Society of Ancients Battle Pack: The Battle of Montaperti 1260 AD
The aim of this Battle Pack is to introduce the battle, give a broad description of the events leading up to and during the battle itself, give some orders of battle, and provide some observations on the challenges and issues that a Game Organiser may need to consider when planning the refight.
English translation sources for the battle
My main source for the description of the campaign and battle come from the English translation section of the book “Battaglie senesi (1) Montaperti” by Roberto Marchionni. This is based on the several Sienese accounts of the battle written some time after but seemingly based on popular tradition and full of details that must be based on known history at the time. These accounts are not available in English translation as far as I can tell, but for the record are:
La Sconfita di Montaperto secundo il manoscritto di Nicolo di Giovanni di Franesco Ventura (aka “Ventura”)
Cronaca senese Conosciuta sotto il nome di Paolo di Tommaso Montauri (aka “Tommaso”)
There is also a book I have had for many years which covers the famous construction of a diaorama depicting a key point in the battle. It contains much information and heraldry on the armies invoved, and is “Montaperti - La battaglia nel diorama” (ed Mario Venturi).
There is also the Florentine account known as “Villani’s Chronicle” or “Nuova Cronica” by Giovanni Villani, a banker of Florence who wrote a history of Florence sometime after 1300. It is sketchy when describing the battle and blames the whole defeat on treachery, which is a convenient excuse in a document celebrating the glory of Florence!
Find it on the internet at:
Background: Florence and Siena, Guelfs and Ghibellines
The struggle for power and influence in Italy between the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor went back centuries. In Italy, it had developed into two factions of which most city-states belonged to one or the other: the Guelfs for the Pope, and the Ghibellines for the Emperor Frederick II. When Frederick died the Italian Ghibellines supported his natural son Manfred, King of Sicily. Woven into this was the constant battle for wealth and influence between the various cities, and Florence and Siena were two significant rivals which had clashed repeatedly over the years. It was unsurprising that they should support opposite factions, though it is important to bear in mind that even within a city that ostensibly supported one faction, there would be many passionate supporters of the other faction – the more influential nobles of the latter would often be driven into exile.
The campaign leading up to the battle
In 1255 the Florentines has emerged victorious in a long war with Siena, and a treaty was signed. The terms allied the defeated Siena with Florence, and the Sienese undertook not to offer a haven to any exiles banished from Florence. However, a previous compact with Ghibelline Florentines signed in 1251 promised to aid each other in the fight against Guelfism, so when Florence exiled many of its leading Ghibellines in 1258, Siena accepted them into the city.
To punish them, the Florentines began making raids into Sienese territory, and the latter responded by signing an alliance with King Manfred. The latter sent his cousin and commander Count Giordano d’Anglano with a few hundred German mercenary knights. The fighting see-sawed, with various territories changing hands, castles being besieged and relieved. By April 1260, the Florentine-Guelfs got serious, gathered a large army of around 30,000, and advanced towards Siena. In mid-May they camped close to one of the Siena city gates, where they were attacked by a sortie of German knights and possibly some Sienese too – both sides claimed victory! The Florentine-Guelfs realised they could not capture the city, and so retired to consolidate their control of territory in the vicinity. As soon as they were gone, the Sienese took the initiative locally, and so by the end of August the Florentine-Guelfs had to organise a second large expedition.
This second advance began to close on Sienna in the first few days of September. On 3rd September the Sienese and their German allies marched out of Siena to confront the enemy. Through various ruses they convinced the Florentine-Guelfs that their army was much bigger than it was, and as a result the Florentine-Guelf army decided to withdraw the next day. It seems that their camp was harassed all night by the Sienese, leaving the Florentine army tired the next day after a sleepless night.
The Ghibelline’s plan was to engage the Florentines frontally while sending an outflanking force to remain out of sight until a critical point and then attack from the flank or rear. This seems a very high risk strategy
Perhaps the most important Ghibbeline commander was Giordano d’Anglano, sometimes known as Jordan Lancia (or Lanzia). He was an Italo-Swabian count who served as marshal to his cousin King Manfred, and had been sent to Siena at the head of the German mercenary knights. He commanded the Vanguard battle. His senshenal, the Count of Arras, led the outflanking force.
The commander of Siena’s forces was its Captain-in-Chief, Aldobrandino Aldobrandeschi, who commanded the main battle. Each of the three city Terzo’s had commanders, sometimes referred to as centurions, and it was the centurion of Terzo di Camollia, Niccolo da Bigozzi, who lead the rearward battle.
We are on less strong ground when it comes to knowing the Florentine-Guelf commanders. We have the name of the commander-in-chief: Iacopini Rangoni da Modena.
Orders of battle
The Sienese-Ghibelline army consisted of around 18000 foot and around 1600 cavalry.
