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Thread: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

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    Roma_Victrix's Avatar Equites
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    Default How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    I'm actually quite ignorant about the subject. Since much of medieval Italy did not operate like the various monarchies and feudal kingdoms throughout Europe, how were the leading military men chosen? Examples from states like Venice, Milan, Genoa, Florence, etc. would be appreciated. I'm especially interested in the republics. For instance: were the matters of who led campaigns put to a vote? Even if they were oligarchic decisions.
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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    For Venice it generally came from a vote, although general speaking those who got vote was also the one contributed most for the campaign.
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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    This might be slightly off topic but who do you guys think was the best military commander Venice had? For most of the Venetian history I recall Venice being stomped by the Ottomans or having to make alliances with other states to defend against France or the Hapsburgs. Venice must have done something well in its military history and there must have been an adequate commander to lead them.

    Also here is another question, who would you say was a better commander Jan Karol Chodkiewicz or Stanislaw Zolkiewski (apparantly both despised each other but both seem to have had a very impressive military record). So say you were the Polish King, who would you choose to be in charge of your war? Stanislaw did win at Klushino and seems to be a fine strategist even if overall Russia was failed but Jan Karol seems to have been more consistent with his victories than Stanislaw even if Stanislaw was a better politician/diplomat. Would you say that Stanislaw really only has Klushino but overall he wasn't that amazing, all his other battles and campaigns were meh. While Jan Karol won a bunch of campaigns and battles.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Quote Originally Posted by money View Post
    This might be slightly off topic but who do you guys think was the best military commander Venice had? For most of the Venetian history I recall Venice being stomped by the Ottomans or having to make alliances with other states to defend against France or the Hapsburgs. Venice must have done something well in its military history and there must have been an adequate commander to lead them.
    Good question. That well-known Vivaldi oratorio Juditha Triumphans glorifies the Venetian victory at Corfu over the Turks, but the Venetians were led by the German count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg. Although I'm quite familiar with a number of prominent doges, for some reason no great military commander is coming to mind. That is, one who is at all comparable to a prolific commander like Eugenio di Savoia (or in English, Eugene of Savoy).
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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Corfu in 1537? I'd hardly call that a real victory, it was mostly luck and was really insignificant to the success of Venice's existence. Given more time the Turks would have crushed Corfu. Still though a victory is a victory I suppose.
    What great Venetian battles come to mind then? They must have had some really good battle or campaign, most of their battles even when victorious seem to have been rather insignificant or not even decisive such as when they defeated Charles of France in 1490 or something it was mostly a stalemate.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Yes, the Venetian senate would choose a commander a think. As for the best one, I can't think of a really good land commander, but Vettor Pisani was a very skilled admiral who defeated the Genoese in the Chioggia War. His victory at Anzio and the big role he played in the fights over Chioggia decided this war for Venice- and after it the Serenissma was more powerful and influential than Genoa pretty much throughout most of its history.


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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Looking into some Venetians it seems to me like the better ones were Medieval, seeing as how Enrico Dandolo and Vettor Pisani seem to have been the most capable in the Republic's entire history.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Quote Originally Posted by money View Post
    Looking into some Venetians it seems to me like the better ones were Medieval, seeing as how Enrico Dandolo and Vettor Pisani seem to have been the most capable in the Republic's entire history.
    Does that come as a surprise? After all, Venice's military and political strength was at its height in the 14th and especially the 15th century And both Dandolo and Pisani played a huge role in laying the foundation for the trade empire and the wide Stato da Mar in the 15th century.


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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    The OP is a very, very, very complex question!

    It depends firstly by the age we are looking at: If we speak about X/XII century is one thing, if we speak about XIII/XIV is another matter, later is again a differnt matter.

