500 assorted cavalry
Casualties and losses
Wars of the Guelphs and Ghibellines
Colle Val d'Elsa
Pieve al Toppo
Henry VII campaign (Brescia)
The Battle of
Legnano was fought on May 29, 1176, between the forces
of the Holy Roman Empire, led by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and the
Lombard League. The Imperial army suffered a major defeat.
1 The Lombard League
2 Frederick's 5th Italian Campaign
3 Siege of Alessandria
4 Treaty of Montebello
7 Actual battlefield
8 National unification references
9 In popular culture
9.1 In movies
9.2 In literature
10 See also
The Lombard League
Lombard League was formed in 1167, largely out of the Veronese
League. It was a Union of Lombard cities promising each other
unity, against Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. The cities of Lombardy
swore their oath of mutual protection at Pontida, a small village in
After the disastrous defeat of
Pope Alexander III
Pope Alexander III at the Battle of
Monte Porzio in May 1167 by the imperial forces, the Lombard League
remained as the last legitimate fighting force opposing the emperor
and was therefore heavily backed by the pope.
Frederick's 5th Italian Campaign
In September 1174, Frederick embarked on his fifth Italian campaign,
to quash the constant revolts in
Lombardy and settle his quarrels with
Pope Alexander III. Frederick led a force of 8,000 knights over the
Alps and arrived in
Piedmont in late September. His cousin Henry the
Lion and his forces were once again not a part of the imperial
campaign. Frederick wanted to take revenge on Susa for its behaviour
of 1168, and on September 30 his forces captured and burned down the
town. His next goal was the town of Asti, which he captured after a
seven-day siege. In October, Frederick finally received the promised
imperial reinforcements from Bohemia. Upon Frederick's rapid and
fierce initial success,
Margrave William of Montferrat and the Count
Biandrate abandoned the Lombard League.
Siege of Alessandria
The siege of
Alessandria was an important event in Frederick's fifth
campaign as this was a campaign of revenge, with the aim of the total
destruction of the
Lombard League and the removal of the Pope
Alexander III. Frederick's next goal was therefore the Lombard city of
Alessandria was founded by Milanese refugees, who fled
after Frederick's forces burned and destroyed the city of
1162 and named after Pope Alexander III. The siege of the "Straw
City", called so because all the roofs were covered with straw, began
at the end of October. To Frederick's surprise and anger, his forces
were not able to take the city so he had to spend the winter in front
of its gates. On Holy Saturday, Frederick's forces managed to enter
the city by digging tunnels under its walls, but the attack was
repulsed by the Milanese with heavy losses.
and that was the first victory of the Lombard League. Frederick had to
break off the siege due to an advancing Lombard army and retreated to
Treaty of Montebello
On April 16, 1175, Frederick and the
Lombard League attempted to
negotiate peace at the Castle of Montebello, but after long talks,
negotiations broke with no result. Frederick knew that a battle was
imminent and traveled to
Chiavenna to meet Henry the Lion. Henry the
Lion however refused to help his cousin as he thought that Frederick's
defeat would allow him to obtain greater power.
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After Frederick's setback at Alessandria, the failed agreement of
Montebello, and the refusal of his cousin
Henry the Lion
Henry the Lion to help him,
Frederick finally received some good news and reinforcements from
Germany. The German reinforcements crossed the
Lukmanier Pass into
Lake Como region in April 1176. Frederick I Barbarossa, Philip I
of Heinsberg, and
Archbishop Wichmann of Magdeburg rode
Pavia along the
Ticino River to meet the reinforcements
and to lead them to a joint operation with his main forces. Frederick
received 1,000 knights and 1,000 foot soldiers from 16 different
German rulers. At Como, Lombard imperial allies increased the
reinforcements to a total of about 3,000 knights and foot soldiers.
