Fiore dei Liberi

Well Struck!

a group of seated people silhouetted against the sky of a cave mouth with an Iranian flag in the background
This is a cave above a valley in Iran. Those who have been there will know what it is, those who have not don’t need to know. Photo copyright D. Dolnig 2016.

For one of my projects on linen armour, I had to quickly check a reference to the memoirs of Usāmah Ibn-Munqidh, a garrulous old pirate with lots of tall tales about fighting and hunting and the barbarous customs of the Franks. As I was flipping through it, I discovered another story which I want to share.

The Ismāˁīlites … attacked the Castle of Shayzar (in 1109 or 1114 CE) … On that day I had an encounter with an Ismāˁīlite, who had a dagger in his hand, while I had my sword. He rushed on me with a dagger, and I hit him in the middle of his forearm as he was grasping the handle of the dagger in his hand and holding the blade close to his forearm. My blow cut off about four inches of the blade and cut his forearm in two in the middle. The mark of the edge of the dagger was left on the edge of my sword. An artisan in our town, seeing it, said, “I can remove this dent from it.” But I said, “Leave it as it is. This is the best thing in my sword.” The trace is there to the present day. Whenever one sees it he knows it is the trace of a knife.

– Philip K. Hitti, An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades: Memoirs of Usāmah Ibn-Munqidh (Columbia University Press: New York, 1929) pp. 146, 147 https://archive.org/details/AnArab-SyrianGentlemanAndWarriorInThePeriodOfTheCrusadesMemoirsOfUsamaIbn-Munqidh-PhilipK.Hitti/page/n155/

Foreigners who are not up on the details of Islamic theology call the Ismāˁīlites the Assassins after the hashish which they were said to consume. Shaizar is at a ford of the Orontes River in Syria.
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New and Not-So-New Publications

A photo of a busy square with an ornamental column and reflecting pool
Ancient History 9 has an article on the agora of Athens, so how about a picture of Innsbruck’s equivalent? A view towards the Nordkette along Marien-Theresien-Straße. Photo by Sean Manning, April 2017.

While I can’t pull the lid off Ninkasi’s vat to announce some projects which are still fermenting, today I would like to remind my gentle readers about two other new publications.

First, I have a short article on Marduk and Tiamat in issue 9 of Ancient History magazine. The focus of that issue is on Athens in the fourth century BCE, but there are also articles on Sicilian and Egyptian topics. If you like Peter Connolly’s The Ancient City you will like this issue. Check it out!

Second, I have obtained permission to release a pre-print of my paper on the mnemonic techniques employed in the writings of Fiore dei Liberi, a fencing master from Friuli who died some time after February 1410 CE. It was scheduled for a conference proceedings which was intended to appear in 2014 but which has been delayed. I hope it has something useful for fencers who want to learn more about medieval studies, and medievalists who want to learn more about physical culture. You can download the PDF from my website. (It is not beautifully formatted, because I made it from a PDF of the proofs which I had to convert to LibreOffice to edit then back to PDF to post; I am sorry, but going through the file and correcting the formatting would be very time consuming, and I can’t afford to take that many hours away from my other writing projects).

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Quaestiones Forojulienses: Why Do Fiore’s Jargon and Armour Jargon Overlap?

A man in a robe sits in an armchair with a circular table in front of him. The table rotates on a screw joint and supports two books, one open and upright and one horizontal and closed. In the background a glass window shows a dark night.
A student reading in his room, as painted in Paris circa 1420. British Library Royal MS 20 B XX. Cropped from an image in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts which has been released under a Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

One of my academic interests is knightly combat in late medieval Europe as described in four manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi dating to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Fiore’s works, and those of his contemporaries in more northerly lands, give us a unique chance to understand how the weapons and armour racked in museums were meant to be used. They at the very least give anyone interested in how ancient people fought food for thought.

This series of posts is inspired by the Greek scholar Plutarch, who wrote an antiquarian essay asking why the Romans practiced some curious customs. Plutarch was wise enough to give questions not answers, and that will be my policy in these posts as well.

Fiore dei Liberi was a startlingly intelligent man, and the words he chose to describe his art reflect this. He worked very hard to find words and design mnemonics which would help his audience understand and remember. Many of these words are still clear to students today, while some require a gloss. Because few of us hunt boar with spears, we need to be taught that the boar kills by ripping diagonally upwards with its fangs, and so does posta dente di cinghiaro (the position ‘boar’s tooth’). Quite a few of the words which he chose have another technical meaning within the world of arms and armour:
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Quaestiones Forojulienses: Why is there so little advice on fighting with two weapons?

A man in a robe sits in an armchair with a circular table in front of him. The table rotates on a screw joint and supports two books, one open and upright and one horizontal and closed. In the background a glass window shows a dark night.
A student reading in his room, as painted in Paris circa 1420. British Library Royal MS 20 B XX. Cropped from an image in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts which has been released under a Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

One of my academic interests is knightly combat in late medieval Europe as described in four manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi dating to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Fiore’s works, and those of his contemporaries in more northerly lands, give us a unique chance to understand how the weapons and armour racked in museums were meant to be used. They at the very least give anyone interested in how ancient people fought food for thought.

