Military history


COSIMO. SINCE we are going to change the subject, I should like to resign my office of interrogator in this conversation; for, as I hate presumption in others, I would not willingly seem guilty of it myself. I therefore lay down the dictatorship and give up my authority to any other person in the company who will be pleased to accept it.

Zanobi. It would have been very pleasant for us all if you would have continued in that office; but since you decline it, at least please tell us whom you deputize to succeed you in it.

Cosimo. I desire to give that responsibility to Signor Fabrizio.

Fabrizio. I freely accept it, and I think we should follow the example of the Venetians, who always appoint the youngest to speak first in their councils and assemblies; and since the art of speaking well is properly the exercise of youth, we may suppose that young men are the best qualified to discuss the duties and exercises of war, as they are the readiest and fittest to put them in execution.

Cosimo. The lot then falls upon you, Luigi; and since I am much pleased with my successor, I am sure he will be equally agreeable to you all. Let us lose no time, however, but return to our subject.

Fabrizio. I know very well that in order to show how an army ought to be drawn up in order of battle that it would be necessary to describe the method in which the Greeks and Romans formed their troops for that purpose; but since this is done by ancient historians, I refer you to them; and, omitting several other particulars, I shall speak only of things that are absolutely necessary to be adopted by those who would improve our present system of military discipline. With this in mind, I shall show you at once how an army of today ought to be formed in order of battle, how it is to be drilled in sham-fights, and how it is to behave in real engagements.

The greatest error, then, that a general can be guilty of, in drawing up an army for battle is giving it only one front, thereby binding it to one conflict and one fortuna. This is the effect of having lost the method observed by the ancients of receiving one line into another; for those in the front can neither be supported nor relieved in time of action except by this method so admirably observed by the Romans. Now to point out the method by which these things were effected, I must tell you that the Romans divided each legion into hastati, principes, and triarii209; the first were placed in the front or first line of the army in thick and close array; the principes were placed in the second line but in looser order; and the triarii in the third, with still larger intervals between the men in their ranks, into which they could admit both the principes and hastati when the occasion arose. Besides these, they had their slingers, bowmen, and other light-armed soldiers who were not incorporated into these ranks but posted in the front to the right and left between the cavalry and infantry. These light-armed forces used to begin the engagement, and if they overcame the enemy, which seldom happened, they pursued their advantage; but if they were driven back, they retreated either along the flanks of the army, or through certain intervals in it left open for that purpose-to cover the sutlers and servants and other unarmed people that followed the camp. After this, the hastati advanced against the enemy; if they were repulsed, they retreated leisurely into the spaces left for them among the principes and again advanced with them to renew the battle; but if this line too were overpowered, it fell back into the triarii, and all three, thus joined together, attacked with greater vigor and strength than ever; if that miscarried, the day was lost, because they had no other resource or means of relief left. The cavalry was stationed on each side of the infantry in the form of two wings. As occasion required, they sometimes engaged the enemy’s cavalry and sometimes supported their own infantry. This method of renewing the attack thrice can hardly be withstood, for then fortuna must abandon you thrice and the enemy must have enough virtù to defeat you thrice.

The Greeks did not have this method of renewing the front of their phalanxes; although these phalanxes consisted of many soldiers and many ranks, they still made only one body, or rather, one front. To relieve each other, one rank did not retire into another, as did the Romans, but one single man advanced into another’s place when it was vacant. This was effected as follows: when their phalanx was drawn up into files (which we will suppose to consist of 50 men each) with its front toward the enemy, all the first 6 ranks might engage at once, for their lances, which they called sarissae, were so long that those from the sixth rank reached over the shoulders of the men in the first. Therefore, if any man in the first rank were killed or disabled while fighting, the man behind him in the second rank immediately stepped into his place; the person directly behind him in the third rank filled the vacancy in the second, and so on; the ranks in the rear continually filled up the deficiencies of those in the front, so that all the ranks were constantly kept full and entire, except the rearmost, which was exhausted at last, because there was no other to reinforce it. These phalanxes, therefore, might be gradually wasted away and annihilated, but they could seldom be broken, as the close and compact order in their body made them impenetrable.

The Romans at first formed their legions in this manner, in imitation of the Greek phalanx; but growing displeased with it at last, they divided them into more corps—cohortes and manipuli—convinced that such corps have more life and vigor in them when they have the more officers to inspire them and when they are so divided that each division can act separately and support itself.

The Swiss regiments at present are also based upon the model of the ancient phalanxes and follow their method both in closing up their order of battle and in relieving their ranks; when they engage, they are placed on each other’s flanks, not in a parallel line. They have no method of receiving the first rank, should it be thrown back into the second; in order to relieve each other, they place one regiment in the front and another a little behind it on the right, so that if the first is hard pressed, the second may advance to its assistance; a third is placed behind both these and also on the right, at the distance of an harquebus shot. They have adopted this disposition so that if the other two should be driven back, the third can advance to relieve them, and all of them have sufficient room either to retreat or advance without falling foul of one another; for large groups cannot be received into one another in the same manner as small ones. Therefore the small, distinct groups which composed the Roman legions are the most proper both for receiving and relieving one another; the fact that the method the Swiss observed is not as good as that taken by the ancient Romans appears very plainly from the success of the Roman legions, who always got the better of the Greek phalanxes, whenever they happened to engage, because both their weapons and armor and their way of receiving one rank into another were much better than the arms, the discipline, and the close order of the phalanx.

