ITALIAN COMMUNAL MILITIAMEN, 12th-13th CENTURIES

An extract from Armies of Feudal Europe 1066-1300
by Ian Heath



[Based on the Porta Romana frieze] [Based on the Basilica di San Zeno porch lunette by Nicholaus, Verona, c.1135-38] [Based on the Codex Manesse]
89, 90 & 91.      ITALIAN COMMUNAL MILITIAMEN, 12th-13th CENTURIES

Though an unknown proportion of Italian communal infantrymen were armoured the majority seem to have worn for protection no more than a helmet and, at best, quilted body-armour. Principal weapons were usually sword and either a long spear or a crossbow, though bows also feature and axes were popular in some towns (Cremona, for example). The spearmen were always brigaded separately from the archers and crossbowmen. Nevertheless, by the 13th century some, called pavesarii (specialist troops named after the pavise or large shield they carried, which originated in Pavia), were expected to protect the archers and crossbowmen in battle. Their shields could be carried by pack mules on the march; Florentine laws of 1259 and 1260, for example, which describe their militia as divided up into companies of crossbowmen and archers on the one hand and companies of spearmen with large shields on the other, state that mules carrying pavises were always to be in close proximity to the archers on the march. Some idea of the size of pavises can be got from an incident at the Battle of Campaldino in 1289, where an observer mistook those of the Florentine pavesarii for a stockade.

Figure 89 comes from a late-12th century frieze of 9 figures on the Porta Romana once in Milan (now in Castello Sforzesco), depicting the Milanese militia returning to their city in 1166 following their eviction by Frederick I Barbarossa in 1162. Of the 9 militiamen the front 2 are armoured (see figure 93) and the other 7 are dressed as here; 4 carry spears, 2 have swords, and the seventh has a falchion. Practically identical figures, similarly representing communal militiamen, appear in a Veronese sculpture of c.1135-38, from which figure 90 is taken.

Figure 91 is from a picture in the early-14th century 'Manessa Codex' depicting German knights fighting the Guelfs of the kingdom of Naples in the late-13th century; his Angevin sympathies are evident from the red fleur-de-lis on his yellow shield. Note that he wears a quilted gambeson with ¾-length sleeves under his green tunic, plus a cloth or leather coif under his helmet. In the original he is shown holding his spear in a way that suggests he is about to throw it, which together with his smallish shield indicates that he is one of the spearmen who by the late-13th century are to be found employed in a capacity reminiscent of the peltasts of ancient armies. They acted as light-medium infantry, armed with shortened spears, short thrusting swords and small shields or bucklers. A large number of the Florentine infantry at Campaldino were thus equipped.



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