Fiore his master and his students

One of the rare Masters giving a named reference to his masters is Fiore dei Liberi who learned his art in the late 14th century. He claimed to have learned his art from a Swabian (Johanni Svevio) or a Swedish (Iohannes Suenonis – Johannes Westgothi) Master:

“dante plenariam notitiam sum adeptus expertorum magistrorum exemplis multifariis et doctrina ytalicorum ac alamanorum Et maxime a magistro Johane dicto suueno qui fuit scholaris magistri Nicholai de toblem mexinensis diocesis”.

This naming opened a universe of wild guessing who this mysterious master could be. There was even mentioned that this could be the German Master Johannes Liechtenauer, who could indeed be a man of Swabia as a lot of other masters had connections with that region. And we know that the Swabian were extremely active as Condottieri following the successes of Duke Werner von Urslingen who made a fortune in Italy (duca Guarnieri/Guernieri) with his barbuti.

mexinensis diocesis

The master of “Johane dicto Suveno” named “Nicholai de toblem mexinensis diocesis” opened another shouting of guesses. To find the place of birth or living from which this unknown master seems to be of great interest. But this will be difficult, because even master Fiore thought that this place “toblem” is too unknown without naming a bigger region: the diocese. Let’s look on some of them brought to us by several researchers (please acknowledge their work by visiting the “Credits” at the end of this article).


  • Messina in Italy was found by Matt Galas in a Necrologium with the entry “Iohannes de Columna qui fuit archiepiscopus Mexinensis.”. Messina was indeed a diocese and it was called Dioecesis Messinensis, so that name match is very good. And the diocese is old enough to be named contemporary
  • Metensis (Metz in Lorraine) was called Dioecesis Metensis since the 6th century and the name matches very well.
  • Meißen in Saxony was called Misnensis Diocesis (we find it written as Meisnensis) roots back to 968.  There is a town called Doebeln.

Ruled out

  • Mechelen in Belgium is an diocese. But the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussel  called Archidioecesis Mechliniensis-Bruxellensis was erected 12 May 1559 and this is too late.
  • Mesen in Belgium had a monastery that was a Monasterii Messinensis but it was never a diocese.
  • Megenensis / Meginensis campus (Mayenfeld / Mosel near Andernach),  Mexentiae pons (Pont-Sainte-Maxence in France) are by no means a diocese.

Fiore’s famous students

Later on in his prefaces Fiore is telling us, that he himself has taught Germans and Italians the art of fighting. That sounds pretty much pan-European and a lot of travelling, but is that really the case? A few of the names he wrote down as his students and opponents can been cross identified [5][6][7]:

The fight in Perosa (province of Perugia)

  • Student: miß piero dal uerde (Morgan) / Missier piero del verde (Getty), German identified as => The Condottieri Pietro del Verde (Peter von Grünenberg, died 1385) was with his band of robbers at that time in the north of Italy (Umbria, Toscana, Florence),
  • Opponent: miser piero dala corona (Morgan) / Missier piero dela corona (Getty), German identified as => Peter Krone (Pietro Cornuald, died 1391) was another of the German Condottieri running around in North Italy (Umbria, Toscana, Florence) [4].

 The fight in Padua in 1395

  • Student: miß Galeaz delli capitani de grimello chiamado da Mantoa (Morgan) / Missie Galeaco di Captani di Grimello chiamado da Mantoa (Getty) identified as => Galeazzo de Mantova (Galeazzo Cattaneo dei Grumelli, Galeazzo Gonzaga died 1406) was another Condottieri and more or less active in North Italy (Toskana, Venetia etc.) [4].
  • Opponent: miser Bricichardo de Franza (Morgan) / Missier Bucichardo de fraca (Getty) identified as => Jean II Le Maingre (in Old French, Jehan le Meingre), called Boucicaut (August 28, 1366 — June 21, 1421) was marshal of France and a knight. He was in North Italy at that time (Padua)

The first fight in Imola

  • Student: miser Nicholo Vnricilino (Borialino) (Morgan) / Missier Nicol Wricilino (Getty) a German. not identified => probably Wirz or Wiricus
  • Opponent: nicholo Inghileso (Morgan) / nicolo Inghileso (Getty) not identified => Nicolo Inghileso (English) .