Now in order to form an army upon the model of both, I would make the Greek phalanx my pattern in some respects, and the Roman legion my pattern in others; therefore, as I told you before, I would have 2,000 pikemen in my regiment, armed like the Macedonian phalanx, and 3,000 men with swords and shields, like the Roman legion. Just as the Romans divided their legion into 10 cohorts, I have divided my regiment into 10 battalions; like them too, I have appointed velites to begin the battle. And since I have retained the arms of both nations, I would also imitate the order and discipline of each, to a certain extent. Thus I have taken care that the first 5 ranks of every battalion should consist of pikemen, and the rest of shieldbearers; this was done so that the rest might be able not only to sustain the shock of the enemy’s cavalry in the front and to penetrate into their infantry, but also to open it to the right and left so that the shieldbearers may come in to complete the victory.

Now if you consider the strength of this organization, you will find how well they are calculated for that purpose, because pikes are of admirable service against cavalry and they are also useful before they come to the point of hand-to-hand fighting with the infantry—after that, they are of no use at all. Hence, the Swiss place one rank of halbardiers behind every three ranks of pikemen, so as to give them room to use their pikes; but that room is not sufficient. Therefore, when we place our pikemen in the front and the shieldbearers behind them, they serve both to hold off the enemy’s cavalry and to open and disorder his infantry; but after the battle is joined and they become useless, the shieldbearers advance with their swords, weapons that may be managed in the closest fight.

Luigi. We are impatient to hear how you would draw up an army, thus armed and appointed, in order of battle.

Fabrizio. I was just going to do it. You must know, then, that a Roman consular army did not exceed two legions of about 11,000 infantry and 600 cavalry, composed entirely of their own citizens. Besides these, they were supplied with as many more of both sorts by their friends and allies, which they divided into two bodies called the right and left wing and stationed on either flank; but they never permitted the number of these auxiliaries to surpass that of their legions, though there generally was a larger proportion of cavalry among them than in their own forces.210 With such an army, consisting of about 22,000 infantrymen and 2,000 good cavalrymen, a consul went upon most expeditions; but when the enemy was very formidable, they sent out two consuls with two such armies united.

You must also know that in the three principal operations of an army—the march, the encampment, and the battle211—they constantly posted their legions in the center, rightly judging that the forces in which they reposed the greatest confidence should always be compact and united, as I shall show you when I come to speak more particularly of these three operations. But this auxiliary infantry, by their union and daily conversation with the infantry of the legions, soon became as serviceable as they were, for they were drilled and disciplined in the same manner and formed in the same order of battle before an engagement. So, when we know how the Romans drew up one legion for that purpose, we know how they drew up a whole army; as I said, they formed their legion in three lines, so that one line might receive another; I have consequently told you how they drew up their whole army on the day of a battle.

To form an army, then, in an order of battle similar to the Romans, I shall take two regiments, since they had two legions, and you can see by their arrangement how a whole army is to be drawn up; if you would add any more, there is nothing further to be done but to multiply or enlarge the ranks. It will be needless, I suppose, to remind you of how much infantry is in a regiment, of the ten battalions in it, of what sort of arms and armor they have, of how many companies there are, of what officers each has, of how many men ranked as velites and pikemen—both ordinary and extraordinary—of how many shieldbearers, etc.; for when I mentioned these things a little while ago, I desired you to take particular notice of them and to remember them as absolutely necessary for giving you a clear idea of the whole arrangement; therefore, without any repetition of that kind, I shall proceed to draw up my army.

For this purpose, I would place the 10 battalions of one regiment on the left, and the 10 of the other on the right. Those on the left are to be formed in this manner: post five battalions on each other’s flank in the front with an interval of 8 feet between them, and let the space they occupy be 282 feet wide and 80 feet deep. In the rear of these 5 I would place three others at a distance of 80 feet, the first one should be in a straight line with the battalion on the left flank of those in the front, the second with that on the right flank, and the third with that in the center, so that these three will take up as much ground in both width and depth as the other five; but although the space between every one of those five is only 8 feet, I would have the space between these three to be 66 feet. In the rear of these I would post the two remaining battalions at a distance of 80 feet, one of them in a straight line with that on the left of the last three mentioned, and the other with that on the right with an interval between them of 92 feet. Therefore, the ground which all the battalions thus formed occupies will be 282 feet in width and 400 in depth. I would range the pikemen extraordinary along the left flank of these battalions, at a distance of 40 feet, and I would make 140 ranks of them, with seven men in each rank, so that they would cover the whole left flank of the battalions drawn up in the manner I have described; and, after posting the captains and corporals in their proper places, there would be 40 ranks remaining to guard the baggage, sutlers, and other unarmed people following the camp in the rear of the army. Of the three lieutenant colonels belonging to them, I would place one at the front, another in the center, and another in the rear.

