Condottieri di ventura

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Condottieri di ventura

The companies of fortune were mercenary troops used in the Middle Ages, formed by the so-called soldiers of fortune, organized and led by a leader, generally called captain of fortune. The main purpose of these companies was to enrich themselves as much as possible, and to this end they sided in favour of one lord or another, often rivals to each other, on the basis of a more advantageous engagement.

They made their appearance in Italy in the wake of some King or Emperor, between the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth century: they were the masnade, formed by professional soldiers, mainly of very low social extraction, ready to kill and be killed for money and booty.

During the fifteenth century all Italian princes used these troops of war professionals, who had a higher level of training and a greater ability to use the new firearms. Mercenary companies declined following the birth and strengthening of nation states. The last company of fortune worthy of note was the one led by Giovanni delle Bande Nere in the early sixteenth century.

To counter the forces fielded by the cities of Florence and Venice in the Anti-Scaliger League, many mercenaries descended from Germany in the wake of Henry VII of Luxembourg, Frederick I of Habsburg, Ludovico il Bavaro or Giovanni I of Bohemia, who intervened to support or fight Mastino II della Scala. At the end of the conflict, thousands of German soldiers remained in Italy, living by looting and offering themselves either to this or that city. It was these disbanded soldiers who gave life to the first companies of fortune, in 1337, with the company of Uguccione della Faggiola, the Compagnia del Ceruglio and the Compagnia della Colomba, formed near Piacenza.

The first large unit was the Compagnia di San Giorgio, reunited by Mastino II della Scala and placed under the orders of Lodrisio Visconti, which was launched to conquer Milan and was defeated in the battle of Parabiago. The companies imposed discipline and organization on themselves, while their ferocity did not diminish, moreover exalted to ideal. The fourteenth century was the period in which the companies of fortune spread in Italy: there were space and clients for everyone, as well as riches to be plundered in abundance.

The companies of fortune made the economic and political fortune of many leaders, such as Alberico da Barbiano, Angelo Tartaglia, Anichino di Bongardo, Bartolomeo Colleoni, Braccio da Montone, Carmagnola, Count Lando, Federico da Montefeltro, Fra Moriale, Francesco Sforza, Gattamelata, Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, Guarnieri d'Urslingen, Jacopo Caldora, Muzio Attendolo Sforza, Niccolò Piccinino and many others who, thanks to their charisma and the concession of free looting, managed to coagulate around them these masnadieri. The term condottiero comes from the word "conduct", which was the contract stipulated between the sovereign and the man of arms.

Italy was, however, a mirage that sometimes disappointed the hopes and illusions cultivated, as it was for Fra Moriale. He improved the organization of the Great Company in whose command he had succeeded Guarnieri d'Urslingen; with it he had great successes militating sometimes for the Pope, sometimes against him, but he ended his career executed by Cola di Rienzo.

These examples are the most significant among the companies led by foreign leaders who traveled through Italy devastating cities and countryside for the sole purpose of enriching themselves. Alongside these were also highlighted those led by Italian leaders who soon supplanted foreigners; equally ferocious in the pursuit of wealth and power but with a greater focus on political ends. Here, just by way of example, the companies led by Ambrogio Visconti, Castruccio Castracani, Francesco Ordelaffi and Guidoriccio da Fogliano.

Very often the Italian leaders of these companies came from already powerful families (60% of the captains of fortune were of noble origins): sometimes they were holders of lordships, who put themselves and their company at the service of other powerful to increase wealth and power in an extremely volatile diplomatic plot, just think of the Malatesta and the Ordelaffi. Sometimes they were men of humble origin, if not low, who saw in mercenary military service the opportunity for their social redemption and often rose to very high honors and the conquest of their own lordship, even if sometimes ephemeral and unrealistic.

Over the years some noble families showed a particular inclination for this activity, as in the case of the Caldora, the Colonna, the Dal Verme, the Orsini, the Sforza and the Visconti.

The Scotti Douglas families of Sarmato, Vigoleno, Fombio, Guardamiglio and probably more were much involved in these troubled times. Some of those for whom we have records are:
Carlo Scotti
Cesare Scotti
Niccolo Scotti, k1415
Niccolò Scotti, d1575
Onofrio Scotti
Paolo Antonio Scotti Douglas
Paolo Emilio Scotti
Paride Scotti
Pietro Maria Scotti, known as Buso


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    Last modified: Thursday, 22 February 2024