Thursday, May 13, 2010

Giorgio Basta

Basta, Giorgio (b. La Rocca, near Taranto, Jan. 30, 1550-d. Prague, Nov. 20, 1607). Basta was an Imperial (Holy Roman Empire) general and a military theorist. He served in the French-Spanish hostilities of 1589-1593 and the Ottoman-Hapsburg Long War (1593-1606).

Basta's family was of Albanian or Greek ancestry, like many of the refugee stradiotti (soldiers) who fled to Italy following the Turkish conquest of the Peloponnese (Byzantine Morea).

His earliest military experience was in the Spanish army, and he rose to prominence as a cavalry commander in Flanders and protégé of Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, Spanish commander in the Netherlands. At the siege of Antwerp (1584-1585) his light cavalry controlled the countryside and prevented the re-victualling of the city, which was decisive. In 1590, he was appointed commissary-general of Parma's cavalry. He campaigned in support of the Catholic League in northern France (1591-1592) and served under Charles von Mansfeld (1593). He fought against French King Henry IV in Guise (1593) and was promoted to lieutenant general. After the death of his patron, Parma, he entered the service of Hapsburg Emperor Rudolph II as general of cavalry (February 25, 1598).

In the emperor's service Basta won fame in the reconquest of Transylvania (1599-1605), leading the Imperial armies against Sigismund Bathory, Prince of Transylvania, and his allies. He contended also against Michael the Brave, voivode of Wallachia (executed by Basta on August 18, 1601), and against Stephen Bocskay and Bethlen Gabor. Appointed Imperial commander in chief (January 20, 1602), Basta took the fortress of Khust (1603), for which he was created a count. He retired in 1605, and devoted himself to writing military treatises based upon his experience.

His first book was Il maestro di campo generale (1606). According to González de León, Road to Rocroi, 136n, this was a plagiarism of Lechuga’s Discurso del cargo de maestre de campo general. (It probably should be pointed out that plagiarism then, especially of technical texts, was rather more common and unexceptional than it is today.) His most important work, Il governo della cavalleria leggera (1612), was an influential textbook on the organization, management, and employment of light cavalry; another work, Del governo dell'artiglieria, was published in 1610. His works were translated into other languages and widely read, and helped to inform European military practice and doctrine before, and during, the Thirty Years' War.

Giorgio Basta rose from obscure origins to high command in the Spanish and Imperial armies during a transitional period in the development of the military art. He was a resourceful general who, like Montecuccoli and Saxe, passed on in his writings lessons gleaned from decades of campaigning. He wrote a practical guide to the employment of light cavalry, an arm often encountered but little understood by western European generals of his day. He is justly renowned as one of the greatest generals of his time.

(c) Curt Johnson

Sources: Barbarich, E. "Un generale di cavaleria italo-albanese: Giorgio Basta." Nuova antologia, 63 (1928); Labarre de Raillicourt, Dominique. Basta: comte d'Hust et du Saint-Empire. Paris, 1968.

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