It will probably come as a surprise to some of my friends that 'the staunchest Ghibelline in Worcestershire' should be writing an article upon the army of the most prominent Guelf city state - Florence (1). However, whilst reading about Florentine society I realised what an interesting subject it would make. Consequently, in this article I hope to make the information about Florence's forces between 1260 and 1325 more widely available to wargamers and then give a suggested army list. Finally, I must stress that I make no great claims to originality, this article owes a great deal to Daniel Waley's article on the Florentine army.
The period which I have chosen for this study - 1260-1325 - begins and ends with a great Florentine defeat. In 1260 the Sienese put the Tuscan Guelfs to flight at Montaperti and in 1325 Florence met with a similar disaster at Altopascio. The era also saw the Florentine triumph over Arrezzo at Campaldino (1289) and the city state's victory over the Emperor Henry VII 1312-13. Throughout this time the army of the republic was changing. In considering its composition, let us start with the arm which was most altered in this transitional period - the Horse.
As in all high mediaeval armies, the mounted arm was Florence's most powerful force on the battlefield. At the beginning of this period it consisted entirely of heavily armoured lancers, mostly made up of Florentines. We will look at the native cavalry before considering mercenary and allied contingents.
In 1260, 1,448 out of 1,648 cavalry in the Florentine contingent were citizens of the republic, forming no less than c.8.75 per cent of her forces (2). In 1325, the army of 17,000 men put to flight at Altopascio contained only 500 native Florentine horse, ie only 2.94 per cent of the total strength. Before asking why this proportion fell so the force to be sent to the aid of Bologna in 1296 which resulted in only fifty city horse being raised (out of a force of 550). The other kind of Florentine cavalry was made up of squires or Compagni. These were probably light cavalry who drew up behind the consortes, if, indeed, they took any part in the fighting. One hundred compagni fought at Altopascio. Finally, mention must be made of the Cavallieri della Banda, an elite force of knights raised from the consortes from c. 1312. It is perhaps indicative of the quality of Florence's own horse that such a band had become necessary.
The mercenary and allied cavalry who replaced the native consortes rose from c. 1.25 per cent of the army at Montaperti to 9.09 per cent of that at Altopascio. Mercenaries were usually Italian but with an increasing French contingent after 1289. The Italians were hired from Umbria, Emilia, Lombardy, the March of Ancona, and even the Sicilian Regno after the late 1260s. In 1289, the king of Sicily lent 100 French knights to Florence and from then onwards French troops provided a hard core of good cavalry for the Republic. There were no less than 700 of these at Altopascio and, after that disaster, Florence came to rely almost totally upon a 1,000 strong French contingent under Charles of Calabria. The most colourful mercenary force was Diego de Rat's Catalan company loaned to the city state by King Charles of Sicily in 1305. About as popular amongst the Florentines as Cruise missiles are amongst today's British population, the Catalans were deemed just as necessary to the defence of the realm. They rose from 300 cavalry and 300 infantry in 1305 to 500 horse and 1,000 foot in 1312. The company left under a cloud in 1313 though Catalan contingents continued to appear in Florence's armies. There were 100 of these excellent horsemen at Altopascio. In the 1320s, the city state took the hitherto unheard of step of hiring heavily armoured German cavalry, previously an exclusively Ghibelline phenomenon, and 200 of these shock troops fought at Altopascio. Handfuls of Flemish and even English knights were to be found in the mercenary companies in Florentine pay.
There remains only one further type of mercenary horseman to be considered - the mounted crossbowman. Waley says that such troops from the Friuli were first hired in the 1320s. However, Compagni mentions mounted crossbowmen in the rebel Florentine White Guelf/Ghibelline forces in an episode of the first decade of the fourteenth century so it is not impossible that such troops appeared in the Republic's forces before 1320.