The second fight in Imola

  • Student: Lancilotto Beccaria of Pavia (Italian, died 1418) identified as =>  another Condottieri running around in North Italy at that time [4].
  • Opponent: miß Baldesar (Morgan) / Missier Baldassaro (Getty) identified as => Balthasar von Braunschweig-Grubenhagen (German, 1335 >= 1400) was in North Italy at this time [12] [13] [14]

The fight in Pavia in  1399

  • Student: Zohanni de Baio da Milano (Morgan) / çoanino da Bayo da Milano (Getty) identified as => probably Jean de Bayeux from Milan (French), was in Pavia at that time (not to mix with the Jean de Bayeux of the 11th century).
  • Opponent: squire Sram/Sirano (German) not identified  => probably Schramm, Knecht (Schildknappe, Squire)

The last fight (probably in Milan or Bologna)

  • Student: miser Azo da Castelbarcho (Morgan) / Missier Açço da Castell Barcho (Getty) identified as => Azzone da Castelbarco (died 1410), a Milanese noble and condottieri who had relations to Tyrol [6][7]
  • Opponent: miß Zohanni di li ordelaffig (Morgan) / çuanne di Ordelaffi (Getty) identified as => Giovanni Ordelaffi (1355–1399) was born in Forli, just 290km away from Fiore’s town Udine, had been in Bologna since 1377 and battled against Milan troops.
  • Opponent: miß Jacomo da Besen (Morgan) / Missier Jacomo di Boson (Getty) maybe identified => a good chance this was William Boson, who was at that time in the region. The Italian form was Guglielmo Bosone

What first looks like a pan-European teacher-student relationship is probably nothing else than the quarrel of the Condottieri di Ventura in North Italy and South of Austria, where Fiore lived and worked. The north of Italy was a place where mercenaries and their leaders could gain a fortune. Fiore never travelled to Germany or France or even to the south of Italy to learn his craft. He stayed in a 800km radius from the town he was born. His craft is truly South German/Austrian based and he never learned anything from a South Italian Master, a Spanish Master, a Hungarian Master, or an English Master. He was not an pan-European Master at all. But he did a lot for the diffusion of the martial arts, but things like that  happened everywhere and anytime at places where a lot of mercenaries met.

Capitano di ventura

The North of Italy was by all means the best place for mercenaries to earn their salaries in the second half of the 14. century. Had most of the major battles of the 13th century been more in the middle of Italy (the minor ones where still trouble enough for the rest of this country), the storm center of the 14th century traveled more to the north. The political fractions where in constant quarrel with each other. The  troubles between Guelphs and Ghibellines lasted 400 years. At some times everybody fought everybody else. The Sienaese fought the Florentines, both the Pope or the Germans, or just a city that was there to plunder. To add to this more trouble some third parties tried to get the best of it by adding oil to the fire. The Hundred Years’ War (from 1337 to 1453 between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France) was pausing so the French relationship to the once useful Routiers (a large group of mercenary soldiers) was growing bad. So the more clever mercenary captains  like John Hawkwood decided to stop ransacking poor villages in France and moved to the rich cities in the north of Italy, where the gold of the rich Italian families was waiting for them. A undeclared war began that lasted even longer than the Hundred Years war. It influenced the neighboring countries creating a culture of martial art and war related science. It is thinkable that most of the fencing art of Fiore and Liechtenauer resulted from this period starting in the 14th and lasting to the 15th were Swabian leaders and mercenaries changed the way battles were fought.

Books and essays used for this posting:

[1] The Significance of Neoplatonism, R. Baine Harris
[2] Die Argumentationsstrategien Serafín Fanjuls in’Al-Andalus contra España, Bernadette Bideau
[3] Theorie der Interpretation vom Humanismus bis zur Romantik – Rechtswissenschaft, Philosophie, Theologie: Beiträge zu einem interdisziplinären Symposion in Tübingen, 29. September bis 1. Oktober 1999, Jan Schröder
[4] Note biografiche di Capitani di Guerra e di Condottieri di Ventura
operanti in Italia nel 1330 – 1550
[5] Wiktenauer
[6] Schola Gladiatoria – Fiore dei Liberi – Fior di Battaglia – Flos Duellatorum
[7] A Brief Examination of Fiore dei Liberi’s Treatises Flos Duellatorum & Fior di Battaglia, Journal of Western Martial Art, September 2008, by David M. Cvet and An examination of Fiore dei liberi and his treatises describing L`arte dell`armizare, c. 1409 by DAviD M. Cvet
[8] Rerum Italicarum Scriptores ab anno aerae Christianae quingentesimo ad millesimum quingentesimum #18, Lodovico Antonio Muratori
[9] Il Friuli orientale Studi, Prospero Antonini
[10] Die Lebenszeugnisse Oswalds von Wolkenstein, Ausgaben 93-177,  von Anton Schwob,Oswald von Wolkenstein, Böhlau Verlag Wien, 2001
[12] Geschichte des Papsttums waehrend des vierzehnten Jahrhunderts, Band 3, Jean Baptiste Christophe, Joseph Ignaz Ritter
[13] Erzählende genealogische Stammtafeln zur europäischen Geschichte Band I, Teilband 1, Andreas Thiele, R.G. Fischer, 1991
[14] Geschichte der Stadt Rom, Band 2, Alfred von Reumont