However, the Imperial army was largely a cavalry force of German
knights. Verbruggen estimates Frederick's Imperial force at
1,000 cavalry, of which 500 were knights. The arrival of the troops
of the archbishops of
Magdeburg gave him another 2,000
knights. A Lombard contingent from
Como increased his army still
The Oath of
Pontida painted by Amos Cassioli
The Milanese were informed about Frederick's plan and prepared for
battle. A Carroccio, or a sacred war wagon drawn by oxen, was built
and was decorated with the city standard and an altar upon which the
Archbishop Aribert of
Milan was erected. In 1038, Archbishop
Aribert had led the victorious defence of
Milan against the Holy Roman
Emperor Conrad II; Aribert's cross was therefore a symbol of victory
against the Empire. According to Sire Raoul, a chronicler from Milan,
900 knights came from
Milan and around 550 knights from three other
towns, the rest of the League's forces were foot soldiers. The
legendary "Company of Death" was a foot soldier unit that, according
to later chronicles, was led by the in fact fictional Alberto da
Giussano, and which formed the core of the Lombard infantry. The
Lombard League, actually, was led by Guido da Landriano.
While Frederick and his reinforcements were on their way back to Pavia
to join the main imperial force, the
Lombard League placed about 3,500
men near the west bank of the Olona. The infantry, with the Milanese
war cart, the carroccio, stood in a hastily fortified position at
Borsano. The Lombards knew that Frederick was about to skirt through
their area, but did not realize how close he already was. At dawn on
May 29, the
Lombard League sent a reconnaissance unit of 700 horsemen
to the Seprio area. At the same time, the emperor had crossed the
Olona and was marching south from Cairate, five miles northeast of
The defense of the
Carroccio by Amos Cassioli
Here, the battle commenced. The Lombard reconnaissance force and the
300 strong Imperial vanguard clashed. The clash was brief and bloody
and with Frederick already on the horizon, the Lombard reconnaissance
broke off and fled beyond Borsano. At this Frederick and his imperial
German army launched a full blooded attack on the Lombard League
forces near Borsano – Legnano. The Lombard cavalry was largely
routed but managed to escape the skirmish, leaving the infantry and
carroccio on its own. Frederick advanced to the carroccio and
assaulted the infantry and the
Company of Death
Company of Death with his cavalry.
M.B. Synge wrote this about the Company of Death: "Nine hundred
desperate patriots forming the
Company of Death
Company of Death defended the sacred
car. Seeing the Germans were gaining ground, fearful for the safety of
their treasure, they suddenly knelt down and renewed their vow to God
that they would perish for their country".
The infantry positioned itself in a phalanx-like line. The fight
around the carroccio was a long and bloody fight in which the Lombard
League infantry brought the Imperial army to a stalemate. Finally, the
Lombard League forces received help from their regrouped cavalry and
from a Brescian cavalry force that was called to their aid by the
fleeing reconnaissance troops. The regrouped reconnaissance troops
and the Brescian cavalry jointly attacked Frederick's army from the
rear. The decisive assault was made by the Brescians, who managed to
break through the lines and attack Frederick directly. In this attack
his guards and standard-bearer were killed, and Frederick was thrown
off his horse and believed to be dead. Upon this the imperial troops
panicked and fled, pursued to the Ticino by the League's cavalry. The
generals tried in vain to rally the men. The booty and prisoners
taken by the League were immense.
Lombard knights looking for Frederick's dead body
After the battle, Frederick's rule over
Lombardy was decisively
broken. The knights that managed to escape gathered in Pavia. There,
they brought the news of Frederick's presumed death to his wife
Beatrice I, Countess of Burgundy. Beatrice and the Empire mourned
Frederick's demise, but after several days the emperor appeared at the
gates of Pavia.
H. E. Marshall wrote: "Then, greatly to the joy of all, after three
days Barbarossa suddenly appeared before the gates of Pavia. Although
wounded and bruised and left for dead Frederick had not been
The victory of the
Lombard League forced Frederick to travel to
Venice. In the Peace of Venice, 1177, Frederick and Pope Alexander III
were reconciled. The emperor acknowledged the pope's sovereignty over
the Papal States, and in return Alexander acknowledged the emperor's
overlordship of the Imperial Church. The Peace of
Venice was heavily
Archbishop Wichmann of Magdeburg, who was amongst the
defeated at Legnano. The cities of Lombardy, however, continued to
fight until 1183, when, in the Peace of Constance, Frederick conceded
their right to freely elect town magistrates. The Treaty was cast in
Frederick did not forgive
Henry the Lion
Henry the Lion for refusing to come to his
aid in 1176. Taking advantage of the hostility of other German princes
to Henry, Frederick had Henry tried in absentia by a court of bishops
and princes in 1180, declared that imperial law overruled traditional
German law, and had Henry stripped of his lands and declared an
On January 27, 1186, Frederick's son Henry VI married Constance of
Milan as a sign that peace had really been established.