Allied contingents from the other Tuscan states would often be found in Florence's armies. These would usually be armoured cavalry but in the larger Guelf armies they would be accompanied by infantry from their own city. These troops were better than the Florentine native cavalry and it should be pointed out that it was the Pistoian allied cavalry which won the day at Campaldino.
Florence's infantry was mostly made up of native troops. The city itself provided a militia infantry force. At Montaperti there were about 6,000 of these divided into 4,000 spearmen, 1,000 archers and 1,000 crossbowmen. These troops were lightly armoured, apparently wearing helmet alone. The few heavy infantry of the Republic were called Pavesarii and, as the name suggests, carried large shields, apparently with the city badge of a red fleur de lys on a white field emblazoned upon them (3). The pavesarii were often used in conjunction with the crossbowmen. The 750 city infantry in the army which attacked Pistoia in 1302 were all crossbowmen or pavesarii.
The surrounding country or Contado also provided infantry for the city state. These Contadini seem to have become more and more prominent in Florentine forces. The army at Montaperti contained 8,000 of them (c. 50 per cent) and they formed 5,000 out of a force of 7,250 sent against Pistoia in 1302. The Contadini were divided into two troop types - ordinary infantry and 'sappers'. The latter were very poor quality troops armed only with hoes and scythes and apparently employed chiefly in sieges. The infantry were reorganised in 1312-13 to comprise 10 per cent crossbowmen.
Mercenaries were less prominent amongst Florence's foot soldiers than amongst her mounted troops. Those that were hired were probably chiefly crossbowmen, in true Italian fashion. Two hundred mercenary crossbowmen were hired in 1291 and 1,000 mercenary foot took part in the 1302 campaign against Pistoia. Of the latter no details are given as to their type but it is likely that many if not most of them were crossbowmen. The Republic's neighbours were hiring Genoese before the start of our period and it is not unlikely that these ubiquitous soldiers of fortune found their way into Florence's armies. Again, the best mercenaries were Diego de Rat's Catalans. The Catalan foot were Almughavars or Aragonese mountain troops armed with spear, sword and javelins.
Though they had scored some notable successes in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries and were, on occasion, capable of fighting quite doggedly, Florentine foot soldiers were generally of poor quality. Their lack of armour may help explain this. The mercenaries were steadier troops but the best troops were the fierce Catalans.
Command, Carroccio and Organisation
The Florentine army was commanded by a Podesta, who was, by law, a foreigner of noble rank. He was assisted in the field by a council of captains drawn from the six sesti (sixths) or city districts.
Mercenary cavalry companies averaged fifty men each and city units probably imitated them. Each company was commanded by a Constable, in the case of the mercenaries at least. The Florentine foot were organised into platoons of 25 men. These platoons were, in turn, probably grouped into companies of 100 men. Consequently, on the wargames table, Florentine infantry unit should be multiples of five figures*. Since the Republic's wars were fought close to home and were generally of short duration there is little or no scope for that age old excuse, so beloved of the wargamer whose units are the wrong size, 'Oh, well you see they're under-strength'.
As with all Italian city states, Florence possessed a Carroccio or decorated wagon which carried the city's banners. This provided a battlefield command post and a very conspicuous rallying point for the army. At Montaperti it was protected by a guard of forty-eight consortes and 153 city infantry, but this did not prevent it from falling into the hands of the triumphant Sienese!
Florentine Army List 1260-1325
In this list, I have decided to use my own system of troop classification which is based upon that used by Bruce Quarrie in his excellent Napoleonic rules. This is very detailed and flexible and should therefore be able to be converted for use with any of the available rule sets for this period. The list is divided into a series of columns giving details of the troop types' fighting abilities. First, however, these will need to be explained.
Column 1, Percentage. This Column gives the maximum and minimum percentages of an army's total strength in figures comprised by the troop type in question. This system gives more realistic armies and recreates the difficulties of recruitment highlighted by Mike Hodson-Smith (More Realistic One-Off Battles, MW No 5). Because of their high minimum percentages, the most readily available troops are always present in appropriate numbers. Similarly elite troops who may have been less easy to come by can never form a historically unrealistic proportion of the army.
