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The equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni Bartolomeo Colleoni by Andrea del Verrocchio.jpg
The equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni

Condottieri (Italian:  [kondotˈtjɛːri] ; singular condottiero or condottiere) were Italian military leaders involved in classical formation battles, first as mercenary captains commanding free companies and later as generals of multi-national armies. In medieval Italian, condottiero meant "contractor" but the term later acquired the broader meaning of "military leader", also in reference to Italian Catholics serving as commanders for the Roman Catholic side during the Counter-Reformation (e.g. "Condottiero Alexander Farnese"). [1]

Italy republic in Southern Europe

Italy, officially the Italian Republic, is a Southern European country consisting of a peninsula delimited by the Alps and surrounded by several islands. Located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and traversed along its length by the Apennines, Italy has a largely temperate seasonal and Mediterranean climate. The country covers a total area of 301,340 km2 (116,350 sq mi), and land area of 294,140 km2 (113,570 sq mi), and shares open land borders with France, Slovenia, Austria, Switzerland and the enclaved microstates of Vatican City and San Marino. Italy has a territorial exclave in Switzerland (Campione) and a maritime exclave in the Tunisian Sea (Lampedusa). With around 60 million inhabitants, Italy is the fourth-most populous member state of the European Union.

Free company late medieval army of mercenaries acting independently of any government

A free company was an army of mercenaries between the 12th and 14th centuries recruited by private employers during wars. They acted independently of any government, and were thus "free". They regularly made a living by plunder when they were not employed; in France they were the routiers and écorcheurs who operated outside the highly structured law of arms. The term "free company" is most applied to those companies of soldiers which formed after the Peace of Brétigny during the Hundred Years' War and were active mainly in France, but it has been applied to other companies, such as the Catalan Company and companies that operated elsewhere, such as in Italy and the Holy Roman Empire.

Counter-Reformation Catholic political and religious response to the Protestant Reformation

The Counter-Reformation, also called the Catholic Reformation or the Catholic Revival, was the period of Catholic resurgence that was initiated in response to the Protestant Reformation. It began with the Council of Trent (1545–1563) and largely ended with the 1781 Patent of Toleration, although smaller expulsions of Protestants continued into the 19th century. Initiated to preserve the power, influence and material wealth enjoyed by the Catholic Church and to present a theological and material challenge to Reformation, the Counter-Reformation was a comprehensive effort composed of apologetic and polemical documents, ecclesiastical reconfiguration as decreed by the Council of Trent, a series of wars, political maneuvering including the efforts of Imperial Diets of the Holy Roman Empire, exiling of Protestant populations, confiscation of Protestant children for Catholic institutionalized upbringing, heresy trials and the Inquisition, anti-corruption efforts, spiritual movements, and the founding of new religious orders.


Therefore, in Italian historiography, the term Condottiero:

Italian city-states

The Italian city-states were a political phenomenon of small independent states mostly in the central and northern Italian Peninsula between the 9th and the 15th centuries.

Italian Wars Wars in Italy from the 15th to 16th centuries

The Italian Wars, often referred to as the Great Wars of Italy and sometimes as the Habsburg–Valois Wars, were a long series of wars fought between 1494 and 1559 in Italy during the Renaissance. The Peninsula was economically advanced, but politically divided between several small Italian states, used as pawns by European great powers. Italy and its riches therefore became the main battleground for supremacy in Europe, essentially between Valois France and Habsburg Spain and Austria. Other states, such as the Ottoman Empire and England, also played a part in the conflict.

Some authors have described Guido da Landriano (the real figure behind the legendary Alberto da Giussano) as the "first condottiero" and Napoleon Bonaparte (in virtue of his Italian origins) as the "last condottiero": according to this view, the condottieri tradition would span a huge diverse period from the battle of Legnano in 1176 to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. [4] [5] Most historians would narrow it down to the years from c.1350 to c.1650, with a particular focus on the rise of the ventura captains and their transformation in captain generals fighting for the major powers during the struggle for political and religious supremacy in Europe.

Guido da Landriano was an Italian condottiero and politician of the Landriani family. He was the leader of the Lombard League army in the war of the Guelphs and Ghibellines against the Holy Roman Empire.

Alberto da Giussano

Alberto da Giussano was a Lombard legendary Guelph warrior during the wars of the Lombard League against Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century.

Battle of Legnano middle ages battle

The Battle of Legnano was fought on May 29, 1176, between the forces of the Holy Roman Empire, led by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and the Lombard League. The Imperial army suffered a major defeat.

