The root of the First Italian War was mainly between the alliance of the Habsburg States: Spain and Austria, and the two main other powers on continental Europe: France and the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantines and Habsburgs had developed a personal rivalry, and fought mainly over the control of northern Italy, the gateway to both the Adriatic Sea, and to southern Germany. Italy at this time was made up of multiple states, especially in the north, but the Habsburgs wanted to establish a hegemony over the area, and turn it into the family's personal treasury. But the Byzantines had the idea of creating a hegemonic alliance, similar to the old Delian League of Athens, and use northern Italy to fund a new powerful Byzantine military. The Spanish and Austrians made a plan for two offensive maneuvers, one for Austria to invade Venice, and for Spain to invade Genoa. But when they declared war on May 4, 1494, the states of northern Italy, instead of surrendering or putting up little a fight, asked for help from the Byzantine Empire, which they received on May 10, when a Byzantine army marched into Venice to fight the Austrians.
Austrian Invasion of Venice
On July 2, 1494, the Austrian army, consisting of 50,000 men, having marched from Vienna for weeks, finally arrived on the Austrian-Venetian border, where they then moved through the Italian Alps, and to the Venetian city of Trento. The city had been defended by 5,000 Venetian soldiers, but were armed all with Byzantine made muskets, compared to the Austrians, almost all armed with pikes, and only about 20 cannons with them. The Venetians held out for 2 months in the siege, until on September 9, a Byzantine relief force of 24,000 arrived and forced the Austrians to retreat.
The renwed Austrian army then moved west to attack the city of Verona, and were now accompanied by 5,000 musketmen. The city fell after a 2 day battle, and the Austrians then gained an advantage in west Venetia, and were soon moving east to fight the Venetians and Byzantines. They then marched over east to the town of Padua, and attacked it with 70,000 men, with 12,000 musketmen and 500 cannons. The town was defended by 14,000 Venetians and Byzantines, and they held out for 2 weeks, until on November 12, the city fell but the Venetians and Byzantines managed to retreat. The Austrians then moved their complete army of 80,000 to Venice for a final siege, and the Venetians and Byzantines held the city with 100,000 troops, and 700 cannons.
The allies defended the city with the local population in mind, which had been left in Venice to help build its defenses. The Austrians finally attacked on November 20, and the battle quickly exploded into a melee, with Byzantine Gendarmes and musketmen, against Austrian Knights and pikemen, also with a force of 1,400 musketmen. The Austrians decided to settle in for the winter, but this proved fatal to their cause, as a massive freak blizzard hit the city on December 19, 1595, and the Austrians were racked by starvation, the cold, and dissentry. A Byzantine-lead counterattack on January 14, 1596 forced the Austrians back, but the Venetians proved the deciding force. As the Byzantine center advanced, the Venetians were left to cover their right flank, and Austrians thought they were lesser of a force. The Austrians were proven wrong when the 12,000 Venetians defenders, all armed with muskets, forced back the Austrians, and then marched on their own offensive, collapsing the Austrian left. The Austrians lost 14,000 men in the battle, and were forced to retreat from Venetia, allowing the Byzantines access to the Alps, and their ally, Switzerland.
Spain Campaigns in Genoa and Milan
On November 14, 1494, after finally having gathered an army, 80,000 Spanish soldiers launched a land and sea assault on Genoa. The Spanish Navy took control of the Genoan ports and forced the Genoans to leave the city, ending in the Spanish occupation of the city on November 17. The Genoans now received help from France, who sent an army of 80,000 to defend the remaining Genoan land. The Spanish continued to march on the Genoand coast, until they were defeated at the Battle of Savona in February 1495, when the Spanish were then forced back to Genoa.
The Spanish then moved onto capture Milan, hoping to defeat them instead, and assaulting the town of Pavia, just south of Milan on March 5. The defending Milanese were forced back and into Miland after a 4 hour battle, and the city was occupied by Spain the next day. But a French counterattack the next day forced the Spanish, who hadn't built any defences yet, were forced out and back to the Milanese border. A continuing French campaign forced the Spanish finally back to Genoa, where they were then attacked by a French force of 50,000 soldiers and 45 cannons.
The Spanish were then able to force the French out of the city on July 7, 1595, and this left Genoa the only Spanish territory left in Italy. The Genoans were forced to then move their capital temporarily to Savona, where they then established the legislature there, and moved their army their. The French then decided to leave the city in Spanish hands until they could received Byzantine help.
Invasion of Florence
The Spanish then decided to land 150,000 troops on the Florentine coast, easily overwhelming the country's coastal defenses, and beginning their push towards Florence. Marching from the south coast, they moved to capture the city of Grosseto, meeting no resistance as they moved across the Tuscan countryside. However, upon arriving at the city, they were met by a stiff resistance from the Florentine army, who had been building up the city's defenses since the Spanish were reported on the southern coast. The city held out for 3 weeks, until it capitulated on April 14, 1496, but this let the Byzantines and French move their forces into Florence and arrive in Florence itself, on April 17, 1496.
The Spanish then marched to capture the Florentine town of Montalcino, which had by now been turned into a fortress, and being on high ground gave it an advantage against the Spanish. The Spanish knew that an uphill charge would be a massacre, so they moved up to higher ground above the town, and launched an attack from their. Although well-placed musketmen managed to hold off a cavalry charge, the infantry were harder to beat, but were themselves finally pushed back. At the end of the day on May 4, the Spanish artillery had finally been moved into position and began bombarding the town. But the Byzantines were eventually able to send in some infantry onto the higher ground in the mountains, and the confusion they caused allowed further Byzantine advances up the mountain, resulting in the Spanish retreating back onto the coast.
A Byzantine flotilla of 25 galleys defeated 28 Spanish galleys off the Neapolitan coast at the Battle of the Amalfi Coast. The Spanish navy on the Italian coast continued to suffer defeats and eventually the Spanish controlled coast became blockaded, and Spanish trade in the Mediterranean was stopped in its tracks. Eventually on land, the Spanish were pushed back to the Florentine coast, where they were eventually defeated, and retreated back to Spain.
Treaty of Milan
After finally having defeated the Habsburgs on land and at sea, the Spanish and Austrians finally sued for peace. The Treaty of Milan was signed on May 7, 1497, with the conditions ad follows:
- All remaining Spanish and Austrian forces shall withdraw from any foreign held territory.
- The Spanish-occupied Kingdom of Naples will have its land transferred over to the Byzantine Empire.
- The Spanish and Austrians shall pay a sum of 1 pound per gold in every man reported killed from any country to that country.
The Byzantines were the masters of all of Italy, and the Spanish and Austrians now had their hopes of empire dashed for the moment, although Spain quickly recovered. And although the war was over, the Byzantines still had one more big play to makes.
On December 25, 1497, Emperor Andreas I declared the Byzantium Declaration, creating the Byzantium pact as the first modern attempt at a military and political organization, made of the Byzantine Empire, France, Venice, Tuscany, and Milan. The declaration sent shockwaves through Europe, officially showing that the Byzantine Empire had emerged from the Dark Ages as the true master of Europe, a title they would have to fight for for centuries yet to come.