But to return to the front of the army. Next to the pikemen extraordinary, I would place the 500 velites extraordinary and allow them to take up a space of 80 feet. Next to them, on the left, I would place my men-at-arms and allow them a space of 450 feet; and next to them, my light cavalry, whom I would allow the same space. The ordinary velites I would leave with their respective battalions in their proper places—that is, in the intervals between one battalion and another, to be attendants, as it were, upon them—unless I should think it fit to put them under the cover of the pikemen extraordinary; sometimes I would do this and sometimes I would not, depending upon what was most to my advantage. I would place the regimental colonel with his colors and drum either in the center of the space left between the first and second lines of the battalions, or else in front of them in the interval between the last of the first five battalions and the pikemen extraordinary—depending upon which I felt was most convenient. Around him he would have 30 or 40 picked men, who would not only have sense enough to carry his orders properly and distinctly to the different parts of the army, but would also be able to repel the enemy if he should be attacked.

In this manner I would form the regiment on the left; it would be just one-half of the army and occupy a space 572 feet wide and 400 feet deep, exclusive of the space taken up by the 40 ranks of pikemen extraordinary who are to guard the baggage in the rear, which will be 200 feet. The other regiment I would draw up in the same manner on the right of this, with an interval between them of 60 feet. At the head of this interval I would place some pieces of artillery, behind which the general of the army should take post with his standard and drum, and at least 200 picked men, most of them on foot, of whom there should be ten or more fit to carry any orders; he himself should be mounted and armed in such a manner that he could command either on horseback or on foot, as occasion required.

As for the artillery, ten 40 pounders would be sufficient for the reduction of a town, and I would use them in defending my campaign rather than in a field engagement, for my field pieces should be only 12 pounders or so; and these I would place along the front of the whole army, unless the ground was such that I could place them conveniently and safely in the flanks where the enemy could not come at them.212

This method of drawing up an army may answer the end both of the Greek phalanx and of the Roman legion; for you have the pikemen in the front, and all the rest of the infantry is so formed in their proper ranks that either in charging an enemy or in sustaining the charge they may, like the phalanx, recruit their front ranks out of those in their rear. On the other hand, if they are so hard pressed that they are obliged to give way, they may retreat into the intervals of the second line and advance again in conjunction with it to face the enemy; if they are repulsed the second time, they may retire into the spaces between the battalions in the third line, and renew the battle with still greater vigor; so that by this method you may reinforce your ranks in either the Greek or the Roman manner. As to the strength of such an army, none can be more compact, for each wing is perfectly well fortified with both officers and men properly armed, and appointed in such a manner that if there is any apparent weakness in it, it must be in the rear, where the carriages and sutlers are stationed—and even those are covered by the pikemen extraordinary. Therefore, since it is so well fortified on all sides, it cannot be attacked anywhere by an enemy without being ready to receive him, for the rear is in no danger; because if the enemy be so strong that he is able to attack you on every side at once, it must have been madness on your part to take the field against him. But supposing he should be superior to you in number by one-third, and his army as well armed and drawn up as your own; if he weakens it in order to attack you simultaneously in several areas, and you happen to break in upon him in any one, the day is your own. As for the cavalry, you have nothing to fear from them, for the pikemen who surround you on all sides will secure you sufficiently against their fury, even if your own should be repulsed. Your officers are so conveniently posted that they may easily do their duty; and the spaces between one battalion and another, and between every rank, serve not only to receive the other battalions or ranks when the occasion arises, but also to give the officers enough room to go back and forth with orders from the general.

Now, as I told you before, since the Romans had about 24,000 men in their armies, I would have our army consist of the same number; and since their auxiliaries learned their discipline and order from their legions, I would have our auxiliaries also formed upon the model of our regiments. These things may easily be effected by a little practice; for in adding two other regiments to the army—or as many auxiliary soldiers as there are already, let it be what it will—you have nothing to do but double your ranks by placing 20 battalions on the left, instead of 10, and an equal number on the right; or to extend or contract them, depending upon the nature of the ground and the posture of the enemy.

Luigi. I understand you perfectly, sir. I seem to see your army drawn up for battle, and am impatient to have it begin. For heaven’s sake do not turn Fabius Maximus upon us. If you do, I am afraid I shall be tempted to abuse you as the Roman people did him.