Mercenary captains


Visconti, Luchino (12.. 1349).jpg
Luchino Visconti defeated the Company of Saint George of Werner von Urslingen at the battle of Parabiago.
Alberico da Barbiano, a mercenary alongside John Hawkwood, founded his own (all Italian) condotta, the Company of St. George, and reached acclaim by defeating the Breton company of anti-pope Clement VII at Marino  [ fr ] in 1379 as well as fostering notable other condottiere such as Facino Cane and Braccio da Montone.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the Italian city-states of Venice, Florence, and Genoa were very rich from their trade with the Levant, yet possessed woefully small armies. In the event that foreign powers and envious neighbors attacked, the ruling nobles hired foreign mercenaries to fight for them. The military-service terms and conditions were stipulated in a condotta (contract) between the city-state and the soldiers (officer and enlisted man), thus, the contracted leader, the mercenary captain commanding, was titled the Condottiere.

A city-state is a sovereign state, also described as a type of small independent country, that usually consists of a single city and its dependent territories. Historically, this included cities such as Rome, Athens, Carthage, and the Italian city-states during the Renaissance. As of 2019, only a handful of sovereign city-states exist, with some disagreement as to which are city-states. A great deal of consensus exists that the term properly applies currently to Monaco, Singapore, and Vatican City. City states are also sometimes called microstates which however also includes other configurations of very small countries, not to be confused with micronations.

Republic of Venice Former state in Northeastern Italy

The Republic of Venice or Venetian Republic, traditionally known as La Serenissima, was a sovereign state and maritime republic in what is now northeastern Italy, which existed for over a millennium between the 7th century and the 18th century from 697 AD until 1797 AD. It was based in the lagoon communities of the historically prosperous city of Venice, and was a leading European economic and trading power during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Citizens spoke primarily the still-surviving Venetian language, although publishing in (Florentine) Italian language became the norm during the Renaissance and after.

Republic of Florence City-state on the Apennine Peninsula between 1115 and 1532

The Republic of Florence, also known as the Florentine Republic, was a medieval and early modern state that was centered on the Italian city of Florence in Tuscany. The republic originated in 1115, when the Florentine people rebelled against the Margraviate of Tuscany upon the death of Matilda of Tuscany, who controlled vast territories that included Florence. The Florentines formed a commune in her successors' place. The republic was ruled by a council known as the Signoria of Florence. The signoria was chosen by the gonfaloniere, who was elected every two months by Florentine guild members. The Republic, despite having a large degree of autonomy, was formally part of the Holy Roman Empire throughout its existence.

From the eleventh to the thirteenth century, European soldiers led by professional officers fought against the Muslims in the Crusades (1095–1291). These crusading officers provided large-scale warfare combat experience in the Holy Land. On the Crusades' conclusion, the first masnada (bands of roving soldiers) appeared in Italy. Given the profession, some masnade were less mercenaries than bandits and desperate men. These masnada were not Italian, but (mostly) German, from the Duchy of Brabant (hence, Brabanzoni), and from Aragon. The latter were Spanish soldiers who had followed King Peter III of Aragon in the War of the Sicilian Vespers in Italy in October 1282, and, post-war, remained there, seeking military employment. By 1333 other mercenaries had arrived in Italy to fight with John of Bohemia as the Compagnia della Colomba (Company of the Dove) in Perugia's war against Arezzo. The first well organised mercenaries in Italy were the Ventura Companies of Duke Werner von Urslingen and Count Konrad von Landau. Werner's company differed from other mercenary companies because its code of military justice imposed discipline and an equal division of the contract's income. The Ventura Company increased in number until becoming the fearsome "Great Company" of some 3,000 barbute (each barbuta comprised a knight and a sergeant).

Muslims Adherents of Islam

Muslims are people who follow or practice Islam, a monotheistic Abrahamic religion. Muslims consider the Quran, their holy book, to be the verbatim word of God as revealed to the Islamic prophet and messenger Muhammad. The majority of Muslims also follow the teachings and practices of Muhammad (sunnah) as recorded in traditional accounts (hadith). "Muslim" is an Arabic word meaning "submitter".

Crusades A series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church in the medieval period

The crusades were a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church in the medieval period. The most commonly known crusades are the campaigns in the eastern Mediterranean aimed at recovering the Holy Land from Muslim rule. The term crusade is also applied to other church-sanctioned campaigns. These were fought for a variety of reasons including the suppression of paganism and heresy, the resolution of conflict among rival Roman Catholic groups, or for political and territorial advantage. At the time of the early crusades, the word did not exist and it only became the leading descriptive term in English around the year 1760.

Duchy of Brabant State of the Holy Roman Empire

The Duchy of Brabant was a State of the Holy Roman Empire established in 1183. It developed from the Landgraviate of Brabant and formed the heart of the historic Low Countries, part of the Burgundian Netherlands from 1430 and of the Habsburg Netherlands from 1482, until it was partitioned after the Dutch revolt.


