Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 37


Brescia relieved by Sforza--His other victories--Piccinino is
recalled into Lombardy--He endeavors to bring the Florentines to
an engagement--He is routed before Anghiari--Serious disorders in
the camp of the Florentines after the victory--Death of Rinaldo
degli Albizzi--His character--Neri Capponi goes to recover the
Casentino--The Count di Poppi surrenders--His discourse upon
quitting his possessions.

While these events were taking place in Tuscany, so little to the
advantage of the duke, his affairs in Lombardy were in a still worse
condition. The Count Francesco, as soon as the season would permit,
took the field with his army, and the Venetians having again covered
the lake with their galleys, he determined first of all to drive the
duke from the water; judging, that this once effected, his remaining
task would be easy. He therefore, with the Venetian fleet, attacked
that of the duke, and destroyed it. His land forces took the castles
held for Filippo, and the ducal troops who were besieging Brescia,
being informed of these transactions, withdrew; and thus, the city,
after standing a three years' siege, was at length relieved. The count
then went in quest of the enemy, whose forces were encamped before
Soncino, a fortress situated upon the River Oglio; these he dislodged
and compelled to retreat to Cremona, where the duke again collected
his forces, and prepared for his defense. But the count constantly
pressing him more closely, he became apprehensive of losing either the
whole, or the greater part, of his territories; and perceiving the
unfortunate step he had taken, in sending Niccolo into Tuscany, in
order to correct his error, he wrote to acquaint him with what had
transpired, desiring him, with all possible dispatch, to leave Tuscany
and return to Lombardy.