Column 2, Troop Type. This simply gives the name of the troop type in question.
Column 3, Armour Class. A more complex explanation needed here. I use a system where different items of armour are worth certain points. These are as follows: Full mail armour with open helmet - 8 pts; Mail coat, to the knee - 3 pts; Mail coat to the thigh - 2 pts; Mail shirt to the waist - 1 pt; Leather armour reaching to the waist - ½ pt; Leather armour reaching below the waist - 1 pt; All metal open helmet - 1 pt; Partial metal open helmet - ½ pt; All metal enclosed helmet - 1½ pts; Mail for one arm or leg - l pt; Mail coif- ½ pt; Two mail gloves or shoes - Ό pt. The fully armoured knight can be upgraded from 8 to 9 by the substitution of an all metal enclosed helmet. The addition of partial plate armour upgrades the knight from 8 to 10 points. This simplified list should give you some idea of how the system works. Column 3 simply gives the number of armour points which a unit of the given troop type is allowed per figure. When calculating a figure's armour class, add up the points for all his protective items of clothing and round up any fractions. It should also be pointed out that this number is an average. This means that a unit of thirty figures might have ten unarmoured figures, (armour class 0), ten in helmets or waist length protection only (armour class 1) and ten in all metal helmets and waist length armour (armour class 2) and still be classed as armour class 1. It should be possible to convert this system for use with the commercial sets of rules (eg armour class 0, 1 or 2 equates with WRG LI, LMI, MI, LC or MC, armour classes 3 and 4 with HI, LHI and HC, and so on).
Column 4, Primary Weapons. This Column gives the weapons; not those which the troop type carries, but those which it is trained to use. These are abbreviated as follows: L - Lance; Sw - Sword; L Sw - Long Sword; D - Dagger; Arb - Crossbow; M sp - Medium spear (6-9ft long); B - Bow; St sp- Short spear (3-6ft long); J- Javelins; L sp- Long spear (9-12ft long).
Column 5, Shield. Column 5 simply states whether or not a shield is carried. P indicates that the troop type carries a Pavise or very large shield.
Column 6, Morale. This gives a number, on a scale of 2-10, reflecting the steadiness and morale of the troops in question.
Column 7, Control. This number ranging from 0-5 indicates how likely the troop type is to go into uncontrolled advance.
Column 8, Order. This Column states in which order the troop type may act. The four orders are Close Order (CO) - shoulder-to-shoulder formation, Loose Order (LO), a slightly more spread out formation, Open Order (OO), a very dispersed though still cohesive formation, and Skirmish Order (SO), a totally dispersed formation with the troops advancing in ones and twos. In the latter case no formation is adhered to. Some troops may act in more than one order.
Column 9, Melee weapon handling. This factor, ranging from 0-4, represents the skill of the troop type at handling its weapons in melee.
Column 10, Impact Bonus. This Column gives a factor, ranging from 0-8, reflecting the weight of the troop type's charge.
Column 11, Firing skill. This is a number, ranging from 0-3 reflecting the troops' skill with their distant effect weapons, if they carry any.
Column 12, Panicked By -, This Column gives the kinds of troops, if any, that the troop type is particularly reluctant to face and the number to be deducted from their final scores in melee, firing, morale, control or reaction tests when enemy troops of this type are in contact or within 100 yards.
Column 13, Drill. This reflects the degree of discipline and training of the troops in question. There are four classes: Regular, Semi-Regular, Feudal and Irregular.
Upgrading. Up to Ό of City or Contado infantry spears may be given L sp instead of M sp. Up to Ό of Consortes may be made Cavaiieri della Banda and given the factors of French mercenaries. Any cavalry of armour class 8 may be made armour class 9. Any Germans may be made armour class 11. Up to half of the mercenaries may be made armour class 1. Any mercenary crossbowmen may be given shields. 10% of city spearmen may be made Armour class 2.