Fabrizio. I am ready.213 The signal is given. Do you not hear our artillery? It has fired but done little damage to the enemy. The velites extraordinary and light cavalry have set up a great shout and begun the attack with the utmost fury. The enemy’s artillery has discharged its volley, but their balls have gone over the heads of our infantry without doing them any harm; but to prevent their artillery from firing a second time, our velites and light cavalry endeavor to make themselves masters of it; a body of the enemy post themselves before it, so that the artillery on both sides is become useless. See with what virtù our men charge. The expertness they have acquired by long drilling and discipline inspires them with confidence. The battalions move forward at a regular pace and in good order, with the men-at-arms on their flanks to attack the enemy. Our artillery withdraws through the space left vacant by the velites in order to make room for it. See how the general encourages his men and assures them of victory. Observe our velites and light cavalry returning and extending themselves along the flanks of our army to see if they can do any harm to the enemy through his flank. The two armies are now engaged. See with what virtù and silence our men receive the charge. Do you not hear the general giving his men-at-arms orders to hold their ground and not to advance upon the enemy, nor on any account to desert the infantry? See how a party of our light cavalry has now detached itself to charge a body of the enemy’s harquebusiers that were coming to take us by the flank, and how the enemy’s cavalry is advancing to support them; but the harquebusiers, to avoid being entangled between them, are retiring to their own army. See with what resolution and dexterity our ordinary pikemen handle their weapons; but the infantry on each side have now come so close together that our pikemen can no longer use their pikes; therefore, according to their usual discipline, they gradually retreat until they are received by the shieldbearers. See on the left how a large body of the enemy’s men-at-arms have meanwhile pushed back our men-at-arms who retire, as they had previously learned, into the pikemen extraordinary; and, supported by them, not only make headway against the enemy again, but repulse them with great slaughter. Now the ordinary pikemen from the first battalions have retreated among the shieldbearers; they leave them to carry on the battle—behold what havoc they wreak among the enemy; see with what virtù, confidence, and coolness they press upon them; see how closely they are engaged with them—they hardly have room to handle their swords. The enemy is embarrassed and falling into confusion; their pikes are too long to do any further work and their swords are of no service against men who are so well protected by their armor. What carnage! How many wounded men! They are beginning to flee. See, they are running away on the right and on the left. The battle is over. We have won a glorious victory. It might have been more complete, however, if we had exerted our whole strength. But you see, we did not need to employ either our second or our third line, since the first was sufficient for doing the job. So, I have nothing more to add on this occasion, except to answer any objection or doubt you may have.

Luigi. You have carried everything before you with such amazing rapidity, that I cannot very easily tell whether I ought to state any objection or not. However, with submission to your superior judgment, I will make so bold as to ask you a free question or two. Therefore, kindly tell me first why you would let your artillery fire no more than. once, and why you ordered it to be drawn off so soon without making any use of it afterward. Next, you managed the enemy’s artillery just as you pleased and had it aimed so poorly that it could do no damage; I suppose this may indeed be the case sometimes, but if it should happen (as I believe it often does) that the shot should strike home, what remedy would you prescribe? And since I have mentioned artillery, I shall bring up everything I have to say on that subject here so that we shall not have to return to it later. I have heard many people laugh at the arms, armor, and military discipline of the ancients; they say that it would be of little or no service now, since the invention of artillery would break up all their ranks and beat their armor to pieces; they say that it would be folly to draw up a body of forces in an order that cannot be maintained and that undergoes the fatigue of carrying armor that can by no means protect them.

Fabrizio. Your objections are of several kinds; therefore, you must have patience if you expect a particular answer to them all.

It is true, our artillery made but one volley, and I was in some doubt whether I should even permit that one; for it is more important to keep oneself from being hurt than it is to annoy the enemy. Now, in order to protect yourself from artillery, you must either keep out of the reach of its shot or place yourself behind a wall, a bank, or some fence of that kind; there is no other cover that I know of, and again, that cover must be very strong. But when an army is drawn up in order to fight, it cannot skulk behind a wall or a bank, nor even keep at a distance where it will not be annoyed by the enemy’s artillery. Since there is no method, then, to shelter oneself from it, the general must resort to such means as will expose him and his men to the least danger; for which purpose, the best, and indeed the only, way is to make themselves masters of it if possible—and as soon as they can. To do this, it is necessary that a body of your men should march up and suddenly rush it; but they must not do so in close order because the suddenness of the attack will prevent the artillery from firing more than once, and when your men are thinly drawn up it cannot do much damage among them. Now, a compact body of regular forces is not at all proper for this service; if it moves fast, it must naturally fall into disorder in and of itself; if it extends and weakens its ranks, it will presently be broken by the enemy.

Given these considerations, I drew up my army in a manner that was most proper for such an attempt: having placed 1,000 velites along its wings, I ordered them to advance, together with the light cavalry, as soon as our artillery had fired, to seize the enemy’s. This is the reason why I would not allow our own to discharge a second volley, for fear that the enemy should have time to do the same, as they might easily have done; perhaps they would have done so before our artillery was loaded again, if I had not taken these means to prevent it. So that the only way to render the enemy’s artillery useless is to attack it as soon as possible; if they desert it, naturally it falls into your hands; if they defend it, they must place a body of forces in front of it, and then they will not dare to fire again because their own men must be the chief ones to suffer.

