The Florentine Army in the Age of the Companies of Adventure
By William Caferro
Millars: Espai i historia, Volume 43, Number 2, 2017
Introduction: The recruitment and composition of armies in fourteenth century Italy are among the most vexing and misunderstood aspects of medieval warfare. Such scholarship as there has been emphasizes the reliance of states on mercenary troops and the advent in the trecento of compagnie di ventura – companies of adventure–, bands of mercenaries from Italy and elsewhere in Europe, who overwhelmed the native component of armies and undertook raids in times of peace.
The companies have served as the symbol of the loss of communal fighting spirit and with it the moral degeneracy of Italian states. What has been forgotten in this construct is the realities of warfare and the actual nature of Italian armies. How were soldiers recruited, what did armies look like and how were they deployed in the field? The current scholarly consensus speaks of a “devolution” of military organization.
In the thirteenth century, states relied primarily on native forces, reflecting a vigorous “communal martial spirit.” In the fourteenth century, states came to rely more on mercenaries, arrayed often in pre-formed bands. By the fifteenth century, the bands became replaced by powerful individual condottieri, who in several well-known cases took over the states they served. This last phase is a main theme of Jacob Burckhardt’s seminal Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Burckhardt saw in the condottieri the type of calculated self-interest and “unbridled egotism” that was representative of the Renaissance as a whole.