It was organised in the usual three battles, but there was also a special outflanking force created. The outflanking force was lead by the Count of Arras, seneschal of Count Giordano, and consisted of 200 German knights and 200 Sienese crossbowmen. The vanguard battle, lead by Gordano d’Anglano, was made up of 600 German knights and 600 infantry, which are assumed to be crossbowmen. The main battle was lead by the Sienese Captain-in-Chief Aldobrandino Aldobrandeschi and consisted of 600 Tuscan knights and around 17,000 Sienese and allied infantry – most if not all should be spearmen for close-fighting perhaps with a smattering of crossbowmen. The rearward battle, lead by centurion of Terzo di Camollia Niccolo da Bigozzi, was the army reserve, 200 Sienese knights and a few hundred armed priests and monks guarding the carroccio.
The Florentine-Guelf army is less well documented in terms of its organisation into battles, but we can assume that it would follow similar lines with the bulk of the infantry in the main battle, mostly knights in the vanguard, and a rearward battle defending the carrocio which probably included a cavalry reserve. We are told the army consisted of 30,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry, and it seems that their cavalry was mainly deployed on its right flank, with the infantry along the line. So one might imagine an organisation very similar to the Sienese - a van containing some cavalry and perhaps some crossbowmen, a main battle with some more cavalry and the bulk of the infantry, and a cavalry reserve and carrocio guards in the rear battle. The infantry should again be mainly spearmen, as there is no mention of the Sienese foot advancing into an arrow storm – instead the Florentine foot advance to meet them so we should think of the bulk of the latter to be equipped for close fighting.
Within the Florentine cavalry were nobles who to a greater or lesser degree were considered “suspect”, in that they had previously supported the Ghibelline faction in Florence. Although the most prominent Ghibellines (including their leader Farinata degli Uberti) had been exiled and could now be found fighting on the Sienese-Ghibelline side, the remaining knights of doubtful allegiance were forced to accompany the Florentine army where an eye could be kept on them. The most prominent among them was Bocca degli Abati, who was to play a dramatic part in the coming battle.
The battlefield terrain
There are good maps in the Marchionni book, and there is a website that contains almost identical versions of these maps and shows the course of the battle (admittedly in Italian but I am assured that online translation tools can adequately translate) here:
The battle is fought on the lower slopes of the ridge/line of hills from Monselvolli to Costaberci and the plain beyond the slopes. The Sienese-Ghibellines have the River Arbia to their back, having previously crossed it.
It is likely that the Florentines began to strike camp before dawn on the 4th, assuming that the Sienese would allow them to withdraw unmolested. In fact the Sienese and the Ghibelline leadership had other ideas, and decided to take this opportunity to attack. The reasons for this are not clear – perhaps they thought this was their chance to take advantage of disorder in the enemy as they struck camp, and perhaps the Sienese realised that they could not afford to pay the German mercenaries forever, so it was “now or never”.
The Sienese-Ghibelline’s plan was to engage the Florentine-Guelfs frontally while sending an outflanking force to remain out of sight until a critical point and then attack from the flank or rear. This seems a very high risk strategy – it was virtually unheard of for the communal militia foot to actively engage their counterparts in a protracted fight, which is what would be necessary in order to give the outflanking attack a chance to get into position.
Seeing that the enemy were crossing the River Arbia and preparing to attack them, the Florentine-Guelf army now abandoned its attempts to break camp and instead set itself in a defensive position along the high ground of the Monselvoli-Costaberci hills. The main body of infantry was deployed on the southern part of the slope to north-west of the Monselvoli-Costaberci ridge – taking an uphill position for close combat advantage and to allow archers and crossbowmen to fire overhead. The cavalry was deployed to the north-east of the foot, where the hill slopes down to the River Arbia – this must have been much gentle-sloping ground, and probably no combat advantage should apply. Less reliable cavalry was placed at the rear of their mounted force, which consisted of those influential Florentine Ghibellines not previously forced into exile but not risked being left behind in Florence where they might ferment revolt. Most prominent of these was the noble Bocca degli Abati.
The overall Florentine position formed something of a semi circle shape, open towards the Sienese, roughly following the line of the ridge of the Monselvoli and Costaberci hills, dominating the plain below.
The Sienese crossed the river and formed up. According to Ventura they start to do this "in the morning when the sun was not very high because it had only just risen". Ventura then tells us that the battle lasts from then until "after vesper". They crossed probably by a bridge and formed their battle line. We must assume that the Florentines don't attack with their more numerous cavalry during this maneuver because they have been taken by surprise while striking their camp, and also perhaps are mentally on the defensive because of the constant harassment they have suffered throughout the night.
