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Montaperti 1260 as a wargame

It is well known that the many sources covering the battle of Montaperti differ considerably from each other, especially when it comes down to the numbers involved and the relative troop quality. What surely stands out at the first sight is that the army defeated was almost twice the size of the winning one; this important aspect, of course, needs to be well investigated in order to properly model the armies on a wargame table, if gaming results close to the historical ones are looked for. In this respect, the first question might be: were the Guelfs actually almost twice the number of the Ghibellines? If one compares the battlefield as reported by the sources with the reality of the actual natural environment, what immediately strikes is that the terrain which saw more than 30,000 Guelfs facing less than 20,000 Ghibellines is wide at most 600 700 meters. According to the sources and (very) broadly speaking, we may say that the northern half the battlefield saw the cavalry battle, while the southern half was for the infantry engagement; in consequence, mounted and foot troops are better examined separately. The number of Guelf knights which can be estimated in the van, or right wing (probably 2,000+, assuming that some knights could have been in reserve and others with the carroccio) appears as about right, or at least possible, if thought of as deployed on a frontage of 300-350 meters in multiple lines. However the Guelf foot call for a different evaluation; it is somewhat difficult to believe that 20,000+ Guelf foot (assuming that possibly 10,000 more men were held part in reserve at the back of the main body, and part with the carroccio in Piano delle Cortine) initially setup in an area 300-350 meters wide; that would have meant a huge formation of at most 350-400 men side-by-side, and more than 50 ranks deep. That is enough, according to me, for questioning the above numbers: were those figures also taking into account all the non-fighting foot? If so, how many actually could the Guelf infantry have been? R. Stopani in his book Laguato di Montaperti gives quite a convincing estimation of the men provided by Florence and her Guelf allies, based on the food requested to each single town or area in order to feed the Guelf host. He largely confirms the numbers reported by other sources, especially Villani (about 3,000 mounted and 30,000 foot) but again, the foot troops figure does not necessarily mean that all of them were combatants. My personal guess is that 20-25% of the Guelf foot may possibly not have been actual fighters, but camp followers, pack animal drivers and generic personnel drafted for sieges, menial jobs, etc..

On the contrary, from my point of view a different estimate should be done for the Ghibellines instead. Simply by taking into account that they were just outside their home doorstep - Siena, their numbers could be mostly taken as actual combatants. Of course, the above considerations would practically translate into a drastic decrease of the Guelf foot numerical superiority and, in consequence, into a more balanced assessment of the relative troop quality. The sources say little in terms of relative troop quality within the involved armies; the German knights are the only notable exception. Nonetheless, most sources agree on the battle development; because of that, I think that some guess work could be as follows: - the German knights sent by King Manfred, due to their being full-time professionals and the added protection they bought for their mounts, could be safely taken as superior troops; - the Florentine Ghibelline exiles, surely more than willing to put an end to their begging for a living and to have their properties in Florence returned, could also be assumed as superior quality; - the Sienese and allied Ghibelline knights and foot troops, well aware that a defeat in battle would mean for their hometowns to immediately fall into enemy hands, could generally be assumed as of ordinary quality; - the Florentine Guelf knights and some Florentine foot (in both cases no more than 15-20%), coming from the leading power in Tuscany and with a lot in stake, could also be assumed as ordinary troops; - the remaining Guelf knights and the foot provided by allied towns (possibly not very motivated), and the mass of the Florentine foot (notoriously weak), could be safely taken all as troops of inferior quality. More specifically, what justify such assessment for the Guelf foot is that they were, after all, unable to decisively defeat their Ghibelline counterpart even over many hours of fighting.

A pragmatic approach to wargaming Montaperti could be as outlined in the following table; the guiding concept is to simply model the forces in order to obtain, moment by moment and sector by sector, results close to the historical ones. Like said earlier, the battlefield is notionally thought of as divided into a northern and a southern sector, respectively involving the cavalry battle and the infantry battle.

No. Battlefield When sector 1. North 10:00am

Who/what

Result

Why

Tactical considerations

Wargame notes The German knights should be classed as superior

600 German Some success knights attack the Guelf knights front ranks, supported by 600 crossbowmen

Superior The Guelf superior knight quality numbers (2,000+) do not immediately tell due to: - lower troop quality; - inability to outflank the enemy left wing due to natural obstacle (river Arbia). Involvement of the Guelf knights rear ranks? Fresh knights Superior German knights mixed with average Sienese knights? Although only 200, Bigozzis knights redress the balance.

2.

North

3.

North

03:00pm

Guelf knights fight back the Ghibelline knights The Sienese knights guarding the carroccio (Bigozzi) attack the Guelf knights Continued cavalry battle

Some success

Some of the Guelf knights should be classed as ordinary, the others as inferior

Some success

4.

North

03:00pm 06:00pm

Stalemate no clear advantage to either side

German + Sienese knights balanced by the more numerous (although of overall lower quality) Guelf knights.

To put it simple, the Ghibellines should roughly field the same number of knight elements as the Guelfs but for the crossbowmen in the van; difference in quality = difference in the number of actual men represented.
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5.

South

10:00am 06:00pm

The Ghibelline foot attack the Guelf foot uphill

Stalemate no clear advantage to either side

Guelf foot uphill of the Ghibellines

The Guelf superior numbers (20,000+) do not tell much due to: - lower troop quality; - inability to outflank the enemy right wing due to natural obstacle (woods). The Ghibelline are anyway unable to dislodge the Guelfs from the hills. Some negative impact on the Guelf morale, some command uncertainty. Possible flight of some Guelf knights. Guelf commander-inchief (Rangoni) killed; very negative impact on the Guelf morale.

If not uphill, the Guelf foot would probably be defeated: Ghibelline foot of higher quality (ordinary) than the Guelf foot (mostly inferior with some ordinary)

6.

North

06:00pm?

Bocca degli Abati treason

Short-lived success, falling Guelf cavalry standard Success

Traitors quickly eliminated

Rules mechanism aimed at representing a temporary Guelf uncertainty no movement allowed? Rules mechanism aimed at hidden movement.

7.

South? (Rangoni position unclear)

06:00pm

Arras German knights attack the left flank/ rear of the Guelf army General Ghibelline attack

Unexpected attack

8.

All battlefield

06:00pm >>>>

Considerable success

Sudden Guelf Arras force at the back of army morale the Guelfs. collapse and flight

Rules mechanism aimed at reducing the troop quality when the enemy is also at their back.

Bruno Servili
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