I Fiore, know how to read, write and draw, and have books on our subject, a subject that I have studied for at least forty years. Yet, I do not consider myself to be a perfect Master of this art, although some of the great lords who have been my students do hold me in such regard. Let me just say that if I had spent the same forty years studying jurisprudence, canon law or medicine with the same assiduity that I have dedicated to the art of arms, I would be a doctor in each of those disciplines. And I have undergone great effort, labor and expense in being a good student. But enough about this.

Fiore dei Liberi, Fior di Battaglia (Getty Ms)

Martial arts, or the “Arts of Mars” are often associated with Eastern forms.  Despite this, every culture throughout history has had its own combat style, and Europe of the medieval and Renaissance period was no exception.  Each martial art grows form its particular context, and the styles that arose out of Europe in this period are myriad. The IAS practices the medieval Italian tradition of l’arte d’armizare. It is a rich tradition, more than 600 years old and set down by Fiore dei Liberi, master of arms to the court of Niccolo d’Este.

During the early Renaissance, the Italian city-states were in a constant sate of flux and were defended by “free companies” of condottieri – mercenaries hired by the cities to defend and protect their interests.  It is during this time that we find professional masters at arms training soldiers in the art of defense, including one of particular interest to us – Fiore dei Liberi (ca. 1350-1420).  His manuscripts, dating to the early 15th century (1409) are the earliest known texts relating the Italian lineage, and are the third oldest after the Royal Armouries “Tower fechtbuch” (I.33) and the so-called “Döbringer”hausbuch (HS 3227a).


Fiore dei Liberi’s disciplines can be summarized by the treatise’s title: Flos Duellatorum in armis, sine armis, equester et pedester, “Flower of Battle in armour, without armour, mounted and on foot.” It is a holistic presentation of knightly combat in all its forms: grappling, dagger, sword in one hand, sword in two hands, spear, poleaxe and mounted combat.


Martial arts are developed as a response to cultural needs, and these needs intersect with the technology of the culture to produce an art appropriate to the context in which it will be used.   Some common contexts in which armizare was used included war, cases of civil unrest, dueling, sport, and the political/social need to demonstrate prowess in these areas.  A given art can actually encompass all of this, as is clearly stated by Sigmund Ringeck, a 15th century German master: “Princes and Lords learn to survive with this art, in earnest and in play.”  Other masters and authors have written about use of their arts both in potentially lethal and in sportive contexts also.  It is well-documented that European society from the medieval, Renaissance and modern eras have employed various forms of law-enforcement officials, and in the ordinary course of their duties these men would have needed martial expertise that was scalable – that could be used to subdue rather than kill, but also to kill if necessary.  And even the use of the arts of war does not necessarily dictate an all-or-nothing “scorched earth” policy: the condotierri of medieval Italy were businessmen who practiced war as a trade, and frequently resorted to less than total war in the execution of their battles, the better to preserve the assets (soldiers) that allowed them to do business in the first place.   

The IAS remains faithful to the holistic nature of Fiore dei Liberi’s art.

Sir Fiore Furlano de Civida d’Austria degli Liberi da Premariacco was a Medieval master of arms, who has been credited by fencing historians over the last three hundred years as the father of Italian swordsmanship.  His literary work, il Fior Bataglia (Flower of Battle), composed in early 1409, is one of the oldest, most extensive, and most clearly elucidated martial arts treatises from the Medieval period. Consequently, six centuries after his death, Fiore dei Liberi is one of the most significant figures in the modern study of Historical European Martial Arts.

Most of the biographical information we have on Fiore comes from his own manuscripts, though there is important information found in civic records.  Fiore is believed to have lived between 1350 and 1420, but the exact dates of his birth and death are not known.

In the introduction to MS LUDWIG XV 13, he begins:

In his youth, Fiore the Friulan from Cividale d’Austria, son of the late Sir Benedetto of the noble family of Dei Liberi of Premariacco in the dioceses of the Patriarch of Aquileia, wanted to learn the arts of arms and of combat in the lists. He wished to learn how to use the lance, the axe, the sword, the dagger and how to wrestle; he wanted to learn combat on foot and on horseback, both with armor and without.

(Translation: Tom Leoni)

After this rather formal beginning, in which he also extols the virtues of his patron, Niccolo d’Este III, ruler of the principalities of Ferrara and Modena, his tone shifts to a more colloquial note for the rest of his manuscript.  He tells his audience of his years of training with Italian and German masters, how he became sought after as a teacher of arms, and of the five duels he fought:

Out of envy, some Masters challenged me to combat with sharp swords in a gambeson and without any other defensive weapon besides a pair of chamois gloves. The reason was that I had refused to associate with them or to reveal to them any parts of my art. This happened no less than five times, and all five times I was compelled by honor to fight in strange places, far away from relatives or friends and without anything to rely upon besides God, the Art, myself, Fiore, and my sword. By the grace of God, I came through each time with my honor intact and without any physical injuries.

Fiore dei Liberi

In 1383, a Maestro Fiore de Cividale, dimicator (“fencer”) was listed in Udine as a commander in the civil war on the side of the alliance of towns in the Friulian Civil War (an alliance which included his birthplace of Premariacco). Fiore was placed in charge of the crossbowmen and town artillery, and his duties included procuring arms for the defense of the towns.  Following the end of the war, Fiore became one of a group of mounted horsemen who were made a kind of medieval “rough rider” — a combination of traveling marshal and enforcer, charged with quelling insurgents and reestablishing Udine’s control of the countryside. Even today, there are streets in Udine, Cividale and Premariacco named “Via de Fiore dei Liberi” in his honor, though specifically what the towns are grateful for is unclear.

Following the civil war, the next record of the master at arms is from 1395 when he was at the famous duel fought in Padua between one of his students, Galeazzo da Montova, and the famous Marshall Bouccicault of France, an event that drew over 10,000 spectators. The duel was over an insult delivered by Bouccicault, accusing the Italians of cowardice.  Although the men were to fight with lances on horse, Bouccicault became agitated with a delay and attacked da Montova while still on foot. Galeazzo managed to disarm Bouccicault, who grabbed a poleaxe from either an attendant or a guard (accounts vary), when the lords of Padua and Mantua  intervened, ending the fight.  The two met again in a duel in 1406, fighting with lances on horseback, and Galeazzo’s lance lodged in his opponent’s visor, dragging him from his horse. Galeazzo was declared the victor, and  Bouccicault vowed to never wear a visor again, which helped facilitate his capture by the English at Agincourt in 1415.

