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never cross the Bridge of Sighs unless you are truly indispensable

Sunday October 11th 2020 by SocraticDev

In the Italy of Renaissance, small northern city-states were in a constant state of war with each other. These cities were commercially prosperous but lacked proper military resources. Thus they outsourced military duties to outside contractors; to mercenaries known as Condotierre.

Francesco Bussone, Count of Carmagnola (1382 – 5 May 1432), was a famous and successful condotierre for the Visconti family (Duchy of Milan). When given reins of an army, he quickly subdued Bergamo, Brescia, Parma, Genoa and other cites. Concerned by his ambitions, the Viscontis removed him from military duties and gave him the position of governor of Genoa. Discontent with the way he was treated by the Viscontis, Count Carmagnola befriended Francesco Foscari, the new Doge of Venice in 1425. Venice feared the ambitions of the Viscontis and wanted to wage a quick and decisive offensive on Milan with the help of the Florentians.

But while the republic (of Venice) was desirous of rapid and conclusive operations, it was to the interest of Carmagnola, as indeed to all other soldiers of fortune, to make the operations last as long as possible, to avoid decisive operations, and to liberate all prisoners quickly. Consequently, the campaign dragged on interminably, some battles were won and others lost, truces and peace treaties were made only to be broken, and no definite result was achieved.

Admired and love by all, in 1442, Count Carmagnola was invited to dine with the Doge at the Doge palace. Once in Venice, the guards led the way. But having crossed the Bridge of Sighs, he realized they were not taking him to the palace but to the dungeon. He was condemned to death on charges of treason against the republic and beheaded the next day on the Piazza San Marco to the amazement of the crowd, surprised by such a sudden change of fate.

A man of ability, his great mistake was that he failed to see that he could not do with a solvent and strong government what he could with bankrupt tyrants without military resources, and that the astute Visconti meant to ruin him for his abandonment.

"He had taken his power for granted without making sure he was truly indispensable."


Robert Greene (1998), "The 48 Laws of power"