These reasons, I think, might be sufficient in themselves without quoting any examples to support them; but since antiquity furnishes us with many, I shall give you one or two. When Ventidius had resolved to fight an engagement with the Parthians,214 (whose strength lay chiefly in their bows and arrows), he let them advance almost to the very entrenchments of his camp before he drew out his army; and he did this so that he might suddenly fall upon them before they could use their arrows. Caesar tell us215 that in one battle the Gauls attacked him so suddenly and so furiously that his men did not have time to throw their darts at the enemy—as the Romans always used to do. Now we see from these instances that in order to protect an army in the field from the effects of any weapons disturbing them from a distance, there is no other way but to march up to them as fast as possible, and get possession of them if you can—or at least to prevent their effects.

In addition to these reasons, I had still another which determined me to fire my artillery no more than once; it may perhaps seem trifling to you, but for me it carries much weight. There is nothing that occasions greater confusion and embarrassment among a body of men than having their sight dazzled or obstructed; this is a circumstance that has been the ruin of many gallant armies blinded either by the sun or by clouds of dust; and what can contribute more to that than artillery smoke? It would be more prudent, therefore, to let the enemy blind themselves than to go seeking them blindfolded. Thus, I would either not use any artillery at all, or if I did—to avoid censure now that large guns are in such credit—I would place it along my flanks so that when it was fired, the smoke might not blind my men in front, where I would have the flower of my army. The effects of this may be seen from the conduct of Epaminondas,216 who, while going to engage the enemy, had all his light cavalry trot back and forth in the front of their army; this raised such a dust that it threw them into disorder and gave him an easy victory over them.

As for my seeming to have aimed the enemy’s artillery as I pleased and made the shot fly over the heads of our infantry, I answer that it more often happens that way than otherwise; this is so because infantry stands so low, and because it is no easy matter to manage heavy pieces of cannon well—if you either elevate them or lower them the slightest bit too much, in one case the balls will fly quite over their heads, and in the other they will fall into the ground and never come near them. The least inequality of terrain is also a great boon for them, since any little bank or brake between them and the artillery serves either to hinder the shot or to divert its direction. As for the cavalry and especially the men-at-arms (who, because they are drawn up in a closer order and stand so much higher than light cavalry, are more exposed to danger), they may stay in the rear of the army until the artillery has fired.

It is certain that small pieces of cannon and shot from harquebuses do more damage than heavy artillery. The best remedy against the latter is making a resolute attack upon it as soon as possible; if you lose some of your men in so doing (which must always be the case), surely a partial loss is not so bad as a total defeat. The Swiss are worthy of imitation in this respect; they never decline an engagement out of fear of artillery, but always give the death penalty to those who would stir from their ranks, or those who show the least sign of being frightened by it. I therefore had my artillery drawn off as soon as it had been discharged in order to make room for the battalions to advance; I made no further mention of it because it became a thing of no consequence after the two armies had joined battle.

You also say that many people laugh at the arms, armor, and military discipline of the ancients because, since the invention of artillery, these things are useless; hence, one would be apt to imagine that moderns had made effective provision against it. If so, I should be glad to hear what that provision is, for I confess I know of none, nor do I think it possible to make any but what I have already mentioned. Why does our infantry at present wear iron corselets and why are our men-at-arms covered with armor from head to foot? If they despise this manner of arming among the ancients, as being useless against artillery, why do they continue to use it themselves? I should also like to know why the Swiss, like the ancients, form their regiments of 6,000 or 8,000 infantry drawn up in close order; why all the other nations have begun to imitate them, since that method exposes their army to no less danger from the artillery than many other institutions the ancients had as models. These are questions which I fancy the people whom you mention cannot easily answer; but if you should propose them to soldiers of judgment and experience, they would tell you that they arm themselves in that manner not because they think such armor will protect them effectively against cannon balls, but because it will defend them against crossbows, pikes, swords, and many other weapons an enemy may use in an offensive. They will tell you further that the close order observed by the Swiss is necessary to push back the enemy’s infantry, to stand up against their cavalry, and to make it harder for the enemy to break in on them. So we see that soldiers have many other things to dread besides artillery, against which this order and this sort of arms and armor serve to protect them. Hence, it follows that the better an army is armed, and the closer and stronger it is drawn up, the less it has to fear; therefore, the persons to whose opinion you referred not long ago must either have had very little experience, or must not have considered the matter in the light they ought to have done. For since we find that only the ancients’ pikes and close order—still in use among the Swiss—have done such wonderful service, and have contributed so much to our armies’ current strength, why may we not conclude that the rest of the military institutions observed by the ancients, but now entirely laid aside and neglected, might be equally serviceable? Besides, since the fury of artillery does not make us afraid of drawing up our battalions in close order like the Swiss, there can certainly be no other disposition contrived that can make us more apprehensive of its effects.

