The Battle of Cento, 1481 AD

From Waldo Macaroni's Florentine Commentary1

The Venetians once again chose to invade our fair protectorate of Este. Plans discussed in the Palazzo Vecchio2 after the previous invasion were immediately swung into action, which included the summoning of our brave militiamen of Firenze. These Giovanni3 led to Cento where the combined Florentine forces, assisited by Albrecht Schwartz' Swiss, opposed the Venetians.

The Venetian attack concentrated on the Swiss, and they broke under the onslaught. Those Venetians, mercenaries to a man, opposing our our troops however were routed most ignominiously; Problematica, their mercenary general, being one of the few brave enough to stand his place and be captured. Alas the treacherous Berterelli4 escaped from the fray, and straight way galloped back to the Doge whispering honeyed words in his ear...

1. Secretary to Florentine senate, 1475-84.
2. The building in which the Florentine senate met, begun in 1298.
3. Senator and Captain-general of the Florentine militia.
4. Condottieri captain, went over to the Venetians the previous year.


This was the tenth battle fought in the campaign (being out of synchrony with the ninth battle). After the inconclusive skirmishing around Cavezzo, the Florentine senate (played by Ion Dowman), sure that the Venetians would essay another foray into their territory, began preparing for the next round of the war.

Knowing that they could never raise enough horsemen to contemplate meeting the Venetians equally in that area, they decided to capitalise on their infantry advantage. The pick of the Florentine militia were called up and marched north by Giovanni, their captain, to join the more local militia contingents being raised by Asti de Spumante (played by Brent Burnett-Jones) in the province of Este. This involved a prodigious outlay of money by the authorities, since the Florentine militia were serving well beyond their normal terms, both the men themselves, and their employers having to be compensated for lost revenues.

On the Venetian side, Luigi Problematica (played by Martin Abel), their captain-general, had convinced the Doge (played by Nicholas Grant), that they would need some infantrymen of their own to contest with the Florentines, and many memebers of the Venetian provisionati were enrolled in the army that Problematica led south, accompanied by Berterelli (played by Mark Otley), formerly a captain of the Florentines, but now serving the Venetians.

Giovanni of the Florentines, determined to win an outright victory over the Venetians rather than an inconclusive stand-off, refrained from defending the banks of a river as he had done in his previous battles. In this he was counselled by Spumante that the enemy could be lured into a ground of their own choosing if their position did not look overly strong.

Accordingly, he drew up the Florentine host near the town of Cento, behind the road leading to the Reno river half a league to the east. The Venetians were marching south down the river heading towards Bologna, preceeded by their light cavalry, and battle appeared imminent. The heat of the day was receeding as the sun slowly descended from its zenith and the two armies deployed opposite each other.

Giovanni's own left flank was anchored on the northernmost part of Cento itself, and immediately to his right was marshalled the Swiss pikemen and halberdiers under Albrecht Schwartz. To their rear were the Florentine pioneers, baggage handlers and other auxiliaries, plus numerous local militiamen, crossbowmen and handgunners for the most part. Further to the east, deployed on a small rise, were Spumante's elmetti lancers, the mercenary crossbowmen and the local pike-armed militia, plus some mercenary pikemen to their right. Anchoring the Florentine right flank, hidden in a wooded hill, were more missilemen, some Swiss, others militia.

To the north of the town lay the Castel San Pietro. This fortress was in good repair, and equipped with several good cannones, and garrisoned by a command of elmetti under Troylo da Rossano, reinforced by local crossbowmen from Cento. To its west was another wooded hill, and more elmetti and handgunners lay in ambush there, ready to attack any force intent on storming the castle.

The Venetians, having stopped to deploy their line of battle, posted their baggage train near some tall scrub and weeds that had been left fallow this year. In front of them Problematica drew up his own lancers, and the Stradiots, light horse from around Dalmatia. To his right were some mounted crossbowmen, and to their right, facing the Castel San Pietro, were more elmetti. Between these and his own lancers were the Venetian artillery pieces, guarded by crossbowmen, with which he aimed to blow away the Swiss, who were the particular target of the Doge's emnity since they enlisted with the Florentines.