    Few points:

    1. In Italy there was the Feudalism, but there were also powerful towns. So you have at least two kinds of Leaders: One kind from the Feudal Imperial Aristocracy, the other one from the Towns. (I don't add that frequently the Feudal Aristocracy had also Feudal interests in the towns because the maze would be total.....but think at the Genoese Family of Doria: Feudal Aristocracy and Urban Gentry)

    2. The Italian Republics and Comuni were only formal Democracies, the towns and the power were in the hands of the Aristocracy of Langobard or Frank origin, Noble Families and Bishops.

    3. The Mercenary Leaders were frequently appointed to command the Communal Armies, they could come of the seme city, or even more frequently from another city, or even strangers like Jhon Akwood or Giovanni Acuto. These mercenary kinghts probably belong to the Minor 'Milites' or Milites without land, of Carolingian tradition.

    4. Italy was and is a total maze....'Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate....' or 'ABANDON ALL HOPE, YOU WHO ENTER HERE.' as wrote Dante Alighieri in the Divine Comedy about the entrance of Hell (Dante Divine Comedy, Canto III)!!
    Last edited by Diocle; March 09, 2013 at 11:10 AM.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Corfu in 1537?
    No, not at all. It commemorated the siege of Corfu in 1716! Vivaldi was thus paying tribute to very recent events, since he composed that oratorio merely a couple months after the battle.
    As for the best one, I can't think of a really good land commander, but Vettor Pisani was a very skilled admiral who defeated the Genoese in the Chioggia War.
    Thank you Mausolos for mentioning Vettor Pisani! Of all Venetians I can't believe I forgot and failed to think of him. I hesitated to mention Enrico Dandolo, however, since he is best known for the Fourth Crusade but didn't have a sterling military career. That wasn't much his fault, of course, considering his unfortunate blindness.
    Location: Genoa, Italy
    So, Diocle, you're from Genoa (or better yet, Genova) are you? Are you of proud proven Ligurian stock? And if so, do you speak Zenéize? Even better question: what's your opinion of Venice? Just kidding. That's a long dead rivalry, is it not?
    Last edited by Roma_Victrix; March 11, 2013 at 07:21 AM.
    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclops View Post
    English is a Germanic language...formed by a fusion of Old English...and Norse...If you want to talk about religion or science or law or medicine you must use Latinate words (from French or Latin) and a smattering of Greek...English is basically a skinny barely functional body of Germanic (bones, basic organs and muscles) with a huge overgrowth and brain of Latin and Greek words, more than trebling it in size...Sort of like a massive genius headcrab perched on a hillbilly.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Genoa, Genova, 'Zena'!!!! prodly Zeneise!
    The war-cry of our soldiers boarding the enemy galleys was: 'Pe Zena e pe San Zorzu!!' (For Genoa and for Saint George!), yes I can understand the Genoese (it's a language more ancient than Italian) and I can speak it.

    We let Venice survive in Her small Adriatic business! Why losing precious money when they couldn't even dream to send a galley in the Tyrrhenian sea?

    Two different atmospheres, two different worlds, two different seas, two different Languages, two different mindsets: Venice is more Germanic and Eastern minded, while here in Genoa, France is the reference, ancient rivalry......anyway here nobody cried when the great Napoleon sold Venice to Austria for money!!! While the 'Serenissima Repubblica di Genova' was a sister Republic, allied with France from the beginning of the Revolution.

    About Generals, here in Genoa they came always from the various aristocratic factions and families: Embriaci (First Crusade), Adorno, De Negri, De Mari, Fieschi, Doria (Andrea Doria the most famus), Spinola (Ambrogio Spinola led the Imperial Army during the 30YW), Brignole-Sale, Balbi...and many others.