Meanwhile, the outflanking ambush force set off to work their way around the Florentine left flank while the main army fights a frontal battle. A risky plan involving an uphill attack with militia foot mainly used for holding positions and rallying cavalry!
The Sienese then attacked. The German knights in the vanguard led the attack, which in turn was led by a small group of knights who had the privilege to lead the attack (the "feridori"), led by Gualtieri d'Astinbergh. Apparently the charge by the German knights was on the flattest part of the slope, so most likely on the right against the Florentine cavalry. This first clash forced the right wing of the Florentines to retire. Then the Sienese-Ghibelline knights followed up and joined the attack, while the Sienese foot engaged the uphill Florentine foot all along the line. Rather than receive the charge at the halt, the Florentine foot advanced down to meet the Sienese foot, and gradually pushed them back onto the plain.
The Sienese foot held but only just. The battle raged on, and I think we must assume there were lulls in the fighting as each side regrouped before renewing the attack. But now the outnumbered German and Sienese-Ghibelline knights began to come under pressure from the 3000 Florentine cavalry, and important nobles were killed and wounded. It was now 3pm, and a crucial point in the battle was reached. The leader of the Sienese reserve, Niccolo da Bigozzi, realised how critical the situation was getting and decided independently to leave the carroccio unguarded and take his 200 Sienese knights into the cavalry battle. The fresh impetus turned the momentum back in the Sienese favour after desperate fighting during which Bigozzi was unhorsed and forced to mount an enemy horse.
Meanwhile on the Florentine extreme right, the Tuscan Ghibelline exile Guido Novello, fighting among the Sienese-Ghibellines, recognised some relatives among the Florentine ranks. He called to them, and they said they were only there because they were coerced – perhaps this exchange occurred during a lull in the fighting. The relatives agree to change sides and start fighting the Florentines. As soon as Bocca degli Abati heard of this defection he decided to act himself, and headed for the standard bearer of the Florentine cavalry. He famously hacked off at the wrist the hand holding the Floentine standard, and the standard fell. Then Bocca and his relatives headed for the Florentine carroccio to attempt to capture this symbolic cart, but the Florentine knights recovered their senses, surrounded them and after a bitter fight cut them all down.
It was now 6pm, and the sun was in the eyes of the Florentines. The cry "San Giorgio" or else " a la morte" (two different traditions) went up from the Sienese ranks - the signal for the outflanking force to attack. They came out of their hiding places and attacked the back and side of the Florentine left wing. The Count of Arras spotted the Florentine commander in chief in the rear, charged and killed him. The Florentine army started to disintegrate, pursuit began, and, initially at least, no quarter was given. The men of Lucca, who had answered the Florentine call for their allies to join them in the campaign, famously stood their ground to defend the Florentine portable bell tower containing their famous bell the Martinella - see the Mirliton 28mm model at http://www.mirliton.it/product_info.php?pName=martinella-bell-wagon-1250-1260
Both the bell and the carroccio were captured.
The victory was resounding, and as a result the chief Guelfs in Florence fled, and a Ghibelline leadership took charge. However, this was all reversed in a matter of years as King Manfred was killed in battle at Benevento in 1266 and the Guelfs returned to power in Florence. Before long the Guelfs took power in Siena as well – Montaperti had just been a small Ghibelline victory in a war that was finally lost.
Considerations for Game Organisers
There are several challenges for this year’s refight.
How to deal with the flank attack. The force could have got lost on the way, or arrived too late, or even too early. We cannot be certain that they had arrived much earlier in the battle and were hiding in ambush – this is certainly the implication of the battle account, but would the Siensese-Ghibellines really have waited so long to sound the signal for their attack? Plenty to think about here!
How to tackle the treachery. Some rules can allow for this already. Should there be a percentage chance of it occurring? What might the effects be? Creative solutions may be needed.
How to allow for the Sienese reserve entering the fray. The decision by Niccolo da Bigozzi to bring his reserve into the battle on his own initiative, leaving the carroccio exposed, was a courageous and important factor in the battle. But this could have had significant consequences had the battle gone against the Sienese. The commitment of the reserve battles for both sides needs to be carefully managed in the refight.
The length of time over which the battle was fought. Essentially this was probably mid-morning when the Sienese-Ghibellines had got into position having crossed the river, through to early evening (we are told after 6pm for the crucial phase). Clearly this is not one continuous hand to hand fight, but repeated clashes separated by lulls. Wargame rules do not often deal with this very well – hand to hand combats usually finish with one side breaking and the other pursuing.
The relative numbers of cavalry versus foot. While all the crucial fighting and decision points involve the mounted knights, they are outnumbered ten to one by foot. There is a challenge here to have enough knights on the table to allow for the special events of the battle, while representing them correctly in relative terms to the number of foot and the length of the battle line covered by the foot.