Furthermore, if we are not terrified by the enemy’s artillery while we lay siege to a town, when it may annoy us with the greatest security, when we can neither come at it nor prevent its effects because it is protected by walls, and when we must endeavor to dismount it with our own cannon, which may perhaps require much time, and expose us to a continual fire all the while; then why should we fear it so much in the field where we can immediately make ourselves masters of it or put a stop to its firing? Therefore, the invention of artillery is no reason, in my opinion, why we should not imitate the ancients in their military discipline and institutions, as well as in their virtù; and if this matter had not been thoroughly discussed in a lately published piece, I would have dwelled longer upon it at present, but for brevity’s sake I refer you to that discourse. 217

Luigi. I have read it, and I generally believe that on the whole you have sufficiently shown the best remedy against artillery to be its earliest possible seizure—that is, in a field battle. But suppose the enemy should place it in the flanks of their army, where it would still gall you, and yet where it would be so well protected that you could not make yourself master of it. For in drawing up your army, you may remember that you left an interval of 8 feet between every battalion and of 40 feet between the battalions and the pikemen extraordinary; now, if the enemy should form their army in the same order and place their artillery deep in those intervals, I should think it would disturb you very much—without any risk of being taken—because you could not come at it there.

Fabrizio. Your objection carries much weight with it, and therefore I shall endeavor either to resolve your doubt or to find some remedy. I told you before that when battalions are engaged with an enemy, they are in constant motion and consequently must draw closer and closer to each other; so, if you leave only small intervals between them for the artillery, these will soon be filled up in such a manner that the artillery is useless; but if you make them large, to avoid that inconvenience, you naturally must encounter a much greater one because then you leave room enough for the enemy to rush into them and not only seize your artillery, but throw your whole army into confusion. But you must understand that it is impossible to place your cannon, especially those fixed to carriages, between your battalions; since they are drawn one way and point another, they must all be turned a different direction before they can be fired; to do that would require so large a space that 50 pieces would disorder any army. So they must necessarily be placed somewhere out of the battalions, and then they may be approached in the manner I have already prescribed.

Let us suppose, however, that they could be placed within the battalions and that we could hit upon some medium that would both prevent the battalions from frustrating the effects of the artillery when they drew closer together and not leave such large intervals between them that the enemy might push into these intervals; I say that even then a method might be found to elude the artillery’s force: open counter-intervals in the enemy’s army to let your shot pass through without doing any damage. For in order to protect your artillery effectively, you should place it at the rear of the intervals between your battalions, and, to avoid harming your forces, it should be aimed so that the shots will always pass straight through the intervals. By so doing, you will open up comparable passages in the enemy’s army, and his shots will pass through without inflicting damage upon your men; for it is a general rule always to give way to such things as cannot be opposed—as the ancients used to do when they were attacked by elephants and armed chariots.

You see, I won a victory with an army formed and appointed in the manner I recommended; I must beg leave to repeat (if what I have already said be insufficient), that such an army must at the very first onset necessarily defeat any other army that is armed and drawn up like ours at present. For the most part such an army can make only one front, is entirely unprovided with shields, and is not only armed in such a manner that they cannot defend themselves against an enemy that closes with them, but is also so formed that if they post their battalions flank to flank, they make their lines too thin and feeble; if they place them in the rear of each other, since they have no method for receiving one another, they soon fall into confusion and are easily broken. And indeed, although they are divided into three bodies called the vanguard, the main body, and the rear guard, still this division is of no use except on a march or in an encampment in order to distinguish them; for during an engagement they are combined and, therefore, are all liable to be defeated at once by the first shock.

Luigi. I further observed in your late battle that your cavalry were repulsed and forced to take cover under the pikemen extraordinary, by whose assistance they not only made headway against the enemy a second time, but in their turn, repulsed them. Now, I am persuaded that pikemen can support cavalry in a thick and closely drawn-up body like the Swiss regiments, but in your army there are only five ranks of pikemen in the front and seven on the flanks, so I cannot see how they can keep off a body of cavalry.

Fabrizio. Although I told you before that six ranks of pikemen might charge at a time in the Macedonian phalanx, yet I must now add that if a Swiss regiment consisted of 1,000 ranks, no more than four or five at most could charge at once; for since their pikes were only 18 feet long, and we can imagine that three feet must be taken up between one hand and the other, so, the first rank would have only 15 feet in which to use their pikes. The second, besides the three feet between the men’s hands, as many more feet must be taken up by the distance between one rank and another; then there would be only 12 feet of the pike that could be of any service. The third, for the same reasons, would have only nine feet, the fourth six, and the fifth three; the other ranks behind them are useless, since they could make no use at all of their pikes, except serving to recruit and support the first five ranks, as we have shown before. If, then, five of their ranks could keep off the enemy’s cavalry, why cannot five of ours do the same thing since they also have other ranks in their rear to support them—although they do not have pikes like the others? And if the ranks of pikemen extraordinary placed on the flanks of our army seem to you too thin, they may be reduced into a square and posted on the flanks of the two battalions in the rear; from this place they may aid either the front or the rear, and occasionally assist the cavalry.

Luigi. Would you, then, always use this form and order of battle whenever you want to engage an enemy?

