Ars Bellica

Battles In Brief

Battle of L'Aquila

June 2, 1424

The opponents

Braccio da Montone ( Montone 1368 - L'Aquila 1424 )

Braccio da Montone is the name by which it is known the commander Andrea Fortebracci; birth from a noble family of Perugia (Fortebracci Oddo, his father, was born probably in Castle Montone), fought under Alberico Barbian. As he was Politically close to John XXIII against Ladislaus, he received the command of Bologna, and in 1416 took Perugia becoming its lord. Taking advantage of a conspiracy hatched in Rome for the papal seat, he occupied the city but was pull out of it by Sforza, who beat then in 1420, forcing to the peace Martin V, by whom he was appointed vicar of some papal territories. But that, was just a truce for the ambition of Braccio. After a successful intervention in the Neapolitan regions and after a renewed peace with the pope, he went against the city of L'Aquila, the key position of the papal domination. Martin V was able to raise a coalition, that included a large part of the italian states, against him, and, despite the sudden death of Sforza, the war was lost by Braccio, mortally wounded (June 1424) under the walls of the city. His political work was dissolved starting from his death, but his military ratio survived with the so-called "Bracceschi" commanders and warriors.

Jacopo Caldora ( Castel del Giudice 1369 - near Colle Samnite 1439)

Born from a noble family from Abruzzo, among the most powerful in the kingdom of Naples in the period between the end of the XIV century and the first half of the century XV. Jacopo, was trained to arms in the famous company of Braccio da Montone. Wealthy to the extent of the family possessions, especially in the valley of the Sangro, in other parts of Abruzzo and in the moments of greatest splendor, even in the Land of Bari. All these enterprises were made up thanks to a company formed by his own, composed almost exclusively of strong mountain warriors of his lands, not for sale, not for filthy lucre, but just to make themselves feared at all, to form a state of their own within the Neapolitan realm. With great skill and energy succeeded in his plan, his family and members of the party formed the only truly balance between the baronial houses, and the Caldora received lavish salaries by powerful neighbors, simply because his gangs do not very offensive. When he linked in person, through marriage, with the Caracciolo, many, in southern Italy, figured that the two, together with the prince of Taranto, wanted to divide the Neapolitan kingdom as vicars of the Church. The Caldora took an active part in the war between the Angevins and Aragonese, militating in favor of the latter. Imprisoned in Naples with Don Pedro of Aragon (1424), with no means to pay the salaries of the troops, was in negotiations with Angevins, opened to them the gates of the city and passed on their side, with the rank of connestable, alongside Francesco Sforza. Marched towards L'Aquila, besieged by Braccio da Montone, and in the following battle, with the concurrence of lucky circumstances, completely won his old master of arms (2 June 1424). So he remained loyal under the service of René d'Anjou, often enduring, almost only with his own strength, the impetus of the Aragonese. He died suddenly, on December 18, 1439, while he was besieging a castle.

A man of exceptional temperament, at his death he left a commander's "school", that took his name, a strong reputation as a captain bold and ingenious, idolized by his soldiers, so pride of himself, to spurn any other title than that, simply, the one of his family which increasingly took on the motto: Coelum coeli Domino , terram dedit Filiis hominum ("Heaven to the Lord of Heaven, but the land was given to the sons of men").

The genesis

The victory in the Battle of Sant'Egidio, made Braccio da Montone not only master of Perugia and of many nearby towns, but the military dominator of the entire Italian peninsula. So, once created his own state, dedicated to its territories always part of the year for the rest of his life. In Perugia, erected many buildings and involved his soldiers in the escavatione of a channel that was used to drain the Umbrian plain, freeing it from stagnant water, conveyed in Trasimeno. Obvious, however, that his firsts thoughts were on the military defenses. For this purpose, he reorganized the Perugia's militia, proclaimed tournaments and the traditional "stone-throwing" that the Perugia practiced on the streets. The goal was to keep up the military spirit of his subjects. His company was increasingly made up of only Umbrian and so it took the appearance of a national armed force. The company was never allowed to etiolate in idleness, because Braccio, every year, went on the field, to defend himself from the insistent pressure of Pope Martin V, or to participate in the wars of the kingdom of Naples against Sforza. Braccio was able to maintain its place intact, despite the action of the Pope to remove him. Finally, however, it was precisely the papal and Neapolitan forces joint to beat him in June 1424 near L'Aquila.

The cause of the final fall of Braccio was his stubborn independence and self-confidence. Remained isolated in an attempt to conquer the Abruzzo and add it to his possessions, Braccio would not accept of beating the enemy army with small attacks, trusting so much in the power of his forces as to inflict such a great defeat capable to leaving him as the only ruler in central Italy. When Braccio faced the combined effect of the papal and the Neapolitans army (an army numerically stronger than his one) in the plain of L'Aquila it was, even then, a hot summer day. His opponents, that day, were not only the squadrons of the Sforza cavalry, led by Francesco Sforza and his cousin Micheletto Attendolo, but even the Neapolitan forces led by the new captain-general of the kingdom, Jacopo Caldora. In the past, Caldora had served under Braccio and had learned a lot from him and had also, under his command, a company formed largely by Abruzzo's warriors that were personally devout to him. The Caldora had about 4000 knights deployed on the field and few less than 2000 infantrymen, to which was added a large contingent from the city of L'Aquila (probably more than 5,000 armed men); Braccio could dislocate on the field a heavy contingent of 4,000 knights divided into 24 squadrons.