In the meantime, the Florentines, under their commissaries, had drawn
together their forces, and being joined by those of the pope, halted
at Anghiari, a castle placed at the foot of the mountains that divide
the Val di Tavere from the Val di Chiane, distant four miles from the
Borgo San Sepolcro, on a level road, and in a country suitable for the
evolutions of cavalry or a battlefield. As the Signory had heard of
the count's victory and the recall of Niccolo, they imagined that
without again drawing a sword or disturbing the dust under their
horses' feet, the victory was their own, and the war at an end, they
wrote to the commissaries, desiring them to avoid an engagement, as
Niccolo could not remain much longer in Tuscany. These instructions
coming to the knowledge of Piccinino, and perceiving the necessity of
his speedy return, to leave nothing unattempted, he determined to
engage the enemy, expecting to find them unprepared, and not disposed
for battle. In this determination he was confirmed by Rinaldo, the
Count di Poppi, and other Florentine exiles, who saw their inevitable
ruin in the departure of Niccolo, and hoped, that if he engaged the
enemy, they would either be victorious, or vanquished without
dishonor. This resolution being adopted, Niccolo led his army,
unperceived by the enemy, from Citta di Castello to the Borgo, where
he enlisted two thousand men, who, trusting the general's talents and
promises, followed him in hope of plunder. Niccolo then led his forces
in battle array toward Anghiari, and had arrived within two miles of
the place, when Micheletto Attendulo observed great clouds of dust,
and conjecturing at once, that it must be occasioned by the enemy's
approach, immediately called the troops to arms. Great confusion
prevailed in the Florentine camp, for the ordinary negligence and want
of discipline were now increased by their presuming the enemy to be at
a distance, and they were more disposed to fight than to battle; so
that everyone was unarmed, and some wandering from the camp, either
led by their desire to avoid the excessive heat, or in pursuit of
amusement. So great was the diligence of the commissaries and of the
captain, that before the enemy's arrival, the men were mounted and
prepared to resist their attack; and as Micheletto was the first to
observe their approach, he was also first armed and ready to meet
them, and with his troops hastened to the bridge which crosses the
river at a short distance from Anghiari. Pietro Giampagolo having
previous to the surprise, filled up the ditches on either side of the
road, and leveled the ground between the bridge and Anghiari, and
Micheletto having taken his position in front of the former, the
legate and Simoncino, who led the troops of the church, took post on
the right, and the commissaries of the Florentines, with Pietro
Giampagolo, their captain, on the left; the infantry being drawn up
along the banks of the river. Thus, the only course the enemy could
take, was the direct one over the bridge; nor had the Florentines any
other field for their exertions, excepting that their infantry were
ordered, in case their cavalry were attacked in flank by the hostile
infantry, to assail them with their cross bows, and prevent them from
wounding the flanks of the horses crossing the bridge. Micheletto
bravely withstood the enemy's charge upon the bridge; but Astorre and
Francesco Piccinino coming up, with a picked body of men, attacked him
so vigorously, that he was compelled to give way, and was pushed as
far as the foot of the hill which rises toward the Borgo d'Anghiari;
but they were in turn repulsed and driven over the bridge, by the
troops that took them in flank. The battle continued two hours, during
which each side had frequent possession of the bridge, and their
attempts upon it were attended with equal success; but on both sides
of the river, the disadvantage of Niccolo was manifest; for when his
people crossed the bridge, they found the enemy unbroken, and the
ground being leveled, they could manúuvre without difficulty, and the
weary be relieved by such as were fresh. But when the Florentines
crossed, Niccolo could not relieve those that were harassed, on
account of the hindrance interposed by the ditches and embankments on
each side of the road; thus whenever his troops got possession of the
bridge, they were soon repulsed by the fresh forces of the
Florentines; but when the bridge was taken by the Florentines, and
they passed over and proceeded upon the road, Niccolo having no
opportunity to reinforce his troops, being prevented by the
impetuosity of the enemy and the inconvenience of the ground, the rear
guard became mingled with the van, and occasioned the utmost confusion
and disorder; they were forced to flee, and hastened at full speed
toward the Borgo. The Florentine troops fell upon the plunder, which
was very valuable in horses, prisoners, and military stores, for not
more than a thousand of the enemy's cavalry reached the town. The
people of the Borgo, who had followed Niccolo in the hope of plunder,
became booty themselves, all of them being taken, and obliged to pay a
ransom. The colors and carriages were also captured. This victory was
much more advantageous to the Florentines than injurious to the duke;
for, had they been conquered, Tuscany would have been his own; but he,
by his defeat, only lost the horses and accoutrements of his army,
which could be replaced without any very serious expense. Nor was
there ever an instance of wars being carried on in an enemy's country
with less injury to the assailants than at this; for in so great a
defeat, and in a battle which continued four hours, only one man died,
and he, not from wounds inflicted by hostile weapons, or any honorable
means, but, having fallen from his horse, was trampled to death.
Combatants then engaged with little danger; being nearly all mounted,
covered with armor, and preserved from death whenever they chose to
surrender, there was no necessity for risking their lives; while
fighting, their armor defended them, and when they could resist no
longer, they yielded and were safe.

This battle, from the circumstances which attended and followed it,
presents a striking example of the wretched state of military
discipline in those times. The enemy's forces being defeated and
driven into the Borgo, the commissaries desired to pursue them, in
order to make the victory complete, but not a single condottiere or
soldier would obey, alleging, as a sufficient reason for their
refusal, that they must take care of the booty and attend to their
wounded; and, what is still more surprising, the next day, without
permission from the commissaries, or the least regard for their
commanders, they went to Arezzo, and, having secured their plunder,
returned to Anghiari; a thing so contrary to military order and all
subordination, that the merest shadow of a regular army would easily
and most justly have wrested from them the victory they had so
undeservedly obtained. Added to this, the men-at-arms, or heavy-armed
horse, who had been taken prisoners, whom the commissaries wished to
be detained that they might not rejoin the enemy, were set at liberty,
contrary to their orders. It is astonishing, that an army so
constructed should have sufficient energy to obtain the victory, or
that any should be found so imbecile as to allow such a disorderly
rabble to vanquish them. The time occupied by the Florentine forces in
going and returning from Arezzo, gave Niccolo opportunity of escaping
from the Borgo, and proceeding toward Romagna. Along with him also
fled the Florentine exiles, who, finding no hope of their return home,
took up their abodes in various parts of Italy, each according to his
own convenience. Rinaldo made choice of Ancona; and, to gain admission
to the celestial country, having lost the terrestrial, he performed a
pilgrimage to the holy sepulcher; whence having returned, he died
suddenly while at table at the celebration of the marriage of one of
his daughters; an instance of fortune's favor, in removing him from
the troubles of this world upon the least sorrowful day of his exile.
Rinaldo d'Albizzi appeared respectable under every change of
condition; and would have been more so had he lived in a united city,
for many qualities were injurious to him in a factious community,
which in an harmonious one would have done him honor.

