Debunking some myths on Renaissance warfare and the Italian Wars.

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Galaahd

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I often hear, watch and read a lot of bullcrap on the period (both by common people, in books, movies, games, and even by historians, but I believe that first and foremost the culprit is Machiaveli), so I decided I'd open a thread.

For the sake of easy writing and easy reading, I'll go with a point by point case, although some of them might overlap.

1) The "Standing army vs army of mercenaries" myth.

I've often heard that people believe that the Italian Wars marked the introduction of standing armies from France to a broader european scenario, and that the weakness of italian statues was due to the fact that they relied exclusively on mercenary forces. That is false. Most italian states already had extensive standing permanent armies by mid 1400. In fact, one of the clauses of the Italic League was that each state maintained a sizeable standing army for purposes of mutual defense. The first real standing army in Italy was organized by Bernabò Visconti in Milan in 1369, when many sons of noble families were enlisted in a cavalry regiment and were obligated to serve in it for two months each year, and would receive a regular wage al year, even in peace time.
In the 15th century almost all italian states got themselves standing armies, and most often before Charles VIII created his compagnies d'ordonnances. In some cases they were rather big. By the beginning of 1400, it's esteemed that the standing forces of Giangaleazzo Visconti were around 15.000 strong. By 1456 (in peace time) Milan had a standing force of 12.000 knights, which was bigger than the compagnies d'ordonnances, and again by 1476 we know that they had 10.000 "provisionati" (standing infantry).
Venice was no different, and Naples had a sizeable standing army as well.
Similarly, the French army (or any other army in Europe) employed mercenaries in great numbers as well.

2) The presumed "bloodless battles of the 15th century".

I blame Machiavelli here. He hated the practice of italian state hiring Condottieri, with a passion, believing them to be a tool of the Signori to keep control on the cities they ruled (and, most importantly, part of that same social class which he despised) and made up a lot of stuff. He blatantly lied about some battles, such as the battle of Anghiari (about 900 deaths) or the battle of Molinella (about 600 deaths), saying no single death occured. It is true that the battles weren't as bloody as other periods, but that's a huge exaggeration. In reality the somewhat lower number of deaths can be explained by the fact that many professional soldiers wore heavy armor, and that every respectable condottiero had his own field surgeon and doctor who could tend to the wounds of the soldiers. In fact we have many accounts of wounded soldiers from the period being able to survive, as well as many condottieri who were wounded in battle (in a much lower number than the number of condottieri who were killed in battle). Similarly, the practice of sparing and releasing prisoners (unless wealthy / of noble descent) after stripping them of thei weapons was common and followed by pretty much everyone.
Besides, one has to keep in mind that his own soldiers (and the equipment they carried as well as their horses) represented an investment for the Condottiero. They would rarely seek a decisive battle by risking their whole army, because it'd mean total economical ruin. The tactics employed were conservative, which meant that they would try to avoid the possibility of a complete defeat (although that occasionally happened). But they would still attempt to win on the battlefield if conditions were favourable: after all it'd mean ransoms and loot, which could make them rich.

3) The technological & doctrinal inferiority of the italian armies.

