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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Christine Shaw (ed.)

Italy and the European Powers: The Impact of War, 1500-1530

History of Warfare 38 (Leiden: Brill, 2006). Xiv+317 pp. € 113.00 / US$ 153.00. ISBN 9789004151635.

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If this book was a film, it would be the perfect sequel of “The French Descent into Renaissance Italy”. [1] The 38th volume of Bill’s series History of Warfare is a collection of essays by leading specialists in the field, whose aim is to assess the impact of the wars in the first decades of the XVI century on the Italian states, their cultural life and the involved European powers as well. Therefore it is not, as someone could expect from this series, a book on wars and warfare, or rather not only on that, but also about politics and culture. It was not easy to fulfil such an aim, for the literature on the Italian wars is not as rich as that on the earlier decades, for instance until Lorenzo de’ Medici’s death (1492). Italian scholars have often neglected the first years of the XVI century, a period that Machiavelli and Guicciardini described as the end of Italian liberty and of a golden age for the whole peninsula. However, in the last years some important contributions on the subject, both from Italy and abroad, have been published, and this book among them.

The first section deals with wars, from the transformation of the art of war, analysed by Michael Mallett, the reasons for the French defeat by the Spanish in the Kingdom of Naples in 1503-1504, by Atis Antonovics, the role of artillery and fortifications in some of the most important sieges, provided by Simon Pepper, until the part played by Loreto, on the Adriatic coast, against the threat of a Turkish landing, by Eva Renzulli.  In the second section, “Independent Italy and the Wars”, John Law shows how and why the small duchy of Camerino lost its independence, while Christine Shaw considers the changes in the relations between Rome and the European powers. Humfrey Butters offers a close examination of Machiavelli and Guicciardini’s views of political allegiances and structures. The third part of the book provides three different examples of foreign rules on Italian states: that of Spain on Naples, scrutinised by David Abulafia, the French one on Milan, by Letizia Arcangeli, and on Genoa, examined by George Gorse. Finally, the fourth section concerns the cultural aspects of the foreign conquest, John Najemy discusses the concept of arms and letters in the writings of Castiglione and Ariosto, while Nicole Hochner shows how the initial image of Italy as a paradise on earth in the French literature changed as wars went on, Music in the subject of the next two articles. The first, by William Prizer, offers an analysis of secular music in Rome in the first decades of the XVI century and how it became associated with courtesans: Iain Penlan takes into exam the effects of the sack of Rome (1527) on music and musicians in Florence in 1527-1530. Jonathan Davies shows the different fortunes of the ten Italian universities during the wars, with their phases of expansion or contraction.

This scholarly volume will certainly appeal to a wide readership, not only to those who have an interest in military history. The range of the authors makes it an important contribution on a period that would deserve further consideration, and it is certain that it will become a milestone for many years to come. All the articles are deeply convincing, even though it is to bear in mind that it would be advisable to read a good summary in order to fully appreciate this work.[2]


1. The French Descent into Renaissance Italy, 1494-1495: Antecedents and Effects, edited by David Abulafia (Aldershot, 1995).
2. On the subject is still useful Luigi Simenoni, Le signorie, 2 vols. (Milan, 1950).

Sergio Mantovani

Independent Scholar <>

Page Added: January 2007