fdlx.jpg (60539 bytes)Fiore Dei Liberi's Flos Duellatorum
"The Flower of Battle", c. 1410

In its continuing effort to promote the authentic skills of legitimate Medieval martial arts, ARMA is proud to present select portions from one version of Fiore Dei Liberi's famed fencing manual of c.1410.   Below are the major portions both armored and unarmored on spada longa (long-sword) as well as polaxe combat in armor. This version of Fiore's treatise is the so-called 'Novati' edition and is one of only three surviving versions of his work.


Fiore dei Liberi / Fiore de' Liberi da Premariacco was a master of the Bolognese school of fencing in northern Italy and his work is now the primary source today for our knowledge of 15th century Italian fighting arts, especially the long-sword. His work also includes dagger fighting, staff, stick, short sword, poleax and wrestling. We know Fiore studied under German masters and his method reflects aspects of their style. Three different versions of his work are known to have survived: the "Pissani-Dossi" edition from an early 20th century facsimile by F. Novati (the original now lost) is partially in Latin verse and often called the Flos Duellatorium in Armis , or roughly "The Best of the Duelists." While the one now in the Getty Museum along with the more thorough Pierpont Morgan Library manuscript edition, both entirely in Italian, are referred to as Fior Battaglia (or "The Flower of Battle in Arms").Fiore's work is desperately in need of a credible translation and sound interpretation that compares all versions within the context of what is known about martial techniques and arms and armor from the era.

Flos Duellatorum, or "The Flower of Battle" is one of the most important Medieval fighting manuals. It is among the most complete presentations from the period of an integrated combat method of armed and unarmed, armored and unarmored, foot and mounted combat. Composed of short rhyming captions and heavily illustrated, it includes material on long-sword (spadone), dagger, spear, wrestling, poleax, and lance. Covering both basic techniques and fundamental principles, it is mandatory study today for any serious Medieval martial artist. Dei Liberi is at present the earliest surviving master of Italian fighting arts and a primary source for the Medieval Italian long-sword. Combined with other manuals and German Fecthbucher it provides a firm groundwork for understanding authentic fighting from the era skills.

Dei Liberi’s text is not always clear, but enough of it is accessible in his advice to give us a good idea of his method, including his guards or stances, attacks, counters, and philosophy of fighting.  It is also an excellent contrast to the German method of the long-sword as each uses similar but not identical stances and techniques.   The version of Dei Liberi here offers the major portions on  sword and poleax.    ARMA may offer translated sections in the near future.  A newer English translation by Prof. Sydney Anglo combining two different orginal versions of the text may be forthcoming in 2000. This commercial edition will clarify several key points, errors, and mistranslations that exist in current modern Italian interpretations.

As Professor Sydney Anglo says: "The text of the Pisani-Dossi version is cast in neat distichs; whereas the Getty [Museum] manuscript has much longer descriptions set in verse so bad as to be barely recognizable as such. Yet the tidy distichs do little to illuminate the sense of the illustrations, while the incompetent verse is vastly superior both in comprehensiveness and comprehensibility." So, the Getty version of the treatise provides longer, clearer and more pertinent commentaries.

Very little is known of the master swordsman "Fiore dei Liberi da Premmariacco" except what he describes of himself in his prologue. Fiore (pronounced "Fee-or-ray"), was born in Cividale del Friuli sometime in the mid 1300’s. In the late 1300’s he trained in Germany under "Master Johannes, the Swabian", who was himself a pupil of "Niklaus of Toblem" from the diocese of Metz, and which may very well have been the German Grandfechtmeister, Johannes Liechtenauer. He may have also studied under Johannes Suvenus. Dei Liberi later adapted his teachings to his own methods. He describes that he had been practicing the art of swordsmanship for "fifty years" when he began writing his text so he must have been an old man by standards then. In the text he states he took part in numerous battles in and around Italy for the last 20 years of the 14th century, including, in 1383 he fought in Udine, fighting on the side of the town during the civil war. In 1395 he was in Padua for a duel and four years later in 1399 he was in Pavia. Then in 1400 he was appointed master swordsman to the court of Niccolo III d’Este, Marquise of Ferrara and later acquired a commission as a master swordsman on behalf of Signore di Ferrara. He then began to write the manuscript for the knightly nobility and dedicated his treatise to the marquise. Dei Liberi appears to have died before 1450. The historical influence of Die Liberi’s teachings is still being determined, but for modern students of the sword it is priceless.

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