Special thanks for making their awesome researches and work public:
  • Michael Chidester
  • David M. Cvet
  • Matt Easton
  • Dott. Roberto Damiani
  • Matt Galas
  • and the folks of the The Exiles Fiore Project

14 thoughts on “Fiore his master and his students

  1. Hi Jens!

    A nice article. A few tidbits:

    I wouldn’t say Fiore’s art is “Austrian”, but rather “Austrian-Northern Italian”. It is important to understand that some of the technical nomenclature Fiore uses not only appears in other *northern* Italian traditions, but also appears in non-technical sources – such as romances – in the 14th c. (I am working on compiling this into an article.) There are clear overlaps in terminology (Iron Gate, Crown) and close correspondences in some very unique plays – particularly to the “Gladiatoria Group” manuscripts, but I am less convinced that this means one art came from the other, so much that both the Liechtenauer tradition and the dei Liberi one emerged from a common root stock.

    I didn’t see Tom Leoni’s revised translation in your bibliography. You might want to look at it, as he does a good job addressing the linguistic questions around Nicholaus von Toblem and Metz.

    Finally, I recently posted an article covering Galeazzo’s life which may be of interest to folks: Even if not, the bibliography may give you a few more data points of interest.

    Best wishes,

    Gregory Mele

    1. Hi Gregory,

      things are complicated. As a Friuli the man was belonged to the church state of Aquileia thus he had the Pope as his highest overlord. He himself was working for several customers. To put him in a single national context is wrong I think.
      I did not use Tom Leoni’s revised translation. I try to read the originals as far as it is possible. But I will have a look at it thanks to your hint. Same with your article. Looking forward reading it.

      All the best and thank you for the comment,

      1. Jens,

        I actually agree – Aquileia is tied to two spheres, but by the time we see Fiore’s art, he has been active throughout northern Italy, and judging by his students, largely Lombardy. Which is why I would say that his art represents an Austro-Northern Italian tradition.

        In this case, the information in Tom’s work is his introduction, obviously.

        Anyway, great article, as always!


      2. That’s just fine. Nothing in this article or the complete blog is set in stone and if I get more information I will happily change the content. So let me take my time to make more researches on this.

  2. Keep in mind that the Patriarchate of Aquileia was an Imperial State (Reichsstand) and the Patriarch himself, in addition to being at times the second-most powerful bishop in the world (or perhaps contributing to that status), was a Prince-Archbishop of the Holy Roman Empire with imperial immediacy (Reichsfreiheit) and, if I recall correctly, three votes in the Imperial Diet (Reichstag). The Aquileian War of Succession, in which members of the secular nobility attempted to unseat their ecclesiastical magnate and in which Fiore took the side of the secular nobles, was typical of conflicts happening all over the HRE in those centuries. And Fiore himself was likely a member of the Free Nobility (Edelfrei) or the Imperial Free Knights (Reichsritter)–or both, since the distinction between the two is quite murky in the 14th century as the former died out and the latter formed out of the remnants. By all of which I mean to say that imagining that our Fiore Furlano was purely “Italian” or attempting to understand his life with only an Italian-centric perspective is a mistake.

    As far as his art goes, I think he’s just one branch of an art that spanned the Holy Roman Empire, completely separate from Liechtenauer’s eastern European art, and that other branches may be found in the Cod.5278/Ms.B26/Cod10799 strand, the Gladiatoria complex (where the connection is especially obvious in the dagger material), and possibly even Vadi, though evidence still points to him being familiar with at least the Pisani Dossi Ms.

  3. Hit ‘Reply’ too soon.

    To conclude that thought, there are two possible explanations for the similarity between these three or four branches of the tradition: either the practice of this art was widespread and these treatises were written based on practice, or more likely (though it doesn’t exclude the first option), there existed one or more older texts that included the images at the very least and inspired the whole lot of them (including Fiore, which would explain why he uses the same image for different plays in different texts sometimes).

