ottone IV. As any traditional condottiero, after a tremendous defeat at Padova, he passed [after a period in prison] to the victorious family [the Carraresi family].

Regarding the XV century, when you think to Visconti family, to remind Cane and his victorious campaigns. A curiosity: he got married with a daughter of a causing of his ... he met Lady Death during a campaign [at Bergamo], but not in battle, for a illness.
Yes, Facino Cane is an overlap, but I have read a bit about him. He had influence in Milan, but it seems was more interested in personal aggrandizement than politics. His widow married the Duke Filippo Visconti, but came to rather unhappy end in that family of sadists.
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Old January 31st, 2016, 11:47 AM   #6
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XV century Italian warfare was something of a transition period between medieval and "early-modern." Some would classify it as one or the other of those two. Many soldiers were armored men at arms, with horses barded or not.

In what might be recognizable as a medieval practice, the "lance" was often three soldiers: a man at arms, an archer with cross bow and a servant or page to attend to the weapons and armor. Depending on his personal economy, the man at arms might have several horses accompanying the "lance."

Companies by the XV century were often 200 or 300 lances, frequently divided into "squadrons" of 25 or 30. However, AFAIK no firm conventions were observed as to numbers. Cavalry would often outnumber infantry in the relatively small armies of the period.

Infantry in many cases amounted to soldiers who could ascend scaling ladders or who could dig and build field works, or who could serve as matrosses for the heavy, and not very mobile, guns and other siege equipment. Infantry were not much armed with the pike until later (>1480s), and many pike men were then hired from the Swiss cantons, or perhaps from Burgundy. Foot soldiers played a secondary role to the men at arms.

Artillerists were still engaged in a mystical (and even diabolical) trade, and engineers were as likely to be seconded infantry as they might be sappers or pioneers building pontoon bridges.

Artillery was becoming more important in the XV c., but the more mobile guns of the French in the 1490s were few, and few condottieri could afford to acquire and maintain them. The territorial states (princes and republics), that were continuing to develop through the period late XIV to XVI centuries, had greater resources for such expenses.

As far as personal firearms are concerned, they existed, but were few in number. They were difficult to use, and created another logistical problem. The soldiery was not accustomed to caring for them, and their tactical utility was poorly understood until after the early battles of the Italian Wars.

We could go on forever about fortification. Most fortified places in the XV century were little different than centuries before. However, there were new types of "artillery fortifications" being built. These included emplacements for defensive guns and were frequently built as rounded structures with escarped walls to facilitate deflection of shot. Some of these dated from the very late XIV century, but were early recognition that artillery was now a fact of warfare. The Italian style of angled bastions, retired flanking fire and so on became more common after the period 1500-1520.

Just some thoughts on the means of war. Any one have comments on the conduct of war in XV century Italy?
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Old January 31st, 2016, 02:47 PM   #7

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Nice post pikeshot

The Italian city-states were the first to pioneer the use of gunpowder weapons (the first use of a cannon was reported in Northern Italy around the first half of the XIV century) but as the cost of cannons increased, only the most powerful were able to afford decent artillery trains (Venice, Milan and to a lesser extent, Ferrara) while the other powers lagged far behind. Moreover, the use of cannons was almost exclusively restricted to siege warfare. Hand-held firearms were up-to-date but not decisive enough to be a battlefield game changer on their own (but this has due to the technology of the time rather than the military mindset of Italian condottieri).
Another aspect where Italian warfare was not up-to-date with the military events happening beyond the Alps was in the use of heavy infantry (pikemen). Despite Milan and Venice's encounters with the Swiss and the Landsknechts by the end of the XV century, the powers of the peninsula failed to implement pike squares in their armies in considerable numbers. They instead remained true to their vision of the infantryman as a soldier imployed in manoeuvres and cavalry support actions. Their equipment was usually lighter in both offensive and defensive weapons (the combo of brigandine+shield for defense was quite common in the peninsula). Native use of pikemen (the company of Vitellozzo Vitelli and the Venetian pikemen from Romagna) were limited and came too late to change the warfare in Italy before the military campaign of Charles VIII.

Last edited by M.E.T.H.O.D.; January 31st, 2016 at 02:51 PM.
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Old February 7th, 2016, 12:55 PM   #8
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XV Century Italy's Territorial States

The Italian "city-states" are often mentioned, as above by M.E.T.H.O.D. By the middle of the XV century, however, the major players in Italian politics were more territorial states with numerous important towns and cities included in their populations and economies.

Here is a map of Italy more or less showing Italy after mid-XV century:


The larger and more important of these former city states were Milan, Venice, and Florence. On the northern periphery was Savoy, and to the south was the Kingdom of Naples, in effect a feudal realm with institutions imported from before the 12th century by the Normans. Even the smaller northern states had expanded in territory, usually by acquiring other towns and cities - not always peacefully.

