Review of the “Joachim Meyer 450 Years: Strasbourg Symposium” (21-22 February 2020)

For the celebration of the 450-year anniversary of the publication of Joachim Meyer’s fight book, Olivier Dupuis organised a multidimensional event around the fight book, its author and martial culture in sixteenth century Strasbourg. It consisted of a two-day conference at the University of Strasbourg and at the archives of the city, as well as a gathering of martial arts practitioners and researchers over the weekend with workshops and practical exchanges. Finally, a competition was held following rulesets from the sixteenth century. Similar events focused on fight book authors have previously demonstrated the benefits of such gatherings and collaborations of scholars and martial arts practitioners.[1]

Joachim Meyer used a new medium in a new way for the description of the art of fighting, with elaborated didactic features. Based on the so-called Liechtenauer tradition,[2] the art of combat under Meyer’s pen uses the noble character of chivalric symbolism, but displays martial disciplines which are more commonly associated to urban context and foot soldiers (the halberd, the pike, and the rapier). Embedded in what Ann Tlusty coined as “martial ethics”[3] in German towns relying on a militia organisation for its defence, the fight book is connected with practices followed by fencing guilds and with fencing competitions.

Regardless the frequent mention of Joachim Meyer’s work by specialists, and the existence of a translation published by a scholarly publishing house, there is little research published to date on the author and his books (2 manuscripts and 1 printed fight book with two editions). Establishing a state of research on the matter and exploring new avenues for research was very much needed, and this event successfully achieved these goals. This review will focus on the conferences’ part of the event.

With the support of the Laboratoire Art Civilisation et Histoire de l’Europe (ARCHE) Olivier Dupuis and Guillaume Porte brought together historians, art historians and archivists together to discuss different aspects of the topic.

Laurent Naas (Bibliothèque Humaniste de Sélestat) presented the Selestat copy of Joachim Meyer fight book (L’exemplaire sélestadien de la Gründtliche Beschreibung). He presented on the potential identification of the original binder, based on a new study of the remains of the closing devices (now missing) of the cover. He also analysed the dedication of the fight book.

Pierre Kintz (ARCHE, Université de Strasbourg) gave a presentation on the assumption about the attribution of the illustration of the fight book to Tobias Stimmer (Tobias Stimmer, l’illustrateur du Fechtbuch). He outlined the travels of Stimmer to Cômo and its relation to Paolo Giovio, which justifies the elements of Italian architecture found in the fight book.  

David Bourgeois (CRESAT, Université de Haute-Alsace) presented the connection of the towns of Mulhouse and Strasbourg with Basel and the Old Swiss confederation, in the context of warfare and martial culture (Si vis pacem, para bellum. Bâle, la Confédération et la guerre à la fin du Moyen Âge et au XVIe siècle). He reviewed historiographical trends regarding the martial renown of Swiss warriors and developed hypothesis of the a “Swiss” signature in the fight book of Joachim Meyer.

Fanny Kieffer (EA ARCHE, Université de Strasbourg) contributed with her perspective as an art historian, specialised in the visual representation of technical knowledge in Early Modern Period (Sous le regard de l’historien de l’art: les débuts de l’escrime à la Renaissance, entre chevalerie et humanisme). She outlined the general context of “new” weapons: portable guns, rapier and daggers. Several martial sciences (ballistics, military engineering, etc.) benefited from the resurgence of science and scientific methodologies (mathematics, Aristotelian principles) through the new medium of printing. She proposed an investigation on the inclusion of these new scientific methodologies in the corpus of fight books.

Olivier Dupuis (independent researcher), main organiser of the event, presented on the fencing activities in Strasbourg based on archival documentation (La place de l’escrime à Strasbourg du XVe au XVIIe siècle). If fencing practices are discrete in narrative sources, other types of documents attest fencing competition (Fechtschulen). Dupuis found 1500 petitions for the organisation of such events in Strasbourg between 1540 and 1670 (1338 being approved by the city council).

Alexandre Legros (CESR, Université de Tours) analysed questions related to wounds in fencing practices as described by Joachim Meyer (Dans l’œil du bretteur et du chirurgien). He analysed both the discourse and images of fight books related to wounds, and he queried contemporary chirurgical treatises, including one coming from Strasbourg.

Pierre-Henry Bas (IRHIS, Université de Lille) presented his thoughts about the didactic and pedagogic dimension of the fight book (Modernité de l’escrime décrite dans le livre de Meyer). He analysed the construction and conception of the treatise while explaining how “modern” ideas were implemented in the book, in comparison with earlier fight books.

Daniel Jaquet (Université de Berne) discussed the reception of the fight book during the national socialism regime of Adolf Hitler, through the re-use of the content in the Handbook for Hitler Youth (La réception du livre de Joachim Meyer entre 1920 et 1936). The main focus was the institutionalisation of martial arts practice for propaganda and ideology. Questions of re-interpretation and revival of martial arts traditions were also briefly addressed.

On the second day, the lecturers joined by martial arts researchers gathered at the archive of Strasbourg for a morning of discussion and a round table. The first half of the morning was dedicated in establishing a state of research regarding the author and its book. Desiderata for further research were also formalised and discussed. The second half of the morning was spent in a round table discussion on potential contexts of application of the martial art knowledge described in the book. Interesting arguments were put together while reviewing contexts such as: duels of honour, warfare, self defence and fencing for leisure. Material culture and modern-day fencing practice deriving from the book were also briefly addressed.

[1] See “The Art of Combat of Pietro del Monte”, University of Tours, 20-21 April 2018. A short review is to be found on the blog of Daniel Jaquet [insert link:], and its proceedings are published in the volume 7.1 (2019) of the journal Acta Periodica Duellatorum

[2] Bauer, Matthias Johannes, ‘Einen Zedel Fechter ich mich ruem/Im Schwerd vnd Messer vngestuem. Fechtmeister als Protagonisten und als (Fach-)Literarisches Motiv in den deutschsprachigen Fechtlehren des Mittelalters und der Frühen Neuzeit’, Das Mittelalter, 19.2 (2014), 302–325 <>.

[3] Tlusty, B. Ann, The Martial Ethic in Early Modern Germany: Civic Duty and the Right of Arms (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2011)

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