Translated in English from Greek language from George E. Georgas
The new kind of war
In the late of 15th century brought to the European way of war two new elements: the first comes from the past and this is the dense infantry moving mass as compact phalanx with leading this type of fight the Swiss. The second element will determine the future of military tactics and the use of gunpowder.The field that will be tested and massively applied such novelties were the Italian wars between 1494-1559 in which the great powers (France, Habsburg Spain, Venice) clashed for control of Italian provinces. The military literature considers these wars and armies as the first modern of the modern era. Therefore, at this battlefield forged a new kind of war appeared from the stratioti, the first post-Byzantine Greek warriors.
The stratioti was light cavalry, soldiers evolution of Late Byzantine Army (soldier meant the light horseman), who served the last Byzantine Despots of the Peloponnese and the last emperor. During the occupation of the Peloponnese by the Ottomans these mercenary bodies used by the Venetians to defend their possessions in Nafplion, Methoni, Koroni and the Monemvasia. When started the Italian wars, the Venetians brought those troops on the Italian peninsula and they influenced by particular militant capacity development of military formations, contributing key to what military historians call a “revival of regular cavalry.”
Tactics, organization, customs
The war type of stratioti based on speed, flexibility, regular monitoring and harassment, the surprise attack and chase the enemy. It was a method of war that met in the Balkan war backdrop that prevailed during the 14th and 15th century.The numerous Ottoman troops could be addressed by the rulers Christians of the Balkans only with quick, regular movements favored by the mountainous character of the Balkan peninsula. The light cavalry could cope well in this task and it seems that Christians have adopted some elements from the Ottomans as light aggressive equipment and harness unlike the European knights. It is characteristic that Western sources often confuse stratioti with predominantly light cavalry of the Ottomans, the Akinci.
The stratioti was dressed in cotton investor for the heads were colored purple with gold-embroidered decoration. At the head wearing hat or rarely helmet, and some brought a kind of chest (panciera). Their equipment consisted of a small round shield (scudo), a sword type schiavona VII, a short spear (the prime weapon) with a small flag at the top end and a mace (mazzocca) often metallic. Their horses were big, fast and resistant to fatigue and hardships as appropriate in their war tactics.
Because we find the stratioti sources quite late when already become known in Europe and have crystallized their characteristics, it is difficult to detect the influences and their origin. It seems that the military elements of stratioti are a mixture of Byzantine, Balkan, Turkish and Western European military effects hammered at constant battles of the era. H Ethnic origin is another controversial issue. On sources stratioti sometimes characterized as Greeks, sometimes as Albanians and sometimes presented as a heterogeneous set of Greeks, Albanians, Dalmatians, Armenians and even. The truth is that the historic cradle of stratioti the Continent (and more specifically the Himara) from which the Byzantines enlisted military bodies staffed garrisons of the castles of the Peloponnese and central Greece during the late Middle Ages. The soldiers moved along with their families and a wider network of relatives, the clans.
This population, highlander, tough, nomadic and warlike, which has enriched and strengthened the demographic component of southern Greece became known as Arvanites. From this population mainly come stratioti. Their language, kinship Albanian, and their clothing, similar to Turkish, puzzled foreign observers and chroniclers who were not aware of the historical context of their origin. The stratioti lived in the Greek tradition, and through that expressed the aspirations of the Greek people for freedom.The origin of stratioti dictated the peculiar military organization and practice. The smallest unit, the compagnia, consisted of 25-50 riders linked to family ties and were led by capo. Usually the middle unit numbered 90-110 stratioti while a large expeditionary force, as carried by the Venetians in Italy reached the thousand or so people. Finally the guards of the castle in time of war consisted of 5.000 stratioti. Each capo (captain) transfers the leadership to his children, bau also it was a hereditary office, but not impossible and the choice between stratioti who strongly prevailing feeling of equality and independence. When in 1494, during the negotiations with the Venetian senate for their payroll, the doge of Venice gave his hand only to the Head of stratioti Peter Vouzyki the others capi refused to accept the terms of the Treaty and complained that they are all equal. Venice to meet the ambitions he awarded them the title of knight. Within the terms set by the latter were not being paid as mercenaries to a fixed amount, but depending on the number of enemies they kill and capture. Second term was to serve in Venetian noble and not other foreign leader (“shall have, because quite different traditions”).
