Part One: A Beautiful Mess; the Florius as a Martial Arts Treatise The Flower of Battle (Flos Duellatorum in Latin or Fior di Battaglia in Italian) of Fiore dei Liberi…
he Akademia Szermierzy is a Polish HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) academy in Warsaw. While I knew of the Akademia and its members via Facebook, I wasn’t really aware of the focus or quality of their work, other than they were interested in Armizare. So imagine my delight (and the entire Society’s!) when they released a short film presenting their interpretations of Fiore dei Liberi’s swordsmanship, not as a how-to or demo-reel, but as a dramatization of one of the old master’s five duels against rival fencing masters. Since it was released (Aug 13, 2016), the video has garnered 56,000 views and enthusiastic applause from HEMA students across the globe. Certainly, IAS feels it is one of the most dynamic snapshots of our art currently online. (See for yourself, then come back and read the rest of this article!)
‘I, Fiore, am of the opinion that few in the world are Masters of this art, an art for which I want to be remembered’
[N.B. — IAS is pleased to have among its membership, renowned historical fiction and fantasy author Christian Cameron. An historian, former intelligence officer and long-time historical reenactor, Christian’s writing focuses on looking into the minds, lives and motives of “those who fight”, vividly bringing other times and places to life. In researching the world of the 14th century he discovered armizare , which plays a role in both his “Chivalry” and “Traitor Son” series, particularly the former, where a young Fiore dei Liberi himself appears as a character!
The young Fiore we first meet late in The Ill-Made Knight and learn a great deal about in the sequel, The Long Sword, is perhaps not the figure we would expect. Neither Yoda (nor even Luke Skywalker) nor Miyamoto Musashi in plate armour, he’s simultaneously brilliant and dense, blunt and emotionally awkward, suggesting a modern diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome on Autism Spectrum Disorder. Is this our man, or just a bit of fictive fantasy useful to Christian’s story? As you will see, Christian himself argues the answer may well be “why not both?”]
[Nota Bene: IAS is pleased to present our first article from a Society Affiliate — Mr. Mauro Carapacchi of of Rieti, Italy. A founder of the group Mos Ferri, Mr. Carapacchi first encountered Fiore dei Liberi through the realm of historical reenactment. Today he works to understand the martial art of Armizare, with a particular interest in armoured combat. He maintains his own blog, where he has provided a free translation of the Gladiatoria Manuscript into Italian. — ed.]
Under the name “Gladiatoria” we can identify a group of early XV century manuscripts covering the art of fighting in armour, joined by stylistic form of pictures and some technical peculiarities.
IAS Schools employs a variety of models for freeplay (sparring). The bridge between strict drills and complete freeplay is in the form of exercises with certain parameters in which actions are limited to specific techniques. Such exercises can more or less limit the scope of possibilities, and are designed to focus the student’s attention on specific aspects of the art as applied in the fight. Since any limitation introduced necessarily distorts the reality of the art’s application, conditions in these drills are usually changed frequently from more limitations to fewer, consistent with the student’s level of ability.
It is important to understand that even freeplay has limitations placed on it. The most obvious limitations are that we use blunt weapons and protective equipment, we play so as to minimize the possibility of injury, and our intent is not lethal – quite the opposite! Safety is always our first priority. The effect of all this is to remove the very natural fear one would have with sharp weapons and lethal intent, to remove the caution that fear would inspire, and to encourage behavior that is not consistent with a real fight.
Because of these considerations, students must: (more…)
(c) Gregory Mele, 2014
Today’s researchers into the martial arts of Europe come upon a strange paradox: our first known source, Ms. I.33, now found in the Royal Armouries in Leeds, UK, is dated to approximately 1300, yet clearly not only possess a systematic, full-developed pedagogical system, but is seemingly designed to counter an even older, “common method,” now lost to us. We then run into a gap of nine decades before our next source, Ms. 3227a (c.1389), found in Nuremburg, Germany. This is our first source in the “Liechtenauer Tradition”, and which opens with the following bold claim:
At first, you should note and know that there is only one art of the sword, and this art may have been developed some hundred years ago. And this art is the foundation and the core of any fencing art and Master Liechtenauer understood and practiced it in its completeness. It is not the case that he invented this art – as mentioned before – but he has traveled many lands, willing to learn and experience the same real and true art. ((Ms. 3227a, 13v. Translation by Thomas Stoeppler.))
