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Only a few fourteenth-century recipes for gunpowder proper (for use in shooting projectiles from guns) are known. They can be difficult to interpret, partly because their rarity hinders comparisons between texts in order to clarify ambiguous directions. This article presents and discusses the earliest known recipe, from Friuli and dated 1336, in comparison to what was previously the earliest widely-known formulation: the Augsburg recipe of 1338–c. 1350. The German text (translated into English here for the first time) provides context for the Italian recipe, and the latter, in turn, in combination with laboratory testing, settles a disputed reading of the German formula.
In two articles in the previous volume of this journal, Clifford J. Rogers and Trevor Russell Smith offered new transcriptions and translations of several nearly unknown gunpowder recipes from the last hundred years of the Middle Ages. Rogers noted that there were very few complete recipes for gunpowder proper (that is, for mixtures specifically intended to propel projectiles from guns) that could be reliably dated to the first fifty years of the history of cannon in Europe (1326–1375). In fact, since the recipes in the Munich copy of the Büchsenmeisterbuch (MS. Cgm 600) probably date to around 1400 (rather than c. 1350, as once thought), and since the French “recipes” of c. 1338, 1345, and 1350 are actually purchase records rather than instructions for manufacture, and moreover do not specify the proportion of charcoal to be used,3 that left only one such recipe known to scholars of early artillery: one from Augsburg, composed not long after 1337. That one recipe, moreover, is sufficiently ambiguous that different scholars have read it in two different ways, leaving the earliest history of cannon-powder very unclear. It is now possible to expand the roster from one to two, adding an even earlier formulation: one written down in northern Italy in 1336. Comparison to this earlier recipe, in combination with laboratory testing, makes clear which reading of the German recipe is correct. The combination of the two recipes, correctly interpreted, gives us a good picture of the earliest cannon-powders, which were by modern standards low in saltpeter and high in sulfur.
This essay will describe the first major operation launched by an Italian army against a heavily fortified city after the assimilation of the Frenchstyle artillery into the warfare of the Peninsula. The paper will examine, in particular, the preparations for this “marvellous enterprise,” stressing the difficulties with the procurement of munitions during the early stages of employment of the new guns.
Based on state accounts and local chronicles, the article demonstrates that, from the last years of the fifteenth century onwards, the issue of military supply compelled Italian regional states to develop the manufacture of ordnance, shot, and powder, facing a “revolutionary challenge” in terms of management, commerce, and production.
By September 1498, the soldiers of Florence were coming close to ending the Pisan rebellion, after three long years of wearing campaigns and diplomatic stalemates. As a result of an all-out offensive, the army had eventually occupied a large area of the enemy countryside, seizing the towns of Buti, Calci, Vico, and Ripafratta. Only the city of Cascina did not surrender to the captain-general, Paolo Vitelli, whose mastery of siege artillery was a significant determinant of this successful, brisk operation.
Once again, however, a decisive victory was hampered by an external intervention. The Venetian invasion of the mountain region of Casentino, in October 1498, diverted Florentine attention from the reconquest of Pisa. The menace of a heavy defeat represented a serious problem for the troubled Republic, now compelled to fight on two fronts, “with a daily expenditure of one thousand and fifty hundred florins.” Only after five months of stalemate did the opponents, encouraged by Ludovico Sforza, enter into negotiations. They were both wearied by “the draining of wells full of ducats” and “the bargaining, the extortion” of their mercenaries.
In the first days of April 1499, however, the two peace agreements proposed by the duke of Ferrara, Ercole d’Este, dissatisfied each one of the three contenders. Pisans protested firmly against the numerous, important concessions to Florentines, such as the cession of public incomes, the relinquishment of city fortresses, and the appointment of foreign criminal judges. Considering the pact as the beginning of the end of the “popular freedom,” they said they would prefer to abandon the city, or to die bravely, defending the walls against their “bloodthirsty” enemy, rather than “live under Florentine custody.”
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.
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