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.

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