Thursday, August 12, 2010

Alberto da Giussano and Barbarossa - Part VIII: Company of Death

This is a part eight of the Barbarossa series from last fall, during the release of the Italian movie 'Barbarossa'. This movie may be available for download at a few pay movie downloading sites, but it would probably be better to just wait probably two more months for the DVD. Let us know if you find a good source in the meantime.

Company of Death (Wikipedia)

The Company of Death is the name used in the historical literature of English language for two related chosen tactical corps, two selected bands of warriors, entrusted to guarantee the cohesiveness and efficiency in battle of both the Milanese and Lombard League's militias through their bound by oath to the defence of the Milanese Carroccio, the wagon on which the standard of the Lombard allies stood.

They fought in the Battle of Legnano (29 May 1176) against the imperial army of Frederick I Barbarossa Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in his 5th Italian Campaign, and were determinant in his decisive defeat.

The two corps who formed the Company of Death were the Company of the Carroccio, an infantry unit of 300 men, and the real and effective Company of Death, a cavalry unit of 900 men, commanded according to tradition by Alberto da Giussano.

The Company of the Carroccio

The Company of the Carroccio, was an infantry unit of 300 men, all of them young volunteers (forming a societas) and Milanese, sworn by oath to die in defence of the Milanese Carroccio. They fought as phalanx in a Sheltron formation around their "Sacred wagon", armed with a large shield and a lanzalonga.

The Knights of Death

The Company of Death, also known in some sources till the late 19th century as the Knights of Death, is the name of a temporary military association of medieval knights (a temporary societas), not historically well documented, which according to tradition was organized and equipped by a leader known as Alberto da Giussano. It had a great importance during the Battle of Legnano (29 May 1176) where it defended the Carroccio of the Lombard League against the imperial army of Frederick I Barbarossa.

The company was assembled in haste, depriving the Lombard infantry of the valuable support of enough heavy cavalry, "horse" were recruited by Alberto da Giussano around Brescia, and in other eastern areas of Lombardy that had contributed less in infantry and trails to the League. The knights would not be understood in the medieval and romantic sense, but as mere "mounted on horseback" or also "light cavalry." They were very probably particularly cruel and fierce "professional, or semi-professional, fighters," apt at wreaking havoc in the enemy ranks.

According to Milanese chronicler Galvano Fiamma it was composed of 900 men at arms but other sources and modern scholars reduce that number to 300 or, more probably, 500.

According to tradition they wore a sort of dark suit (black and gray, cut vertically) connected at the sides, to cover the armour, with probably the symbol of the skull on the traditional small pointed wooden shields.

Their motto or battle cry could have been, accordingly to poorly documented but reliable sources, "Ambroeus!" (Which is however in stark contrast with the origin of many of them, allegedly Brescia).

As a demonstation of the Company's rapid formation and specific use and role during the Battle of Legnano, after the battle there is no further information about its continued existence.


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