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The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe Hardcover – August 11, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


"Fascinating." -- Globe and Mail

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Mounted encounters by armored knights locked in desperate hand-to- hand combat, stabbing and wrestling in tavern brawls, deceits and brutalities in street affrays, balletic homicide on the dueling field-these were the martial arts of Renaissance Europe. In this extensively illustrated book Sydney Anglo, a leading historian of the Renaissance and its symbolism, provides the first complete study of the martial arts from the late fifteenth to the late seventeenth century. He explains the significance of martial arts in Renaissance education and everyday life and offers a full account of the social implications of one-to-one combat training.Like the martial arts of Eastern societies, ritualized combat in the West was linked to contemporary social and scientific concerns, Anglo shows. During the Renaissance, physical exercise was regarded as central to the education of knights and gentlemen. Soldiers wielded a variety of weapons on the battlefield, and it was normal for civilians to carry swords and know how to use them. In schools across the continent, professional masters-of-arms taught the skills necessary to survive in a society where violence was endemic and life cheap. Anglo draws on a wealth of evidence-from detailed treatises and sketches by jobbing artists to magnificent images by Dürer and Cranach and descriptions of real combat, weapons and armor-to reconstruct and illustrate the arts taught by these ancient masters-at-arms.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 396 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (August 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300083521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300083521
  • Product Dimensions: 10.4 x 7.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,023,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Christoph Amberger on November 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Eagerly awaited by historic combat enhusiasts of all persuasions for two years, the pre-release buzz surrounding this work -- characterized by expectant suspense on the one hand and tacky name dropping and tail-wagging subservience on the other -- has turned out not only to be warranted but justified.
Sydney Anglo plunges the reader into a hidden world of combat activity whose presentation has no equal by virtue of its sheer scope and erudite analysis. Lavish illustrations taken from some of the most popular and some of the rarest fighting manuals of renaissance Europe combine with carefully documented and annotated critical commentary to produce a work unparalleled in the field.
The thorough academic approach, combined with Anglo's intelligent and at times humorous personal style, is providing a backbone of respectability and credibility to a subject matter that frequently does its darndest to self-implode any claims to being taken seriously by overvaluing the emotionally affirmative needs of some modern practitioners.
Of course, this book is no How-to-Manual. It does not contain detailed analysis of individual techniqes. Nor does it quite answer the question in which specific combative scenarios the arts summarized under the modern Anglo-American pop culture handle "Martial Arts" were applied. (This particular aspect of mainly legal and extra-legal history might make for a book in itself.)
But that's not the point.
Short on brawn and long on brains, Anglo introduces us to the very core of these arts... the masters themselves... the way they thought... the methods they (and their graphic artists) employed to transmit complex ideas and sophisticated systems of ethics, philosophy, and physical skill to students, patrons, readers, and of course to us.
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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By John Clements on September 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It would be no exaggeration to call this book the most important work on historical fencing and European martial arts in more than 100 years. With it Dr. Anglo establishes himself as the unquestioned modern expert on the subject of Medieval and Renaissance martial arts history. Dr. Anglo makes an airtight case that the skills described within historical European fighting texts must be properly studied as "martial arts", and not as the traditional view of merely "fencing" (in the modern sense of the word). For most all of its history "fencing" meant not just swordplay, but the armed skills of fighting with weapons and always included unarmed techniques.
At 384 pages and with more than 200 illustrations this is an immense treasure-trove for all those interested in swordsmanship and the history of European combat. Dr. Anglo begins his volume not with a "history of fencing", but with the documentation for "masters of arms" (or masters of defence) within European civilization from the 13th to the 17th centuries. His primary concern is how they created systems of notation to convey information about combat movement, the various ways they went about achieving this communication, and what they thought they were achieving as a result. He establishes that, fitting within the classic Western tradition of arts and letters, many masters of arms were purposely recording their martial teachings as literary works for the education of future students. He achieves a detailed task of putting the works of the masters of arms into their historical and social context while discussing the limitations of researching these texts. He also presents the material with frequent dry humor and appreciation for irony.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Shellenbean on December 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
One of the greatest problems facing modern enthusiasts of our European martial history is the availability (or lack there of) of scholarly study from the viewpoint of the period in which these arts were practiced. Too often they are approached from a standpoint of their applications in sport fencing or stage combat. Anglo has tried very hard to separate himself from these ties and look at the arts from their position in history, and while he occasionally falls shy, in most instances he succeeds remarkably well.
As a practitioner of medieval combat I was pleased to see many of the theories and postulations many of us have espoused borne out and explained in a scholarly text. The case Anglo makes for a systematic basis for training well before the Renaissance is well stated and helps to legitimize the work reenactors are performing today. As others have stated, this is not a "how to" manual, but is rather an indispensable tool to assist in researching masters and understanding the environment in which these skills were used. I have informed all my students and friends in the field that this book needs to be in their collection. I am certain I will reference it many times in the future.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Justin Gifford on August 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Anglo's groundbreaking work is definitely one of the most influential treatises on Renaissance combat ever written. Seldom does an author write so in depth and cover so much material.
Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe is fascinating from the first page; Anglo pens right toward the meat of the topic. Rather than reiterating what other authors have said and said again, Anglo only briefly mentions those sources widely available or quoted, instead preferring to bring light to those relatively unknown sources with which few are familiar, but which deserve much more acclaim. This book is not a light read by any standards; it should keep the most erudite of scholars busy for days. The further one reads into this book, the more one realizes he didn't know.
Anglo makes every effort to cram information into every page, but does so with the witty flair of a seasoned writer who knows how to keep his audience interested. He provides ample photographs, scans, copies, and illustrations to underscore his study of Renaissance fighting, but does not drown the reader in unnecessary artwork. He covers more facets of Renaissance martial arts than most other authors even mention, from the methods of instruction to the evolution of combat. Affording a separate chapter to each style of personal defense - swordsmanship, barefisted brawling, polearm use, and the like - Anglo opens up a door to history that has never been opened before, and many anxious scholars are graciously pouring through.
As he points out himself, the history of Renaissance martial arts is one that is very much neglected, both by historians and by martial artists. Historians generally shy away from warfare and fighting, and, apart from mentioning the outcome of a few major battles, barely acknowledge the existence of violence.
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