To this myth contributed some historians as well (for instance, Taylor with his influential "The art of war in Italy").
I often hear that infantry had a marginal role in Italy, which is false. One would have to ignore all the battles fought in the Quattrocento which were decided by infantry.
I saw in a popular tv series (The Borgias, the one with Jeremy Irons) that they showed Italy as not having artillery / cannons whatsoever, which is of course ridiculous as cannons had been used since 150 years at least, and all fortresses had cannons. Firearms spreaded quickly, and there were several innovations brought forward in Italy. Milan in particular was extremely quick with fabricating new guns for its armies.
People claim that the french army brought a new way of fighting, but it's not true. Their way of fighting in battle was the same as the italian one, as their army was composed at least by 50% of heavy cavalry, and the so famous swiss pikemen weren't actually invincible (more on them later).
In fact, I would claim the opposite: that the french way of fighting (seeking a decisive battle at all costs, no matter the odds) was the outdated one, a relic of the medieval era, while the careful, almost scientific maneuvering that was fashionable among the condottieri was the modern way of fighting. One could say that Gonzalo de Cordova took inspiration by the Condottieri (as well as Cuntactor, most likely; after all he, like the condottieri, looked at the roman era for inspiration) for the delaying strategy he adopted in southern Italy. The french would be on the offensive and the decisive battle, but they encountered enemies who refused battle and stay on the defensive, and only accept battle on their terms.
There was a notable exception to this: the battle of Fornovo. The marquis of Gonzaga could easily have blocked the mountain passes on the Appennines and block the way, but he probably sought personal glory, and thus decided to engage the french army on open field. There he elaborated a overly complex plan that eventually failed: the french retreated and the italian coalition managed to chase them off and conquer their baggage train, but the king and most of his army escaped. But that was the exception, due to Gonzaga's idiocy, not the rule. In fact his behaviour in that campaign was against all the principles that were common among the Condottieri of his time.
What was the strategical doctrine of the condottieri? Delaying and outmaneuvering the adversary, and only conceding battle if the odds were greatly in your favour, and possibly forcing your enemy in a position in which he was incapable of fighting. The Condottieri, throughout all the Quattrocento, had become fascinated with the ancient world, and obviously admired the organization roman armies had. Most of them were literate men and owned personal libraries. They read (and sometimes wrote) ancient and modern treatises on the art of warfare, and were obsessed with the art of maneuver and stratagem (sometimes even too much - the perfect victory was considered to be the one obtained with minimal losses; Cesare Borgia was infamous for this: he managed to conquer the cities of the Romagna without fighting a single field battle). They also understood the importance of logistics, intelligence and field fortifications, and were able to move sizeable armies with unprecedented speed.
During battles, they were generally able to have more control over their armies than their foreign counterparts: just look at the complex tactics adopted by Braccio da Montone and his successors (sometimes this could backfire: there was the risk of making overly complex plans. and only really skilled condottieri could successfully use elaborate plans, especially in larger armies, as you had to rely on other condottieri to carry out your orders, and there could be personal rivalries or disagreements making coordinating the whole army a mess, so while strong personalities like Braccio di Montone, Bartolomeo Colleoni or Francesco Sforza could pull it out, others like Francesco Gonzaga or Niccolò di Pitigliano at Agnadello tried but failed utterly).
In short, I wouldn't say their doctrine was outdated. In fact, I believe (and in this I agree with Taylor) that this scenario was the birthplace of modern strategy.

4) The presumed isolation of italian warfare is what made it lag behind.

Not only I don't believe that it lagged behind, but the whole assumption that it was isolated from the rest of Europe is false. Cannons and firearms spreaded in Italy just like elsewhere (in most cases, earlier than elsewhere in Europe), as well as the innovation in fortifications (in which italian engineers were the forerunners). It's true that the period of great foreign mercenary leaders was over in the Quattrocento as almost all Condottieri now belonged to the local aristocratic class, but there were still many foreign soldiers & officers fighting and serving in Italy in the Quattrocento: french soldiers left unemployed by the truces in the war in France, spaniards following the Aragonese in southern Italy in the wars versus the Anjou, greek and albanian stradiots fighting for Venice (Venice had light cavalry before the eruption of the Italian Wars, despite what Taylor claims), hungarians, germans, slavs, even turks (at some point Naples hired 2000 turkish cavalrymen). Likewise, many italian condottieri fought abroad during the Quattrocento. Pippo Spano was the commander of the Hungarian army, Cola di Monforte served for duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy (Philippe de Commines esteemed that italian soldiers formed the bulk of the army of duke Charles) and Jacopo Galeota served the king of France. Later, during the french invasion of Italy of 1494, it was Gian Giacomo Trivulzio and Francesco Secco who led the french army (along with Charles VIII) at the battle of Fornovo against the italian coalition, while the Colonna brothers had important commands in the spanish army (and were instrumental in the victory at Cerignola, but more on that later).
Besides, one shouldn't forget that in the Quattrocento italian states often fought with foreign powers. Milan sent an expeditionary force in France in 1465. Venice often fought against the Turks, and beat the Hungarians repeatedly. Milan defeated the imperial forces in 1401 at Brescia, then twice the french army of the Duke of Orleans (during the brief Ambrosian republic interlude, in 1447 and 1449), and the french were once again defeated in Genoa in 1461. Milan also defeated the dreadful swiss pikemen, twice, at Arbedo (1422) and at Crevola (1487) (and in both cases, it was milanese infantry, or dismounted cavalry, defeating the swiss pikemen (once again, Taylor's claim that italian states weren't ready for infantry warfare and weren't ready to sustain the impact of the swiss pikemen is bullcrap). Speaking of the swiss pikemen, one shouldn't forget the role that field fortifications played during those years. The condottieri were masters in that (we have accounts of condottieri army building ditches long dozens of kilometers or fortifying huge regions in really short times). The field fortifications built by Fabrizio and Prospero Colonna is what gave the victory to the army of Gonzalo de Cordova at Cerignola, and since then the swiss pikemen forever lost their reputation.
But even if we ignore all of that, we have hundreds of accounts of italian diplomats in european courts sending letters homes and informing their dukes, princes and doges about the state of european armies during all the Quattrocento. To claim that Italy was isolated from the military innovations across the Alps is madness.

