Ars Bellica

Battles In Brief

Battle of Caravaggio

September 15, 1448

The opponents

Francesco I Sforza, Duke of Milan (San Miniato 1401 - Milan 1466)

Son of Attendolo Muzio Sforza and his concubine Lucia, was involved to the military art from his father. At twenty years old was Viceroy of Calabria, then regained, at the command of the troops inherited from his father (1424), Naples for the Queen Giovanna II, participating in the final fight against Braccio da Montone. Once at the service of Filippo Maria Visconti, he beat the Venetians, then, in agreement with the duke, hostile to Eugene IV, moved in the Papal States, seizing the March of Ancona and various lands in Umbria, so that the pope, for avoid the threat, nominated him Marquis and gonfalonier of the Church in the already occupied lands of Umbria. Once estabilished an own state, was at the service of the Venetians, while making sure to not hurt Filippo Maria, whose succession was in his plans. But the Duke, who had promised to marry his illegitimate daughter Bianca Maria, tried to get rid of him, pushing him to the conquest of Abruzzo against Alfonso of Aragon, while Niccolò Piccinino instructed to invade the Marches. Sforza, however, failed to resolve the situation in his favor alliance with Venice at war with the Visconti, freeing Brescia, attacking the Visconti's dominion, and finally forcing Filippo Maria to marry his daughter (October 1441). But again, Filippo Maria order to Piccinino to invade March, and Sforza found himself to fight against, the Duke Alfonso of Aragon as well as the Pope. So, Attendolo, focusing on the duchy, renounced to the Marches (1447). Once Filippo Maria died, the Ambrosian Republic was created and the command of the army of Milan was given Francesco Sforza, that in the september 14 of 1448 beat the Venetians at Caravaggio. But, feeling the distrust of the rulers of the Ambrosian Republic, he agreed with Venice and turned against Milan, that occupied on February 26, 1450. However, he continued the war against Venice, which detached from him already in 1449, until the Peace of Lodi, in 1454, assured him definitively the rule on Milan. Later he occupied Savona and its Riviera, and, in 1464 he took possession of Genoa, benefiting the alliance with the king of France, Louis XI. Great leader, he was also capable prince, embellished Milan, favored the culture and built the Martesana (1457-60).

Michele Attendolo (Cotignola 1370 - Pozzolo Formigaro , February 1463)

Son of Bartolo and therefore cousin of Muzio Attendolo, was a great leader. Do not know the date of his birth, which can not have been later than 1390, since the Attendolo, already in 1411, was a militant in the ranks of his cousin. Like all the others militant, Attendolo followed Muzio in the Kingdom of Naples and at the death of King Ladislaus (3 ag. 1414) he commanded, together with Muzio Attendolo, the army of Queen Giovanna II. Michele gave a strong support, with its four hundred knights, to Muzio, while he was a prisoner of Pandolfello Alopo and then King James of Bourbon (1415). After pacts that Lorenzo Attendolo have with the king, the Michele Attendolo had to leave the Kingdom of Naples, and sat for some time at the service of Braccio da Montone, on whose behalf he assumed the defense of Jesi and Rocca Canterano. But when, because of Tartaglia, arose the enmity between the "Bracceschi" (company of Braccio da Montone) and Attendolo, Michele left Braccio. In 1419 he was in Viterbo against Bracceschi and Tartaglia. Attendolo, during the following year (1420) returned with Muzio and Foschino Attendolo in the Kingdom of Naples, where he married Polyxena Sanseverino, widow of Malatesta, Lord of Cesena, who brought him a dowry of fifteen major feuds, including Tower Amara, S. Mark, S. Martin in Terranova, Tursi, Anzi, Potenza, Vera, Campagna, Policoro, Vignola and Alianello. In the same year (1420), together with Fabrizio Capua, defended Sessa attacked by Braccio, and in August, of the following year (1421) he fought, nearby the river Sangro, yet against the Bracceschi. In 1421 (November) was in Benevento and the following year (1422) in Rende, at the service of Muzio. In 1423, while preparing for the expedition that have to freed L'Aquila, occupied by Braccio, Muzio led him in the mission. Michele Attendolo, although the death of Muzio (Jan. 4, 1424), partecipated at the Battle of L'Aquila and received also the command of a wing, with which contributed to a decisive victory, since, at the appropriate time, he rescued the ranks of James Caldora that had been ruffled by Bracceschi. Later, at the service of Pope Martin V, in August 1428, with James Caldora fought against the bolognesi, then was at the services of the Florentine Republic together with Nicolò da Tolentino (1432), going against the Lucchese (10 June) and, together with Niccolò Piccinino, captain of the Florentines, attacking the ranks of the Milanese and the Sienese. Later, he moved against the Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg, but without achieving any results. Once he have leaved Florence, the Attendolo was at the service of Pope Eugenius IV and tamed many local lords who had tried to be indipendent from the papal government: in 1433 (15 April) was at Vetralla, then besieged Castelnuovo, Caprarola, Genazzano and other localities. It was also in Rome, with five hundred knights, to welcome the Emperor Sigismund, thatm, after the coronation (May 31, 1433 ), knighted him. In October of 1434, he had occupied Rome and proclaimed the republic (May 29).

