The Stratioti or stradioti (Greek: Στρατιώτες/stratiotes, Albanian: Stratiotët, Italian: stradioti, stradiotti) were mercenary units from the Balkans recruited mainly by states of southern and central Europe from the 15th century until the middle of the 18th century.
The Greek term stratiotis/-ai (στρατιώτης/-αι) was in use since classical antiquity with the sense of "soldier". The same word was used continuously in the Roman and Byzantine period. The Italian term stradioti could therefore be a loan from the Greek word stratiotai (Greek: στρατιώται), i.e. soldiers. Alternatively, it derives from the Italian word strada ("street"), meaning "wayfarer". The Albanian stradioti of Venice were also called cappelletti (sing. cappelletto) because of the small red caps they wore.
The stradioti were recruited in Albania, Greece, Dalmatia, Serbia and later Cyprus. Most of the names were Albanian, such as Gjon, Gjin, Merkur, Arbnor, Ilir, Agron etc., but a good number of the names were of Greek origin, such as Palaiologos, Spandounios, Laskaris, Rhalles, Comnenos, Psendakis, Maniatis, Spyliotis, Alexopoulos, Psaris, Zacharopoulos, Klirakopoulos, and Kondomitis. Others seemed to be of South Slavic origin, such as Soimiris, Vlastimiris, and Voicha. Also among their leaders were members of some old Byzantine noble families such as the Palaiologoi and Komnenoi.
Stratioti in European countries
Republic of Venice and Kingdom of Naples (Italy)
The Republic of Venice first used stratioti in their campaigns against the Ottoman Empire and, from c. 1475, as frontier troops in Friuli. Starting from that period, they began to almost entirely replace the Venetian light cavalry in the army. Apart from the Albanian stradioti, Greek and Italian ones were also deployed in the League of Venice at the Battle of Fornovo (1495). The mercenaries were recruited from the Balkans, mainly Christians but also some Muslims. In 1511, a group of stratioti petitioned for the construction of the Greek community's Eastern Catholic Church in Venice, the San Giorgio dei Greci, and the Scuola dei Greci (Confraternity of the Greeks), in a neighborhood where a Greek community still resides. Impressed by the unorthodox tactics of the stratioti, other European powers quickly began to hire mercenaries from the same region.
In various medieval sources the recruits are mentioned either as Greeks or Albanians. The bulk of stradioti rank and file were of Albanian origin from regions of Greece, but by the middle of the 16th century there is evidence that many of them had been Hellenized and in some occasions even Italianized. Hellenization was possibly underway prior to service abroad, since stradioti of Albanian origin had settled in Greek lands for two generations before their emigration to Italy. Moreover, since many served under Greek commanders and together with the Greek stradioti, this process continued. Another factor in this assimilative process was the stradioti's and their families' active involvement and affiliation with the Greek Orthodox or Uniate Church communities in the places they lived in Italy.
The Kingdom of Naples hired Albanians, Greeks and Serbs into the Royal Macedonian Regiment (Italian: Reggimento Real Macedone), a light infantry unit active in the 18th century. Spain also recruited this unit.
France under Louis XII recruited some 2,000 stradioti in 1497, two years after the battle of Fornovo. Among the French they were known as estradiots and argoulets. The term "argoulet" is believed to come either from the Greek city of Argos, where many of argoulets come from (Pappas), or from the arcus (bow) and the arquebuse. For some authors argoulets and estradiots are synonymous but for others there are certain differences between them. G. Daniel, citing M. de Montgommeri, says that argoulets and estradiots have the same armoury except that the former wear a helmet. According to others "estradiots" were Albanian horsemen and "argoulets" were Greeks, while Croatians were called "Cravates".
The argoulets were armed with a sword, a mace (metal club) and a short arquebuse. They continued to exist under Charles IX and are noted at the battle of Dreux (1562). They were disbanded around 1600. The English chronicle writer Edward Hall described the "Stradiotes" at the battle of the Spurs in 1513. They were equipped with short stirrups, small spears, beaver hats, and Turkish swords.
The term "carabins" was also used in France as well as in Spain denoting cavalry and infantry units similar to estradiots and argoulets (Daniel G.)(Bonaparte N.). Units of Carabins seem to exist at least till the early 18th century.
Corps of light infantry mercenaries were periodically reqruited from the Balkans or Italy mainly during the 15th to 17th centuries. In 1587, the Duchy of Lorraine recruited 500 Albanian cavalrymen, while from 1588 to 1591 five Albanian light cavalry captains were also recruited.
Stratioti were first employed by Spain in their Italian expedition (see Italian Wars). Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba ("Gran Capitan") was sent by King Ferdinand II of Aragon ("the Catholic") to support the kingdom of Naples against the French invasion. In Calabria Gonzalo had two hundred "estradiotes Griegos, elite cavalry".
