Monday, January 6, 2020

The Profession of Arms: Of Vile Leaders and Courageous Ones

Above, you can see an amazing clip from the 2001 movie by Ermanno Olmi "The Profession of Arms". It is the story of the march on Rome of the German Landsknechts led by Georg von Frundsberg in 1526. They were faced by an army commanded by Giovanni de' Medici, known as Giovanni Dalle Bande Nere (Italian: Giovanni of the Black Bands). Giovanni was killed in battle near Mantua on Nov 30, 1526, while Von Frundsberg's army went on to sack Rome in 1527.

The movie has defects, like all movies, and the attempt to cast Giovanni de Medici as an early patriot means stretching the historical reality more than a little. But it remains a beautiful and intense movie. It manages to make you feel like you were in battle yourself in an age when firearms had just started to make armor obsolete. It was, possibly, the last period in history when leaders fought on the front line.

The scene of Giovanni's death summarizes the whole movie. It shows the two enemy commanders facing each other for a few moments and saluting each other before starting the battle where Giovanni will be mortally wounded. It may not be a completely realistic scene, but its intensity is unbelievable. It grips your attention from the first instant to the last. And it has a deep meaning that you can't miss.

Maybe Giovanni de Medici was not a hero, maybe he was just a mercenary, and he might have had plenty of human failings. But a hero is someone who does his duty when facing difficult tasks and the historical Giovanni de' Medici did just that, personally facing his enemies in battle. Just for this, we are authorized to remember him as a hero.

Things have changed from those ancient times and weapons are not the same as they were. But there remains a duty for a leader to take upon himself the risks and the consequences of is actions. If he does, he will be remembered and revered. If he doesn't, he will be considered a spineless coward, as he deserves to be.


  1. In the long Indian history, not only army commanders, even kings are known killed in battles. Legend has it that the great Ashoka witnessed heavy casualty in the battle to conquer Kalinga and then on embraced Buddhism and gave up violence.

    1. And, of course, Arjuna himself fought in battle on the advice of Krishna.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)