5) The alleged chivalric "ethos" of the Condottieri is what made them fail.

I've actually heard this a lot (and saw it reflected in some cultural products, for instance a movie by Ermanno Olmi and a novel by Antonio Scurati). People claiming that the Condottieri style of warfare became outdated for that reason, while french and spanish army were modern and had left it behind, and seeing it under a romantic light. First of all, let me start by saying that the chivalry ethos was present in the same measure in the french and spanish nobility, if not more. Secondly, to say that Condottieri were costrained by ethical rules is madness. Sure, they liked to speak of honour, and had concepts such as "mala guerra" (as in, dishonourable conduct in warfare), but it mostly consisted in the prohibition to kill or mutilate prisoners (as I said before, soldiers were normally liberated immediately after they were stripped of their weapons, while condottieri were ransomed - and in rare cases, jailed). Besides that, anything goes. Sure, some condottieri were criticized by contemporaries for having targetted horses on purpose (Micheletto Attendolo at the battle of L'Aquila), but everyone did that anyway. They would often employ stratagems such as nightly raids, poisoning the supplies or wells of the enemy, assassination of enemy leaders (even through poison or chemical weapons - there is a record about this in Venice), kidnappings of hostages, catapulting corpses over the walls during sieges, bribing traitors to backstab the enemy army, use spies, spread false information and fabricate evidence of treason, deviating rivers to flood the enemy camp, taking cities by surprise, not respecting truces and so on.
If anything, their constant delaying and avoiding battle was considered unchivalrous by their french contemporaries.

6) Taylor claiming that italians didn't understand the importance of topographical barriers.

And here I just lol, as both Venice and Milan had a system of fortresses on the Alps and on the big rivers of Lombardia. Rivers such as the Adda (which whole line was fortified) or the Livenza (fortified in 1421) or the Adige were considered extremely important, and both states had fleets of dozens of galleys on the rivers and on the lakes of northern Italy, and the control of such rivers was considered of mandatory important by both states (in fact, they fought several river battles: at the battle of Cremona in 1431 Venice had 85 galleys on the Po river). And I've read myself the letters between Francesco Sforza and the commanders of his alpine fortresses: the interest of the duke in the maintenance of those border fortresses (as well as his interest in having informers on what happens in Switzerland) is evident.

7) The lack of will by the italian states to fight a total war.

This post is getting already extremely long, so I will be brief here: let me just say that it's not true that they only fought limited wars in scope and objectives, as italian states did fight total wars in the Quattrocento. The struggle between the Anjou and the Aragonese was a total war, and so were the wars fought in Lombardy and Tuscany in the first half of the 15th century (during which some states actually had to fight for survival). Milan under Giangaleazzo Visconti, while he was trying to achieve hegemony in Northern Italy, often fought on two fronts at once, and had a force of over 40.000 soldiers. In fact the cost for military actions skyrocketed throughout all the Quattrocento, despite the fact that the wages of soldiers actually went down. All italian states by the second half of the Quattrocento were spending way more of their budget in their army than what they had been spending just a century before, and all of them started employing standing armies to fight all year long, and not just during spring, early summer and autumn.