    This is a great poet and singer, Fabrizio De Andrè, singing in Genoese (Zeneise) a wonderful song, also for Italians it's necessary the translation, so if you are interested listen only the sounds of these ancient Romance Language, they are an intriguing mix between Provençal, Catalan, and Sardinian sounds, the sounds are all what remain of the ancient Ligurian Language, forever destroied by Rome, spoken in a large arc of lands between Catalonia and the today's Liguria till La Spezia:

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Last edited by Diocle; March 11, 2013 at 10:55 AM.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Quote Originally Posted by Roma_Victrix View Post
    Thank you Mausolos for mentioning Vettor Pisani! Of all Venetians I can't believe I forgot and failed to think of him. I hesitated to mention Enrico Dandolo, however, since he is best known for the Fourth Crusade but didn't have a sterling military career. That wasn't much his fault, of course, considering his unfortunate blindness.
    No problem, Pisani was also arguably one of the most popular commanders in Venice, at least with the normal people. And as for the rivaly with Genoa, it was very strong back then and I think I have seen Diocle proving before that it still exists


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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mausolos of Caria
    I think I have seen Diocle proving before that it still exists

    .........Me?......Are you talking of me?..........But....but...I love them all!
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    I can swear: I love them.....
    Last edited by Diocle; March 11, 2013 at 12:08 PM.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    When was the Venetian army strongest? It seemed to have been at its peak in the 1500s as well as the fleet but it seemed to win a lot more in the 1200s, 1300s and 1400s. Any good Venetian commanders from the 1500s? Seems to me like Venice had no real victories in the 1500s except for Lepanto (but was it more Spanish than Venetian) and on land the Venetians seemed pretty weak during that time. Plus if Venice did anything on land it was restricted to being defenders in sieges or supporting their navy.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    From the 1500s? None are coming to mind.These conversations are fun and everything, but I still feel as ignorant now about the selection process and promotion of commanders in medieval Italian states as I did when I started this thread. I haven't found anything particularly useful online with several google searches that seem to pull up semi-relaled topics. Does anyone have a damn clue how this was done? HellHeaven87, you say that Venice decided these matters by a vote, but do you have a source for that? Perhaps a link you could share?
    Quote Originally Posted by Cyclops View Post
    English is a Germanic language...formed by a fusion of Old English...and Norse...If you want to talk about religion or science or law or medicine you must use Latinate words (from French or Latin) and a smattering of Greek...English is basically a skinny barely functional body of Germanic (bones, basic organs and muscles) with a huge overgrowth and brain of Latin and Greek words, more than trebling it in size...Sort of like a massive genius headcrab perched on a hillbilly.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Most of the fighting in Italy was done by hired mercenary bands, so the Commanding was done by who ever the Condottiere of that company was.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    So in Venice there were two types of commanders or armies: the mercenaries and the troops belonging to the city.
    In most cities and in Venice the commander is whoever leads a particular army. So if the army is mercenary then the condottiere of those troops gets a command. But if it is an army of the city then the leader of that army is elected from among the ruling families by the lords and the Doge. Also if it is both armies at the same time then the commander of the city's army always supersedes the mercenary condottiere except on rare occasion. Or whatever foreign general that volunteers may also lead the field army if they elect him. Many families do have their own paid men which they can lead but those are always subject to the aristocrat that has been voted into command of that campaign. At the end of the war most of those elected commanders are required to give up their command to maintain a balance of power unless otherwise instructed to do so. Although for garrisons and other troops they do have a commander over them so it is mostly a matter of who will command the campaign.
    But in Genoa for example, Andrea Doria was chosen most of the time by Charles V of Spain and although many Genoese did not object they don't really have much say in the matter (Andrea Doria was chosen as the naval commander at first but he sort of stuck with it).

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    The answer is not easy, it requires a knowledge of the Italian Medieval History that is not easy to understand, for the great number of political subjects involved: Free Indipendent Cities (small and large very large cities), Feudal entities, the presence of the Church, the Imperial formal control over Italy, and the Spanish and French influences.

    That said, we have to be clear about the timeframe we want to consider:

    IX-XI centuries: Carolingian and Post-Carolingian Kingdom of Italy, then a very loose Imperial rule and the development of the cities becoming more important than the Feudal landowners.
    The Generals came from the Feudal Aristocracy of Frank and Langobard origin more and more frequently entered in the cities over which they had always maintained their Feudal rights of taxation of the markets and houses, the urban and feudal aristocracy became part of the Imperial Aristocracy of the HRE.


