Silver-Pommeled Swords and Old Italian Cannonballs

In the wake of an execution . . .

On December 10, 1579, the city of Augsburg executed Paulus Hector Mair for the embezzlement of between 32,000 and 40,000 guilders during his forty-two-year career as a civic servant and treasurer. [i] On December 14, Augsburg officials and citizens gathered to begin an exhaustive inventory of Mair’s possessions. The inventory took weeks to compile and culminated in large public sales held in January and May 1580, during which the vast collections of books, martial artefacts, arms, armor, and artwork that Mair had amassed would be liquidated, along with even his smallest and most personal articles.

Though Mair died in disgrace, his legacy looms large within histories of martial culture and practice, and he is well-known to both scholars and martial arts practitioners. Benedikt Mauer’s article on the contents of Mair’s book and art collection has offered an overview of Mair’s impressive library and its context. Jeffrey Forgeng and Kazuhiko Kusudo have illuminated aspects of Mair’s biography and involvement in martial culture and sporting activities.[ii] Most recently, Daniel Jaquet presented a cross-cultural comparison between Mair’s De Arte Athletica and the Chinese martial treatise of Qi Jiguang, examining the reception of each body of work by modern martial arts communities.[iii]

However, most scholarship on Mair and his collection has focused on the Fechtbücher, or fight books, that he amassed, compiled, authored, and commissioned. Few studies have engaged meaningfully with the other categories of art and material culture that Mair’s posthumous inventories list or considered how these objects—and the Augsburgers who gathered to count or purchase them—reveal new facets of Mair’s involvement in the martial culture of his city.

Fig. 1: Christoph Weiditz the Younger, hand-colored by circle of Jörg Breu the Younger, Paulus Hector Mair, from the Geschlechterbuch der Stadt Augsburg, circa 1540s, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek Cod. icon 312b, fol. 64v.

Paulus Hector Mair and his City

Though his precise dates of birth and parentage remain unclear, Paulus Hector Mair was born into an upwardly mobile family around 1517. [iv]  He began his career in the city administration of Augsburg in 1537, and he oversaw the finances of the civic works from 1541. During the 1540s and 1550s, Mair increasingly devoted his energies to collecting weapons, images, books, and armor, and to compiling, writing, and publishing works related to martial knowledge. The works that he commissioned also dealt with the histories of martial sport—as in the histories of the tournament contained in De Arte Athletica—and in claiming knightly identity for the citizens of Augsburg—as in the Geschlecterbuch der Stadt Augsburg (fig. 1).[v] Mair was an avid social climber, forging connections to members of the most powerful patrician families of the city, such as the Johann Jakob Fugger, to whom he dedicated the Geschlecterbuch.[vi]

In death, also, Mair reveals aspects of Augsburg’s social networks and the material culture that surrounded them.  The documents preserved in the city’s archive record counts of objects and estimates of their value given by numerous citizens and others who gathered to take stock of Mair’s possessions in preparation for their liquidation. Among those mentioned as “counting” objects is one Antoni Pfeffenhauser. This is likely Anton Peffenhauser (1525–1603), one of the last in a line of great Augsburg armorers, who created luxury armors for the Holy Roman Empire’s elite.[vii] In addition to this famous smith, the counters who gathered to take stock of Mair’s property included Wilhelm von Montfort, a member of a venerable Swabian noble family. Indeed, as Mauer has pointed out, Mair cultivated relationships to both the patriciate of Augsburg and the high nobility of southern Germany. Following his confession and death sentence in 1579, Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria (1548-1626) implored the city council to consider a less severe punishment for Mair.[viii]

Martial Equipment: Old and New

Mair’s inventories take stock of the possessions that he kept in his official apartments which stood adjacent to the old Augsburg Rathaus.[ix] Though most of Mair’s martial objects were found in two small rooms on the ground floor, their distribution throughout his living quarters indicates their importance to him.

As befit a citizen of Augsburg and a man of his station, Mair owned armor. Indeed, all male citizens of Augsburg were expected to have equipment on hand to arm themselves if need arose for the city’s defense.[x] However, Mair’s armors went beyond civic necessity. The inventory records one new harness “together with its case and all that belongs to it,” valued at fifteen guilders, suggesting a small garniture. This armor, along with two “old” maces, was stored in Mair’s study, rather in the room on the ground floor where most of his martial possessions were found. In this space, there were at least two other armors, thirteen arming garments, two mail shirts stored together with an old helmet, six old siege helmets, two “old, bad armors,” as well as various bits of armor that were, despite being “old,” described as “neat and clean” though dissimilar. [xi] It remains unclear whether Mair acquired all of these objects for his own use, or whether some, particularly those described as old, may have constituted a collection of martial artefacts. The latter is a tantalizing possibility, given the sensitivity to medieval martial traditions and material culture demonstrated in Mair’s fight book commissions.[xii]