In the center were the "States of the Church." The Papacy had been in disrepute since its exile in Avignon for most of the 14th century, and an absurd "schism" which saw as many as three popes claiming primacy over the Catholic church from 1378 to 1417. A restoration of Papal authority and primacy dates from the election of Pope Martin V (1417-1431). From this pontificate the States of the Church were an important political - and military - factor in Italian affairs.

These states all fought wars with one another, with alliances sometimes switching sides depending on parochial, and often petty, interests. Armed conflict was most frequent before the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. In 1454 the major states of Milan, Florence and Naples agreed to a treaty (Peace of Lodi) that among other results established a kind of balance of power in Italian affairs, and was increasingly supported by diplomacy. The fear of, and concern over the Turks, was also a factor. Venice also acknowledged this new situation.

War did not disappear in the second half of the XV century, but it did tend to be in more of a controlled manor by the major states. Those states also began to establish control and sophisticated administration over their condottieri commanders. Intrigue, assassination, corruption and an overall political (and religious) cynicism continued to characterize all these large - and most of the small - states on the map above.

To keep this thread alive, any questions and comments are welcome, and all the aficionados of XV century Italy can have at it: Culture, corruption and war.
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Old February 8th, 2016, 07:01 AM   #9

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Nice thread, Pikeshot1600.

Maybe you guys know one way or the other, but I'm wondering if the terrain of central Italy had something to do with the fragmentation of the Romanga and Marche territories of the Papal States - nominally ruled by Rome, de facto by noble families. In the 15th century, the Papal States straddled the Apennines; perhaps making the lords somewhat more difficult to keep under control than if they did not have a rugged mountain range dividing them.

Of course, these small but scrappy city-states were ruled de facto by members of the signoria (papal vicars, marquis, and counts, etc), with erstwhile support from more powerful regional states (Florence, Milan, Venice, and Naples). Maybe they northern papal states were harder to control because the Papal army was just weaker than anything the larger states could proxy against them - in the form of mercenaries form all over the peninsula. What a fascinating and intense period of Italian history.

Anyway, here's a cool map from the book, a collection of diary notes, At the Court of the Borgia, by Johann Burchard):

Click the image to open in full size.
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Old February 8th, 2016, 10:12 AM   #10
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Thanks for replying. You bring up an interesting question. The geography of the Papal State(s) has always seemed rather odd. The Apennines are rugged mountains and it is logical that they would have constituted a barrier to power and influence from their western side. The Marche and Umbria have especially difficult geography, and Romagna (Bologna; Ravenna) was quite distant from XV century Rome. The papacy spent much of the XV century, and some of the early XVI, in suppressing, with much difficulty, the noble families of these territories.

In addition to the nobles, condottieri had installed themselves in their own territories - some by legal means, and some otherwise. A few of the notables were the Baglioni in Perugia; the Bentivoglio in Bologna and the Varano in Camarino. The Papacy eventually included these cities in the States of the Church, but not until the end of the XV century or even into the XVI.

During the 1410s-20s, the condottiero Bracchio da Montone held Bologna for a time but IIRC sold it back to its citizens for a huge sum of money. Also when in control of Umbria, Bracchio held Perugia. The first successful Pope of the early-modern era, Martin V - with military support from Naples - sent armies against Bracchio first at Spoleto where Bracchio won, and then at the long siege of L'Aquila where Bracchio was killed. Bracchio da Montone had desired legitimacy as Papal Vicar in Umbria, but his ambition was too great for Papal comfort.

Around and in Rome, the Papacy had to contend with influential families who, during the papacy's absence or weakness, had become used to their own power, and to independence from the authority of the Pope. Names such as Collona, Savelli, Orsini and Barberini opposed not only one another, but the Pope of the day as well.

Other families who did acquire Papal favor as vicars in the Marche and Romagna were the Montefeltro at Urbino and the Malatesta at Rimini. Relations with these "vicars" were not always positive, as they all strove for their own interests and aggrandizement. I would say that in these territories there existed a continual state of cold/hot war throughout the XV century. They were not brought into the control of the papacy easily or quickly. Cesare Borgia for Pope Alexander VI, and Pope Julius II - for himself - snuffed out some of them, and by the mid XVI century there were few noble families with independent means to defy the Church's authority. (By then, the support for much of Rome's policies from Habsburg Spain was of course helpful.)

So, to the OP, I would say the geography of central Italy was an important factor in the establishment of petty tyrants; of the independence of their actions and of the development of Italian society through the Renaissance. Humanism was not always favored by every Pope, so petty dukes and lords could extend patronage to whomever they wished. All of that stuff also makes it really interesting.

Last edited by pikeshot1600; February 8th, 2016 at 10:21 AM.
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