Fabrizio. No indeed. As I shall show you before we part, I would always suit my order of battle to the nature of my ground and the quality and number of the enemy. But I recommended this order not only as the best, which it certainly is, but as a rule to direct and assist you in forming others—every art has its general rules and principles upon which it is founded. One thing, however, I would have you remember: never on any occasion draw up an army so that the front cannot be relieved by the rear; whoever is guilty of that error prevents the greatest part of his army from doing him any service at all, and will never win a victory over an enemy who has the least degree of either courage or conduct.

Luigi. I confess I have still another objection to the order in which you disposed your army. You made your front consist of five battalions, posted on each other’s flank, your second line of three battalions, and your third line of two battalions. Now I should think it would be better to invert that order, for surely it must be more difficult to break the army that is stronger and stronger the farther you penetrate into it, than another army that is weaker and weaker.

Fabrizio. If you will please recollect that the third line in the Roman legions was composed of only 600 triarii and that they were placed in the rear, you would drop your objection; for you see according to that model, I have placed only two battalions in the rear, yet it consists of 900 men. So, if I have been guilty of any error in following the example of the Romans in that respect, it is by making my rear stronger than they did. Now although the authority alone of such an example might serve as a sufficient answer to your objection, yet I shall give you my reasons for what I have done. The front ranks of an army ought always to be solid and compact because they are to sustain the enemy’s first shock, and they have no friends to receive into them; thus, they should be close and full of men, otherwise they will be loose and feeble. But since the second line is occasionally to receive the first into it before it is to engage, there should be large intervals left in it for that purpose. Therefore, this line must not consist of as many men as the first: if their number were larger or just equal, either you must leave no intervals—which would cause confusion; or you will have a longer line than the first, if you do—which will make it out of proportion and give it a strange appearance.

As to what you say about the enemy’s finding our army weaker and weaker the deeper he penetrates into it, this is a manifest error; for the enemy cannot engage the second line until he has received the first into it. So, the enemy will find the second line much stronger than the first was when they are both united, and they will find the third line even stronger than either of the other two because these lines will then have the strength of the whole army to cope with at once; and since the third line is to receive more men than the second, it is necessary for it to have larger intervals in it and consequently to consist of fewer men.

Luigi. I am thoroughly satisfied on this point. But if the five battalions in the front retire into the three that are in the second line, and afterwards those eight retire into the two that are in the rear, it does not seem possible that the eight battalions in the second line—much less the ten in the third-can be contained in the same space of ground that the first five were.

Fabrizio. To this I answer, first, that the space of ground is not the same in that case; there were intervals between the first five battalions which are filled up when they retire into the second line, and when the second retires into the third; there was also an interval between the two regiments, and one between them and the pikemen extraordinary—together they afford them enough room. Besides, the battalions take up different spaces of ground when they keep their ranks and when they are disordered; for in the latter case, the men either get closer together or extend themselves. They extend themselves when they are so hard pressed that they are about to run away; they keep closer together when they are determined to make an obstinate resistance. I might add that when the five ranks of pikemen in the front have done their business, they retire through the intervals between the battalions into the rear to make way for the shieldbearers to advance upon the enemy. There they will be ready for any service for which the general shall think fit to employ them; for in the front, after the two armies were closely engaged, they could be of no further use; thus, the space allotted will be sufficient to contain the whole army. But if it should not, since the flanks are composed of men and not stone walls, they can easily open and extend themselves so as to make enough room.

Luigi. When the five first battalions retire into the three in the second line, would you have the pikemen extraordinary—whom you place in the flanks of your army—stand fast in their ranks and form two wings, as it were, to the army, or would you have them retire with the battalions too? In the latter case, I cannot imagine how they are to retire since they have no battalions in their rear with proper intervals to receive them.

Fabrizio. If the enemy does not attack them at the same time that the battalions are forced to retire, those pikemen may continue firm in their station and take the enemy at his flanks as they are pressing upon the battalions in their retreat; but if they are attacked at the same time, as they most likely will be, they also must retire; they may do this very handily, although they have no battalions in their rear to receive them, by doubling their ranks in a right line to the center and receiving one rank into another, as I showed you a while ago. But to double them in order to retreat, you must observe a different method from the one I spoke of then; in that case, I told you the first rank must receive the second, the third the fourth, and so on; but in this you must begin in the rear instead of the front, so that the ranks may retreat and not advance in doubling each other.

But to answer everything that may be objected to the way in which I conducted the late battle, I must beg leave to say again that I drew the battalion up and caused it to engage first, to show you how an army ought to be formed in order of battle; second, to show you how it ought to be drilled. No doubt you perfectly comprehend the order now; as for drilling, I say that the regiments ought to be joined and drilled in this manner as often as possible, so that the officers may learn to post their battalions in their proper places; for, just as every private should know his own rank and place in that rank, so every lieutenant colonel should know where to station his battalion in the army; all of them should learn to obey their general. They should also know how to join one battalion with another and to take their respective posts instantly; for this purpose, the colors of every battalion should have their number marked upon them so as to be visible to everyone—not only to distinguish the battalions from one another, but also to make it easier for the lieutenant colonel of every battalion, and his men, to know where to find each other. The regiments also ought to be numbered, and their numbers marked upon the colonel’s colors. Thus, it would be known which regiment is posted on the right and which on the left, what battalions are placed in the first, second, or third line, etc.

