Author: Piermarco Terminiello

The South Italian Longsword of Marc’Antonio Pagano (1553)

This article translates and contextualises the longsword bout detailed in Le tre giornate di Marc’Antonio Pagano gentil’huomo napoletano. Dintorno alla disciplina de l’arme e spetialmente della spada sola,[1] by Marc’Antonio Pagano, the earliest extant Southern Italian work dedicated to fencing, published in 1553, which sheds light on historical attitudes, training practices, and techniques.   Naples in 1553 The Kingdom of Naples in 1553, comprising most of mainland Italy south of Rome, was the largest state within the Italian peninsula. Under Spanish rule its capital Naples was the most populous city in the Spanish Empire, second in size only to...

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Brief notes on fencing, from the military treatise of Giovanni Alberto Cassani (1603)

Giovanni Alberto Cassani published a military treatise in Naples in 1603.1 In this work he indicates that he was born in the town of Frassinello Monferrato in Piedmont, and that he served in the Spanish army, but little more is known about his life. Most military treatises of the time contain almost no advice on hand to hand combat. Cassani’s is somewhat of an exception. The bulk of the work is dedicated to organising troop formations, relying heavily on mathematical formulae, however on pages 5 to 8 he briefly includes notes on fencing. These notes are succinct and somewhat...

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Hack & Slash in the Age of Reason: Italian Rapier Against Multiple Opponents

“Finding yourself assailed by enemies, and supposing there are many of them, the situation demands nothing less than attacks like those of a desperate man, that is to say you must enter liberally into the fray” Giuseppe Colombani (1711) The scarcity of advice for multiple opponent combat, within the rich literature of several hundred European fightbooks, has often been noted.1 Moreover period masters are often quick to admit that fighting more than one assailant can be particularly difficult and dangerous. The German master Michael Hundt in 1611,2 suggests carrying a bag of stones to throw at your opponents, or...

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Florentines Doing “Florentine”: Combat with Two Swords According to Altoni and Docciolini

The sixteenth century saw a proliferation of fencing treatises written and published in the Italian peninsula. Some masters and styles have long been well known to fencing historians and modern historical fencers. Other masters, although perhaps influential in their time, remain less well studied. This is the case for two Florentine authors: Francesco di Sandro Altoni, whose manuscript is dated to circa 1540, and Marco Docciolini, whose work was published in 1601. Altoni’s dedication indicates he was fencing master to the Second Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’Medici, from the latter’s boyhood. Docciolini’s patronage is less clear, but records of a portrait by the prominent painter Santi di Tito, suggest that he too enjoyed a degree of status and success. Despite the sixty years between these treatises, a clear continuity of style and structure supports the existence of a putative “Florentine” school, no less illustrious than the better-known contemporary school of Bologna. With this article, we hope to increase awareness of an important but rarely studied school of fencing, ahead of the future publication of Docciolini’s treatise in full English translation. The article itself addresses combat with two swords, another topic that is under-explored, and about which there are often misconceptions. In actuality, combat with two swords holds a relatively privileged position in the systems of Altoni and Docciolini, as the first discipline to be taught after the sword...

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Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence

Armed civilian conflict was a reality of early modern life, both arranged duels and spontaneous violence. Many masters speak lucidly of deadly combat, or claim direct experience of it, which should not surprise given their violent trade. Nonetheless many young men learned to fence, and relatively few perished by the sword. Examining sixteenth and seventeenth-century Italy (contrasted with France)1 evidence suggests that despite a vibrant fencing culture, and a generally more violent society, death by the sword in civilian duels was not inordinately common. Most violence fell outside of duels, and stopped short of killing, while most fencers would never need to apply their skills to lethal effect. Comparing the emphasis of the manuals, with the actual form and incidence of civilian violence, we must question the extent to which these arts were conventional, rather than purely pragmatic self-defence systems. This is not to disparage the traditions we study, or deny their value as a preparation for combat. But rather to acknowledge, celebrate, and understand the entirety of historical fencing practice: when it was used with lethal intent, and when not. The French Exception Carroll argues that few duels were recorded in France before the 1520s, the popularity of duelling spreading from Italy, and that: Unlike the tourney, judicial combat was a rare event and widely despised. Olivier de la Marche … witnessed thirty major jousts and tournaments in his...

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Giovanni Battista Gaiani (1619) – An Italian Perspective on Competitive Fencing

  The relative benefit and importance of competition in modern HEMA is a frequent subject of debate. Despite differences in context, it is arguable that historical perspectives might usefully inform present discussions. This article reviews some examples of competitive fencing, primarily from Italian sources, and in particular Giovanni Battista Gaiani’s Arte di maneggiar la spada a piedi et a cavallo from 1619.1 There is a long, well-documented history of public contests at arms in Italy, both plebeian2 and patrician.3 Throughout this history, the boundaries between performative and purely practical fighting were often permeable. During knightly exhibitions of arms, combats...

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