Note: i -At least one per four city infantry spearmen. ii - One per nine Contadini spearmen. iii - One to two per Catalan horseman. No Germans before 1320. No Catalans before 1305, no more than 2% Catalan cavalry after 1313 and no more than 1% after 1320. No French before 1289. Remember that the combined cavalry should not form more than 12½% of the army nor less than 5% of it.
1 model Carroccio with a guard of 2 Consortes and 8 city infantry figs. l00pts.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 5-12½ Cavalry 2-9 Consortes 8 L, Sw, D 1 7 1 LO 2 7 Feudal 0-2 Compagni 1 L, Sw 1 6 1 LO 1 4 Shock Cavalry 1 Feudal 0-4 Italian Mercenary 8 L, Sw, D 1 8 2 LO 3 7 Feudal 0-5 French Mercenary 8 L, Sw, D 1 9 3 LO 3 8 Feudal 0-4 Catalan Mercenary 8 L, Sw, D 1 9 3 LO 4 8 Regular 0-2 German Mercenary 10 L, LSw, D 1 8 2 CO 3 8 Semi-Regular 0-2 Mounted Crossbows 1 Arb, Sw 1 6 1 LO/OO/SO 1 1 2 Shock Cavalry 2 Irregular 0-5 Italian Allies 8 L, Sw, D 1 8 3 LO 3 7 Feudal Infantry 5-25 City Inf 1 M sp, Sw ? 6 2 CO 2 1 Shock Cavalry 1 Feudal i City Inf 0 B X 5 1 CO/OO/SO 0 0 2 Cavalry 2 Feudal i City Inf 0 Arb X 5 1 CO/OO/SO 0 0 2 Cavalry 2 Feudal 2-7½ Pavesarii 3 M sp, Sw P 7 1 CO 2 3 Feudal 25-50 Contadini 0 M sp, D ? 5 2 CO 2 1 Shock Cavalry 1 Irregular ii Contadini 0 Arb X 4 2 CO/OO/SO 0 0 2 Cavalry 3 Irregular 0-20 Sappers 0 St sp ? 4 3 CO/LO 1 0 Cavalry 2 Irregular 0-10 Mercenaries 0 Arb, Sw X 6 1 CO 1 0 3 Cavalry 1 Semi-Regular iii Catalans 1 M sp, Sw, J X 8 3 CO/LO 3 3 2 Regular
The Florentine army at this time cannot claim to be one of the most powerful mediaeval military machines. Though its cavalry is, with the addition of large numbers of mercenaries, respectable, the infantry is weak. The army is, however, very colourful and charismatic and ought to suit those wargamers like me who have an irresistable attraction towards under-dogs. Moreover, it is an unusual force (suffice to say I have never seen one fielded on the wargames table other than my own) and therefore appealing. As to tactics, try the Florentine method of fighting used at Campaldino. The cavalry were deployed in the centre, several ranks deep with the foot extending forwards on both flanks so as to make a 'Bull's Horns' formation. A force of Italian allies was posted away on the left flank. I would deploy like this with Catalan foot and Pavasarii holding the extreme flanks of the infantry. Plenty of missile troops should be included to enfilade the attacking enemy. Germans or Catalans and French should form the front rank of cavalry, then Italian mercenaries and, in the rear, the Florentine horse. When the time is right launch an attack around one flank with a reserve of Italian allies. Good luck! (You'll probably need it!)
Notes to the Text
1. For those not primarily interested in mediaeval wargaming, Guelf and Ghibelline are the names given in Italy to the Papal and Imperial parties respectively.
2. The size of Florence's forces at this battle has been estimated at c.17,000 by D. P. Waley, using the Libro di Montaperti a contemporary, though incomplete, muster roll.
3. It is by no means certain that the Pavesarii were armoured at all but I consider that they may have formed the armoured infantry element of the Republic's army. Later mediaeval pavesiers were usually well armoured.
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