Mercenary Companies and the Decline of Siena as written by Caferro focuses on the most dramatic issues faced on the Italian peninsula in the 1300s. This mainly revolves around the marauding mercenary companies’ raids. These companies were locally known as Companies of adventure and more in general, Free Companies that included private armies with professional soldiers and all the adventures that were realized throughout the continent of Europe. The services of the companies were sold to the highest bidder during the war times. Siena city that was visually magnificent, wealthy and wedged between Florence and the pope’s lands were the two frequent mercenaries’ employers and also an especial target. Thus, William Caferro explores the economic, administrative and social impact of the companies that were found on Siena from the time Werner of Urslingen arrived and the Great Company of 1342 all the way to the fall of the republic of Siena in 1399.
During the 14th century, Caferro states that Siena went trough thirty-seven raids. These were characterized by pillage, arson and looting in the countryside. There was also a lot of extortion that was in form of tremendous bribes from the government of the city. Caferro shows that these raids comprised a significant and persistent drain on both the financial and human resources of the city of Siena. Payments to the companies drained off valuable and limited finances and thereby damaged an economy that was already circumscribed. The government was consequently forced to borrow money on an unprecedented scale from the subjects of the land. The officials of Siena pressed money from every resource that was available. This included the church which was taxed sporadically previously and the Jews who were lately given the rights of lending money to the state. There were also other desperate measures that were taken that included land pawning, forced salt purchases and the readmission of exiles free of charge. These stresses which were occasioned by the mercenaries were exacerbated greatly through famine and plague. These calamities in most cases coincided with the raids where each calamity served to intensify the effects propagated by the other.
In this book, Caferro links his interests in the history of economics with his studies of the mercenary companies that operated during the 1300s in Italy. The consequence of this methodological approach turns out to be a very interesting way, particularly when compared with the attitude of endurance of the many historians to connect the mercenaries’ phenomenon in Italy basically with the enterprises of military of the great soldiers of affluence of the medieval and early contemporary age.
During this time of the 14th century, Italy was a very favorite region for mercenary companies because of the political fragmentation and the instability of the government institutions. In his book, Caferro examines the impact that the raids of the mercenary had on the Siena Tuscan city. This was mainly in the time span between 1342 and 1399. Caferro provides a lot of evidence of the main role of the influence that the repeated raids had on the decline of Siena. This decline ended in the subjugation of Siena to Milan’s Giangaleazzo Visconti. The SienaCity was a very easy prey for the companies of adventure and more so for its geographical location. It made efforts of defense both through opposing attacks with the resistance of the military and through the payment that was made to companies to prevent them from impinging the city boarders. The community, whose territory was ruined by famine and plague, was obliged to take different actions to meet the expenses of the mercenary raids. Caferro conducts a very thorough and accurate study that both examines the impact of the recurrent raids on depredations on the city of Siena and again investigates the consequences of politics and the mutations of institutions linked with the succession of the negative conjunctures that emerged. For instance, Caferro underlines the exhaustion of the country side of Siena which resulted in the abandonment of the communities and the phenomenon of the administrative offices proliferation to get the colossal sums of money that includes the new office that was named “Condotta”.
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In this book, Caferro draws a lot of information from a detailed study of the financial records of Siena as he tries to make an assessment of the cumulative impact on financial resources occasioned by the raids. This was indeed devastating. The ransom payments raised in this story accounted for a number of the largest single expenses that the communal treasury incurred. Hitting a city that was also faced with challenges after the Black Death and compounding the ravages of the famine and plague the republic was ultimately pushed into a fatal crisis. Caferro logs the increasingly frantic straits of finance of the commune. Successive regimes made an effort to enlarge the base where forced loans were levied both socially and geographically. All the taxes were mortgaged years in the future to repay these loans. Unlike Siena, Florence was able to consolidate its debt.
Administration collapsed under the financial strain and towards end of 1390s, Siena was now reducing to holding fire sales of the constituents of communal warehouses as well as borrowing overseas. Siena had become a Visconti satellite before it eventually surrendered its sovereignty and declined in 1399. Caferro paints a clear picture and in broader terms brings out a very convincing research on Siena city. All the same, people could raise some criticism as the 1342-99 years were handled in isolation. Even declaring that the companies were phenomenon strange to the second part of the 14th century and that there could be issues with survival of records. It would be very appealing and interesting to find out the way Siena handled military crises during the period before 1342. Additionally, the comments on the 15th century by Caferro are uninformative and curt. More seriously, Caferro offers a partial account of the relations of Siena with the military entrepreneurs. Other wars are not mentioned and thus their exclusion from the book distorts the picture. These mainly are such wars like the war with Perugia in 1358 and that with Florence in the 1390s. Moreover, it would have been more helpful if Caferro had unearthed the relationship between the dissident groups in Siena and the Companies. Much of the difficulty of Siena was occasioned by the inability to co-opt and overawe powerful groups of interest by the fragile regimes towards the end of the 14th century.
Caferro does not think that Siena had any options of coping better with these challenges. This could be a correct argument because Siena was only a small state which did not have a strategic depth in handling such crises. The people who are used to the depredations of bodies could be surprised at the way little evidence has been provided for the small scale small resistance invaders. Caferro makes a conclusion by stating that the companies’ stress acted as a change agent on the machinery of state. It brought about both confusion and decentralization. If as argued by some historians, the expenditure by the military amounted to more streamlined bureaucracies and assisted to make other states elsewhere, it is no doubt that the same phenomena played a part in “unmaking” Siena. The raids were therefore more than a nuisance of exotic nature although it was the key factor in the decision of Siena to leave independence in 1399.
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