Jay's Wargaming Blog

August 26, 2009

Mercenaries And Their Masters

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 8:51 pm


Pen And Sword have recently republished Michael Mallett’s ground-breaking 1974 study of warfare in early Renaissance Italy, ‘Mercenaries and their Masters’. Mallett’s study is a detailed refutation of the thesis advanced by Oman and others that the early Italian Renaissance military scene was a backwater blighted by the anachronistic heavy cavalry tactics of the condottieri.

I can heartily recommend this book, which is full of detail but also immensely readable. Mallett surveys Italian warfare and its social context from the 13th century through to the Italian Wars of the 16th century, focusing in particular on the development of the complex relationship between city states and condottiere captains, and their contribution to the refinement of the art of war. He explodes a number of myths, including that of the ‘bloodless battle’ derided by Machiavelli and his successors, as well as the notion that mercenaries were inevitably venal and treacherous. The reality was far less straightforward, and Mallett cites much original source material to back up what is now widely regarded as essential reading.

This is an excellent, detailed introduction to the subject which has inspired me to investigate early Renaissance Italy further as a fruitful arena for wargaming. If you have any interest in the period it’s well worth the cover price.

Pictured above: Bartolomeo Colleoni, prominent condottiere and commander of the Venetian army from 1455 to 1475.


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