Basically, my whole thesis is that Italy during those years wasn't militarily inferior at all. Then why did the italian states fail? It was political weakness. The Italic League established in 1454 contained the embryo for a "confederation" (at some point there were even talks of a unified command for all the armed forces in Italy), but ultimately it rested on two pillars: the power and prestige of Francesco Sforza and the money and influence of Cosimo de' Medici (as well as that of Lorenzo). In 1494 the political situation was much more fragile as Piero de' Medici was extremely weak and Ludovico "the Moor" Sforza was a brutal backstabbing bastard no one liked. Ludovico crapped on the Italic League by allying with France, and the florentine political system collapsed (with Piero having to flee the city). Meanwhile, in Rome the Borgia were alienating the local aristocracy of the Orsini and the Colonna, causing even more dissent, while the throne of Naples had been weakened just a few years before by a revolt of the barons. It was the perfect storm, Italy was politically fragile and France took advantage of the situation.
In short, France played the old game of the "divide et impera", and was able to do it as a Signoria was extremely weak and susceptible to revolts in the moment in which its signore was disliked by the local middle and upper class and its neighbours. The duchy of Milan under Giangaleazzo Visconti or Filippo Maria Visconti, or Francesco Sforza (or even during the brief Ambrosian Republic) was a powerful state able to field a large professional army and had ambitions to hegemonize northern Italy. Under Ludovico it collapsed and crumbled like a castle of cards. The same could be said of the signoria of the Medici in Florence, which was in those years an extremely turbulent city (although later they managed to regain their city through diplomacy). In 1494 France was able to march undisturbed down to Naples without fighting a single battle.
The exception was the Republic of Venice, and that's why it managed to defend itself successfully during those two decades of incessant warfare (and had to face the ever worrying Ottoman threat to boot). The difference is that Venice managed to win the loyalty of the cities it ruled, but that could be the subject for another thread, and I feel like this is already too long.
 
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Galaahd

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At the end of the Italian Wars Milan and Naples were subjects of the spanish crown, and venetian power on the Terraferma was greatly diminished.

Yes, France was kicked out of Italy, but a good chunk of the peninsula ended up feeding the spanish empire.
 
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Graf Zeppelin

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Hmmm I never heard these myths, still very interesting thank you.
 

Sanny

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I have to disagree with you on one point.

In the Borgias, Italy did have cannons and gunpowder, look at the Sforza fortress. You also find out later that some of the States were moving Sulphur around to make gunpowder. Until Cesare started taking it for himself. You also see them with firearms at one point.

The difference is that the Papal States did not have MANY cannons in Rome to defend the City Walls/battlements against the French. There were only a couple built in Rome they stuck on the walls (probably for siege and not defense). Hence why they started making clay and wooden replicas of the guns they didn't have.

I think the main issue is that Italy wasn't churning out as many cannon as the French were, this could also be due to slow production and older technology (The French were really up-to-date e.g. their chain shot) but I am no cannon expert.
 

Henry IX

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Thanks for this, I agree with most of what you have said.

The real revolution in warfare in this period came from Spain, and was part of the reason for the power of the Spanish Empire during the 16th century. The Italian states were not military innovators during this period but they were certainly up to date with military thought and practice.

The reasons for the collapse of Italian power at the end of this period were also due to economic factors as well as political disunity (although the two are linked). The rise of Turkish power in the Eastern Mediterranean led to the gradual loss of importance of Mediterranean trade and the movement north of the major trading centres of Europe. During the high point of Florentein power the city could raise more money through bonds than the King of France could though tax. By the turn of the century this was no longer the case. The larger states of Western Europe were becoming both richer and more effectively taxed, leading to massive increases in their ability to wage war. In the same time period the Italian cities were becoming poorer and less stable, reducing their ability to oppose foreign powers and forcing them to try to play one power of against another, with varing degrees of success.

The standing army vs mercenary issue during this time is interesting. Broadly speaking most cities maintained various militia and semi-proffessional forces, which were primarily used for defence and hired forces of mercenaries for campaigns. This makes perfect sense as most miltia were less well equiped, less well trained, less expendable and more trustworthy than the Condottieri. They were well able to do garrison duty but tended to suffer when matched against more professional and well equiped forces and had the added advantage that they were less likely to sell you out or take over your city. Virtually all armies of this period relied on mercenaries to supply a significant portion of their forces as the equipment required was very expensive, most governments lacked the cash flow to pay for large standing armies and the feudal duties of military service had largely died out leaving little option other than to use mercenaries. To this extent Italian condottieri filled the same role in the same way as mercenaries in other armies. National armies that did not rely on mercenaries to supply at least half their total strength did not start appearing until the second half of the 17th century. Indeed, the continued reliance on mercenaries is one of the reasons postulated for the extreme distruction of the 30 year war.
 
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Galaahd

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I have to disagree with you on one point.

In the Borgias, Italy did have cannons and gunpowder, look at the Sforza fortress. You also find out later that some of the States were moving Sulphur around to make gunpowder. Until Cesare started taking it for himself. You also see them with firearms at one point.

