What Were the Condottieri?
During the Renaissance period, most European armies were made up of professional soldiers, or mercenaries, who fought for hire. "Condottieri" is the Italian name for mercenary captains who, during the Renaissance period, provided the bulk of the armed forces for the various Italian states. The name "condottiere" was derived from the word condotta, which referred to the contract with which the condottiere made with various cities or lords.
The soldiers commanded by the condottieri were primary heavily-armored cavalry soldiers. An exception to the standard condottieri were the Swiss mercenary groups. These groups, usually referred to as "guards" rather than condotteri, formed the bulk of the papal armies and protectors. Additionally, while most mercenary armies were cavalry soldiers the Swiss armies generally served in infantry positions - fighting on foot rather than horseback.
Each state made their own contract with these captains, or condottieri, who commanded their own private armies. Most of the condottieri were nobles and even, in some cases, rulers of small Italian states who used their troops to bring in income as well as safeguard their own state's independence. The rulers of Mantua, Urbino and Ferrara were the most important of the condottieri of this type.
Where Did the Condottieri Come From?
In the early Renaissance period many of the condottierri came from areas outside Italy, including the Balkans, Germany, and Hungary. The earliest groups were composed of Catalans who had fought in dynastic wars to the south. In the mid-14th century a group called the Grand Company, with soldiers primarily from Germany and Hungary, took military control of Romagna, Umbria and Tuscany. This Grand Company is believed to have been the first group to be organized in a formal fashion and operating under a strict code of discipline developed by Provencal mercenary and adventurer Montreal d'Albarno.
Later in the period the condottieri came primarily from England and France where many soldiers were essentially "out of work" due to the ending of the Hundred Years' War. An Englishman, Sir John Hawkwood, became one of the most famous condottieri of this period. For thirty years he commanded what was known as the White Company in northern Italy.
The organization of these groups were perfected by Muzio Attendolo Sforza of Naples and his primary rival Braccio da Montone of Perugia. One of the most successful of all condottieri was Francesco Sforza, son of Muzio Sforze, who won control of Milan in 1450.
By the end of the 15th century Italians began forming their own mercenary armies and by the 15th century, most of the condottieri and their armies were Italian. Soon, these purely mercenary companies eventually became semi-mercenary armies, and were finally replaced by the national "standing army" system that you see today.
Selected Distinguished Condotteri
Roger de Flor (c. 1268 - 1305)
Malatesta da Verucchio (1212 - 1312)
Castruccio Castracani, Lord of Lucca (1281 - 1328)
Walter VI of Brienne
Cangrande della Scala (1291 - 1329)
Sir John Hawkwood (Giovanni Acuto, c. 1320-1394)
Giovanni Ordelaffi from Forlì (1355 - 1399)
Facino Cane de Casale (c. 1360 - 1412)
Andrea Fortebracci, aka Braccio da Montone (1368 - 1424)
Alberico da Barbiano (1344 - 1409)
Muzio Attendolo, aka Sforza (Strong) (1369 - 1424)
Giovanni Vitelleschi (d. 1440)
Erasmo da Narni, aka Gattamelata (1370 - 1443)
Niccolò Piccinino (1380 - 1444)
Francesco Bussone da Carmagnola aka Count of Carmagnola (1390 - 1432)
Micheletto Attendolo (Muzio Attendolo’s cousin or nephew)
Francesco Sforza (1401 - 1466)
Sigismondo Malatesta (1417 - 1468)
Bartolomeo Colleoni (c. 1400 - 1475)
Federico III da Montefeltro (1422 - 1482)
Cesare Borgia (1475 - 1507)
Bartolomeo d'Alviano (1455 - 1515)
Gian Giacomo Trivulzio (c. 1441-1518)
Giovanni dalle Bande Nere (1498 - 1526)
Ferrante Gonzaga (1507 - 1557)
Astorre I Manfredi (1345 - 1405)
Principal Battles of the Condottieri
Battle of Forlì (1282) - a French army, for the Pope, against Guido I da Montefeltro, for Forlì
Battle of Montecatini (1314)
Battle of Parabiago (1339 - Lodrisio Visconti's "Company of St. George", for Verona, against Luchino Visconti and Ettore da Panigo for Milan.
War of the Eight Saints (1375–1378)
Cesena Bloodbath (1377) - Papal and Breton mercenaries under John Hawkwood slaughtered more than 2,000 citizens of Cesena.
Battle of Castagnaro (1387) - Giovanni Ordelaffi, for Verona, against John Hawkwood, for Padova
Battle of Casalecchio (1402) - Alberico da Barbiano, for Milan, against Muzio Attendolo and others for the Bolognese-Florentine league.
Battle of Sant'Egidio (1416) - Braccio da Montone, for himself, against Carlo I Malatesta, for Perugia
Battle of Maclodio (1427) - Count of Carmagnola, for Venice, against Carlo I Malatesta, for Milan
Battle of San Romano (1432) - Niccolò da Tolentino, for Florence, against Francesco Piccinino, for Siena
Battle of Anghiari (1440) - Niccolò Piccinino, for Milan, against Florence, Papal States and Venice, under Micheletto Attendolo
Battle of Fornovo (1495) - Italian League against Charles VIII of France
Battle of Agnadello (1509) - Bartolomeo d'Alviano, for Venice, against France and Italian League
Battle of Pavia (1525) - Spain against France
Battle of Marciano (1554) - Gian Giacomo Medici for Florence and the Holy Roman Empire against Piero Strozzi for Siena and France
(List Source: Wikipedia)