The first mercenary company with an Italian as its chief was the "Company of St. George" formed in 1339 and led by Lodrisio Visconti. This company was defeated and destroyed by Luchino Visconti of Milan (another condottiero and uncle of Lodrisio) in April 1339. Later, in 1377, a second "Company of St. George" was formed under the leadership of Alberico da Barbiano, also an Italian and the Count of Conio, who later taught military science to condottieri such as Braccio da Montone and Giacomuzzo Attendolo Sforza, who also served in the company. [6]

Lodrisio Visconti was an Italian condottiero.

Luchino Visconti (died 1349) Lord of Milan

Luchino Visconti (also spelled Lucchino, 1287 or 1292 – January 24, 1349) was lord of Milan from 1339 to 1349. He was also a condottiero, and lord of Pavia.

Alberico da Barbiano first of the Italian condottieri

Alberico da Barbiano was the first of the Italian condottieri. His master in military matters was the English mercenary John Hawkwood, known in Italy as Giovanni Acuto. Alberico's compagnia fought under the banner of Saint George, as the compagnia San Giorgio.

Once aware of their military power monopoly in Italy, the condottieri bands became notorious for their capriciousness, and soon dictated terms to their ostensible employers. In turn, many condottieri, such as Braccio da Montone and Muzio Sforza, became powerful politicians. As most were educated men acquainted with Roman military science manuals (e.g. Vegetius's Epitoma rei militarii ), they began viewing warfare from the perspective of military science, rather than as a matter of valor or physical courage—a great, consequential departure from chivalry, the traditional medieval model of soldiering. Consequently, the condottieri fought by outmanoeuvring the opponent and fighting his ability to wage war, rather than risk uncertain fortune—defeat, capture, death—in battlefield combat.

Detail of the frescoes, with soldiers. Malpaga10.JPG
Detail of the frescoes, with soldiers.

The earlier, medieval condottieri developed the "art of war" (military strategy and tactics) into military science more than any of their historical military predecessors—fighting indirectly, not directly—thus, only reluctantly endangering themselves and their enlisted men, avoiding battle when possible, also avoiding hard work and winter campaigns, as these all reduced the total number of trained soldiers available, and was detrimental to their political and economic interest. [7] Niccolò Machiavelli even said that condottieri fought each other in grandiose, but often pointless and near-bloodless battles. However, later in the Renaissance the condottieri line of battle still deployed the grand armoured knight and medieval weapons and tactics after most European powers had begun employing professional standing armies of pikemen and musketeers; this helped to contribute to their eventual decline and destruction.[ citation needed ]

In 1347, Cola di Rienzo (Tribune and effective dictator of the city) had Werner von Urslingen executed in Rome, and Konrad von Landau assumed command of the Great Company. On the conclusion (1360) of the Peace of Bretigny between England and France, Sir John Hawkwood led an army of English mercenaries, called the White Company, into Italy, which took a prominent part in the confused wars of the next thirty years. Towards the end of the century the Italians began to organize armies of the same description. This ended the reign of the purely mercenary company, and began that of the semi-national mercenary army which endured in Europe till replaced by the national standing army system. In 1363, Count von Landau was betrayed by his Hungarian soldiers, and defeated in combat, by the White Company's more advanced tactics under commanders Albert Sterz and John Hawkwood. Strategically, the barbuta was replaced with the three-soldier, mounted lancia (a capo-lancia, a groom, and a boy); five lance composed a posta, five poste composed a bandiera (flag). By that time, the campaigning condottieri companies were as much Italian as foreign: the Astorre I Manfredi's Compagnia della Stella (Company of the Star); a new Compagnia di San Giorgio (Company of St. George) under Ambrogio Visconti; Niccolò da Montefeltro's Compagnia del Cappelletto (Little Hat Company); and the Compagnia della Rosa (Company of the Rose), commanded by Giovanni da Buscareto and Bartolomeo Gonzaga.

Portrait of a condottiero by Ermanno Stroiffi Ermanno Stroiffi - Portrait of a Condottiero.jpg
Portrait of a condottiero by Ermanno Stroiffi

From the fifteenth century hence, most condottieri were landless Italian nobles who had chosen the profession of arms as livelihood; the most famous of such mercenary captains was the son of Caterina Sforza, Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, from Forlì, known as The Last Condottiere; his son was Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany; besides noblemen, princes also fought as condottieri, given the sizable income to their estates, notably Sigismondo Malatesta, Lord of Rimini, and Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino; despite war-time inflation, soldier's pay was high:

The condottieri company commanders selected the soldiers to enlist; the condotta was a consolidated contract, and, when the ferma (service period) elapsed, the company entered an aspetto (wait) period, wherein the contracting city-state considered its renewal. If the condotta expired definitively, the condottiere could not declare war against the contracting city-state for two years. This military–business custom was respected because professional reputation (business credibility) was everything to the condottieri; a deceived employer was a reputation ruined; likewise for maritime mercenaries, whose contratto d'assento (contract of assent) stipulated naval military-service terms and conditions; sea captains and sailors so-contracted were called assentisti. Their principal employers were Genoa and the Papal States, beginning in the fourteenth century, yet Venice considered it humiliating to so employ military sailors, and did not use naval mercenaries, even during the greatest danger in the city's history.