The difference is that the Papal States did not have MANY cannons in Rome to defend the City Walls/battlements against the French. There were only a couple built in Rome they stuck on the walls (probably for siege and not defense). Hence why they started making clay and wooden replicas of the guns they didn't have.

I think the main issue is that Italy wasn't churning out as many cannon as the French were, this could also be due to slow production and older technology (The French were really up-to-date e.g. their chain shot) but I am no cannon expert.
As far as I know, all fortresses in the Papal States had plenty of cannons . The fact that in the show they seem stunned to see the enemy have artillery and the fact that they don't have any single cannon is unrealistic imho. Already by 1440 Ostia had eleven cannons, a small fortress such as Soriano had twelve, and by 1470 Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome had a huge piece by the weight of four tons and a half and 16 more light cannons.
 

Galaahd

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The standing army vs mercenary issue during this time is interesting. Broadly speaking most cities maintained various militia and semi-proffessional forces, which were primarily used for defence and hired forces of mercenaries for campaigns. This makes perfect sense as most miltia were less well equiped, less well trained, less expendable and more trustworthy than the Condottieri. They were well able to do garrison duty but tended to suffer when matched against more professional and well equiped forces and had the added advantage that they were less likely to sell you out or take over your city. Virtually all armies of this period relied on mercenaries to supply a significant portion of their forces as the equipment required was very expensive, most governments lacked the cash flow to pay for large standing armies and the feudal duties of military service had largely died out leaving little option other than to use mercenaries. To this extent Italian condottieri filled the same role in the same way as mercenaries in other armies. National armies that did not rely on mercenaries to supply at least half their total strength did not start appearing until the second half of the 17th century. Indeed, the continued reliance on mercenaries is one of the reasons postulated for the extreme distruction of the 30 year war.
I will expand a bit on the "standing army" part.

There were four different methods to hire four different methods to hire soldiers permanently, and three of them consisted in hiring professionals.

The first was hiring the "provisionati", which essentially meant hiring militia mostly employed for garrison duties (but could be deployed in battle when needed). They didn't have the same training mercenary soldiers had, but were still soldiers of profession, and mostly infantry (halberds, crossbows and firearms).
Then there was the "familia", which meant the state enlisting the sons of noble families and having them serve in the cavalry for a certain period each year, and giving them a regular wage (this still persisted in peace time as well).
Then there were the "lanze spezzate"; hiring them became more and more common throughout the Quattrocento, and each powerful state had several thousands "lanze spezzate" by the end of the century. Basically, it meant the state hiring mercenary soldiers individually with permanent contracts. The soldier would then become essentially a subject of the state he served in, and would be permanently tied to it. They mostly came from either "broken" companies whose leader had died (hence the name).
And then there was the practice of hiring Condottieri (and their companies) permanently, tying them to the state by giving them land, a title or a marriage. This also became very common throughout the Quattrocento, and it was Venice especially which preferred to tie its condottieri to it.

Also, I might add that Condottieri breaking off of their contract and betraying the state they served was a rather rare occurance, and as far as I know it never happened with permanent contracts (once you have interests in the state you're bound to defend, you're unlikely to betray it). If anything, the opposite was way more common (the state distrusting the condottiero it had hired and deciding to part with him - by making him part from the world).
 
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This is a very well written thread, thanks for posting.

One of the impressions I got in my admittedly limited reading about the Italian Wars is that the movement towards national rather than feudal armies meant that France and Spain could now field much larger armies and more importantly, keep them in the field for a longer time. The inherently limited size of a city-state like Florence or even Venice meant that there were only so many soldiers that they could field, and the larger populations of distant powers became much more important.

Something I'd like to rack the brains of the History forum. According to Lindybeige* pike formations would rarely actually enter push-of-pike because the losses would be utterly horrific and the fight be over very quickly. Thus he proposes that instead the pike blocks would stare each other down, and victory would go to the block which could most convince the enemy that they meant business, causing them to rout. He argues that the success of the Swiss, with their reputation for discipline and aggression could be simply that their advance was so purposeful and terrifying (I seem to recall that they always attacked in silence, which must have been unnerving) that their enemies would melt away rather than face these crazy bastards who were apparently happy to march straight onto your side's pikes. I initially dismissed this idea but having just written the above and picturing how that could be, I wonder if he is in fact onto something. Thoughts?