In 1399, four years after the aborted first duel  between Bouccicault and da Montova, Fiore was recorded in civil records as serving as a condottiero in Pavia. After this his association with the court of Niccolo III d’Este begins, although the nature of their relationship is unclear.  Fiore’s manuscripts, citing a composition date of 1409 (1410 on the modern calendar), are dedicated to Niccolo and entered the Estense library, but there are no payments or land grant receipts citing Fiore in the Estense records, and it is unclear if he ever dwelt at the Este court.

There are no clear records of the master after 1409/10, however, one of his early 20th century biographers, Francesco Novati, claims to have seen records (currently lost) of his presence in France sometime around 1420 and this may be corroborated by the discovery of the fourth dei Liberi treatise, Florius de Arte Luctandi, in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Artistically, that manuscript can be dated to sometime between 1420 – 1430, and Fiore dei Liberi is referred to posthumously, but an exact date of death, and whether it was in Italy or France, is unknown.

Fiore tells us of six of his students, all knights or squires (squires were fighting noblemen who were not knighted; in equipment, training and employment they were virtually indistinguishable from knights).  Each of the six was well-known in his day, and are still known to history, as condotierri – mercenary captains of arms in late Medieval Italy.  They are:

• The previously-mentioned Galeazzo da Mantova:  “the  famous, valiant and hardy knight Galeazzo di Capitani from Grimello, better known as Galeazzo da Mantova,” who fought Marshall Bouccicault in Padua. Galeazzo was a member of the famous and powerful Gonzaga family, and his relative, Francesco Gonzaga, was the lord of Mantua.

• Piero del Verde, a German knight, who fought Piero della Corona, also German, in Perugia.

• Nicholas von Urslingen, another German knight, who fought Nicholas the Englishman in Imola.

• Lancilotto da Beccaria, a squire from Pavia, who fought six passes of the blunted lance on horseback, “against the valiant

• Giovannino da Baio, a squire from Milan, “who had to face the valiant German squire Schramm for three passes of the blunted lance on horseback in the castle of Pavia. The same also had to fight three blows of the axe, three of the sword and three of the dagger—on foot—in the presence of the noble prince and lord the Duke of Milan and her ladyship the Duchess, as well as numerous other lords and ladies.”  At the actual deed, the men chose to ride two additional lance passes and on the fifth, Baggio impaled Sirano’s horse through the chest, slaying the horse but losing his lance in the process. They fought the remaining bouts as scheduled, and emerged unscathed from the combat, due to the strength of their armour.

• Azzo da Castelbarco, knight, who fought in separate combats Giovanni Ordelaffi and the knight Jacomo di Boson.

In claiming these men as his students, Fiore is assuring Niccolo that his claims to skill as a teacher are not boasts, but grounded in a reality that his patron could readily understand – and as readily verify. You don’t use a powerful and important man such as Galeazzo da Montova as a reference if you can’t back it up.

Evidence of Fiore dei Liberi’s  posthumous influence can be found in the close-related work of another Italian master at arms, Fillipo Vadi of Pisa, who lived two generations after the Furlan master. Elements of his manuscripts appear in whole or in part in a number of later compendia of fencing techniques, such as the warbook of the German nobleman Ludwig VI von Eyb the Younger (fl. 1500).  Giving no other name to his art than l’arte dell’armizare or “art of arms,” his method survived well over a century, and his name survives to this day as a street name in Premariacco, Italy.

In 1409 (1410 on the modern calendar), Fiore dei Liberi completed a work entitled Il Fior di Battaglia (“The Flower of Battle”). Its title an obvious pun on his name, this large, illustrated manuscript was a summation of forty years of martial knowledge, including only those things the master felt “most useful” and “safe”. It was dedicated to the bellicose young lord, Niccolo III d’Este, the ruler of the principalities of Ferrara, Modena, and Parma – a powerful early Renaissance prince, knight, and commander of armies.

A page of equestrian or "a cavallo" techniques from Florius de Arte Luctandi.
A page of equestrian or “a cavallo” techniques from Florius de Arte Luctandi.

Four copies of il Fior di Battaglia, which is the earliest surviving Italian source on the martial arts, survive today and form the basis for the modern study of armizare. Each has important similarities to and differences from each other.  The key similarity is the organization of the material, which systematically covers, abrazare (wrestling & hand-to-hand fighting), daga (dagger, with an emphasis on self-defense and armoured combat techniques), spada a un mano (single-handed sword), spada a due mani (two-handed sword), spada in arme (sword used in armour), azza in arme (poleaxe used in armour), lanza in arme (spear used in armour), and finally all weapons a cavallo, or on horseback.  The key martial techniques, called zoghi or “plays” by Fiore, are identical between manuscripts, but each manuscript contains plays and key information not seen in the others, and each is done in a different artistic style.  Two begin with abrazare and proceed through the weapons to mounted combat, while two others go in the reverse order: from horseback down to ground combat, which reflects the order of combat in a judicial duel of the time.


Sword disarm from the Pisani-Dossi manuscript.
Sword disarm from the Pisani-Dossi manuscript.

MS Ludwig XV 13  Held by the J. Paul Getty Museum in California.

Pisani-Dossi manuscript Held privately by the Italian family of the same name.  A fascimile was produced in 1902 by Francesco Novati, along with an extensive introduction.

MS M.0383 Held by the Pierpoint Morgan Library in New York.

MS.Latin 11269 or Florius de Arte Luctandi  Held by the French Bibliothèque Nationale.

The MS Ludwig XV 13 and the Pisani-Dossi MS are both dedicated to Niccolò III d’Este and state that they were written at his request and according to his design. The MS M.383, on the other hand, lacks a dedication and claims to have been laid out according to his own intelligence. The MSS Latin 11269 lost any dedication it might have had along with its prologue.

Two now-lost manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi existed in the Estense family library during and after Niccolo d’Este III’s reign.  The larger is almost certainly the presentation copy given to Niccolo.  The smaller manuscript is something of a puzzle. Neither of them matches the four surviving manuscripts in physical description or page count:

Codex LXXXIV is noted in two catalogs of the Estense family library in Ferrara, one from 1436 and one from 1508, after which no information is known. The manuscript is described as 58 folios bound in leather with a clasp, with a white eagle and two helmets on the first page.  This contains more pages than any of the surviving copies.

Codex CX is noted in the same two surveys of the library. This manuscript is described as 15 small folios on unbound parchment, with each page having two columns.  This MS has smaller pages, and fewer of them, than any of the surviving copies.

Elements of dei Liberi’s work also appear across the alps. Die Blume des Kampfes (“The Flower of Battle”) is a nickname given by modern researchers to a group of three German manuscripts that share a common technical syllabus and set of illustrations with Fior di Battaglia. 

Cod. 5278 is the oldest of the three, dating to the late 1420s and contains simple line drawings reminiscent of dei Liberi’s work, but lacking many signature characteristics such as garters and crowns and generally less organized than the Friulian master’s work.