    1. Or all of the above. Fiore tells us that he has owned books of the art – what that means is, or course, speculative, but it is good to remember that two of his works follow the traditional Judicial duel format of equestrian, spear, sword, dagger, wrestling (although the Morgan never completes this process). Also, I would say that the Gladiatoria connection is strongest in the use of “outlier” material: the sword vs spear, spear and dagger vs spear, and the particular way those figures are rendered.

      Now, just to be clear – I was not saying that we should see him purely in an Italian lens, but rather disagreeing that his work is specifically “Austrian” – for all of the same reasons you suggest. Ultimately, all of these arts are really products of the HRE, but what *is* important to understand is that the dei Liberi material – by which I include Vadi – has certain commonalities with German texts, but moving outside of armour and dagger, which is highly similar in all traditions, due to mechanical necessity, the material ultimately shares more commonality in technical vocabulary, tactics and pedagogy with the slightly later Bolognese tradition of central Italy. Again, if we consider Fiore as a Friulan particularly active in Lombardy, this link with both South German and central Italian traditions should be about what we would expect.

      1. What’s especially interesting, looking at the biggest picture, is that except for the position of the longsword material (which is only present in some texts and moves around a bit), the Morgan, the Cod. 5278, Eyb’s treatise, the four Gladiatoriae, and Vadi all follow more or less the same sequence. Assuming that the Morgan is the earliest (which is likely for various reasons), the reversed sequence in the Getty and Pisani Dossi might represent as much of an innovation on Fiore’s part as the use of crown and garter emblems to structure it.

        Now, you mention the Dardi school, and you have me at a disadvantage there since I haven’t spent nearly as much time with that tradition as I’d like. However, is it that he shares vocabulary specifically with the Bolognese, or that he’s using a generalized Italic fencing vocabulary which transcended any specific tradition and the Bolognese are just the earliest surviving records after his own? Either way wouldn’t surprise me, since we know that he studied Italic fencing as well as Germanic, but it’s worth considering that perhaps his use of such terminology is due purely to the language that he was writing in.

      2. Michael,

        Agreed on the Morgan, and consider that it is the one a) not dedicated to Nick d’Este and b) the ones that are are the unique ordering of abrazare to equestrian and c) we are told they are ordered by “my lord’s reasoning”. Whether a nod to a patron’s vanity or Fiore’s innovation is unknowable, but in either case it suggests a clear departure, and an acknowledgement to the same.

        Re: terminology and Bolognese (I avoid the Dardi school name, as we really do NOT have a clear proof of any link to Dardi; if anything we should call it the di Luca school) – the answer is “both”. Things like gioco largo/gioco stretto/mezza spada are ubiquitous, but even more than just in Italian – see Silver’s nearly identical use of wide space, narrow spaced, half-sword, close play, agent and patient, true and bastard. This is Aristotelian language and legal language at work.

        However, there are other things – conceptualization of guards = blows, blows are movement between guards, nomenclature of guards (coda longa, porta di ferro, chinghiale) and how it relates to their use, two of the three volte and specific plays and how they are described that shows a common connective tissue beyond “the books are written in Italian”. Again, did one come from the other? I think not; I think rather they also extend from a common, central-eastern Italian ancestor. Likely this was one current, the southern German/Austrian tradition the other, that influenced Fiore’s own method.

      3. It’s always frustrated me that he says quite clearly that he owned books (plural) on fencing and yet the only ones that we have which are old enough could not possibly have belonged to him. So much has been lost. 😦

      4. What hurts the most is that it is a “throw away” comment; as if your are I said “I have an extensive library”. Ie: it isn’t shocking that the books existed, but notable that he had them and had studied.

  4. Hi! I’m historian and at moment researching the passage in Fiores Text. When i look at the scan from the faksimile I read Mexmensis. Mexniensis would be possible too. To read the original or a better scan would bring more clearence. The problem is the stroke the autor did above the word. Seems most people think this would be the point of the i. But it could be a mistake from the autor. But there is one more thing that could show that there isn’t an i fter “Mex” becaus the n’s in the text always have an stroke on the right bottom site. And an “i” would allways have an stroke on the bottem to the “n”. So I think really there isn’t an “i” after “Mex”.
    But to have a word on your article! Is very good!

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