Tag Archives: condottieri

Captains of Fortune: the Rise of the Condottieri in the 14th Century

croarpad_renaissanceThe unique culture of the Italian city-states produced a unique military structure.  Initially, each city gathered a local militia under the command of its aristocracy, in which the lower classes from the city and its subject territories served as infantry, while the upper classes served as knightly cavalry. The militia conducted regular training sessions and was well-suited to defending its domain or conducting short-term campaigns. However, by the early 1300s this system was collapsing. Increased inter-state violence, a growing preference among wealthy townsmen to hire others to fulfill their military duties, and the despots’ often justified distrust of arming their own subjects led to an almost complete reliance on paid mercenaries, the condottieri.

Named for the condotta, the contract specifying the terms of military service, the condottiero was the consummate professional; well-armed, highly trained and able to remain in the field indefinitely — or at least as long as his employer could make good on his payments; it was quite common for a military captain to switch sides as soon as his contract was either fulfilled or negated.  The least savory captains sometimes simply shifted alliances if the tide seemed to be turning.

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Galeazzo da Montova: Portrait of a Condottiero Captain

(c) 2013, Gregory D. Mele

I will now recall and name some of my students who had to fight in the lists. First among them was the noble and hardy knight Piero dal Verde, who had to fight Piero della Corona. Both of them were German, and the contest had to take place in Perugia. … Another was the famous, gallant and hardy knight Galeazzo di Capitani da Grimello, better known as Galeazzo da Mantova; he had to cross weapons with the famous French knight Boucicault in Padua.

….

None of my students, in particular the ones I have mentioned, have ever possessed a book on the art of combat, with the exception of Galeazzo da Mantova. Galeazzo used to say that without books, nobody can truly be a Master or student in this art. I, Fiore, agree with this.

Fiore dei Liberi, Il Fior di Battaglia (Getty Ms)

The city-state culture of late medieval Italy produced a unique military structure.  Initially, each city produced a local militia under the command of its aristocracy, in which the lower classes from the city and its subject territories served as infantry, while the upper classes served as knightly cavalry. But by the early 1300s this system was collapsing. Increased inter-state violence, a growing preference amongst wealthy townsmen to hire others to fulfill their military duties, and the princes’ often justified distrust of arming their own subjects led to an almost complete reliance on paid mercenaries, the condottieri.

Continue reading Galeazzo da Montova: Portrait of a Condottiero Captain