Minor Weapons

In addition to the major divisions of the Flower of Battle, corresponding to a core discipline of armizare, Fiore dei Liberi also includes a number of scenarios with less common or improvised weapons. These sections are often used to denote transitions in the various copies of the Flower of Battle — from abrazare to dagger, from dagger to sword, from foot combat to mounted combat, and often provide hints at how the overall system of armizare can be adapted at need.

Bastoncello - Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, Royal Ms. 20 C VII
Bastoncello – Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, Royal Ms. 20 C VII

Bastoncello – Towards the end of the abrazare section of the Flower of Battle, Fiore introduces several techniques for defending one’s self against a knife attack while carrying nothing but a short stick, a foot or so in length. This short section is not so much a lesson on stick-fighting, but rather one of many linking systems that Fiore dei Liberi uses to bring the reader from one portion of the art to another. The techniques of abrazare, throws in this case, are shown applied to an improvised weapon that is about the same length as a rondel dagger, and sure enough, in a manner that the master will later instruct that the dagger itself be used.

The appearance of the bastoncello is also an interesting contextual note. More than just a small stick, this is the commander’s baton that arose with the Romans and survived into the modern era as the marshal’s baton or general’s “swagger-stick”. A great deal of symbolism was imprinted in the bestowing of the bastoncello by the rulers of a city-state to their chosen Captain-General, which is why it is so often depicted in condottieri artwork.  Considering the prevalence of assassination attempts on Renaissance military commanders and despots — often in public — as they attended mass or reviewed their troops — the Friulian master may not have been whimsical by showing his students defending against a knife attack while seated and armed only with their commander’s baton.

Spear/staff and dagger and twin sticks vs. spear. Florius de Arte Luctandi, f.15.

Clubs and Staves (Bastone/Stange) – In another transitional section of the manuscript, Fiore gives a series of defenses against a spear attack. Included in this section is the use of a dagger and walking staff (as this technique appears in both the Florius Ms and in other early manuscripts with a spear instead of a staff, perhaps this is meant to represent a broken spear), and a pair of simple clubs, complete with branches.

Ghiavarina – Perhaps the most note-worthy variant of the “standard” spear (if such a thing can be said to have existed) was the winged spearhead. Likely originating for the hunt, the boar spear remains a hunting weapon to this day, the wings preventing the prey from running up the spear’s shaft to gore the would-be huntsman.

Ghiavarina vs. horseman. Getty Ms. f. 46.
Ghiavarina vs. horseman. Getty Ms. f. 46.

The ghiavarina is commonly known today by the rather unfortunate moniker Bohemian Ear Spoon, and was essentially a marriage of the old hewing and winged spears. It had a double-edged, tapering blade that could be as much as a foot long, attached to a long collar affixed to the haft by languets. From this collar were two long, sharpened lugs, similar to those on a hunting spear. As dei Liberi depicts the weapon, it is approximately the length of his short spear or a little longer, perhaps seven to eight feet in total. He describes the ghiavarina as “very quick” with an heel cap made of “good tempered steel”.[Getty Ms. 46v] His method of use involves cuts, thrusts and heel blows, similar to that of its later evolution: the partizan, of which a later Italian Master wrote:

Therefore, these Partisans were made big and of great pace, and of perfect good steel, to the end they might break the mail and divide the Iron.

Giacomo di Grassi, His True Art of Defense (1594).

Within il Fior di Battaglia, the ghiavarina is specifically used by the Master to counter an attack from a horseman, using a technique previously shown with the two-handed sword against a spear thrust or hurled javelin.

A victim of the lasso-axe misses out on the chance to strike with his own, hollow weapon filled with a caustic powder. (Pisani-Dossi Ms.)

Lasso Poleaxe – This weapon almost defies description, which may be why the author just calls it an “axe”. As illustrated, it is depicted as looking something like an iron block of Swiss cheese on a long shaft. At the top of this is a spear point, and at the rear end is a heavy cord fitted with a weight to trap or entangle the legs. This would be strange enough, but then the master tells us:

This axe is hollow  all around and filled with a powder that is so strong and corrosive that it makes it impossible to open the eyes as soon as it comes into contact with them–and may even cause permanent blindness.

No corroborating examples of this weapon have as yet been found, but, compared to some of the odd combination weapons of the late Renaissance, it is certainly possible that such a weapon was made, but it surely must have been an anomaly even at the time.

Improvised Weapons also make an appearance throughout the manuscript. In his discussion of the bastoncello, for example, he also advises that the same plays could be made with a hood or pair of gloves, creating an entanglement with a flexible weapon. This is not the only time such appears, as similar principles appear, such as the lasso poleaxe, or a lance with a similar, long lasso that is used from horseback.