The unique culture of the Italian city-states produced a unique military structure. Initially, each city gathered a local militia under the command of its aristocracy, in which the lower classes from the city and its subject territories served as infantry, while the upper classes served as knightly cavalry. The militia conducted regular training sessions and was well-suited to defending its domain or conducting short-term campaigns. However, by the early 1300s this system was collapsing. Increased inter-state violence, a growing preference among wealthy townsmen to hire others to fulfill their military duties, and the despots’ often justified distrust of arming their own subjects led to an almost complete reliance on paid mercenaries, the condottieri.
Named for the condotta, the contract specifying the terms of military service, the condottiero was the consummate professional; well-armed, highly trained and able to remain in the field indefinitely — or at least as long as his employer could make good on his payments; it was quite common for a military captain to switch sides as soon as his contract was either fulfilled or negated. The least savory captains sometimes simply shifted alliances if the tide seemed to be turning.
(c) Gregory D. Mele, 2014
Fiore dei Liberi’s homeland of Friuli was not spared the constant military engagements that plagued Italy in the last decades of the 14th century, and the civil war that tore the region apart during the 1390s also provides us with some of the more interesting data-points we have regarding the Furlan master-at-arms life and career.
Friuli is a unique region, originally founded by Celtic tribes, during progressive invasions of Romans and Lombards. It grew into a unique culture, whose people speak a unique language to this day, which is related to, but distinct from, Italian. The region was first centered around the ancient Celtic-Roman city of Aquileia, and later Cividale, a city that traced its founding to Julius Caesar himself. By the 14th century, the Patriarchate of Aquileia had become a duchy that included Trieste, Istria, Carinthia, Styria and Cadore, making it one of the largest Italian states of its time, and placing it at the center of the Patriarchate of Aquileia, essentially an area of religious and political administration that became the largest diocese in the middle ages.
The Patriarchate was an ancient bishopric, founded by St. Mark, which had a perpetually uneasy relationship with Rome, and the Patriarchs had played Pope and Emperor against each-other for centuries, with the latter granting them ducal authority in the 1077. However, the power of the Patriarchs began to wane in the 12th century and repeated earthquakes and disasters reduced Aquileia to a few hundred residents by the early 14th century. The bishop’s seat was relocated to Udine, and found itself under increasing attempts to be “brought to heel” by the Papacy.
(c) 2013, Gregory D. Mele
I will now recall and name some of my students who had to fight in the lists. First among them was the noble and hardy knight Piero dal Verde, who had to fight Piero della Corona. Both of them were German, and the contest had to take place in Perugia. … Another was the famous, gallant and hardy knight Galeazzo di Capitani da Grimello, better known as Galeazzo da Mantova; he had to cross weapons with the famous French knight Boucicault in Padua.
None of my students, in particular the ones I have mentioned, have ever possessed a book on the art of combat, with the exception of Galeazzo da Mantova. Galeazzo used to say that without books, nobody can truly be a Master or student in this art. I, Fiore, agree with this.
Fiore dei Liberi, Il Fior di Battaglia (Getty Ms)
The city-state culture of late medieval Italy produced a unique military structure. Initially, each city produced a local militia under the command of its aristocracy, in which the lower classes from the city and its subject territories served as infantry, while the upper classes served as knightly cavalry. But by the early 1300s this system was collapsing. Increased inter-state violence, a growing preference amongst wealthy townsmen to hire others to fulfill their military duties, and the princes’ often justified distrust of arming their own subjects led to an almost complete reliance on paid mercenaries, the condottieri.