On a completely useless aside, the armies of the Italian Wars must have been the coolest looking armies in history. Formations of halberds in colourful puffed-and-slashed clothes? Check. Ornate suits of full-plate armour? Check. Horses with that creepy-looking plate barding? Check. Big feathers and gilding everywhere? Check. When armies drew up for battle, it must have looked incredible.



* youtube guy, has interesting videos about weapons and tactics in history which, for the most part, I think are accurate, because he emphasis practicality and has no time for rule-of-cool. Occasionally he comes out with things that are just wrong, but generally I think his stuff is worthwhile
 
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Galaahd

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It was mostly the work of the famous Espanã army.
It should be noted that such army had a lot of italian allies fighting in it, and it would often be commanded by italians (Prospero Colonna and the marquis of Pescara).


You can see the TV series The Borgias for fun. In that movie the Italians first time to see a cannon was right before the French attack.
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1582457/
Historically speaking, that show is dreadful.

Other than the cannons fact, which I already mentioned, they got wrong a lot about papal politics and social customs, and at some point they have Cesare Borgia hire a group of condottieri to ambush a french battalion... and the condottieri are all masked ninjas with exotic weapons and skilled assassins.
 

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I've never heard that myths, too. And yup, many Spanish forces were raised in Italy. "Born in Spain, trained in Italy, dead in Flanders", they said.
 

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This is a very well written thread, thanks for posting.

One of the impressions I got in my admittedly limited reading about the Italian Wars is that the movement towards national rather than feudal armies meant that France and Spain could now field much larger armies and more importantly, keep them in the field for a longer time. The inherently limited size of a city-state like Florence or even Venice meant that there were only so many soldiers that they could field, and the larger populations of distant powers became much more important.
Well, both Florence and Venice controlled vast tracts of land (Tuscany for Florence, the Terraferma for Venice), but for one reason or another their manpower was already strained (may it be being sailors on galleys or working in the manufactures - the Arsenal alone employed more than 16.000 people, it seems). Generally italian mercenaries came from specific centers: the Romagna, the hills of central Italy, Piedmont. Besides, many condottieri were signori in their own right, and used their estates as private recruitment centers for their companies.


Something I'd like to rack the brains of the History forum. According to Lindybeige* pike formations would rarely actually enter push-of-pike because the losses would be utterly horrific and the fight be over very quickly. Thus he proposes that instead the pike blocks would stare each other down, and victory would go to the block which could most convince the enemy that they meant business, causing them to rout. He argues that the success of the Swiss, with their reputation for discipline and aggression could be simply that their advance was so purposeful and terrifying (I seem to recall that they always attacked in silence, which must have been unnerving) that their enemies would melt away rather than face these crazy bastards who were apparently happy to march straight onto your side's pikes. I initially dismissed this idea but having just written the above and picturing how that could be, I wonder if he is in fact onto something. Thoughts?
I'm not sure. I think it might have happened from time to time, but generally as far as I know, concerning the battles I read about, there was actual fighting between formations of pikes, and push-of-pike woulld happen. That said the swiss had excellent discipline as they would rarely rout. In certain battles they kept on fighting although they suffered horrendous casualties (even by cannons or concentrated fire of firearms).
 
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Sanny

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As far as I know, all fortresses in the Papal States had plenty of cannons . The fact that in the show they seem stunned to see the enemy have artillery and the fact that they don't have any single cannon is unrealistic imho. Already by 1440 Ostia had eleven cannons, a small fortress such as Soriano had twelve, and by 1470 Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome had a huge piece by the weight of four tons and a half and 16 more light cannons.
Yes but there were none to defend the city walls, Castel Sant'Angelo was in the middle of the city. The point was that the French could sack Rome and and Vatican and then siege the Castel. The show isn't clear on the issue I admit but it's possible the cannons were bolted down onto the Castel's battlements hence why they couldn't move them (which was quite common at the time).
 

Yeangst

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This is a very well written thread, thanks for posting.



Something I'd like to rack the brains of the History forum. According to Lindybeige* pike formations would rarely actually enter push-of-pike because the losses would be utterly horrific and the fight be over very quickly. Thus he proposes that instead the pike blocks would stare each other down, and victory would go to the block which could most convince the enemy that they meant business, causing them to rout. He argues that the success of the Swiss, with their reputation for discipline and aggression could be simply that their advance was so purposeful and terrifying (I seem to recall that they always attacked in silence, which must have been unnerving) that their enemies would melt away rather than face these crazy bastards who were apparently happy to march straight onto your side's pikes. I initially dismissed this idea but having just written the above and picturing how that could be, I wonder if he is in fact onto something. Thoughts?