Dagger vs. Sword technique from German Ms. Cod. 10799 (1623), depicting one of dei Liberi's teachings in full, 17th century garb.
Dagger vs. Sword technique from German Ms. Cod. 10799 (1623), depicting one of dei Liberi’s teachings in full, 17th century garb.

The second manuscript is Ludwig VI von Eyb’s Kriegsbuch (“Warbook”), composed around 1500. The warbook contains a significant degree of overlap with the 5278 but with colored artwork and German descriptions of most of the techniques

Cod. 10799, dated 1623, is the final entry and is again textless, but is illustrated with fine watercolors depicting the figures in contemporary, 17th century clothing. It is also the most extensive of the three by far, Aside from the Blume des Kampfes material, the 10799 also has a good deal of extra content including portrayals of laying down and taking up the sword, Germanic sash wrestling, armored dagger and buckler, and the sword dance.

All 4 manuscripts share a generally similar structure, but with important differences in content and style.  MS XV Ludiwg 13 begins with an introduction that covers folio 3, recto and verso, and folio 4, recto only. The 315 pen and ink illustrations, executed in a Northern Italian, possibly Venetian style, begin on 8 recto and continue to 49 recto9. Most pages have a grid of four images on them, with occasional groupings of two and three images, three instances of a single image and single a grouping of five images. The script is Batarde, a variation on Gothic script that was popular in the 14th through the 16th centuries.

The text of the Fior di Battaglia is organized into logical units of related actions, beginning with abrazare (wrestling and grappling arts), moving to dagger combat (with a large proportion of unarmed defenses against attacks), and then a bridging section of dagger against sword to bring us to techniques for the use of the sword in one hand, which is followed by the use of the sword in two hands. After this is a short section showing various combinations of sword, spear, and stick. At this point, at folio 34 recto, there is a thematic diagram of the key principles of the art.

The material to this point has shown unarmoured combatants. The next three sections show the use of techniques for fighting in and against a harness composed of mail and plate, using sword, poleaxe, and spear. After this we are shown equestrian combat principles, with the armoured figures now on horse. They begin with the lance and progress to the sword, followed by techniques for wrestling from horseback, including a means of throwing the other man’s horse to the ground. The manuscript concludes with a statement from Fiore pointing out that he is really a humble old man, and an entreaty to recall his virtue and nobility. The final folio shows a single image of two horses tied to a tree.

An example of a Magistro Contrario "Counter Master" wearing a crown and garter to denote his peadgogical position - from the dagger section of Florius de Arte Luctandi
An example of a Magistro Contrario “Counter Master” wearing a crown and garter to denote his peadgogical position – from the dagger section of Florius de Arte Luctandi

Fiore’s introduction explains the visual program of his manuscript. He discusses key elements of the first section, the abrazare or wrestling, and then explains the visual notation he will use throughout the manuscript. Briefly, he employs a system of masters, scholars and players to demonstrate key principles and techniques of his system. Each section of the manuscript begins with one or more crowned “Fight Masters” who show principles and poste (or guard positions); these figures are unopposed. They are followed by one or more crowned “Remedy Masters” (Magistri Remedii) who show defenses against attacks, with the attacks being made by a “Player.” The Remedy Masters are followed by their Scholars, who wear a “device” or garter on one leg. The Scholars show the plays that stem from the defensive technique of the Remedy Master, and they execute these against the Players. Then follows is a “Counter Master” (Magistro Contrario), who wears both a crown and a garter, who shows the technique that defeats the original Remedy Master, and thus all of his Scholars.  Fiore also refers to a rare Counter to the Counter Master (Contra-Contrario).

 In 2018, IAS Founder Gregory Mele and IAS Adviser Tom Leoni began publishing a series of modern, English translations and commentary on the entire corpus of Fiore dei Liberi’s work, and those, such as Vadi’s De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, derived from it. Find out more at The Flowers of Battle: The Complete Martial Arts of Fiore dei Liberi.

Armizare can be divided into three principle disciplines: close quarter combat, long weapon combat and mounted combat, each of which can then be fought either in armour (in arme) or without armour (senza arme). Close quarter combat forms the basis for many of the grappling and disarming techniques used in later sections of the manuscript, and the dagger section forming the single largest collection of techniques:

  • Abrazare (striking, throwing and grapping techniques)
  • Bastoncello (a short stick, approximately 12” long)
  • Daga (the rondel dagger)
  • Daga contra spada (dagger vs. sword)
  • Spada contra daga (sword vs. dagger)

Long weapon combat begins with the introduction of the sword and swordplay forms the basis for all other long weapon combat. The treatise also includes several other “knightly” weapons used on foot, both in and out of armour, such as the spear and poleaxe. There are also several unusual weapons, such as monstrous, specialized swords for judicial combat, and hollow-headed polehammers, meant to be filled with an acidic powder to blind the opponent!

  • Lanza (spear)
  • Spada en arme  (sword in full armour)
  • Azza (poleaxe)

Finally, mounted combat, reintroduces many of the disciplines already presented, this time adapted for combat on horseback, again in or out of armour. 

  • Abrazare
  • Lanza (lance)
  • Spada d’un mano contra lanza(sword vs. lance)
  • Spada contra spada
  • Ghiavarina (a partisan-like weapon shown on foot against mounted opponents)

Within these subsections, dei Liberi taught his art through a series of zoghi (“plays”) —formal, two-man drills akin to the kata of classical Japanese martial arts— that were both technique and tactical lesson.

Abrazare is of two kinds. One is done for pleasure or entertainment.The other is done in anger, or for one’s life, employing every trick, deception and cruelty imaginable. I want to talk about the second kind and show, in good order, how to come to grappling successfully in the most common situation of life-and-death combat.Description for this block. Use this space for describing your block. Any text will do. Description for this block. You can use this space for describing your block. Description for this block. Use this space for describing your block. Any text will do. Description for this block. You can use this space for describing your block.

When you engage in abrazare, you must assess whether your opponent is stronger or bigger than you, and whether he is much younger or older. You also need to take note of whether he places himself in any of the guards of abrazare. Be sure to pay attention to all these things. And whether you are stronger or weaker, use the grapples that arise from the binds and be sure to know how to defend against those which the opponent uses against you.