To his left, towards the river, Berterelli's company, together with the Turkish horse archers, the rest of the heavy foot, bills and pikes, and some foot archers were deployed, and in order that they might not be surprised by any Florentine ambushes, a strong party of provisionati armed with crossbows and handguns were posted on the far side of the river, which was running low in the height of summer.

Deployment Map

The Venetians advanced only cautiously, finding the sporadic fire from the guns of the Castel San Pietro, while not causing any great loss of life and limb, did not make for the orderly manoeuvering of their cavalry. Problematica had decided not to bother with attacking the castle, and ordered his artillery forwards towards the Florentine lines.

The Florentines advanced their left flank rapidly, moving it up so that it was protected by the Castel San Pietro, while their whole line pivoted to keep a uniform front so that their army effectively wheeled 45 degrees to the right. A few Venetian mounted crossbowmen moved frowards to slow the advance down, but the Florentines had no intention of moving any further in any case.

As the Venetian artillery moved up, Problematica's lancers redeployed to face the new Florentine axis, while Berterelli ordered the Turks forwards to prevent any Florentine foot issuing from the woods. His own foot suspected that there may be Florentines lurking in the woods to the east of the river, and stood about, unwilling to advance further.


The scene showing the two lines about to clash, Florentines to the top of the page, with the Swiss in the centre, facing the massed Venetian lancers.

Battle was precipitated in the centre by the Swiss rushing forwards in order not be raked with crossbow bolts and artillery fire. A confused melee saw the Swiss pike blocks broken up in confusion, though they defended themselves well with their short swords. Just to their east, Problematica led the charge against Spumante's lancers, forcing Spumante to commit his last reserves of elmetti to the fray, including his own squadron, so that adjacent to them the Florentine line was at it's thinnest, being only held by crossbowmen.

Seeing this, Berterelli, having held back awaiting developments, ordered his billmen to march across the battlefield towards the Castel San Pietro with instructions to engage the Florentine militia, while he himself led his elmetti forwards to charge the Florentine crossbowmen.

The Swiss, having finally taken the Venetian guns and scattered their accompanying crossbowmen, were disorganised, and failed to withstand the onslaught of fresh Venetian lancer squadrons coming up in support of Problematica. Schwartz was knocked unconcious by a Venetian mace-blow, and the rest took flight, to be cut down by the pursuing Venetian men-at-arms.

However, in the next section of the line, things were not looking so well for the Venetians. Spumante's lancers were on the whole pushing back their Venetian opposites, except for Problematica's personal squadron, with the result that the Venetian commander was in danger of being surrounded.

Near the Castel, Govanni urged the Florentine militia forward, four companies of crossbowmen protected by traditional-style pavise-bearers. Berterelli's billmen moved up to engage them, but they were slow to close on account of the crossbowmen's fire, and wary of Giovanni's lancers, as yet uncommitted.

By this stage, Problematica's lone squadron had been surrounded on all sides by Florentines. He fought on bravely, seeing his victorious men pursuing the Swiss to his right, but he couldn't break through to reach them. Eventually his horse was shot out from under him and he was obliged to surrender.

Berterelli, having seen Problematica's banner being lowered, charged the Florentine crossbowmen to his front thanking the Heavens for the opportunity to shower himself in glory, but as his companies surged forwards towards the Florentines, he suddenly found himself pitched forwards, his horse having been stopped dead in its tracks by several well-aimed quarrels. He impacted hard on the sun-baked ground, and was briefly knocked out.

As he lay stunned, his men faltered under the withering fire of the Florentines, and then retreated. Berterelli came to his senses just as his men had ridden away, and the Florentines were about to over-run his position. Quickly he picked himself up, broken left arm dangling uselessly, and ran to the rear for his life.

To the east, Giovanni, sensing the moment was right, sounded the charge. The Venetian billmen to his front failed to withstand his charge, and all fled before him. With Problematica captured, and Berterelli hors de combat, there was no-one left to rally the flagging Venetian spirits, and the Venetian soldiers started to quit the field. They had been decisively beaten, although casualties were relatively even, since many Swiss had been ridden down in the midpoint of the battle by the Venetians, while the Florentines had too few mounted troops to conduct an effective pursuit before darkness fell.


This page last modified: December 19, 1998

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