This series of posts is inspired by the Greek scholar Plutarch, who wrote an antiquarian essay asking why the Romans practiced some curious customs. Plutarch was wise enough to give questions not answers, and that will be my policy in these posts as well.

Fiore’s teachings have a clear philosophy of combat and a clear structure, with longer sections which teach the core of the art and shorter sections which develop a single principle in detail, add some techniques which are useful for a particular weapon, or just demonstrate that his art can be used with whatever tools are to hand. He provides adequate instruction on unarmed combat, although enthusiasts sometimes complain that he does not address wrestling on the ground and that his stances are not very good for standing and exchanging kicks and punches. He provides very thorough instruction on fighting with a weapon in one hand and with short or long weapons in both hands.  But he has very little advice on fighting with two weapons such as sword and buckler or lance and shield.  Why not?

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Quaestiones Forojulienses: With which edge should one make each cut?

A man in a robe sits in an armchair with a circular table in front of him. The table rotates on a screw joint and supports two books, one open and upright and one horizontal and closed. In the background a glass window shows a dark night.
A student reading in his room, as painted in Paris circa 1420. British Library Royal MS 20 B XX. Cropped from an image in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts which has been released under a Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

One of my academic interests is knightly combat in late medieval Europe as described in four manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi dating to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Fiore’s works, and those of his contemporaries in more northerly lands, give us a unique chance to understand how the weapons and armour racked in museums were meant to be used. They at the very least give anyone interested in how ancient people fought food for thought. This series of posts is inspired by the Greek scholar Plutarch, who wrote an antiquarian essay asking why the Romans practiced some curious customs. Plutarch was wise enough to give questions not answers, and that will be my policy in these posts as well.

Blows, steps, and guards make up the vocabulary of an early European martial art.  While Fiore describes these things more clearly than his contemporaries did, his words still leave some ambiguity.

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Some thoughts on Guy Windsor’s “The Medieval Longsword”

Book cover with series title up the left, volume title across the top, and two fencers with crossed swords in the centre

Guy Windsor, Mastering the Art of Arms, Volume 2: The Medieval Longsword (School of European Swordsmanship: Helsinki, 2014) (link to author’s online store)

Sometimes reviewers are tempted to review the book which they wish was sitting in front of them, rather than the book which actually is there. This is not a discussion of possible interpretations, their strengths and weaknesses, and why the author prefers the one which he does. Instead, it is an experienced teacher’s best attempt to teach Fiore’s art to people today from scratch, and it does that very well if somewhat narrowly.

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Quaestiones Forojulienses: What does it mean to “enter”?

A man in a robe sits in an armchair with a circular table in front of him. The table rotates on a screw joint and supports two books, one open and upright and one horizontal and closed. In the background a glass window shows a dark night.
A student reading in his room, as painted in Paris circa 1420. British Library Royal MS 20 B XX. Cropped from an image in the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts which has been released under a Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

One of my academic interests is knightly combat in late medieval Europe as described in four manuscripts by Fiore dei Liberi dating to the beginning of the fifteenth century. Fiore’s works, and those of his contemporaries in more northerly lands, give us a unique chance to understand how the weapons and armour racked in museums were meant to be used. They at the very least give anyone interested in how ancient people fought food for thought.

This series of posts is inspired by the Greek scholar Plutarch, who wrote an antiquarian essay asking why the Romans practiced some curious customs. Plutarch was wise enough to give questions not answers, and that will be my policy in these posts as well.

One of the most common verbs in Fiore’s works is “to enter” (Italian entrare or intrare). Translators often translate the Italian word with its English cognate, but I have never felt that I understand every use. Tom Leoni speaks of three types of expression which a translator must handle: those which are purely technical, those which are part of ordinary speech, and those which have both a common meaning and a technical one. Phrases like “to enter into the zogho stretto” fall into his third category, the most difficult to translate. Fiore also wrote in verse, and poetry usually allows a wider range of words, meanings, and expressions than prose. Being away from my books, I have used Wiktenauer to compile some examples of usage:
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Some Thoughts on Guy Windsor’s “Italian Longsword Guards”

Ancient martial arts are dead and beyond recovery. Anyone who wishes to learn a method for using ancient weapons effectively must study an art originating within the last thousand years before looking at the scraps of literature and painting and sculpture which give us some hint to how Assyrians or Romans fought. We are extraordinarily lucky to have a series of European fencing manuals running back to circa 1300, and over the past decades these sources have attracted researchers willing to face the formidable scholarly, epistemological, and physical challenges of interpreting them. In Italian Longsword Guards: Comparing Vadi’s Guards with Fiore and Marozzo Guy Windsor makes a first attempt at one of these problems: the relationship between guards for the sword in two hands in the oldest known Italian writers who describe that weapon, namely Fiore dei Liberi (wrote circa 1404-1410), Philippo Vadi (wrote circa 1482-1485), and Achille Marozzo (first edition printed 1536). Vadi’s verse manual contains many names and phrases which resemble Fiore’s words, but also significant differences.
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