In 1514, Henry VIII of England, employed units of Albanian and Greek stradioti during the battles with the Kingdom of Scotland. In the 1540s, Duke Edward Seymour of Somerset used Albanian stradioti in his campaign against Scotland. An account of the presence of stratioti in Britain is given by Nikandros Noukios of Corfu. In about 1545 Noukios followed as a non-combatant the English invasion of Scotland where the English forces included Greeks from Argos under the leadership of Thomas of Argos whose "Courage, and prudence, and experience of wars" was lauded by the Corfiot traveller.[note 1] Thomas was sent by Henry VIII to Boulogne in 1546, as commander of a battalion of 550 Greeks and was injured in the battle. The King expressed his appreciation to Thomas for his leadership in Boulogne and rewarded him with a good sum of money.
The stratioti were pioneers of light cavalry tactics during this era. In the early 16th century heavy cavalry in the European armies was principally remodeled after Albanian stradioti of the Venetian army, Hungarian hussars and German mercenary cavalry units (Schwarzreiter). They employed hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, feigned retreats and other complex maneuvers. In some ways, these tactics echoed those of the Ottoman sipahis and akinci. They had some notable successes also against French heavy cavalry during the Italian Wars.
They were known for cutting off the heads of dead or captured enemies, and according to Commines they were paid by their leaders one ducat per head.
Thomas of Argos, captain of a battalion of 550 Greek stratioti who served in the English army in the era of Henry VIII. Thomas was injured in the Siege of Boulogne (1546) fighting victoriously against a unit of more than 1,000 French (Moustoxydes, 1856).
↑ Cramer’s translation of A.Noukios' work stops exactly where the text starts referring to Thomas of Argos. A Greek historian, Andreas Moustoxydes, published the missing part of the original Greek text, based on a manuscript kept in the Ambrosian Library (Milan). After Cramer's asterisks (end of his translation) the text continues as follows: [Hence, indeed, Thomas also, the general of the Argives from Peloponnesus, with those about him ***] spoke to them so: “Comrades, as you see we are in the extreme parts of the world, under the service of a King and a nation in the farthest north. And nothing we brought here from our country other than our courage and bravery. Thus, bravely we stand against our enemies, …. Because we are children of the Greeks and we are not afraid of the barbarian flock. …. Therefore, courageous and in order let us march to the enemy, … , and the famous since olden times virtue of the Greeks let us prove with our action.“ (*) Έλληνες in the original Greek text. This incident happened during the Sieges of Boulogne (1544–1546).
↑ B. N. Floria, "Vykhodtsy iz Balkanakh stran na russkoi sluzhbe," Balkanskia issledovaniia. 3. Osloboditel'nye dvizheniia na Balkanakh (Moscow, 1978), pp. 57-63.
↑ Hungary and the fall of Eastern Europe 1000-1568 by David Nicolle, Angus McBride: "John Comnenus [...] settled Serbs as stratioti around Izmir..."
↑ Nicol, Donald M. (1988). Byzantium and Venice: A Study in Diplomatic and Cultural relations. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. p.37. "Young men recruited from among Greeks and Albanians. They were known as stradioti from the Greek word for soldier."
↑ DeCommines, Philippe, Lettres et Negotiations, with comments by Kervyn De Lettenhove, ed. 1868, V. Devaux et Cie. Bruxelles, vol. 2, p. 200, 220: "quinze cents estradiotes grecs ou albanais, "vaillans hommes" qui recevaient in ducat par tete d' ennemi qu'ils rapportaient a leurs chefs".
↑ Hoerder 2002, p.63: "Throughout Europe footmen replaced knights, that is, cavalry. They used new weapons and came with regionally varying skills: English archers and crossbowmen, Swiss pikemen, Flemish burgher forces, and, later, Italian gunfighters or exiled Albanian and Greek stradioti on light horse (from Italian strada: street). Mercenaries hired on for pay under "military enterprisers" received wages only as long as work was available."
Bugh, Glenn Richard (2002). Andrea Gritti and the Greek stradiots of Venice in the early 16th century. 32. Thesaurismata (Bulletin of the Istituto Ellenico di Studi Bizantini e Postbizantini di Venezia). pp.81–94.
Lopez, R. Il principio della guerra veneto-turca nel 1463. "Archivio Veneto", 5 serie, 15 (1934), pp.47–131.
Μομφερράτου, Αντ. Γ. Σιγισμούνδος Πανδόλφος Μαλατέστας. Πόλεμος Ενετών και Τούρκων εν Πελοποννήσω κατά 1463-6. Αθήνα, 1914.
Sathas, K. N. Documents inédits relatifs à l' histoire de la Grèce au Moyen Âge, publiés sous les auspices de la Chambre des députés de Grèce. Tom. VI: Jacomo Barbarigo, Dispacci della guerra di Peloponneso (1465-6), Paris, 1880–90, pp. 1-116.
Κορρέ Β. Κατερίνα,"Έλληνες στρατιώτες στο Bergamo. Οι πολιτικές προεκτάσεις ενός εκκλησιαστικού ζητήματος", Θησαυρίσματα 28 (2008), 289-336.