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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Francesco Ambrogiani

Vita di Costanzo Sforza (1447-1483)

Pesaro città e contà, Link 3 (Pesaro: Società pesarese di studi storici, 2003). 277pp. €20.00. ISSN1720-1934.

It is quite rare to come across biographies of medieval soldiers in Italian academic  environment. Things were different in the first decades of the twentieth century, when many books- and some of them remarkable- concerning some of the most important condottieri were published1. Thenceforth it is clear that Ambrogiani’s work could be regarded by someone as an old-fashioned one not worth reading.

The Sforza of Pesaro, a branch of the rulers of Milan, were lords of a small state on the Adriatic sea, in one of the most complicated area of the Italian peninsula. Costanzo’s father, Alessandro, was the first member of his family to reign over Pesaro; moreover, he was an accomplished soldier and his son was to tread in his footsteps. Costanzo, born in 1447, is a more complex figure than it has often been recognised by local and modern historians, at least until the edition of Lorenzo de Medici’s letters, which first gave weight to his role in the political and military setting of his age. With de Medici’s letters as a starting point, Ambrogiani began examining a good number of documents on Costanzo Sforza’s life, a task which those who know Italian archives cannot regard as an easy one. Unfortunately the Sforza archive of Pesaro is long gone, so the author was forced to look for information from other sources, mainly from Milan, Florence, Venice, Mantua and Modena. If this must have been a long and laborious task, it was also an important effort to widen our knowledge about a prince-soldier who played no small role in his age. Ambrogiani’s work on original sources is even more praiseworthy if we think that many historians would have confined themselves to visiting a single archive or so, but he did not.

Costanzo Sforza, lord of Pesaro and its surroundings from 1473 until 1483, a learned man who wrote poetry and owned a rich library, took part in some of the most important Italian wars of the second half of the XV century: Bartolomeo Colleoni’s campaign against Florence and the battle of Molinella (1467), the war following the Pazzi Conspiracy (1478-1480) and the War of Ferrara (1482-1484). He was employed by the most powerful states of the peninsula, namely Rome, Milan, Naples, Florence and Venice, and his status as condottiero raised as time went by. He is not described as a fearless and blameless knight, but as he really was, an opportunist politician, ready to change sides in accordance with his own interests. This book shows the true nature of wars and warfare, with quarrels among commanders, prisoners being hanged, soldiers lacking money, struggles against rain, mud and snow, and Ambrogiani catches it all with unprejudiced look. It is also worth mentioning that his descriptions of some campaigns, notably that of Milan against the rebellious feudal lord Pier Maria Rossi (1482-1483) are almost new, so far having attracted very poor attention2, while they are of great interest for those who study Xv-century Italy. The last chapters can be seen as appendices, for they regard Costanzo’s military contracts, how he defended his lands by erecting a new castle within Pesaro and by building other fortifications, and his iconography in coins and paintings.

In Ambrogiani Costanzo Sforza has finally found a modern biographer who scrutinises his short but eventful life by researching deeply into contemporary sources in order to find the real lord of Pesaro. Someone will argue that Ambrogiani is more concerned with what Costanzo did rather than why, and perhaps it is true, but his vast knowledge of sources makes this book a valuable one. A learned biography, fascinating and balanced.


1. The best of them are  Bortolo Belotti, Vita di Bartolomeo Colleoni (II ed., Bergamo, 1933); Nino Valeri, La vita di Facino Cane (Turin, 1940).
2. The most authoritative and well informed work on the subject is still Antonio Pezzana, Storia della città di Parma, IV-V (Parma, 1852-1854)

Sergio Mantovani

Independent Scholar <>

Page Added: January 2007