Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 June 2021
This article analyzes the equipping of an army in late medieval Italy: an expensive, problematic, and daily process that involved statesmen, soldiers, and artisans. The context is Renaissance Tuscany during the transition from the traditional warfare of the Italian peninsula to a strategy radically influenced by the appearance of new French cannons. The connections between practices of war and methods of production are the focus. Other subjects discussed include the collection of money, the market for raw materials, technological developments, and the effectiveness of the transalpine ordnance. Using data gathered from the Florentine State Archive, supplemented by numerous chronicles, the article demonstrates that innovations in artillery led to significant changes in the supply chain of munitions, and in the conduct of sieges.
In spite of a generic awareness of their impact on operational choices, the supply of munitions has not sparked much interest among scholars of Renaissance Italy. Much remains to be studied about the manufacture of or the commerce in weapons in the fifteenth-century Peninsula, or about military–technological innovations, or about the construction of new arsenals. Historians have focused more on the theoretical studies of eminent engineers, and on the formation of their humanistic culture, than on the actual practices of smiths and gunmakers. Gilded parade armors have often drawn the attention of art experts, but the state's orders of thousands of cuirasses have been completely neglected by economic historians. The extensive, lively market for the indispensable ingredients of gunpowder, especially saltpeter, has been regarded with the same indifference as the introduction of new shapes and new materials in the fabrication of ordnance. Sporadic publications on the management and production of firearms cannot fill all the blanks in the field, and cannot be compared to the complete analyses offered by the international literature. Mines and furnaces, at least, have been studied by archaeologists and specialists in medieval craftsmanship.
This neglect of the technological and economic aspects of warfare is perhaps not surprising, considering that it is only recently that the military historiography of the fifteenth-century Peninsula has evolved from badly outdated paradigms. Niccolò Machiavelli's juxtaposition of unreliable mercenary companies and dependable citizen armies has finally been overcome by a gradual reevaluation of the military establishments of kingdoms, duchies, and republics. Several contributions have highlighted the importance of permanent military offices in the organization of armies, the repercussions of war on tax systems, and the formation of regional states.