* youtube guy, has interesting videos about weapons and tactics in history which, for the most part, I think are accurate, because he emphasis practicality and has no time for rule-of-cool. Occasionally he comes out with things that are just wrong, but generally I think his stuff is worthwhile
That sounds very similar to accounts of bayonet fighting: the attackers would march forward with bayonets fixed and the defenders would either run away before they got there or the fire from defenders would break the attackers. There was rarely ever mass melee combat.

In general, I think a lot of pre gunpowder warfare was standing around trying to scare the other side. From Hollywod you usually get the impression that the two sides charge at one another and then a few survivors from the victors finish killing the last of the enemy and stand over a field of corpses. But even in exagerrated accounts of battles, casualties were rarely ever more than 5-10% and even then most of the kills were on an enemies who had already routed.

As for the Italians and cannons, I remember reading that the issue wasn't the lack or presence of cannons for the defenders, but that the city walls were too high and thin. Their city and fortress walls were still designed to repel ladders, siege towers, catapults and occasionally angry peasants rather than cannons. So the French, rather than have to comit to lengthy sieges, could easily knock down the obsolete walls and quickly assault and force the submission of every city and town they came across. In fact, it was this war that led to the development of the Trace Italien system of star forts that had thick walls reinforced by earthworks and were designed so that it was difficult to get a 90 degree hit on any stretch of wall and every approach was exposed to multiple angles of fire.

I think this is a great blog post of the historiography of the two Borgia tv series's. It focus more on culture than on war but very interesting nonetheless.
 

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This makes perfect sense as most miltia were less well equiped, less well trained, less expendable and more trustworthy than the Condottieri.
This of course wasn't an unusual practice: The swedish army did the same during the 30-years war (eg. mainly relying on drafted troops for garrisons)
 

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Something I'd like to rack the brains of the History forum. According to Lindybeige* pike formations would rarely actually enter push-of-pike because the losses would be utterly horrific and the fight be over very quickly. Thus he proposes that instead the pike blocks would stare each other down, and victory would go to the block which could most convince the enemy that they meant business, causing them to rout. He argues that the success of the Swiss, with their reputation for discipline and aggression could be simply that their advance was so purposeful and terrifying (I seem to recall that they always attacked in silence, which must have been unnerving) that their enemies would melt away rather than face these crazy bastards who were apparently happy to march straight onto your side's pikes. I initially dismissed this idea but having just written the above and picturing how that could be, I wonder if he is in fact onto something. Thoughts?
This is actually how most "fights" between animals of the same species work - actual physical fighting over mates or territory among bears, rhinos, hippos, birds, stag beetles, and so on that you see on nature documentaries is pretty rare. These are always preceded by a ritualized display so the animals can size one another up and see which is likely to be the dominant one, with the weaker one usually giving up at some point and saving everyone lots of energy and the possibility of being injured. It's only in the few cases that these displays are indecisive and the two seem to be roughly equal (or if one is unusually aggressive) that a fight occurs.

It seems pretty likely that fights among humans in certain contexts could work in the same way.
 

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I would quibble with the OP on one point: his characterisation of the French seeking out battle as mediaeval. I'd actually say it was a legacy of the French victories during the later part of the Hundred Years War. Earlier in that conflict, in the reign of Charles V, the French avoided battle religiously.
 

Emre Yigit

Crusader for Chalcedonian Christianity
Jun 13, 2001
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1) The "Standing army vs army of mercenaries" myth.

Disagree. Among other things, two months' service per year does not make a standing army; and a standing army is no use if it doesn't actually take to the field. So Sforza could have had a "standing army" of 12,000 knights, but not in any real sense.


2) The presumed "bloodless battles of the 15th century".

Disagree. 600-900 deaths in a battle are chickenfeed compared to what was going on elsewhere.


3) The technological & doctrinal inferiority of the italian armies.

Other than "all fortresses had cannons", agree.


4) The presumed isolation of italian warfare is what made it lag behind.

Agree.


5) The alleged chivalric "ethos" of the Condottieri is what made them fail.

Agree.


6) Taylor claiming that italians didn't understand the importance of topographical barriers.

Did he really claim this?

Agree (with you).


7) The lack of will by the italian states to fight a total war.

I generally agree, but your numbers of soldiers seem overblown unless sentry & garrison duty is counted.