Leonardo da Vinci

Medieval Armies DBA Page

Italian Condotta DBA Page

Speculative Da Vinci Condotta

DBA 169-DV

By David Kuijt


Leonardo da Vinci lived from 1452 to 1519. Florentine artist, the one man beyond all others who epitomizes the phrase "Renaissance Man". Painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, and scientist.

In 1482, at the age of 30, Leonardo entered the service of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. In his letter asking for employment he described a large number of engineering and military marvels he could accomplish, in addition to artistic endeavours like painting and sculpture. Building portable bridges, bombardments, making and using cannon, building ships as well as armoured vehicles, catapults, and machines of war.


From 1485 to 1490 Leonardo produced designs and studies on flying machines, fortresses, and numerous advanced weapons including a tank and other war vehicles. Also parachutes, helicopters, a spotlight, ball-bearings, bicycles, and a spring-driven car. Even diving apparati, floats for walking on water, and submarines.

In December 1499 the Sforza family was driven from Milan by the French and Leonardo da Vinci returned to Florence. While back in Florence he supervised construction of fortresses in central italy as military engineer for Cesare Borgia between 1502 and 1503.

He returned to Milan in 1506 at the request of its French governor, became court painter to King Louis XII of France (living in Milan at the time), and split his time between Florence and Milan for the next six years. He spent several years in Rome under the patronage of Pope Leo X, then in 1516 he travelled to France to enter the service of King Francis I until he died three years later.

Da Vinci Condotta Justification

Leonardo da Vinci designed a large number of dramatic innovations in warfare in his years working for Ludovico Sforza. Many of these innovations were feasible to construct, given sufficient funding and interest by the Duke of Milan.

This DBA army is what could have existed, if the Duke of Milan had decided to implement Leonardo's machines. Milan was under constant pressure from France, and subject to invasion and the fear of invasion; there was also the usual tensions between the many Italian city-states that often broke out into war. So, what if Leonardo had the full backing and interest of Duke Ludovico? What might have arisen? It would have taken a couple of years of experimentation and prototypes before Duke Ludovico could field the first of his new army; that is why I start this army list at 1485.

I have ended this list at 1499, the year that France conquered Milan and drove out the Sforza dynasty. Note, however, that in our speculative history that event might not have occurred if Leonardo's machines were effective enough. Or, more likely, it would still have occurred, but as a result the French would have captured Leonardo's workshops, his notes, and all the smithies and armouries with partially-built or broken devices of war. In other words, soon after capturing Milan, the French Ordonnance army would be able to produce da Vinci tanks and war machines! Perhaps in the early 16th century Florence and Venice would start producing similar machines to avoid being conquered by France, which was looking around for its next meal after gobbling up Milan.


Composition of Da Vinci Condotta (1485-1499)

This list covers the armies of Milan from 1485 to 1499 under the Sforzas during Leonardo's residence there. The list could conceivably be extended to cover armies of Florence or Venice from 1499 until 1503.

The DBA options:

Composition of Da Vinci-equipped French Ordonnance (1499-1503)

This list covers French armies in Northern Italy from the conquest of Milan until the battle of Cerignola.

The DBA options:


The primary foe of Milan in this period was the French Ordonnance (#178). In addition, Milan fought against other Italian city-states with Condotta armies (#169), and the Later Swiss (#161b). Although they did not reach Milan, the Later Ottoman (#160b) and Later Hungarian (#166) fought battles with Venice, one of Milan's rivals. The Austrians and other Germans (Later Imperialist, #167) also sometimes intervened in Northern Italy.


Army Notes

Da Vinci's Tanks The most dramatic invention of Leonardo da Vinci was an armoured war vehicle capable of moving in any direction and bristling with guns. To be effective, an element of these tanks would probably have had an escort of handgun-armed loose-order infantry, much as the foot troops that accompanied Elephants in Indian armies, or the handgunners and crossbowmen in Hussite armies staying with their Warwagons.

When attacked by enemy cavalry or missile fire, these missile troops could take cover behind or inside the tanks; in an assault they could follow beside or behind the tanks and provide supporting fire. And probably most important, when the tank got stuck, they could help pull it out and get it going again.

Assault Chariots One of Leonardo's more dubious inventions was an assault chariot armed with whirling scythes. This experiment on paper probably had limited applicability to war; nonetheless it could have been very frightening or dangerous to formed infantry. A group of this sort of device is clearly classed as Scythed Chariots in DBA.