Two of the four surviving copies of Il Fior di Battaglia begin with grappling, which in armizare is known as abrazare, literally: “embracing” or “playing at the arms”. As is seen in the quote above, the Founder distinguishes abrazare from “wrestling” (lotta), by describing one as  being for sport or exercise, the other for combat and self-defense. He further expands what he means by listing eight requirements as the foundation of abrazare, the first two of which are physical characteristics and the rest of which are categories of techniques. These include:

  • 4594698349_f619aa501c_bStrength (Forteza)
  • Speed (Presteza)
  • Grips and Grapples (Prese)
  • Joint and Bone Breaks (Rompere)
  • “Binds”; ie: joint locks (Ligadure)
  • Strikes (Ferrire)
  • Throws (Mettere in Terra)
  • Dislocations (Dislogadure)

As can been seen, although grabs, joint locks and throws are components of abrazare, so are bone-breaking and striking; areas associated more with combative grappling than wrestling, per se. In contrast, notably absent in abrazare are elements commonly associated with submission wrestling, such as ground-fighting and chokes.

Part of the tactical choices — or limitations — in abrazare are related to both intention (self-defense) and adaptability to both civilian and military contexts, in this case reflected by being usable in armour and without:

The guards of abrazare, the Second Master (i.e., the Remedy) and his students, the Third Master (Counter to the Second and his students) and the Fourth Master (Contra-counter) act as the pillars of the art of abrazare, both in and out of armor. Similarly, they support the art of the lance, with their weapon, guards, Masters and students; the same they do for the axe, the sword in one and two hands, and the dagger. Overall, these Masters and students support the whole art of arms, on horseback and on foot, armored and unarmored–through the principles they follow in abrazare.

In this way, the 16 abrazare techniques that Fiore shows in the Flower of Battle both teach unarmed wrestling and form a foundation for all of the body mechanics and grappling that occurs throughout the rest of the art; so much so that in a  very real sense, zogho stretto, or “close play”, in armizare can be thought of as “grappling with weapons”. It is impossible to understand armizare, as Fiore intended it to b used, without understanding the lessons of abrazare, and it is impossible to understand abrazare without understanding the implications in fighting in armour, perhaps more so than in any other tradition from the Middle Ages or early Renaissance.

I am the noble weapon called the dagger, who much desires close play. He who understands my malicious deceptions and my art possesses a good part of every subtle exercise at arms …Whoever sees me in the deed of arms, will see me make covers and thrusts with abrazare, taking the dagger from the opponent with turns and binds. And weapons or armour are worthless against me.

Fiore dei Liberi, il Fior di Battaglia

In the early Middle Ages, the dagger (called a daga by the Italians) was often carried as a back-up weapon by spearmen and archers as a substitute for the sword; it was only in the second half of the 13th century that the dagger begins to be depicted as a sidearm worn with the sword, in form it usually looked like a sword in miniature. By the following century, wearing sword and dagger had become commonplace, and by the late 14th and 15th centuries, men-at-arms are almost universally depicted with a new sort of dagger – the rondel.

A dagger of Vadi's recommended proportions by Arma Bohemia based on an example from the Bayerisches Armeemuseum Ingolstadt. German, first half of the 15th century.
A dagger of Vadi’s recommended proportions by Arma Bohemia based on an example from the Bayerisches Armeemuseum Ingolstadt. German, first half of the 15th century.

The rondel dagger derives its name, subtly enough, from the “rondels” or discs that serve as both a guard and pommel (early examples, sometimes had spherical pommels, but this was uncommon by the mid-15th century). The two discs serve to “lock” the dagger tightly into the wielder’s grip, particularly when wearing armoured gauntlets. This locked grip allowed the wielder to strike with great force, particularly in an overhand grip, emphasizing the dagger’s principle role of punching through mail and the articulations of plate armour.

The length of the dagger should be just to the elbow, with an edge and two corners. The grip should be the length of the fist, as the shape is shown depicted here below.

Filippo Vadi of Pisa, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi (c.1482)

The blade is less clearly defined, and can be double-edged, single-edged or even edgeless, turning the dagger into a giant ice pick! All are quite long, as the above quote from Vadi shows, and taper to acute points, since the emphasis is on thrusting. In general, however, there are several forms of rondel that are more common then others. The first and most common is single edged, with a thick, blunted spine, which may or may not flatten into a small “false edge” for the last two or three inches of blade length. The second is hollow-ground, triangular (“two-cornered”), and edgeless (or nearly so), designed specifically for punching through armour. Sometimes the last few inches of these blades flatten into a more traditional profile, giving the dagger a narrower surface at the point of impact for finding purchase. The third form is also a glorified punch, but seems to have been rare, and was of round or quadrangular cross-section. Finally, rondels do appear with a more traditional, double-edged dagger blade, but these seem to have been the rarest of all.

The techniques for using -- and defending against -- the dagger are equally suited to armoured and unarmoured combat.
The techniques for using — and defending against — the dagger are equally suited to armoured and unarmoured combat.

The sword was carried on the left hip while the daga/pugnale was worn on the right. There were a number of ways in which it the dagger might be carried and suspended. In civilian wear, the dagger was worn on the waist belt, with or without a sword, usually beside or behind the purse. It could be hung vertically, horizontally or at an angle in between, as the owner preferred. If a sword was not worn, the dagger and purse might be rotated forward, even to the center-front of the torso. In armour, the dagger was often attached directly to a metal “plaque belt” or to the fauld of the armour, and again could be suspended either vertically or horizontally. During the 14thcentury, the dagger was sometimes attached to the body armour by a long leading chain, so that, even if it slipped from the hand upon being drawn, it could not be dropped. By the end of the century this fashion had faded away, and as the plaque belt disappeared in the 15th century, in armour the dagger began to be worn on either a narrow waist belt, or directly on the sword belt. In the 16th century, the dagger was often worn at an angle at the right side, or across the back, with its hilt turned to the left, both of these methods facilitating a left-hand draw, as the sword was drawn with the right.

Two techniques against a forehand dagger blow (Fiore dei Liberi’s First Remedy of the Dagger) as represented by Filippo Vadi of Pisa.

Dagger combat, both unarmed against a dagger and with a weapon of one’s own, builds directly upon the lessons of abrazare, and forms the single largest section in each of the various copies of il Fior di Battaglia. The nearly 80 “plays”, or techniques, that encompass the dagger section are organized into nine Remedies — specific defenses against a particular type of attack. For example, the First Remedy teaches how to defend against a forehand blow with a dagger in a reverse or “ice-pick” grip, while the Third Remedy details how to defend against a backhand blow from the same grip. The Eighth and Ninth Remedies work against rising thrusts in a forehand grip, while the Fifth Remedy introduces how to defend if the student is first gripped by the attacker — a “mugging” scenario familiar in modern self-defense classes. Other Remedies demonstrate how to defend against attacks with the arms joined for more strength, for specifically fighting in armour, or for when one has already drawn their own dagger.

