A lazy secretary found an innovative way to do his (boring) job – Fribourg, 1439

Picture yourself as the one following the officer in the review of his militia men. As last year, and the year before, you will have to produce again the same document, listing the names of all inhabitants enrolled in the urban militia, from inside and outside the walls. This includes the check of the defensive and offensive weapons which they carry, and have to possess and care throughout the year by law.

Instead of writing in details the different weapon categories (guns, staff weapons and crossbows) over and over again next to the names, you decide to draw pictograms. Not only is it quicker, but also more efficient when you have to provide sums of armed forces according to weapon categories at the end of the exercise.

Rôle des compagnies, ville et campagne, s.d. (1439). Fribourg, Archives d’Etat, Affaires Militaire 2. © Marcult 2019

The “military” organisation of the town at the time consisted of dividing the city in four quarters (Bourg, Hôpitaux, Auge and Neuveville), all of them having to provide men ready to defend the city in time of need, or from which armed expeditions can be manned. A network of neighbouring villages outside of the walls are assigned to each quarter. Around 1460, compagnies with names and banners appeared, still related to a specific urban space. This was probably influenced by other existing types of military organisation in neighbouring areas. On the one hand, the system of Reisgesellschaft found in Bern is comparable. On the other hand, states’ armies such as the ones of the Duchy of Savoy, which produced ordinances to regulate the compagnies, show similarities as well. No such document has been preserved for Fribourg. However, we do have lists of armed forces since the early fifteenth century during the transitional period before the compagnies’ organisation. Each company then held a book for the record and to report to the city council.

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "A lazy secretary found an innovative way to do his (boring) job – Fribourg, 1439," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 25/03/2019, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/243.

[Conference] New conference about shooting societies.

Jean-Dominique Delle Luche and Thomas Fressin organise a one-day conference in South France (Crépy-en-Valois)

Journée d’étude – Samedi 27 avril 2019
Jeux de tir & milices bourgeoises sous l’Ancien Régime

More information on their website, stay tuned for a review of this conference on this blog in May.

Review of the workshop «Martial Culture in Medieval Town – Kick-off workshop» (November 23, 2018)

To launch our four years research project financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation, we decided to organise a workshop to present and discuss our ideas with a group of selected colleagues, experts in the field. Both museums and universities were represented. Seasoned and young international researchers, and colleagues from a similar project -but on a later time span- at the University of Bern (link to project) could attend this dense and fruitful workshop.

The project and aims of the workshop were shortly presented, and the first drafts of the posters of the three subprojects were displayed for comments and discussion throughout the day (all posters can be viewed here). Each of the three panels were organised by topics underlying the different subprojects. Each panel followed the same format: two or three short introductory lectures (10-15min), where the discussants could present their own take-on on the topic, followed by a moderated discussion, ending with a status quaestionis, a list of expected output and a list of international experts in the field.

Kick-off workshop, University of Bern (23.11.2018)

Martial organisation

The question of the military organisation and its (administrative) relation to the town governing bodies lied at the heart of this panel. Andreas Moitzi (Phd student, University of Vienna) explored the different functions of the urban militia in the Viennese context, highlighting a potential model. Dr. Roberto Biolzi (Postdoc researcher, University of Lausanne) presented his work on the armies and warfare in the Duchy of Savoy. He showed how he based his research on accounting documents and some insights regarding the war of Fribourg.

The discussion addressed basic questions regarding the definition of “military” rights and duties of the different kinds of town inhabitants, as well as the different types and evolution of military organisation in towns. Interesting points were raised regarding the military historiography and the need to renew the approach of the object of martial culture, while doing it with a comparative analysis including North Italy, Savoy, and the Rhinelands. Interesting exchanges followed about the difference between macro and micro historical analysis, including prosopographical research to address urban, social and economical aspects of the martial culture phenomenon. The “martial” value of the “Swiss” combatants as seen by other was also underlined and would need further research.