In addition to armors, Mair owned numerous arms. As Kusudo has shown, Mair was involved in Augsburg’s lively target-shooting societies, and one of his last works seems to have been his chronicle on marksmanship, now in Wolfenbüttel.[xiii] Mair was an enthusiastic participant in his city’s shooting societies for both firearms and crossbows. Accordingly, his inventory and sales records list no less than seven crossbows, many together with cranequins and bolts. Mair also owned at least one matching pair of pistols, and at least four long guns. His collection of bladed weapons was impressive, comprising 29 swords, many whose pommels were ornamented with silver. Among these were longswords, at least one two-handed sword, numerous rapiers, and many swords described as old. In addition to these weapons, Mair owned at least three matching pairs of fencing swords, appropriate for an author and collector of fight books. The inventory contains tantalizing more echoes of Mair’s sumptuously illustrated martial treatises. Foremost among these in my mind are “Six Yellow Messers.” Though this description leaves the materiality of these blades unclear, the allusion to a yellow-color evokes the wooden or leather-covered practice messers or dusacks that are illustrated in Mair’s De Arte Athletica, where such sparring weapons are universally represented with yellow pigment (fig. 2).

Beyond the obviously useful martial equipment, Mair owned various curiosities whose value seems to have resided in their age or, perhaps, their now-unknown stories. For instance, the inventory records an “old Italian ball”—perhaps a cannonball—as well as the two maces kept in a place of honor in Mair’s study alongside his best armor.[xiv]

Fig. 2: Jörg Breu the Younger and workshop, Fencing with Dussacks, from Paulus Hector Mair, De Arte Athletica, vol. I, circa 1545-55, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. icon. 393.1, fol. 100r.

Everyone loves a Bargain: The Buyers of Mair’s Collection

The sales of Mair’s possessions in January and May 1580 distributed his collection of fight books, artworks, and martial artefacts, along with the most mundane accoutrements of his professional home, throughout the social strata of Augsburg. The records reveal the allure of martial objects for even the city’s elite. David Roth, a member of a prestigious family whose members had sat on the city council for decades, purchased numerous bladed weapons, including a damaged pair of fencing swords, daggers, and a Reitschwert with a silver pommel.[xv] The plainer of Mair’s two Reitschwerter and one of his maces were purchased by Wolff Vischer, chamberlain to Marcus Fugger, then head of the international Fugger bank.[xvi] Caspar Ettinger, who worked alongside Mair and the Fuggers in the civic administration and who had also been involved in the inventory’s compilation, seems to have been among those enthusiastic buyers who were undaunted by the age of many of Mair’s objects. He acquired, for instance, a siege helmet, two mail shirts, a brigandine or jack, a crossbow and three “bad, old armors,” as well as artworks such as paintings. [xvii] Perhaps most poignant among they buyers, though, are two his own five sons, Esaias and Jakob Leonard, whose names appear alongside objects such as guns and pairs of fencing swords. Though the council granted Jakob Leonard two of his father’s guns free of charge, Esaias—who’d also had the grim task of contributing to the inventory—paid three guilders to reclaim a pair of his father’s fencing swords.

An Inconclusive Conclusion

This contribution represents only a brief overview of Mair’s expansive and diverse collection and its context. Though familiar within the community of martial scholars and HEMA practitioners, the documents surrounding Paulus Hector Mair’s collection and patronage, as well as his fall and the liquidation of his assets, offer fertile and hitherto untilled soil. In particular, further examination of Mair’s tangible world, beyond the manuscripts that he collected and produced, will continue to shed new light on the ways that martial objects and knowledge were collected, described, and circulated through early modern towns.


[i] Benedikt Mauer, ‘Sammeln Und Lesen – Drucken Und Schreiben. Die Vier Welten Des Augsburger Ratsdieners Paul Hector Mair’, in Medien Und Weltbilder Im Wandel Der Frühen Neuzeit, ed. by Theresia Hörmann and Wolfgang E.j. Weber, Documenta Augustana, 5 (Augsburg: Wißner, 2000), pp. 107-32. Due to revisions of the numbering system in the Stadtarchiv Augsburg since Mauer’s publication, some of the document numbers now differ from those cited in his chapter. For monetary comparison, a master carpenter in Augsburg earned roughly 45 to 50 guilders per year.