All dagger instruction is built around five principles, applied in order:

  1. Disarm (Disarmato)
  2. Strike (Ferrire)
  3. Lock (Ligadura)
  4. Break (Rompere)
  5. Throw (Mettere in Terra)

The combination of these five actions allows him to introduce a complete curriculum of not only knife-fighting, but unarmed combat at striking range, joint-locks and arm-bars, entering techniques from out of distance to create throws and a series of disarms that will be used not just in close-quarter combat, but with longer weapons, such as the sword or pollaxe.

Of all the weapons devised by Man in the long lapse of the centuries, the sword is the only one which combines effectiveness in defence with force in attack, and since its Bronze Age beginnings has gathered round itself a potent mystique which sets it above any other man-made object.Description for this block. Use this space for describing your block. Any text will do. Description for this block. You can use this space for describing your block. Description for this block. Use this space for describing your block. Any text will do. Description for this block. You can use this space for describing your block.

Ewart Oakeshott, Records of the Medieval Sword.

The sword of early medieval warriors was a refinement of the yard long, double-edged slashing swords developed by the Iron Age Celts and the Germanic tribes of late Antiquity that supplanted them. In form, they were wide-bladed, single-handed weapons designed for fighting with a shield. Usually between 36″ and 42″ [91-107 cm] long, with a weight of only two to three pounds [0.9-1.4 Kg], the early knightly sword had either parallel or slightly tapered edges and an abrupt or somewhat rounded point used for hacking cuts and limited thrusting. The earlier blades were usually a relatively thin, flat cross-section with a wide central fuller to reduce weight and allow for great flexibility. Later swords either had only a partial fuller, with the last third of the blade ending in diamond or hexagonal cross-section, or were of diamond cross-section throughout, but maintained a deeper, narrow fuller running nearly the entire length of the sword. There was no specialized term for this weapon; it was merely called a sword.

Reproduction of a 15th century arming sword, courtesy Arms and Armor, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Reproduction of a 15th century arming sword, courtesy Arms and Armor, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The same changing battlefield conditions of the High Middle Ages that led to the development of the longsword, also led to the development of new varieties of arming swords, as the one-handed weapon was now sometimes called, because it was as a sidearm worn while “in arms”. Fullers were often made short and wide, allowing the weapon to be stiffer near the tip as a new emphasis was put on the thrust. By the mid-14th century some swords carried this emphasis even further by replacing the fuller altogether with a riser, a raised spine, making a very stiff blade, and/or with sharply tapering edges, producing the silhouette of a broad isosceles triangle.

In the late 15th century, some arming swords had a simple ring affixed to their guard, so that the index finger could be wrapped around the cross for greater point control, without being endangered if the opponent’s blade sliding down its length. By the end of the century, this simple ring was also sometimes accompanied by a knuckle bow, and the first “complex-hilts” were born.

Introduction to wielding the sword in one hand, from the Getty Ms., f. 20.

Although the Founder shows one-handed swordsmanship both on foot and on horse, it is notable that he does not go to pains to show a distinctive arming sword; instead the same “longsword” found throughout the work is shown used in one hand.  In the section for fighting on foot, a single Remedy is presented, a master standing in a low guard, comparable to position of the sword in the scabbard, who is threatened by three combatants, each of who executes a singular attack – a cut, thrust or thrown weapon. With a bit of the braggadocio that often characterizes his verse, dei Liberi advises them, “Go ahead and come on one by one, if you know what you’re doing; even if there were a hundred of you, I’d still mess you all up with this guard, which is so good and strong,” and then proceeds to show how to use a single, rising parry to defeat their play.

Fiore dei Liberi’s likely purpose in the composition of this section was to show how the lessons of close quarter combat he had already taught with the dagger could be applied to a long weapon such as the sword; a weapon whose unique properties he would discuss more at length in the next section of his work. For modern students, however, when combined with the techniques shown for fighting with the sword when a-horse (which themselves appear in other medieval works detailing one-handed sword play), and the Master’s off-hand comment in one of his texts that this is the method for wielding “the sword without the buckler” it also supplies us with a survival of what could be called a “primordial school” of medieval swordsmanship; fundamental techniques for the old, knightly arming sword that had been developing for over a millennium by the time our first-known fencing text was composed, and which persisted throughout Europe because of their basic utility long after discernible “schools” or “traditions” had formed.

I am the sword and I am lethal against any weapon; lances, axes and dagger are worthless against me. I can become extended or withdrawn; when I get near the opponent I can enter into close play, perform disarms and abrazare. My art is to turn and to bind; I am expert in defense and offense, and always strive to finish in those. Come against me and feel the pain. I am Royal, enforce justice, propagate goodness and destroy evil. Look at me as a cross, and I will give you fame and a name in the art of arms.Description for this block. Use this space for describing your block. Any text will do. Description for this block. You can use this space for describing your block. Description for this block. Use this space for describing your block. Any text will do. Description for this block. You can use this space for describing your block.

Fiore dei Liberi, Il Fior di Battaglia

In the 13th century, the knight’s basic harness began to change. By the second half of the century, the helmet had grown into a great helm that protected the entire head. Small, plate defenses were added to the knees and elbows, and a variety of simple articulated defenses were being experimented with for body armour. All of these changes merely heralded the sweeping changes of the 14th century, which would end with the knight fully-encased in plate armour and well-trained foot soldiers dressed in a combination of quilted, mail and plate defenses that often equaled the knightly kit of a century before.

In the same period swordsmiths had begun developing a new, versatile weapon, the longsword. Wielded with one hand on horseback, the longsword was generally used with two hands when fighting on foot. While there are early references to two-handed swords from the 12th century, it was only with the adoption of heavier armour, and thus the diminished role of the shield, that the longsword came into prominence.

This new weapon generally measured between 44″ and 54″ [112 and 137 cm] in length, and was stout enough to deal with fully armoured foes. Yet at roughly three to four pounds [1.4-1.8 Kg] in weight, it was also fast enough to use against lightly and unarmoured opponents. Like the arming sword it evolved from, the longsword’s straight, double-edged blade was ideally suited for both cutting and thrusting. Blade shape could be flat and wide, narrow and hexagonal, or diamond shaped. Characterized by having both a long grip and a long blade, it was yet capable of being worn on the body. This versatility made the weapon extremely popular with the knightly classes; so much so that this so-called “sword of war” also became an element of civilian dress in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Reproduction of an early 15th century longsword, found in the Museo Civico L. Mazzoli, Brescia, Italy.
Reproduction of an early 15th century longsword, found in the Museo Civico L. Mazzoli, Brescia, Italy.

The two masters of the Dei Liberi School who have left us records seem to have favored somewhat different weapons. Fiore dei Liberi shows a relatively short weapon, with a blade little longer than that of an arming sword; in fact, the same sword used throughout the single-handed, two-handed and armoured combat sections of his manuscript. An excellent example of such a surviving sword, contemporary to Il Fior di Battaglia, resides in the Museo Civico L. Mazzoli in Brescia, Italy.