When the forces returned from Arezzo, Niccolo being then gone, the
commissaries presented themselves at the Borgo, the people of which
were willing to submit to the Florentines; but their offer was
declined, and while negotiations were pending, the pope's legate
imagined the commissaries designed to take it from the church. Hard
words were exchanged and hostilities might have ensued between the
Florentine and ecclesiastical forces, if the misunderstanding had
continued much longer; but as it was brought to the conclusion desired
by the legate, peace was restored.

While the affair of the Borgo San Sepolcro was in progress, Niccolo
Piccinino was supposed to have marched toward Rome; other accounts
said La Marca, and hence the legate and the count's forces moved
toward Perugia to relieve La Marca or Rome, as the case might be, and
Bernardo de Medici accompanied them. Neri led the Florentine forces to
recover the Casentino, and pitched his camp before Rassina, which he
took, together with Bibbiena, Prato Vecchio, and Romena. From thence
he proceeded to Poppi and invested it on two sides with his forces, in
one direction toward the plain of Certomondo, in the other upon the
hill extending to Fronzole. The count finding himself abandoned to his
fate, had shut himself up in Poppi, not with any hope of assistance,
but with a view to make the best terms he could. Neri pressing him, he
offered to capitulate, and obtained reasonable conditions, namely,
security for himself and family, with leave to take whatever he could
carry away, on condition of ceding his territories and government to
the Florentines. When he perceived the full extent of his misfortune,
standing upon the bridge which crosses the Arno, close to Poppi, he
turned to Neri in great distress, and said, "Had I well considered my
own position and the power of the Florentines, I should now have been
a friend of the republic and congratulating you on your victory, not
an enemy compelled to supplicate some alleviation of my woe. The
recent events which to you bring glory and joy, to me are full of
wretchedness and sorrow. Once I possessed horses, arms, subjects,
grandeur and wealth: can it be surprising that I part with them
reluctantly? But as you possess both the power and the inclination to
command the whole of Tuscany, we must of necessity obey you; and had I
not committed this error, my misfortune would not have occurred, and
your liberality could not have been exercised; so, that if you were to
rescue me from entire ruin, you would give the world a lasting proof
of your clemency. Therefore, let your pity pass by my fault, and allow
me to retain this single house to leave to the descendants of those
from whom your fathers have received innumerable benefits." To this
Neri replied: "That his having expected great results from men who
were capable of doing only very little, had led him to commit so great
a fault against the republic of Florence; that, every circumstance
considered, he must surrender all those places to the Florentines, as
an enemy, which he was unwilling to hold as a friend: that he had set
such an example, as it would be most highly impolitic to encourage;
for, upon a change of fortune, it might injure the republic, and it
was not himself they feared, but his power while lord of the
Casentino. If, however, he could live as a prince in Germany, the
citizens would be very much gratified; and out of love to those
ancestors of whom he had spoken, they would be glad to assist him." To
this, the count, in great anger, replied: "He wished the Florentines
at a much greater distance." Attempting no longer to preserve the
least urbanity of demeanor, he ceded the place and all its
dependencies to the Florentines, and with his treasure, wife, and
children, took his departure, mourning the loss of a territory which
his forefathers had held during four hundred years. When all these
victories were known at Florence, the government and people were
transported with joy. Benedetto de' Medici, finding the report of
Niccolo having proceeded either to Rome or to La Marca, incorrect,
returned with his forces to Neri, and they proceeded together to
Florence, where the highest honors were decreed to them which it was
customary with the city to bestow upon her victorious citizens, and
they were received by the Signory, the Capitani di Parte, and the
whole city, in triumphal pomp.

Niccolo Machiavelli