In fifteenth-century Italy, the condottieri were masterful lords of war; during the wars in Lombardy, Machiavelli observed:

None of the principal states were armed with their own proper forces. Thus the arms of Italy were either in the hands of the lesser princes, or of men who possessed no state; for the minor princes did not adopt the practice of arms from any desire of glory, but for the acquisition of either property or safety. The others (those who possessed no state) being bred to arms from their infancy, were acquainted with no other art, and pursued war for emolument, or to confer honor upon themselves.

History I. vii.

In 1487, at Calliano, the Venetians successfully met and acquitted themselves against the German landsknechte and the Swiss infantry, who then were the best soldiers in Europe.


Bartolomeo d'Alviano, one of the condottieri who took part in the Battle of Garigliano (1503). Bellini, Giovanni - Giovanni Emo - NGA.jpg
Bartolomeo d'Alviano, one of the condottieri who took part in the Battle of Garigliano (1503).

In time, the financial and political interests of the condottieri proved serious drawbacks to decisive, bloody warfare: the mercenary captains often were treacherous,[ citation needed ] tending to avoid combat,[ citation needed ] and "resolve" fights with a bribe[ citation needed ] – either for the opponent or for themselves. Towards the end of the 15th century, when the large cities had gradually swallowed up the small states, and Italy itself was drawn into the general current of European politics, and became the battlefield of powerful armies – French, Spanish and German – the venture captains, who in the end proved quite unequal to the gendarmerie of France and the improved troops of the Italian states, gradually disappeared.

The soldiers of the condottieri were almost entirely heavy armoured cavalry (men-at-arms). Before 1400, they had little or nothing in common with the people among whom they fought, and their disorderly conduct and rapacity seem often to have exceeded that of medieval armies. They were always ready to change sides at the prospect of higher pay – the enemy of today might be the comrade-in-arms of tomorrow. Further, a prisoner was always more valuable than a dead enemy. As a consequence, their battles were often as bloodless as they were theatrical.

The age of firearms and weapons utilizing gunpowder further contributed to the decline of the "capitani di ventura". Although the mercenary forces were among the first to adapt to the emerging technologies on the battlefield, ultimately, the advent of firearms-governed warfare rendered their ceremonial fighting style obsolete. When battlefields shifted from chivalric confrontations characterized by ostentatious displays of power to an everyman's war, they were ill-prepared to adjust.

Captain generals

In 1494, the French king Charles VIII's royal army invaded the Italian peninsula, initiating the Italian Wars. The most renowned condottieri fought for foreign powers: Gian Giacomo Trivulzio abandoned Milan for France, while Andrea Doria was Admiral of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. In the end, failure was political, rather than military, stemming from disunity and political indecision, and, by 1550, the military service condotta had disappeared, while the term condottiere remained current, denominating the great Italian generals (mainly) fighting for foreign states; men such as Gian Giacomo Medici, Ambrogio Spinola, Marcantonio II Colonna, Raimondo Montecuccoli and Prospero Colonna were prominent into the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries. The political practice of hiring foreign mercenaries, however, did not end. For example, the Vatican’s Swiss Guards are the modern remnants of a historically effective mercenary army.

The end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 and the birth of Westphalian sovereignty diminished Roman Catholic influence in Europe and led to the consolidation of large states, while Italy was fragmented and divided. The condottieri tradition greatly suffered the political and strategic decline of Italy and never recovered.


Bartolomeo Colleoni defeated the French at Bosco Marengo (1447). BartholomaeusColleoni1566-69.png
Bartolomeo Colleoni defeated the French at Bosco Marengo (1447).
Ambrogio Spinola, one of the last examples of the condottieri tradition. Velazquez-The Surrender of Breda.jpg
Ambrogio Spinola, one of the last examples of the condottieri tradition.
Farinata degli Uberti by Andrea del Castagno, showing a 15th-century condottiero's typical attire. Farinata.jpg
Farinata degli Uberti by Andrea del Castagno, showing a 15th-century condottiero's typical attire.

Principal battles

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Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Condottiere". Encyclopædia Britannica . 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 854–855.