Filippo Vadi does not discuss one-handed swordplay, and prefers a longer weapon:

The sword should be of the correct measure
with the pommel just under the arm,
as it appears here in my writing.
To avoid any hindrance,
the pommel should be round to fit the closed hand,
do this and you won’t be troubled.
And know for sure
that the handle should be a span long,
use any other measures and you’ll be confused.
To prevent your mind from being deceived
use a  guard as long as the handle and pommel together,
and you won’t be condemned.
The cross hilt needs be squared and strong,
with iron broad and pointed;
its duty being to wound and cut.

Following Vadi’s measurements produces a weapon between 50-54″ inches [127-137 cm] in length. Despite this difference, the two masters illustrate the same general techniques within their treatises, and practical experimentation has shown that any weapon within the 44-54″ [112-137 cm] length range can be used, shorter blades playing faster in close and allowing for single-handed play, longer sword playing better at a distance.


Four of the six Masters of Swordsmanship, detailing the use of the sword by 1) making an extended thrust, 2) gripping the blade to fight in armour, 3) wielding in two-hands by the hilt, 4) gripping the blade to wield the sword like an axe. )Getty Ms. 22v
Four of the six Masters of Swordsmanship, detailing the use of the sword by 1) making an extended thrust, 2) gripping the blade to fight in armour, 3) wielding in two-hands by the hilt, 4) gripping the blade to wield the sword like an axe. )Getty Ms. 22v

Situated at the center of the manuscript, the sword is also the center-piece of the art of arms; capable of using the lessons of the dagger in close play (zogho stretto) but also the foundation for fighting with all long weapons, in or out of armour, on foot or on horse. Fiore dei Liberi introduces a series of six Masters who represent the various ways the sword may be used:

  1. One-handed
  2. Thrown like  javelin
  3. Held by the pommel to make extended thrusts
  4. Gripped with one hand on the blade, making it a short spear to penetrate gaps in plate armour.
  5. Wielded with two-hands on the hilt.
  6. Wielded by the blade, using the hilt like a pollaxe to hook limbs or smash with the cross — another way to counter heavy armour.

The central components of these six, however, are wielding the sword in a one or two-handed grip, and grasping the blade with the left hand, to penetrate armour.  Two-handed swordsmanship is taught in three segments. The first are the Masters of Battle, twelve poste or guards, each with a summary of how they are used in combat, which guards they counter and which techniques they favor.  This is followed by a section on fighting at wide distance (zogho largo), containing plays for countering cuts, thrusts and safely breaking distance as an attacker. Compared to the extensive dagger section, there are only 20 plays, which at first makes it seem notably smaller than the comparable teachings of other late medieval masters-at-arms, until one reads Fiore’s final words on the matter:

The Exchange of Thrusts, a core technique of armizare.

Here ends the wide play of the sword in two hands. These twenty plays are all linked, and have remedies and counters both from the mandritto and the riverso side, counter-thrusts and counter-cuts to each action, with breaks, parries, strikes and binds. These are all things that can be understood very easily.

This concision and avoidance of repetition is typical of the author’s reductionist mentality; rather than repeat instructions, simply swapping “left” for “right”, he reminds the reader that these 20 plays can quickly become 40, and those 40, an infinite combination of counters and counter-counters, all of which expand the general teachings of the earlier Masters of Battle. Additionally, within the Pisani-Dossi manuscript the master adds several plays specific and unique to crossing swords from two mutual backhand blows.

A play of zogho stretto from the Pisani-Dossi Ms., 21v.

Following the teachings of wide-play, Fiore moves on to close play (zogho stretto),  which includes a further 23 plays detailing a wide number of joint locks (ligadure), grapples (prese) and throws (mettere in terra) first found in the dagger teachings, along with hilt strikes (colpi di pommo), and disarms (tor di spada) unique to swordsmanship.

Finally, for armoured combat, we have the introduction of six Masters of Battle, five new ones that all grip the blade in the left hand, and sixth, which is a carry-over from the teachings on the two-handed sword. As seen previously, each of these six Masters offers his own tactical advice on how to approach the fight, and are then followed by sixteen plays, many of which are further adaptations of plays previously seen in the teachings on the sword in one hand or of the dagger.

Although Fiore shows his armoured combat using the same weapon shown in unarmoured combat, at the end of this section he describes two strange forms of sword used specifically for fighting an armoured, judicial duel:

A mid-15th century sword specialized for armoured combat in the lists, similar to one of those described by Fiore dei Liberi
A mid-15th century sword specialized for armoured combat in the lists, similar to one of those described by Fiore dei Liberi

This sword is equally a sword and an axe. It should not have a sharp edge from the guard to about six inches[1] from the point; its point should be sharp and its sharp edge should be about six inches in length. The small rondel under the hilt should be able to glide to about six inches from the point, but not beyond that. The hilt should be well tempered and sharp, and the pommel nice and heavy with its points well tempered and absolutely sharp. The front of the sword should be as heavy as the back; weight should be between four and six pounds. And the man carrying this sword will wear armour proportional to his size and strength.

This other sword should have a full edge, save for an unsharpened section at the third below the point, where a gloved hand can comfortably grasp it. Its edge and point must be very fine, the hilt sharp, strong and well tempered and the pommel weighty and pointed.

Writing seventy or so years later, Filippo Vadi gives a description of a third form of armoured combat sword, which he illustrates his combatants wielding throughout the chapter. This particular sword is similar to a number of surviving boar-hunting sword, only of much more massive proportions:

The sword used for armored fighting should be of the shape shown below, that is: its length should be such that the pommel fits under the arm, it should be [sharpened for] cutting four finger from the tip and its handle should be of a span. The hilt should be as long as the handle, and it should be pointed on each side; and in the same way the pommel should be pointed, so that it is possible to strike with each of these parts.

Vadi's description of the sword for use in armour, and a pair of combatants demonstrating their use. (De Arte Gladiatoria, 27v)
Vadi’s description of the sword for use in armour, and a pair of combatants demonstrating their use. (De Arte Gladiatoria, 27v)

Finally, a small selection of techniques that address using the sword against unalike weapons — defending against a dagger attack while the sword is still sheathed, defending against a spear, and deflecting hurled javelins — are scattered throughout the manuscripts, rounding out the instructions on two-handed swordsmanship.


One of mankind’s oldest weapons, the spear long predates recorded history, let alone the Middle Ages, thus it is not surprising that sophisticated spear technique appears in a wide variety of Italian, German and English sources of the 15th – 17th centuries, nor that the commonalities far outweighing the differences. Medieval masters-at-arms clearly differentiate between two forms of weapon, simply designated as “short” or “long”, as well as two distinct sub-styles of spear play. The first method was used with both short and long spears and was for both using the cavalry lance dismounted, and when fighting in infantry ranks on the battlefield.