Monument to the "Warrior of Legnano", often mistakenly attributed to
Alberto da Giussano
Alberto da Giussano in Legnano,
The battle is traditionally tied to the name of Legnano, since the
League's forces came from that town. Actually, as local historians
have ascertained, the battle was fought a couple miles west of
Legnano, where today the little town of
Villa Cortese and Borsano,
frazione of Busto Arsizio, stand.
National unification references
In a proclamation issued in
Bergamo on August 3, 1848, the
Garibaldi referred to the historic Battle of
Legnano as a source of inspiration for his own struggle for the
unification of Italy: "
Bergamo will be the
Pontida of the present
generation, and God will bring us a Legnano!". In a similar vein
Il Canto degli Italiani, written in 1847 and now the Italian national
anthem, contains the lines, "From the
Alps to Sicily,
In popular culture
Barbarossa (2009) starring Rutger Hauer,
Raz Degan and F. Murray
Abraham is set during the events of the battle of Legnano.
Baudolino, the book's protagonist recovers a wounded Frederick I
Barbarossa from the battlefield leading him to safety in Pavia.
Company of Death
La battaglia di Legnano, opera by Giuseppe Verdi
Erich Brandenburg: "Die Nachkommen Karls des Großen"
Chronicon Vincentii Canonici Pragensis in Monumenta historica Boemiae
by Fr. Gelasius Dobner (1764)
I. R. Dieterich, "Die Taktik in den Lombardenkriegen der Staufer",
O. Engels: "Die Stauferzeit"
Paolo Grillo, "
Legnano 1176. Una battaglia per la libertà", Laterza,
2010 – ISBN 978-88-420-9243-8 [permanent dead link]
Franz Kurowski: "Unterlassene Hilfeleistung und ihre Folgen"
Lexikon des Mittelalters: "Band IX"
"Magill's Guide to History"
H. E. Marshall: "The History of Germany"
Peter N. Stearns and William Leonard Langer: "The Encyclopedia of
M. B. Synge: "The Discovery of the New World"
Verbruggen, J.F. (1997) . De Krijgskunst in West-Europa in de
Middeleeuwen, IXe tot begin XIVe eeuw [The Art of Warfare in Western
Europe During the Middle Ages: From the Eighth Century to 1340].
Translated by Willard, S. (2nd ed.). Suffolk: Boydell Press.
ISBN 0 85115 630 4.
Ernst Wies: "Kaiser Friedrich Barbarossa. Mythos und Wirklichkeit"
Legnano 1176. Una battaglia per la libertà, Bari,
Laterza, 2010, ISBN 978-88-420-9243-8
^ a b c Annales Colonienses. Cologne. 1238. p. 25b Anno Domini
^ The Encyclopedia of World History, p.208 / by Peter N. Stearns,
William Leonard Langer; 2001
^ a b c d e f "Legnano", Magill's Guide to Military History, Vol. 3,
ed.John Powell, (Salem Press, Inc., 2001), 884.
^ Paolo Grillo,
Legnano 1176. Una battaglia per la libertà,p.125.
^ a b c d e f Verbruggen 1997, p. 145.
^ Lexikon des Mittelalters: Band IV Seite 931
^ a b Erich Brandenburg, Die Nachkommen Karls des Großen
^ a b c d KurowskiFranz:p.292
^ H. E. Marshall, The History of Germany, p. 211 and p.212
^ O. Engels, Die Stauferzeit (Rhein. Gesch. I/3, 1983), 225–237
^ Lexikon des Mittelalters: Band IX Spalte 60
^ Wies, Ernst W.: Seite 69,164,181,241,243,251
^ *Troisi, Francesco (May 2010). "Quel 29 Maggio del 1176". Medioevo
(in Italian): 18–29.
^ Paolo Grillo,
Legnano 1176. Una battaglia per la libertà, p.161
^ M. B. Synge, The Discovery of the New World, p. 85
^ a b H.E. Marshall, The History of Germany, p. 215
^ Lucy Rial, "Garibaldi, Invention of a