Values of honor and generosity that had highly soldiers made them excellent warriors and undisciplined. Functioned more as naughty body special missions rather than as an integral part of a disciplined military whole. So stratioti accused during the battle at Fornovo (1494) left the hostile French troops to escape because stratioti preferred the looting of the enemy’s expulsion, act cost him the victory to the Venetians. The stratioti had their own code of values that complied with inexorable rigor. one of them was full respect for and observance of customs, especially those related to the equitable sharing of the spoils. The stratioti also accused by his contemporaries for their cruelty and their barbaric customs and especially to cut the enemy’s head to be rewarded by Venetian officials (the price was set at a ducat for each enemy head). But the practice was very common in the nomadic peoples of the Balkans as it had special symbolic and not connected with the logic of looting the dead but to achieve the ideal of warrior-hunter price. The head of the enemy represented the enemy of the ancient classical era shield: ascribe to soldier not only material gain and glory.
An excellent overview of stratioti gives us the Venetian chronicler Marco Sanudo: «The soldiers are Greek, and wore width investors and high huts, and sme wore armor. They are holding a spear in his hand a mace, and they have also a saber. They run as birds and they are allwayes ridding their horses, who have not eat grass such as the Italian horses. They are bandits and the loot the Peloponnese. Outstanding frontline attackers against the Turks, they are organizing raids and looting, attacking by surprise at the enemy, and they are faithful to their Lords. They took no prisoners but they cut their enemies heads , and for each head they cut they take gold . Great number of these dwell in the Venice, which willingly serving because excels called knighthood and they took pensions transferred to the children of them “(K. Sathas, Greek soldiers in the set and regeneration of regular Greek, Athens 1885, p. 161). The fact that stratioti had a peculiar system of organization and developed a unique culture. The heads of the soldiers believed they were continuing the struggle of Byzantine despots. Venice awarded them the medal of St. Mark and dressed with weave uniforms as they wore the Byzantine officials. The Mercurio Bua, perhaps the most famous soldier in Europe, had the banner of the imperial flag Paleologos, while stratioti rush in guild shouting the name of the Byzantine military saint: “Saint George, Saint George.” Took care to build and become patrons Orthodox churches were in Catholic lands as the city of Venice and Naples. The pompous appearance and distinct behavior reflected in the literature of the era that created the type of stratioti palikari, brave Greek soldier who reminds us of Digenis Akritas, the predominantly Byzantine hero.
From the Peloponnese in Europe
During the first Veneto-Turkish war (1463-1479) the stratioti proved the most well-trained body of Venetian mercenary army, but not the most trusted as many times acted independently according to the needs of “soldiers”.This attitude must be interpreted through the prism of anarchy prevailing in the Peloponnese at the time. The Ottomans pillaged and systematically destroying the countryside while the Venetians could not either fulfill their financial promises to stratioti nor observe their food policy thus live “soldiers” and their families are constantly in the range of famine, captivity and death.
“Some news about their participation in various phases of hostilities offer Venetian sources referred promotions, pensions and other remuneration of their leaders, such as Emmanuel, Nicholas and Michael Ralli, the eponymous Michael Ralli-Equal, brothers Markou- Epifanios and Korkodeilou branches, Matthew Sphrantzes, Nicholas Gritsa, Isaac Ralli-Laskaris, brothers Peter Alexiou and Gini Bush brothers Georgiou, John and Nikolai Menagia, Michael Ralli-harsh, George and Nicholas Pagomenos, Nicholas Bohali and his brothers, Pellegrinou Boziki, Isaac Reneses, John Gavala, plurality military with (genuine or fake) name Paleologos etc. ““For the Greeks the end of the war ended a fifteen-year period full of massacres, destruction and captivity. In some areas the population thinned out, sometimes because of massacres and famine, sometimes because of collective expatriation, several of which were made without the will of the people. [.] Notably the migration of many families Peloponnesians “soldiers” to the Ionian Islands, especially to Zakynthos (1464, 1485 ff), Cyprus (1473-1474), Crete (1479), Istria and Dalmatia ( after 1479) and Venice itself (from 1479 onwards) “
“The exodus of Greeks from their ancestral homes in the Peloponnese was the encouragement of the Venetians, who attempted both multiple benefits: to strengthen the one hand their garrisons in the new possessions of the Serenissima., To thicken their military forces in vulnerable bases in Dalmatia and Istria, to ensure infantry forces in the face of crisis in Terra Ferma because of the war of Ferrara, weaken, finally, those elements of the Greek population, which in their tactics and anti-Turkish tradition prevented orderly return to normal and generally undermine the restoration of peaceful relations with the Ottomans. “(I. Chassiotis, History of the Greek Nation, vol. I, p. 265, 275)The importance of statioti to address the Ottomans was perceived by the Venetians during the Turkish invasion in Friuli in northern Italy in 1472. The Turkish army consisted of Akinci led by Hasan Bey. The Venetians Italians recruited mercenaries and foot soldiers from the Venetian hinterland (Terra ferma). But the infantry were not professional soldiers but villagers who were charged with guarding the castles of their regions, a kind of militia that had no experience of warfare with the Ottomans, the same also happened with horseback mercenary parts of Italians. The Venetian army was destroyed.
