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Warfare in the Plain of the Po 1189–1226

Warfare in the Plain of the Po 1189–1226

Paper by John France, Swansea University and West Point

Given at the 2011 Haskins Society Conference, Boston College

Professor France notes that northern Italy was a very exceptional society in the late-twelfth and thirteenth-centuries – a city society – but he finds that warfare was essentially the same as in the rest of Europe. His paper examines the ‘theatre of war’ around Milan, which includes cities such as Cremona, Brescia and Lodi.

By the late 12th century warfare is usually taking place between these cities, despite the fact that efforts by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. One main cause of this was that local nobility were drawn into the cities, and carried with them their old factionalism. Their presence in cities was desired by the local citizens, because they needed their leadership in both government and war. But this also leads to a great deal of civil strife and internal warfare, such as in Milan in 1198.

In turn this leads many cities turning over their governments to to foreign podestas, and their rule often favoured the milites/nobles. This continues the domination of cities and their warfare by the nobility.

France notes some of the characteristics of warfare during this period, including the predominance of raiding, which could cause a lot of damage and subjugation of smaller towns in the Po Valley. Another aspect of warfare was the use of fortified camps – armies would often set up their own temporary castles when besieging cities, and the common use of siege weaponry, such as trebuchets. But the main feature of warfare in the Po was the “continuous and intense violence” that characterizes this period. Savage warfare was prevalent, and large battles such as the Cremonese victory over the League of Milan, Lodi, Crema, Novara, Como and Brescia at the battle of Castelleone in 1213 led to an upsurge in violence. The renewal of Imperial-Papal conflict when Frederick II comes to the throne in 1212 also instigated more warfare between pro and anti-Imperial cities.

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