The battle

The tactic of Francesco Sforza and Caldora came out, as was natural, as a combination of two military ratio. The army was divided into large parts and Caldora adhered to the continuous rotation method of Bracceschi squadrons, as to always have fresh troops in reserve. Braccio, knowing that he have an army less numerous, thought to block on the right the pushing attempt of the Sforza and in the meantime vanquish Caldora on the center and on the left. But he had underestimated the fact that Caldora had acquired the knowledge of his tactics, and so, despite having initially reported a benefit on him, he had to realize that it was the Caldora to have larger reserves to be thrown into the battle. The Caldora, in fact, was able to fight with disastrous effects for Braccio. Meanwhile, the right side of Braccio, could not resists against the Sforza forces, who began to break through. To make matters worse, the second in command of Braccio, Niccolo Piccinino, who had been given the task of protecting the rear of the army from a possible sortie of the besieged forces within the walls of L'Aquila, left the position to straighten the tide of battle. This move not only did not succeed, but, having left uncovered the rear of Bracceschi, exposed them to the assault of L'Aquila soldiers: so that, they began to plunder the camp of Braccio. For Braccio the defeat was total. Vanquished his army, he was wounded and taken prisoner. The chroniclers tell us that, while he was treated for head injuries by a doctor of the Caldera, an unknown hand had to make a sudden movement of the arm of the surgeon who planted the knife in the skull of the same Braccio. From this wound and he would not recover. Braccio died three days later, after having always refused any food and without having ever exchanged words with his captors.

The legends about the battle of L'Aquila and the end of Braccio

The chroniclers enriched the description of the clashes with details that came into the popular legend. Caldora, who participated directly in the infighting, seems to have been thrown down from his horse twice (and the second time by the hands of same Braccio), luckily escaped the capture just before regaining control of the battle. Braccio, wounded in the head , decided to surrender to Caldora, but as he went to him to end the battle would have been fighted by Armaleone Brancaleoni Ludovico and Lionello Michelotti and other riders that would have killed him. According to others, Braccio would be taken, after three days of fasting, in front of the Caldora that would killed him in person. According to some sources Francesco Sforza, that he may die soon, would have moved the hand of a surgeon who was operating the Braccio's head. Others told us that to kill him was Andreasso Castelli who wanted revenge because Braccio had killed his family. In Perugia, however, people told that Caldora had killed Braccio because, as prisoner, refused to answer his questions.

The aftermath

The victory at L'Aquila increased the power of Caldora and brought him fame as a great commander. In Naples, he was tied more firmly to the Caracciolo (in 1428 his son, Anthony, married the daughter of Sergianni Caracciolo, Isabella) and together with him, and the Prince of Taranto, Giovanni Antonio del Balzo Orsini, imposed its supremacy in Neapolitan court. Milan, Venice and Florence vied for his services: the Caldora was now the man of the moment.

But the list of military leaders in the two armies that fought nearby l'Aquila could be used in a certain sense as a resuming chart of the great men of arms that were dominant in the following generation. Among the ranks of the Bracceschi, were Niccolo Piccinino who was to command the army of Milan for two decades, the Gattamelata who was then commander of the Venetian army from 1434 to 1441, and Niccolo Fortebraccio della Stella, which in the early thirties of the century commanded the Florentine army. In the army of the allies were, over the Caldora and Francesco Sforza, Micheletto Sforza, Bartolomeo Colleoni, the future commander in chief of the Venetian forces from 1455 to 1475, Niccolo Mauruzzi da Tolentino, founder of one of the most famous dynasties of leaders of the fifteenth century and Luigi da Sanseverino, whose family had become more and more famous in the annals of Italian soldiers. "Sforza" and "Braccio" remained names battle for most of the century and again in 1478-1479, during the war that followed the conspiracy of the Pazzi, many departments of Florence and Venice still marched under the banner of the black ram in yellow field. At that moment, the grandson of Braccio, Bernardino, was chief of the Venetian forces, while for the army of Milan fought several members of the Sforza family. In truth, those ancient affiliations to the Bracceschi or the Sforza ruled not only the progeny of the Braccio and Sforza families, but a wider circle of military leaders of the late fifteenth century.

But if it is true that these traditions continued to live, the Italian political conditions, that had so strongly etched military activity and institutions which concerned, in 1424 entered a new phase. Milan, Florence and Venice were now to engage in a wars series, lasted thirty years, which resulted from the permanent military structures. Martin V had already clearly worked to restore his rule in the domains of the Church and to create a papal army. Alfonso of Aragon had already begun the long campaign for the conquest of the throne of Naples, which would end with a success and with the arrival in Naples in 1442 of a new and more powerful dynasty. From now on, rather than military leaders, for whom were disappearing fast as the possibility of independent action, we must deal with stable armies, military institutions, and war administration. This does not mean that the role of military commander disappeared. The leaders still appear, but they were the type of one Jacopo Dal Verme more than the one represented by Braccio da Montone.