The 1494 Invasion of Italy and the Military Revolution

The 1494 Invasion of Italy and the Military Revolution

Roberts (243) states clearly: warfare played a great part in nation-building.  In 1494, King Charles VIII of France crashed into Italy with an army of 25,000 troops and helped define the modern world.   Charles invaded Italy to settle yet another dynastic struggle, just like the hundreds of other royal family fights of the previous age (Gilbert, 74).   But the army the King of France had was a very different animal from the ones his predecessors had used to drive the English back across the Channel.

This new style army while not yet fully national, 8,000 Swiss mercenary pike men marched along with the French infantry, but it was professional. The army had three ‘arms’ or branches, deployed to be mutually supporting and was paid from a central treasury (Howard, 20).  Further, all the units, through their officers, answered to the king and were regularly inspected by the Constable of France.  Also, the army had a service of supply train that included bakers, seamstress, blacksmiths and armorers (Nicolle, 15).   Lastly, Charles crossed the Alps with 40 brass cannons; the finest artillery and most modern in the world.  These cannons were accurate, mobile and so powerful that the Fortress of Monte San Giovanni, which had previously withstood a siege of seven years, was devastated in just short eight hours (Duffy, 9).

Of course, this new kind of army didn’t spring from nothing; it was the end result of over a hundred years of governmental and military development. Organizing, supplying and most importantly paying a large, permanent army required an equally large and permanent bureaucracy; regular and sizable tax collections and paramount for the modern nation-state: a strong central authority (Porter, 33-34).   Further, large armies requiring large states to support them and smaller nations coalescenced into larger states or were taken over by larger states. In the 14th century there were about 1,000 polities in Europe, by 1789 there were under 350, by 1900 just 25 (Greengrass, 1-2).

Also an important precursor for the Army of 1494 and for development for the modern state was the Ordonnance of 1444 where Charles VII inducted several mercenary bands into royal service and then used the newly invested royal forces to crush the remaining free lance bands (Emerton, 307-308).  This was an important step on the way to the model that the sovereign state has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force (Weber, 154).

The French went through Italy like a “tornado” (Symonds , 114) . This invasion so frightened the other powers that they formed the first multiple power coalition in history. Worried about being cut off, the army fought its way back to France (Porter, 40). This fighting retreat of 1495 ended the invasion.  But the changes that the attack wrought would go on for years.  For example, the ‘men of 1494’ include Machiavelli, Sir Thomas More, and Erasmus. Now much of the intellectual energy of Europe was applied to war, statecraft and diplomacy.

In conclusion, as Porter (31) stated, by 1500 a feedback cycle was in effect; larger armies, larger wars, stronger states, or in other words: war made the state and the state made war.


Duffy, Christopher. Siege Warfare: The Fortress in the Early Modern World 1494-1600  (London: Routledge, 1979).

Emerton, Ephraim, The beginnings of modern Europe (1250-1450) (Boston: Ginn and Co. 1917)

Gilbert,  Adrian, ed. Encyclopedia of Warfare: From the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York: Routledge, 2001).

Greengrass, Mark, ed. Conquest and coalescence: The Shaping of the State in Early Europe  (London: Hodder Arnold Publication, 1991).

Howard, Michael.  War in European History. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

Nicolle, David. Fornovo 1495: France’s bloody fighting retreat. (Oxford: Osprey Publishing 1996).

Porter, Bruce. War and the Rise of the State: The foundations of Modern Politics. (New York, NY: The Free Press, 1994).

Roberts, J. M. A Short History of the World. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993).

Symonds, John A. A short history of the renaissance in Italy, (New York Charles Scribner and  Co. 1898).

Weber, Max, trans. Talcott Parsons. The theory of social and economic organization (New York: The Free Press, 1964).


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