The second method was optimized for using the short spear in single combat, usually within the context of the armoured duel or feat of arms. As such, the thrusts are usually made with the support of the entire body, and the spear is often used like a staff to strike, hook or throw the opponent if the initial thrust fails. Whereas the common method is specifically designed to always stand with the point in-line to threaten an immediate straight thrust, the specialized short spear generally stand with the point off-line.


The spear (Italian: lanza or lancia) is a relatively simple weapon, composed of three parts: the point, the shaft (l’asta), and the heel or foot (pedale). By the 14th century the spearhead, also called the iron or pike (It: ferro or pica), was generally made of tempered steel and was kept quite sharp. Spearheads ended in a split, tubular ferrule that was usually attached to the shaft by one or two rivets. During the later Middle Ages this ferule was occasionally supported with the same long metal strips, or languets, used to reinforce the shafts of heavier polearms. Although this greatly reduced the likelihood of the point being broken off, both the rarity of such languets on surviving spear heads, and the corpus of techniques specifically designed to break off the spear’s head point, suggests that they remained uncommon on this simple weapon.

There are numerous styles of spearheads, but generally they were tapering, kite or leaf-shaped, of diamond cross-section with two-edges and a point. A less common form appeared in the late Middle Ages that was lentoid in cross-section, turning the spear into a giant, armour piercing spike. These variants of the spearhead were developed for specific purposes, but all emphasized the thrust.

The spear shaft was made of a straightened, round or octagonal hardwood pole, usually of ash. Generally, the haft was thick enough to sustain the weight of the head without bowing or breaking, but it was not nearly as thick as the shafts of other polearms. Haft length varied greatly, but an examination of iconography, used in conjunction with the surviving written advice given by the period’s masters-at-arms, suggests that an average length of six to twelve feet was common for most of the medieval period. Dei Liberi himself teaches the use of the short spear, a weapon that was approximately six to eight feet long.

The spear’s pedale, or heel was often shod in an iron ferrule or cap, and Fiore dei Liberi describes his own spear as such.[Getty Ms,  39v.] These caps ranged from simple rings of metal to a tapering conical cap with a balled end. This reinforced the haft, making the heel useful for striking or thrusting if the opponent forced the spearhead out of line and attempted to close.

The final section on armoured foot combat is also the most concise.

A heel-strike made by the Magistro Contrario of the spear. (Getty Ms. 39v)
A heel-strike made by the Magistro Contrario of the spear. (Getty Ms. 39v)

Whereas the attackers all stand in the two principle guards of the “common method”, Fiore dei Liberi’s “Masters” all use a short spear, just a bit taller than the wielder” and stand with the spear off-line, in six poste, all but one of which are adapted from the two-handed sword. All six of the guards, regardless of if they are carried high or low, to the left or right of the centerline, oppose an attack with one defense:

We pass out of line by first performing an offline accrescimento with the foot that is forward–as usual. All of us (guards on the mandritto or riverso side) come together with a thrust after the parry, since the lance cannot deliver any other offense.

He then shows a single Counter Master, who responds by striking around with the iron-capped heel of his spear.

And this, the master tells us, shall suffice for the spear.

Alphabet - I

am the axe, heavy, cruel and lethal, and I deliver bigger blows than any other handheld weapon. If I miss with my first attack, the axe becomes a useless liability. But if I don’t miss, my axe can come to the rescue of any other handheld weapon.

Fiore dei Liberi, il Fior di Battaglia

The poleaxe (or pollaxe) was one of the principle “knightly” weapons of the 14th – 16thcentury, and is related to the “common” halberd. Amongst the Italian masters, its use is detailed in the works of Fiore dei Liberi, Filippo Vadi, Pietro Monte and the Anonymous Bolognese master, all of who simply call it l’azza or l’acca (the axe).

A weapon designed for use specifically in and against armour on foot, the poleaxe first begins appearing in illustrations in the mid-14th century, slowly gaining favor over the older two-handed “battle axe”, whose pedigree extended back to the Viking era. It was commonplace by the end of the 1300s, and was a preferred weapon for performing judicial combats and feats of arms during the 15th century. Although its popularity began to wane in the Renaissance, its popularity in the tournament lists lingered; as late as the 1620s, Francesco Postolfilo detailed its use in his book, Il Torneo.

The weapon can be divided into several parts, the haft (asta), the head, which was in reality a conglomeration of weapons, and the heel (pedale), which could be simple wood, but was often shod with iron or fitted with a long spike (calcio). As a response to plate armour, the poleaxe seems to have grown out of two other weapons: the aforementioned two-handed axe and the warhammer, and its head developed along two distinct forms. The first was an axe proper, with an axe-blade, whose profile could be straight or curved. The blade was generally somewhat thicker and smaller than those found on the halberd. The second form replaced the axe blade with a smooth or pronged hammerhead, like that of a warhammer, the prongs increasing the chance of biting into the armour.


Regardless of hammer or axe head, the weapon was known as a poleaxe, and the masters at arms taught a single method for its use. And regardless of axe or hammer, the rest of the weapon followed a single, common form. The other side of the head was usually a long, hooked spike (called a “beak” or “horn”; Italian: corno), and was topped by yet another spike, which could be either a tapered and edged spear-head or a simple spike of round or square cross-section. The head was attached to the haft by a pair of long iron strips, called langetes, which added security and protected the haft from being broken by other polearms. The haft was also often fitted with a rondel below the head, protecting the lead hand.

The overall length of the weapon could vary considerably. Fourteenth century art suggests a weapon of 4-6 feet [1.2-1.8 m] in length, and this accords with the weapons shown in dei Liberi’s treatises. Vadi illustrates a weapon slightly longer than the wielder, and later writers, such as Monte (1509) and Pistolfilo (1620s) recommend a weapon approximately eight feet [2.4 m] in length. The weight of surviving specimens suggests a weight of 4 – 6 lbs [1.8-2.7 Kg], creating a weapon surprisingly well counterbalanced; poleaxes often feels notably handier and nimble than the related halberd.

Like all knightly tools, poleaxes could be beautifully decorated with etchings and piercings, their elegance belying their deadly purpose.

In discussing the poleaxe, dei Liberi jumps straight into the poste without any sort of preamble. The guard themselves are an interesting conglomeration of stances from both two-handed and armoured swordsmanship. There are very few surprises here, with each reiterating lessons they have taught previously, with other weapons, although breve lo serpentina warns that with the poleaxe even armour is no sure defense from its point, “which can penetrate breastplates and plackards.”