    XI-XIII centuries: The fight between Pope and Emperor, Crusades and the birth of the Comuni as to say medium and large city States controlling large portions of territory. XIII is probably the most important age for the History of Medieval Italy.
    The Generals came from the Uraban or Urbanized Aristocracy. No extensive use of mercenaries.


    XIV-XVI centuries. The transformation of the Comuni into Signorie as to say the transformation of the old Republican city states in principalities ruled by Signori, local Aristocrats like Visconti in Milan, Doria in Genoa, Medici in Florence and so on. The the final failure of this equilibrium after the death of Lorenzo DeMedici, the French Invasion of Charles VIII, the Battle of Fornovo as to say the formal end of the Italian Indipendence.

    XIV century: The Comuni (Free city states) started to use massively the mercenaries, the mercenary commanders came from the lesser Feudal Aristocracy or from other cities.

    XV century: The use of mercenary commanders became more and more extensive (Read Machiavelli about the subject), they came also from outside the country: as Johon Akwood and the White Company. During the course of the century the mercenary Captains got lands in exchange of their services, creating new Feudal states (Urbino, Verona, Mantova...)

    XVI century: The Captains now become the Princes of the Renaissance Italy led personally their armies (Gonzaga, Sforza, Montefeltro, Doria).
    The failure of the of the Italian equilibrium is plastically eveidenced in the battle of Fornovo in which the suspects and the divisions between the Pope, Florence, and Milan and the Capitain Gonzaga led to the final defeat of the last try to coping with the National levied French Army.

    About Genoa, the use of mercenary Captains was low, the families of the Genoese Aristocracy built association of Families with a new common name, like Grimaldi (yes those of Monaco!), De Mari, Adorno and many more, to be able to deal with the construction and equipment of private fleets of war-galleys to support the military and commercial initiatives. The money were accumulated in the Banco of San Giorgio (Bank of saint George), one of the most powerful Italian banks of the time (also the money of the Bank of Saint George was present with the money of Fugger family to elect Charles V as emperor).
    Genoa unlike Venice didn't have a public fleet, but the families provided the ships when required, here all was private property, mainly the warships and the war!

    About the Renaissance Italian Repubbliche Marinare like Genoa and Venice, a wonderful text is:


    - La Méditerranée et le Monde Méditerranéen a l'époque de Philippe II, 3 vols. by Ferdinand Braudel (originally appeared in 1949; revised several times)
    vol. 1: La part du milieu
    vol. 2: Destins collectifs et mouvements d'ensemble
    vol. 3: Les événements, la politique et les hommes

    - The Mediterranean in the Age of Philip II. 2 vol 1972), excerpt and text search vol 1; excerpt and text search vol 2


    And maybe:


    - Civilisation matérielle, économie et capitalisme, XVe-XVIIIe siècle by F. Braudel
    vol. 1: Les structures du quotidien (1967)
    vol. 2: Les jeux de l'échange (1979)
    vol. 3: Le temps du monde (1979)
    Last edited by Diocle; March 12, 2013 at 01:55 PM.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    What Diocle said, I only presented a very general answer but it is much more complex than that. Even for one of the periods it all really depends on the influence of a family and how many nobles are with you or against you.

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    Default Re: How were commanders chosen/selected in medieval Italian states?

    Machiavelli was rather exasperated by the fact that there was not enough civic spirit to inspire an effective militia system, and seemed dubious about the motives of mercenary commanders, as he believed they were more interested in preserving their forces in being. This opinion is usually countered that employers would be aware of the actual qualities of the mercenaries they contracted, and Condottiere in general had through study and experience a more sophisticated appreciation of applying tactics.

    Actually, I believe the trend to employing mercenaries wasn't only due to being able to have at hand a trained force rather than a bunch of unenthusiastic levies, but also a trend towards autocracy by the elite in that a military force would be more beholden to them.
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