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The Stratioti or stradioti (Greek: Στρατιώτες/stratiotes, Albanian: Stratiotët, Italian: stradioti, stradiotti) were mercenary units from the Balkans recruited mainly by states of southern and central Europe from the 15th century until the middle of the 18th century.
The Greek term stratiotis/-ai (στρατιώτης/-αι) was in use since classical antiquity with the sense of "soldier". The same word was used continuously in the Roman and Byzantine period. The Italian term stradioti could therefore be a loan from the Greek word stratiotai (Greek: στρατιώται), i.e. soldiers. Alternatively, it derives from the Italian word strada ("street"), meaning "wayfarer". The Albanian stradioti of Venice were also called cappelletti (sing. cappelletto) because of the small red caps they wore.
The stradioti were recruited in Albania, Greece, Dalmatia, Serbia and later Cyprus. Most of the names were Albanian, such as Gjon, Gjin, Merkur, Arbnor, Ilir, Agron etc., but a good number of the names were of Greek origin, such as Palaiologos, Spandounios, Laskaris, Rhalles, Comnenos, Psendakis, Maniatis, Spyliotis, Alexopoulos, Psaris, Zacharopoulos, Klirakopoulos, and Kondomitis. Others seemed to be of South Slavic origin, such as Soimiris, Vlastimiris, and Voicha. Also among their leaders were members of some old Byzantine noble families such as the Palaiologoi and Komnenoi.
Stratioti in European countries
The Republic of Venice first used stratioti in their campaigns against the Ottoman Empire and, from c. 1475, as frontier troops in Friuli. Starting from that period, they began to almost entirely replace the Venetian light cavalry in the army. Apart from the Albanian stradioti, Greek and Italian ones were also deployed in the League of Venice at the Battle of Fornovo (1495). The mercenaries were recruited from the Balkans, mainly Christians but also some Muslims. In 1511, a group of stratioti petitioned for the construction of the Greek community's Eastern Catholic Church in Venice, the San Giorgio dei Greci, and the Scuola dei Greci (Confraternity of the Greeks), in a neighborhood where a Greek community still resides. Impressed by the unorthodox tactics of the stratioti, other European powers quickly began to hire mercenaries from the same region.
In various medieval sources the recruits are mentioned either as Greeks or Albanians. The bulk of stradioti rank and file were of Albanian origin from regions of Greece, but by the middle of the 16th century there is evidence that many of them had been Hellenized and in some occasions even Italianized. Hellenization was possibly underway prior to service abroad, since stradioti of Albanian origin had settled in Greek lands for two generations before their emigration to Italy. Moreover, since many served under Greek commanders and together with the Greek stradioti, this process continued. Another factor in this assimilative process was the stradioti's and their families' active involvement and affiliation with the Greek Orthodox or Uniate Church communities in the places they lived in Italy.
The Kingdom of Naples hired Albanians, Greeks and Serbs into the Royal Macedonian Regiment (Italian: Reggimento Real Macedone), a light infantry unit active in the 18th century. Spain also recruited this unit.
France under Louis XII recruited some 2,000 stradioti in 1497, two years after the battle of Fornovo. Among the French they were known as estradiots and argoulets. The term "argoulet" is believed to come either from the Greek city of Argos, where many of argoulets come from (Pappas), or from the arcus (bow) and the arquebuse. For some authors argoulets and estradiots are synonymous but for others there are certain differences between them. G. Daniel, citing M. de Montgommeri, says that argoulets and estradiots have the same armoury except that the former wear a helmet. According to others "estradiots" were Albanian horsemen and "argoulets" were Greeks, while Croatians were called "Cravates".
The argoulets were armed with a sword, a mace (metal club) and a short arquebuse. They continued to exist under Charles IX and are noted at the battle of Dreux (1562). They were disbanded around 1600. The English chronicle writer Edward Hall described the "Stradiotes" at the battle of the Spurs in 1513. They were equipped with short stirrups, small spears, beaver hats, and Turkish swords.
The term "carabins" was also used in France as well as in Spain denoting cavalry and infantry units similar to estradiots and argoulets (Daniel G.)(Bonaparte N.). Units of Carabins seem to exist at least till the early 18th century.
Corps of light infantry mercenaries were periodically reqruited from the Balkans or Italy mainly during the 15th to 17th centuries. In 1587, the Duchy of Lorraine recruited 500 Albanian cavalrymen, while from 1588 to 1591 five Albanian light cavalry captains were also recruited.
Stratioti were first employed by Spain in their Italian expedition (see Italian Wars). Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba ("Gran Capitan") was sent by King Ferdinand II of Aragon ("the Catholic") to support the kingdom of Naples against the French invasion. In Calabria Gonzalo had two hundred "estradiotes Griegos, elite cavalry".
- In 1514, Henry VIII of England, employed units of Albanian and Greek stradioti during the battles with the Kingdom of Scotland.
- In the 1540s, Duke Edward Seymour of Somerset used Albanian stradioti in his campaign against Scotland.
- An account of the presence of stratioti in Britain is given by Nikandros Noukios of Corfu. In about 1545 Noukios followed as a non-combatant the English invasion of Scotland where the English forces included Greeks from Argos under the leadership of Thomas of Argos whose "Courage, and prudence, and experience of wars" was lauded by the Corfiot traveller.[note 1] Thomas was sent by Henry VIII to Boulogne in 1546, as commander of a battalion of 550 Greeks and was injured in the battle. The King expressed his appreciation to Thomas for his leadership in Boulogne and rewarded him with a good sum of money.
The stratioti were pioneers of light cavalry tactics during this era. In the early 16th century heavy cavalry in the European armies was principally remodeled after Albanian stradioti of the Venetian army, Hungarian hussars and German mercenary cavalry units (Schwarzreiter). They employed hit-and-run tactics, ambushes, feigned retreats and other complex maneuvers. In some ways, these tactics echoed those of the Ottoman sipahis and akinci. They had some notable successes also against French heavy cavalry during the Italian Wars.
They were known for cutting off the heads of dead or captured enemies, and according to Commines they were paid by their leaders one ducat per head.
The stradioti used javelins, as well as swords, maces, crossbows, bows, and daggers. They traditionally dressed in a mixture of Ottoman, Byzantine and European garb: the armor was initially a simple mail hauberk, replaced by heavier armor in later eras. As mercenaries, the stradioti received wages only as long as their military services were needed.
- Mercurio Bua
- Krokodeilos Kladas
- Demetrio Reres
- Matthew Spanoudes (or Spadugnino), a stradioti who earned the title of "Count and Knight of the Holy Roman Empire" from Emperor Frederick III
- Palaiologos (also Paleologos) family:
- Demetrios Laskaris, son of Isaakios, unit commander
- Isaakios Laskaris, killed in the battle of Fornovo (1495) (Sathas)
- Panagiotis Doxaras, horseman by the Venetian army and painter (1662-1729)
- Thomas of Argos, captain of a battalion of 550 Greek stratioti who served in the English army in the era of Henry VIII. Thomas was injured in the Siege of Boulogne (1546) fighting victoriously against a unit of more than 1,000 French (Moustoxydes, 1856).
- Michael Tarchaniota Marullus, Renaissance scholar, poet and humanist
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