There also should be several steps and gradations to preferment in our army. For instance, the lowest officer should be a corporal, the next above him a captain of fifty ordinary velites; the next, a captain of a company in the battalions; the next, the lieutenant colonel of the tenth battalion; the next, the lieutenant colonel of the ninth; the next, the lieutenant colonel of the eighth, and so on in succession until you come to the lieutenant colonel of the first battalion, who should be next in command to the colonel of the regiment; nobody should be advanced to this post until he has passed through all the subordinate degrees just now mentioned. But since there are also three lieutenant colonels of the pikemen extraordinary and two of the extraordinary velites, I would have them rank with the lieutenant colonel of the tenth battalion; I see nd absurdity in having six officers of equal rank in the same regiment, since it may serve to create emulation among them and inspire each one of them to conduct himself so as to be thought worthy of being preferred to the command of the ninth battalion. When each of these officers knows where his corps is to be posted, and as soon as the general’s standard is erected, the whole army will immediately be in proper order. This is the first drill exercise to which an army should be accustomed: to range itself immediately in order of battle; to do this, it should be drawn up and separated again not just every day, but several times a day.

Luigi. What other distinctive marks would you have on the colors besides their particular number?

Fabrizio. The general’s standard should have the arms of his prince upon it; the other standards may have the same, with some variation of the field or colors as the prince shall think fit; that is a matter of no great moment, provided they are sufficient to distinguish one corps from another.

But let us now pass on to another sort of exercise in which an army ought to be very ready and expert; that is, learning to move at a due pace and distance, and to keep its ranks when it is marching.

The third kind of exercise is teaching men to act as they should when they are actually engaged with an enemy; to discharge the artillery, to draw it off; to make the velites extraordinary begin the attack, and then retire; to make the first line fall back into the second as if it were hard pressed, and then the second into the third; afterward, to resume their first stations; and to habituate them so frequently to these and other such exercises that each man may know every part of his duty, which will soon become easy and familiar to him by practice.

The next exercise is instructing your men in the nature of signals, and in how to act by the beat of a drum, the sound of a trumpet, or the special motion of the colors; they will easily understand orders given by word of mouth. And since different notes and sounds are of great importance, and since they have various effects, I shall tell you what sorts of military music were used by the ancients. The Lacedaemonians, as Thucydides informs us,218 used flutes in their armies, as the most proper instrument to make them move regularly and resolutely, but not precipitously. The Carthaginians, for the same reason, used citharas in their first attack.219 Alyattes, king of Lydia, used both; 220 but Alexander the Great and the Romans used horns and trumpets,221 which they thought the fittest instruments to rouse the courage of their men and to inspire them with martial ardor. But since we have imitated both the Greeks and Romans in arming our men, we shall also borrow our military music from each of those nations. The general, then, should have his trumpets about him, since they are the most proper instruments for inspiring his army, and since they can be heard farther than any other. The lieutenant colonels, and other battalion officers, should have small drums and flutes, not to be played upon as they commonly are, but to be played in the same manner that they are sounded at great banquets and other festivities. With these trumpets the general can immediately make his army understand when he would have it halt, advance, or retreat, when he would have the artillery discharged, and when he would have the velites extraordinary move forward; by various notes and sounds he can acquaint them with all the different maneuvers he thinks need to be made; these signals should afterward be repeated by the drums; and the whole army should frequently be drilled in this exercise because it is of the utmost consequence. As for the cavalry, they may have trumpets too, but of a smaller size and of a different sound. This is all that occurs to me at present concerning the forming and exercising of an army.

Luigi. I have only one more question to ask; I hope it will not tire your patience if I ask why in the recent battle the velites extraordinary and light cavalry began the attack with a great shout, whereas there was a dead silence when the rest of the army began to engage? I confess I am at a loss to account for this, and therefore beg you to explain it to us.

Fabrizio. The opinions of ancient authors vary concerning this matter; that is, whether those beginning the battle should rush on with furious shouts and outcries, or march up to the attack with silence and composure. The latter is certainly the most proper means of preserving good order, and of hearing commands more distinctly; the former is certainly the most proper means of inspiring your own men and dismaying the enemy; as I think some regard ought to be had for all these circumstances, I made one part of my army begin with a great shout and the other with deep silence. But I do not think a continual shout can be of any service; quite the contrary, it will prevent the general’s orders from being heard—this must be attended with terrible consequences. Nor is it reasonable to suppose that the Romans used any such shouts after the first onset; we read in many parts of their history that when their armies were beginning to give way, they were often prevented by the exhortations and reproaches of their commanders; we also read that their order of battle was sometimes changed, even in the heat of action. These things could not have been done if the voice of the officers had been drowned in the shouts of the soldiers.

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