Stradioti: Balkan Mercenaries in Fifteenth and Sixteenth Century Italy
By Nicholas C. J. Pappas
Introduction: The stradioti, mounted troops of Albanian and Greek origin who initially entered Venetian military service during the Republic’s wars with the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century, were among pioneers of light cavalry tactics in European armies in the early modern era. These warriors, who had previously served Byzantine and Albanian rulers, initially found asylum and employment in the Venetian strongholds of Napoli di Romagna, Corone, Modone, and Malvasia in the Peloponnesus. Later they were also stationed in Venetian holdings at Trau, Sibenico, Castellonuovo, and Zara in Dalmatia, and the islands of Corfu, Zante, Cephalonia, Crete and Cyprus. They were also introduced into Italy by the Venetians in the 1470’s and participated in wars in Italy through much of the 16th century, not only for Venice, but also for other employers. It was in these wars that the stratioti made an impact on warfare in Italy and the west, chiefly by their style of fighting and tactics. The stradioti were armed and fought as light cavalry in a manner that developed from warfare among Byzantine, Slavic, Albanian and Ottoman forces. They carried spear, a long saber, mace, and dagger, and were attired in a mixture of oriental, Byzantine and western military garb. The stradioti continued the Balkan traditions of cavalry warfare, which used hit-and-run attacks, ambushes, feigned retreats, counterattacks and other tactics little known to western armies of the time.
A number of contemporary writers and later historians, notably Charles Oman, Coriolano Cippico, Marino Sanuto, Philip de Comines, F. L. Taylor, Konstantinos Sathas, John Hale, M. E. Mallett, and others, have recounted the activities of stradioti in Italy and the west. Some of these authorities even claimed that the stradioti were instrumental in the reintroduction of light cavalry tactics in western armies. In the sixteenth century, stradioti troops expanded their service to the armies of Milan, Genoa, Spain, France, the Holy Roman Empire, and England. Aside from their military activities, the stradioti were instrumental in the establishment of Greek Orthodox communities in Venice and Dalmatia.
This paper will investigate the origins of the stradioti, their ethnic and regional composition, their role in the armies of the 15th and 16th centuries, and their participation in the founding of Greek Orthodox Communities in the Italy and elsewhere.