In 1477 the Venetians realized that the Italian way of war had no effect against the Ottomans and decided to fight the Turks with the same weapons: small, surprise attacks, constant harassment, mock retreats, barrage of blows. In April 1477 the Italian troops were replaced by Greeks “soldiers” and archers from Serbia. As the weight of enterprises mainly raised the stratioti (coming from Zakynthos, Durres and the Peloponnese), this approach has seen great success. The Ottomans did not attempt ever to invade the West by this point.
The combat effectiveness of stratioti persuaded the Venetians and other western rulers to use them and other wars in the Italian peninsula. So in May 1482, 300 “soldiers” started from Nafplio to Ferrara led by John Palaeologus. At the same time the King of Spain recruit other 600 stratioti to fight in Apulia and Calabria. The presence of the Greek Equestrian lancer in Italy made a great impression on modern observers. Historian M. Sanudo describes as follows the arrival of stratioti in Venice: “On Lepanto sailed ennenikonta soldiers after the barbarian horses of, and disembarked in Lido, in the wake executed parelasin thus proving the fastest runners in the syrrefsantas patricians and countless multitudes of people [.]. The soldiers in the so-called Latin Ipeirotai, Turks, Greeks and Albanians are men always willing to risk. Naturally predators and they destroy the country by the raids and they kill people . “(Sathas, ibid, p. 155-156)
However, the wide reputation of “soldiers” because of their involvement in the Italian wars of the years 1494-1559, which began with the invasion of the French King Charles H in northern Italy. In these wars that took place armies from almost all countries of Europe (France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany) the Greeks ‘soldiers’ have demonstrated the importance of light cavalry. As the Pierre Brantome de Bourdeilles: «those people, the soldiers taught us to organize the light cavalry which previously did not honored in France and deprived of any class” (Sathas, ibid, p. 183). Until then, the light cavalry had only auxiliary role in the battle. The main body took the victories were the infantry. In the Italian wars the stratioti managed to defeat the French and the famous Swiss pikemens without assistance friendship Infantry (battle of Novara in 1496), “for fist time,” as characterizing the sources of the period. The “soldiers” has since caused terror to the enemies while the French king wanted to staff the army with such riders. So in 1498 the King Loui. asked Mercurio Bua to serve in the French army, and in 1503, after the Battle of Garilianou named Earl and leader of light cavalry. He was honored by the Emperor Maximilian with the title of general and the Earl of Ilaz and Swave.From the name of the Greek horsemen named and the French light cavalry: estradiot. The integration process of this body in the French army described the first Greek historian who worked diligently with the issue of stratioti Constantine Sathas:
“The” soldiers “not served only to organize the light cavalry but also the heavy cavalry. At the year 1534 at Discipline militaire of Bellay, each Frenchman noble and apprentice knight, from the age of seventeen must serve for six or nine years in the three schools of light cavalry, the Carabins, the Soldiers and the Light horsemen,to learn all the science of weapons and the art of combat and then named a true warrior.“(Sathas, p. 234)
After the 1530, with the widespread dissemination of arquebus Infantry (Spanish inspiration) the importance of stratioti reduced. Moreover scattered in different corners of Europe gradually Greek warriors assimilated culturally through long residence in foreign lands. Feature feelings of stratioti is the poem “soldier” and scholar Michael lettuce Tarchaneiotes:
He collapsed to its foundations and house and home
And, and, dear brother, my Death took you
And unripe sent you f sunless palaces.
Alas, miserable child, what my fate took you?
Who is allowed, leaving, the ‘arachniasmeno home?
First home, then thou, my rocked the breasts.
With you all I dig and my cravings n ‘hopes,
All together in the dark grave, which in hiding(Chryssa Maltese, Stradioti. Guardians of borders, Athens 2003, p. 30)
From : Hellenic Army General Staff