The battle of Cassino: the Anjou at the gates of the Kingdom

by Silvio Sannino

In a previous article we discussed the battle of Benevento and his military and political background. There was, however, a decisive clash which, prior to the great pitched battle, perhaps had a significant impact on the fate of the conflict between the Angevins and the Swabians. This is the battle of San Germano, the current Cassino, in which the Angevin troops threw themselves to the assault of the village, for whose defense Manfredi engaged a good part of his troops.

The fate of the battle had very wide reverberations: they determined the beginning of the Angevin breakthrough in Campania and the decline of Manfredi. The last Swabian king, despite his political and military skills, could not make up for that defeat, which contributed to weaken the morale of his troops e affect the internal ties to its deployment.

La battaglia di Cassino: gli Angiò alle porte del Regno
London, British Library. Royal MS 16 G VI (1332-1350 c.), Les Grandes chroniques de France, f. 432. The death of Manfredi in the battle of Benevento.

The battle of Cassino, the defense of Manfredi

San Germano, now Cassino, was located in the northern borders of the kingdom: lapped by the river Gari, not too far from Capua and from the other centers of the Land of Work, its strategic importance was not negligible. Manfredi was well aware of this, he engaged one a good part of its staff to defend the city. Trying to analyze with reasoning and realism the different figures provided by the various chronicles, it was probably about a thousand horsemen between Germans and Apulians and a force of approx two-thousand archers and crossbowmen Saracens, some from the Nocera garrison.

In a period of tension, in which various contingents were engaged on the border of the Abruzzi or located in other strategic points of the kingdom in a state of continued mobilization, the actual contingent present in Cassino had to represent a burden not indifferent to the already proven human and economic resources of the Swabian front.

One was also set up for the defense of Cassino defensive network large. The Swabians used the ancient ruins of the villa of Varrone, adjacent to the village, to erect an imposing network of fortificationsi, on the banks of the river Gari, which, according to the chronicles, even came to include the neighbor Roman amphitheater.

Carlo d'Angiò
statue of Charles of Anjou in Piazza del Plebiscito

The beginning of the battle

The battle of Cassino had a fairly long course unusual. According to the accounts of the time, the Angevin troops, encamped on the other side of the Gari, they weren't ready yet to attack battle. Similarly, the Swabian defenders were still unprepared, as there was no element that could indicate a possible attack by the besiegers. However there was a accident: some boys of the two armies, who came to the river to water their horses, met. This unfortunate event obviously led to one brawl among the unfortunate.

Hearing the confusion the Angevin contingents, believing that it was a attack by the Swabians, they suddenly took up arms and attacked the fortification. The Swabian troops were obviously taken by surprise: the resistance could not be organized in time, thus resulting in a sudden flaking in the front of the defenders.

Cassino
seventeenth-century lithography of San Germano, today Cassino

To the damage was added insult: apparently the defenders, unable to defend the first wall, were forced to withdraw in the second. During this retreat the Angevins found a way to enter the village through a passage left open by the defenders. For the Swabians, once the besiegers have entered the city, there was no longer any possibility of defense.

The losses for Manfredi were of great importance: probably more than a thousand men who fell in battle, the loss of the whole city di Cassino, seat of the monastery of San Benedetto, as well as a place of strategic importance for the defense of the kingdom. The Christian soldiers who surrendered in battle were spared, presumably some of them joined the ranks of Anjou.

For the Saracen soldiers there was no escape: they were passed to the sword or killed weapons in hand. The few who managed to escape gathered on the banks of the river heat, to engage in a last, strenuous defense on the outskirts of Benevento.

La battaglia di Cassino: gli Angiò alle porte del Regno
battle of Benevento, miniature from the Villani chronicle

Bibliography

Paolo Grillo, The eagle and the lily, 1266: the battle of Benevento, Salerno publishing, Rome, 2017.

Andrea of Hungary, Massimo Oldoni (edited by), Description of the victory won by Charles Count of Anjou, Francesco Ciolfi publisher, Cassino, 2010.

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