Fol 36v

The individual plays for the axe are based around a single Remedy Master who shows the two combatants with their weapons crossed at the mid-points, much as we’ve seen with the sword. But whereas the swords crossed with the points up — as if concluding a half-blow — here the axes have their heads on the ground. The text reads:

These are the plays through which these guards fight. Each guard wants to try them, in the certainty of winning. If you can beat the opponent’s axe to the ground as shown, by all means do these plays. Do all the plays as long as the opponent does not stop you with a counter.


So whereas Fiore has already shown to how play from these six poste and come to a point-up bind in the the two-handed and armoured sword teachings, we now have a new tactical situation: the axe has enough forward weight and momentum that the weapons can be carried to the ground. This requires new instruction, and thus, a new Remedy Master. Most of the plays that follow come from this low crossing, which is itself just another variation of the position that emerges from the Breaking of the Thrust taught with the sword in two hands.

Axeplay instruction is completed by showing a transition to wrestling made by grabbing the opponent by his helmet’s visor and pulling him to the ground, followed  by the strangest section in the manuscript: a pair of plays using a strange pollaxe fitted at the heel with a weighted rope and topped with a hollow head filled with “eye melting powder”; the recipe for which Fiore helpfully then provides!

Here begins the art of the noble weapon called the lance, which regularly opens the fight both on horseback and on foot. Whoever looks at it, with its handsome fine pennant, is bewildered with great fear. She delivers thrusts dangerous and strong, a single one of which can take a life. Therefore, let her first strike be accurate. I [the lance] will get the axe, the sword and the dagger all off the hook!

As the culmination of two of the surviving dei Liberi manuscripts, and the beginning of the two others, mounted combat is really a microcosm of the entire Art of Arms, encompassing the use of the lance, sword and wrestling, in and out of armour, all from the back of a trained, 1200-lb warhorse.

The equestrian sections of the Flower of Battle also contain instructions for combating a horseman while using a ghiavarina (a type of winged-spear or partisan), hurling a javelin from horseback, and how to deal with being pursued on horseback.   

In addition to the major divisions of the Flower of Battle, corresponding to a core discipline of armizare, Fiore dei Liberi also includes a number of scenarios with less common or improvised weapons. These sections are often used to denote transitions in the various copies of the Flower of Battle — from abrazare to dagger, from dagger to sword, from foot combat to mounted combat, and often provide hints at how the overall system of armizare can be adapted at need.

Bastoncello - Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, Royal Ms. 20 C VII
Bastoncello – Chroniques de France ou de St Denis, Royal Ms. 20 C VII

Bastoncello – Towards the end of the abrazare section of the Flower of Battle, Fiore introduces several techniques for defending one’s self against a knife attack while carrying nothing but a short stick, a foot or so in length. This short section is not so much a lesson on stick-fighting, but rather one of many linking systems that Fiore dei Liberi uses to bring the reader from one portion of the art to another. The techniques of abrazare, throws in this case, are shown applied to an improvised weapon that is about the same length as a rondel dagger, and sure enough, in a manner that the master will later instruct that the dagger itself be used.

The appearance of the bastoncello is also an interesting contextual note. More than just a small stick, this is the commander’s baton that arose with the Romans and survived into the modern era as the marshal’s baton or general’s “swagger-stick”. A great deal of symbolism was imprinted in the bestowing of the bastoncello by the rulers of a city-state to their chosen Captain-General, which is why it is so often depicted in condottieri artwork.  Considering the prevalence of assassination attempts on Renaissance military commanders and despots — often in public — as they attended mass or reviewed their troops — the Friulian master may not have been whimsical by showing his students defending against a knife attack while seated and armed only with their commander’s baton.

Spear/staff and dagger and twin sticks vs. spear. Florius de Arte Luctandi, f.15.

Clubs and Staves (Bastone/Stange) – In another transitional section of the manuscript, Fiore gives a series of defenses against a spear attack. Included in this section is the use of a dagger and walking staff (as this technique appears in both the Florius Ms and in other early manuscripts with a spear instead of a staff, perhaps this is meant to represent a broken spear), and a pair of simple clubs, complete with branches.

Ghiavarina – Perhaps the most note-worthy variant of the “standard” spear (if such a thing can be said to have existed) was the winged spearhead. Likely originating for the hunt, the boar spear remains a hunting weapon to this day, the wings preventing the prey from running up the spear’s shaft to gore the would-be huntsman.

Ghiavarina vs. horseman. Getty Ms. f. 46.
Ghiavarina vs. horseman. Getty Ms. f. 46.

The ghiavarina is commonly known today by the rather unfortunate moniker Bohemian Ear Spoon, and was essentially a marriage of the old hewing and winged spears. It had a double-edged, tapering blade that could be as much as a foot long, attached to a long collar affixed to the haft by languets. From this collar were two long, sharpened lugs, similar to those on a hunting spear. As dei Liberi depicts the weapon, it is approximately the length of his short spear or a little longer, perhaps seven to eight feet in total. He describes the ghiavarina as “very quick” with an heel cap made of “good tempered steel”.[Getty Ms. 46v] His method of use involves cuts, thrusts and heel blows, similar to that of its later evolution: the partizan, of which a later Italian Master wrote:

Therefore, these Partisans were made big and of great pace, and of perfect good steel, to the end they might break the mail and divide the Iron.

Giacomo di Grassi, His True Art of Defense (1594).

Within il Fior di Battaglia, the ghiavarina is specifically used by the Master to counter an attack from a horseman, using a technique previously shown with the two-handed sword against a spear thrust or hurled javelin.

A victim of the lasso-axe misses out on the chance to strike with his own, hollow weapon filled with a caustic powder. (Pisani-Dossi Ms.)

Lasso Poleaxe – This weapon almost defies description, which may be why the author just calls it an “axe”. As illustrated, it is depicted as looking something like an iron block of Swiss cheese on a long shaft. At the top of this is a spear point, and at the rear end is a heavy cord fitted with a weight to trap or entangle the legs. This would be strange enough, but then the master tells us:

This axe is hollow  all around and filled with a powder that is so strong and corrosive that it makes it impossible to open the eyes as soon as it comes into contact with them–and may even cause permanent blindness.

No corroborating examples of this weapon have as yet been found, but, compared to some of the odd combination weapons of the late Renaissance, it is certainly possible that such a weapon was made, but it surely must have been an anomaly even at the time.

Improvised Weapons also make an appearance throughout the manuscript. In his discussion of the bastoncello, for example, he also advises that the same plays could be made with a hood or pair of gloves, creating an entanglement with a flexible weapon. This is not the only time such appears, as similar principles appear, such as the lasso poleaxe, or a lance with a similar, long lasso that is used from horseback.