Scholarly study of war in 16th century
Firearms and Fortifications: Military Architecture and Siege Warfare in Sixteenth-Century Siena, by Simon Pepper and Nicholas Adams. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 245 pp. Illustrated. $24.95. In 1494, the increasingly powerful French state shocked Europe by using disciplined troops and mobile artillery to launch a blitzkrieg invasion of the disunited Italian peninsula. France scored remarkable successes - at first. But the Holy Roman Empire - and particularly its Spanish component, with excellent infantry of its own - became involved as did the Ottoman Turks on occasion, and there followed some 70 years of intermittent warfare, from which Italy emerged disunited and manipulated by outsiders. Later Italians chose to blame their long-delayed unification on these events, which stimulated a stubborn patriotism of city-states, rather than the national consciousness emerging in Western Europe.
These wars provide the background for this graceful and beautifully illustrated academic monograph on the military reaction of the republic of Siena and its Tuscan territories to this military and political revolution. As the study of war - not simply ``military history'' - has evolved in recent years into an imaginative and broad-based subdiscipline, British scholars in particular have investigated these Italian wars, using neglected sources (including art and architecture), questioning previous assumptions, and raising new questions.
How did the city-states generate military power? How did this affect their political and economic structure? How important were military theorists, mercenary troops, and ordinary citizens? Was the new artillery quite so revolutionary as is commonly held? The sweeping denunciations by Machiavelli and other partisans of the ``decadence'' of the Renaissance military systems have long since been disproved. The armies in Italy had both the ability and the will to fight hard, accept stiff casualties, and seek clear victories.
Sieges of the fortified hill towns of central Italy were crucial to these wars. How wisely the fortifications were sited and designed, how much money and labor was expended on them, how well they met the growing power of artillery: These are the vital questions that the authors address. Fortresses were not expected to hold out forever; the goal was to wear down the attacker until winter weather and supply shortages weakened him or the defender's field armies could strike his flanks and rear. Defenders counterattacked with surprise sorties, counterbattery fire, countermines, hastily built earthworks at threatened points, and so on. An extended siege, such as that of Siena in 1544-55, was a terrible test for both sides, and the sack and rapine that often climaxed a successful assault was its logical, albeit horrifying, outcome.