Arms and armour

Arms and armour can be seen as a material expression of martial culture. Dr. Iason Eleftherios Tzouriadis (Postdoc researcher, Leeds) presented his research on typology of the staff weapon. He focused on the influence of the Swiss halberd in the late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period. Claudia Moritzi (Director of the Arsenal of Solothurn) presented her institution, especially the status of knowledge/research regarding the collection of weapons, as well as the origins of the arsenal in the town of Solothurn.

The discussion went through the need of collaboration with museums and the value of scientific research in universities for the public outreach through museums. The ideas about the planned travelling exhibition on the project was presented. Interesting points were raised regarding the issue of typology of weapons and their identification in different kind of primary sources, as well as regarding the cycle of life of a given weapon, between production, use, storage, maintenance and recycling.  

Martial competition

Another form of expression of martial culture are public displays of martial skills. This panel explored urban shooting and fencing competitions. Dr. Eric Burkart (Postdoc researcher, University of Trier) presented his Habilitation research project focussing on discourse about fighting and reviewed historiographical matters and potential bias in the field. Dr. Jean-Dominique Delle Luche (Postdoc researcher, Toulouse) showed how research on urban shooting associations allow to address relevant questions regarding socio-cultural history and communication strategies of the Medieval town. Olivier Dupuis (Independent researcher, Strasburg) shared his research on fencing masters in Strasburg and surrounding areas, uncovering lesser known administrative relation between networks of town and corporation of fencing masters.

The bipolarisation between “sport” or ludic/training aspects of weapon handling and the more serious aspect (warfare?) was at the centre of the discussion. The identification of the modern dichotomy “civilian” versus “military” aspects of weapon handling is indeed a dangerous bias in the reading of the primary sources. The need of further research regarding martial expertise, display and training was underlined through the existing studies regarding shooting and fencing, especially regarding social capital, economical, religious and political implications. The fact that most of the martial experts operated in urban networks of different towns calls for collaborative research and database for prosopographical analysis.


Aimed towards the project team, this workshop nonetheless benefited all parties and raised relevant questions regarding the field of “new military history”. Methodological and historiographical matters were reviewed, and the project aims were appreciated from different range of perspective such as public outreach (museum’s perspective), research network (connecting different ongoing research interest, both individual and collective), and national collaboration (between research actors -university and archives- and museum professionals). Most importantly, some angles of our first ideas were shifted and new directions emerged for our project.

Cite this article as: Daniel Jaquet, "Review of the workshop «Martial Culture in Medieval Town – Kick-off workshop» (November 23, 2018)," in Martial Culture in Medieval Town, 08/01/2019, https://martcult.hypotheses.org/152.

About this academic blog

Martial Culture in Medieval Town is a research project of the University of Bern (2018-2022), supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation. It fits between the “new military history” and the urban history, in the late medieval and pre-modern period, treating the space represented by the current Switzerland, but open to the surrounding spaces (www.martial-culture.unibe .ch).

This academic blog is intended as a means of publishing (a) the progress and news of the research project, (b) scientific contributions, (c) reviews of recent books or scientific events, (d) and debate on methodological and historiographical issues between actors in similar research projects. The edition of the academic blog is managed by the coordinator of the research project (Daniel Jaquet) and by a mandated editor (Barbora Davidek). The contributors are the members of the project (4), colleagues from Swiss universities (a network of about ten colleagues), as well as invited contributors (international network).

Our target audience is composed of fellow researchers in medieval and modern history, interested in the topic. However, the project also has a public outreach dimension (a temporary exhibition in 4 Swiss museums is planned) and may therefore be of interest to a wider audience. The publishing languages ​​(English, French, German) ensure that we reach the academic community at large. The editor also has a dual career (academic and museum) and is very sensitive to the dimensions of public outreach of scientific unpublished research output.

The specific purpose of the academic blog is to mitigate the slow pace of physical publications planed in the project (2 theses, 1 thesis of habilitation, a monograph and proceedings of international symposium) and to offer a content of interest to the researchers in addition to our corporate website and planned physical publications. In addition, it is part of the institution’s policy regarding open-access publications and corresponds to the desires of the project leader to encourage and encourage young researchers to produce quality content under the supervision of more seasoned researchers, for their training and scientific career.

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