[ii] Jeffrey L. Forgeng, ‘Owning the Art: The German Fechtbuch Tradition’, in The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe 1520-1630, ed. by Tobias Capwell (London: The Wallace Collection, 2012), pp. 164–76; Jeffrey L. Forgeng, ‘The Martial Arts Treatise of Paulus Hector Mair’, in Die Kunst Des Fechtens, ed. by Elizabeth Vavra and Matthias Johannes Bauer (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2017), pp. 267–83; Kazuhiko Kusudo, ‘P.H. Mair (1517-1579): A Sports Chronicler in Germany’, in Sport and Culture in Early Modern Europe, ed. by John McClelland and Brian Merrilees (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2009), pp. 339–54.

[iii] Daniel Jaquet, “Collecting Martial Art Knowledge on Paper in Early Modern Germany and China: The Examples of Paulus Hector Mair and Qi Jiguang and Their Reading in the 21st Century,” Martial Arts Studies, (9), pp.86–92. DOI: http://doi.org/10.18573/mas.101

[iv] Mark Häberlein et al., Augsburger Eliten des 16. Jahrhunderts: Prosopographie wirtschaftlicher und politischer Führungsgruppen 1500-1620 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1996), 503-04; Mauer, 109.

[v] See, for instance, Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Codices 10825-10826, fol. 4v; Munich, Bayeriches Staatsbibliothek, Cod. icon 312 b.

[vi] Cod. icon 312 b, fol. 1v.

[vii] Augsburg, Stadtarchiv, Urgichten K262, 1579-80, Inventarium 1579, p. 3, „Zalte Antoni Pfeffenhaueser […] das Helden buch.“; Wendelin Boeheim, Meister der Waffenschmiedekunst vom XIV bis ins XVIII Jahrhundert. Ein Beitrage zur Geschichte der Kunst und Des Kunsthandwerks (Berlin: W. Moeser, 1897). 158-61. Surprisingly, Peffenhauser appears only infrequently as a „counter“ and primarily counts books, rather than armors. Tantalizingly, an “Antoni Plattner,” returns as a buyer on January 22, Urgichten K262, Hector Mayers Nachlass Verstiegerung 1580, p. 33.

[viii] Mauer, 111.

[ix] As Mauer has observed, this inventory records only the objects in Mair’s quarters adjacent to the Rathaus, and omits any possessions located in the family home he share with his wife, Felizitas Kötzler, am Kappeneck. Mauer, 110.

[x] Mauer, 123.

[xi] Urgichten, K262, Inventarium 1579, p. 20. 19 December, „Den Kemerlin auf dem Boden,“ „Zahlen Anthoni Nußhard umb 4- halb harnische und ain doppelhandschen der Zugehör.“ The meaning of doppelhandschen remains unclear, the term may describe exchange gauntlets or reinforces.

[xii] See, for instance, the representation of fourteenth-century clothing in images of sword-and-buckler fencing reproduced from earlier sources in Augsburg Univeritäts/Oettingen-Wallersteinschebibliothek, Augsburg. Cod. Cod. I.6.2.4. Mair, Paulus Hector and Jörg Breu the Younger, Collected Fechtbuch, fols. 14r-v.

[xiii] Kusudo, 349-50. Kusudo discusses Mair’s Marksmanship Chronicle, Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod-Guelph. 1.2.1 2o.

[xiv] Urgichten K 262, Inventarium 1579, p. 25, „Zalte Wilhelm von Mondfort, 1 […] alten welschen aisen küglin“

[xv] Urgichten K262, Hector Mayers Nachlass Verstiegerung 1580, p. 25, „David Roth […] 1 Reitschwert mit silber beschlagen […], 2 alte zerbrochne Fechtschwerter und 2 dolchen“

[xvi] Urgichten K262, Hector Mayers Nachlass Verstiegerung 1580, p. 25, „Wolf Vischer, herren Marcus Fugger’s kemer . . .ain Reitschwert.“

[xvii] Urgichten K262, Hector Mayers Nachlass Verstiegerung 1580, p. 21, 11 January, 1580, „Nota: Dem Herren Jo. Leo. Mayr dürch meine herren vere(h)t werden 2 feu(e)rbüchsen,“ at not cost; Urgichten K262, Hector Mayers Nachlass Verstiegerung 1580, p. 111, „Zalte Elaias Mayr […] 1 par fechtschw. R 3.-“; For other mentions of Ettinger in connection with the Augsburg mint, see Hildebrandt Reinhard, Quellen und Regesten zu den Augsburger Handelshäusern Paler und Rehlinger 1539-1642 : Wirtschaft und Politik im 16./17. Jahrhundert, Deutsche Handelsakten des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, XIX (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1996), 1: 1539-1623, 195-96.



Cite this blog post
Chassica Kirchhoff (2020, May 29). Silver-Pommeled Swords and Old Italian Cannonballs. Martial Culture in Medieval Town. Retrieved March 3, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/r8zx

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Chassica Kirchhoff

Dr. Chassica Kirchhoff is Assistant Curator of European Sculpture & Decorative Arts at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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