The pope nominated him great connestabile of the Kingdom of Naples, and he, after the death of Queen Giovanna II (2 Febr 1435), was at the service of René d'Anjou, who ruled the land of Calabria until 1438, when the king called him back for protection against the threat represented by Alfonso of Aragon. The Attendolo remained in the Kingdom of Naples, at least until 1440, then returned at the service of the Florentines, that conducted in the famous victory of Anghiari (29 June 1440), after which the whole Casentino fell into the power of Florence. The following year, he was called by the Venetians to replace another commander, Gattamelata, and after varying fortunes he found himself in battle against his will at Caravaggio, where he suffered a serious defeat (September 14). Attendolo died in Palazzuolo in 1451.

The genesis

As mentioned before, the Attendolo, after changing several times his master, around 1441 he decided to leave the Kingdom of Naples and take part for the Venaziani, from time fighting against the Duchy of Milan. He soon replace the Gattamelata and once appointed captain-general of the Serenissima, supported the war against the Duchy of Milan. In 1446 (September 28) in Casalmaggiore he defeated the Milanese troops led by Piccinino, occupied almost Ghiara d'Adda and came under the doors of Milan; for this great victory was nominated as Venetian nobleman, gilded knight and receive the lordship of Castel Franco in Treviso. In 1448, still under the command of the Venetians, along with Bartolomeo Colleoni, he retired to Cremona, and did not want to accept battle in Caravaggio, in which he had to retire against his will and because of direct orders from the government of the Serenissima.

Caravaggio as tactical example

In the fifteenth century, the battles could then be brilliant feats of arms but also dramatize shameful. Many of the leaders as their men were highly experienced professionals and in battle knew how to implement the coordination of movements needed to perform day tactical maneuvers extremely complex. Outflanking, feints retreat and especially the tactical use of the reserves, were operations common to all. However, things could also go wrong. The desertions in the middle of a battle, the death of the captain, or some unforeseen difficulty of the terrain, were all facts which might throw an army into chaos. So, it's no wonder that leaders faced battles with some reluctance. In fact, if a military leader was lost, probably remained to him enough to live and for fight again, but he always risked to be taken as prisoner, and, consequentely had to pay a large ransom to regain the freedom and even lose reputation and maybe being fired. But above all, this kind of commander risked to lost, to benefit the victorious enemy, his horses and his arms, which replacement would require huge sums.

The battle

What we have said will be better understood and summarized by observing one of the most significant battles of the fifteenth century, the Battle of Caravaggio, which took place in 1448. Caravaggio is a village south of Bergamo and at that time was held by the Venetians. Francesco Sforza Attendolo, who was the Milan's army commander, had besieged Caravaggio and had built a camp strongly fortified to protect his soldiers encamped under the walls of the village. It was impossible that Caravaggio, hammered by Sforza's artillery, resisted for a long time and then Micheletto Attendolo moves the bulk of the Venetian army to rescue the besieged. The Venetians, camped a few kilometers east of the field in Milan and studied the situation. The army of Sforza was strong and, it seemed, well protected. Caravaggio, however, was not a place important enough to risk a defeat to free it from the siege. On the other hand, the end of the season in which it was possible to carry out field operations was going to the end and the army of Francesco Sforza was the unique obstacle between the Venetians and the faltering Ambrosiana Republic of Milan: a decisive victory in that moment would mean the end of Milan and for this the government of the Serenissima, in obedience to the instructions of the Venetian authorities, insisted for an attack keaded by Micheletto.

Micheletto Attendolo was an experienced military leader: he had fought in every part of Italy for twenty-five years and was one of the major Italian generals, and finally, had also a cousin called Francesco Sforza. This latter fact probably did not matter much to him as they had frequently fight the one against the other previously. However, the characteristic caution of the military leader suggested to him that it was dangerous to move the attack at the Milan's camp. Some of the most experienced military advisors supported him, while several other leaders, payed by Venice, saw things in a different point of view. Bartolomeo Colleoni and Tiberto Brandolini had gone, in disguise, to personally inspect the position of the Milan's army and had discovered that, on one side, Sforza had believed thoroughly protected by a swampy thicket, which seemed an insurmountable obstacle to the cavalry. The Colleoni and Brandolini thought otherwise and argued that it was possible to launch an attack from that side. Their political opinion and considerations prevailed and it was decided to attack.

Francesco Sforza was acknowledged of this decision, few hours before, thanks to his spies, but still did not believe that the Venetian forces wanted to attack from that dangerous side. So the element of surprise was not canceled altogether. The Venetians, supported by artillery of Colleoni burst in Milan's camp on the weaker side, and for a while the fate of Milan seemed decided. Sforza, however, already been alerted, was able to react very quickly. Not only reorganized personally the wing of army that faltered in front of the Venetian attack, but sent many knights on the flanks of the enemy to encircle it. Knights of the Sforza family, being able to move quickly on the ground, attack the Venetian army on the rearbefore they could extricate out of the bush now become treacherous. Some Venetians departments managed to fight for their way of escape, but a large part of the army was taken prisoner.

The aftermath

In this battle are operating many of the factors that were decisive in the war of the Italian Renaissance, namely: the role of field fortifications, the complexity of the decision-making process about the operations to be performed, the shrewd use of the terrain and spies, the use of artillery and coordination of various elements of the army. Caravaggio was not a bloody battle, however, was a decisive battle: the Venetian army for a few years could not fully recover from the defeat suffered and Micheletto Attendolo was fired and had to retire to his estates. The independence of Milan was saved, and Francesco Sforza beging to had the entire Duchy subject to his authority. In the following years, became Duke of Milan, he was not personally very devoted to the war, but many of those in the next two decades would lead the armies of Italians have attended under his orders or those of Attendolo in the Battle of Caravaggio.