Men-at-arms A major part of any military force of this period would be fully armoured heavy cavalry. Even with the rise of pikes, artillery, and guns, the heavy cavalry were still the decisive arm in most battles.

multi-barrel cannon

Artillery and Catapults Leonardo studied artillery at great length. He also made designs for huge crossbows ( ballistae ), trebuchet and other catapults, as well as inventing the explosive shell for mortars (at least on paper). He invented a multi-barrel cannon that could be used for anti-personnel purposes not unlike a machine gun or a claymore mine. The two Artillery elements may be cannon of various sorts or any of his experimental devices.

Stradioti Light Horse in this army would most likely be Venetian stradioti equipped with a light lance. Other possibilities for the Light Horse are mounted crossbowmen or Hungarian or Turkish horse archers.

Handgunners Psiloi should be equipped with handguns. They might conceivably be equipped with wooden bicycles as well. Due to the awkwardness of handling a bicycle and a heavy handgun, plus the problems with early bicycles before pneumatic tires and spring suspensions and flat roads, the bicycle would not give the Psiloi much of an advantage in mobility.

Other Troops Crossbow would be city militia, often protected by pavises. The auxilia represent Aragonese targeteers equipped with sword and buckler. Spear elements represent city militia spear. Pike would be Swiss or German mercenaries.


Special Rules for Da Vinci Tanks

An element of da Vinci Tanks functions in most ways as Warwagons. +4 combat factor versus foot; +5 versus mounted; all combat results as if it was Warwagons. They can fire 200 paces, also like Warwagons. They should be mounted on a Warwagon-size base. Tanks may not enter Bad Going off-road, like Warwagons. Tanks that fight while in Bad Going are subject to a -2 combat factor like most other troops.

The only differences from Warwagons are these:

Notes on Tactics

Who knows? The army described above is an eclectic mix of vastly differing troop-types. It is a combined-arms nightmare. Nonetheless, you are virtually assured of confusing the heck out of your opponent. If you do manage to meld these disparate types into a fighting whole, you can be assured of a force with at least some answer for every situation. Not necessarily the best answer, but some answer.

Bad Going is likely to be a risky proposition for this army.

Flying Machines

Leonardo da Vinci applied his brilliance to flying machines. For many years he attempted to understand flight, the movement of wings, and even to create human-powered flying machines by replicating these motions.


His efforts were doomed to failure, mostly because the engines of the time were muscle-powered, and would never generate enough lift. Leonardo's later efforts in this area seem to have focussed upon gliding rather than powered flight. Still, some of his flying machines are enormously clever, and predict the parachute and the helicopter, technology that would not be developed for nearly 500 years.

Mere speculation is not sufficient to justify an army equipped with more than one or two of these vehicles. They would be passive flyers at best, and would not be able to lift the mass of any useful weaponry. As such they would have no affect on a battle, and I have left them out of the army list.

If you are amused by the idea of manned-glider units or helicopter attack troops and you desire a more fantastic Da Vinci army, I suggest you use HOTT. HOTT (Hordes of the Things) is the Fantasy-combat sibling of DBA. HOTT has troop types for Flyers and Airboats that could represent glider troops and helicopters quite well, although it loses "accuracy" in its representation of Psiloi, Light Horse, and Pikes.

Miniatures to create a Da Vinci Condotta

The normal troops (Pikes, Men-at-arms, Stradioti, Handgunners) are readily available from a number of manufacturers who focus on the Italian Wars of the late 15th century; this corresponds to the Essex MER range. I'm sure other manufacturers also cover this period.

Ral Partha makes a 15mm armoured vehicle which would work effectively as a da Vinci tank. It is not particularly close in shape to the actual design, but it would work well enough. An image of the vehicle (called the Imperial Iron Tortoise) is available here from the Ral Partha Rank & File line of 15mm fantasy miniatures.

If you aren't satisfied with Ral Partha's Iron Tortoise, the simple conical shape of a da Vinci tank makes it a good candidate for scratch-building.

Da Vinci's artillery research is easy enough to simulate. There are multi-barrelled guns (often called organ guns) available from Essex and many other manufacturers. You might also choose a much later weapon, perhaps from the middle 16th century, as an effective simulation of his research into better cannons.

The scythed assault chariot is another kettle of fish, and would need to be scratch-built. Luckily most of the gears visible in his plans would be hidden in an actual implementation of the vehicle.

Page Created: July 21, 1998.

The author may be contacted at kuijt@umiacs.umd.edu Please do not use any pictures or text from this page without permission.