Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta (June 19, 1417 – October 7, 1468), popularly known as the Wolf of Rimini, was a famous member of the Italian House of Malatesta and lord of Rimini, Fano, and Cesena from 1432. He was widely considered by his contemporaries as one of the most daring military leaders in Italy and commanded the Venetian forces in the 1465 campaign against the Ottoman Empire. He was also a poet and patron of the arts.


Sigismondo Pandolfo was born in Brescia, northern Italy, the illegitimate son of Pandolfo III Malatesta and Antonia Barignani.

Following the family's tradition, he debuted as man-at-arms at the age of 13 against his relative Carlo II Malatesta, lord of Pesaro and Pope Martin V's ally, who aimed to annex Rimini, Cesena and Fano to his territories. After his victory Sigismondo obtained, together with his brothers Galeotto Roberto and Domenico, the title of Papal vicar for those cities. In 1431, albeit with inferior forces, he repelled another invasion by the Malatestas of Pesaro. When his elder brother soon abdicated, he became lord of Rimini, at the age of only 15.

In 1432 he accepted the command of a Papal corps, defeating the Spanish condottiero Sante Cirillo and thwarting Antonio I Ordelaffi's attempt to capture Forlì (1435-36). However, the following year Sigismondo occupied the Papal city of Cervia and was excommunicated; he was soon pardoned and created commander of the Papal Army. Later he fought in Romagna and the Marche alongside Francesco Sforza. In the meantime he married Ginevra d'Este, Niccolò III's illegitimate daughter. In 1440 she died, and rumours were that she had been poisoned by Sigismondo. [This accusation was probably groundless, as both the pope and the Estes maintained good relationships with him later.] Two years later he married Polissena Sforza, daughter of Francesco. In this period he scored a noteworthy victory against Niccolò Piccinino, managing to obtain some territories of Pesaro.In his restless attitude he betrayed Sforza twice, but he also betrayed his momentary ally against him, Niccolò Piccinino. Enmity against Sforza turned into true hatred when his father-in-law bought the seignory of Pesaro from Carlo Malatesta. Therefore Sigismondo allied with Pope Eugene IV and the duke of Milan. Later, he was hired by King Alfonso V of Naples, but soon after received the money for the "condotta" passed at the service of Florence against the former. In 1445 he forced the Neapolitans to leave the siege of Piombino, in Tuscany, and had his first son by Isotta degli Atti (whom he married to in 1456). In 1449 his wife Polissena died in mysterious circumstances. Francesco Sforza claimed Sigismondo had her drowned by one of his servants, but this has remained unconfirmed.

After 1449 Malatesta was variously under Venice, Florence, Siena, Naples and Sforza himself. The Peace of Lodi (1454), from which he was excluded, pushed the major Italian powers against him. His territories were repeatedly invaded by Aragonese, Venetian and Papal troops. On december 25, 1460, a famous process "in absentia" was held in Rome against Sigismondo. Pope Pius II, who considered him guilty of treachery towards Siena arising from his long-running feud with Federico da Montefeltro, duke of Urbino, excommunicated him, declaring him a heretic and attributing to Sigismondo a series of sins (incest, sodomy against his son Roberto and others) which smeared his reputation for centuries.

A true crusade was then launched against Malatesta. The first contingent of Papal troops was defeated in the July 1461, but he was severely crushed on August 12, 1462 by Federico da Urbino near Senigallia. The war ended in 1463 with the loss of all Sigismondo's territories apart from Rimini and a territory of five miles around it: both however were to return to the Papal States after his death. He then sought more fortune as general for Venice in its war against the Ottomans, as a field commander in Peloponnesus (1464-1466).

In an attempt to reverse this situation, Sigismondo appears to have intended to murder Pius' successor, Pope Paul II (who had asked him to exchange Rimini for Spoleto and Camerino), in 1468, but lost his nerve and returned to Rimini. He died in his residence of Castel Sismondo a few months later.

His son Roberto, also a skilled condottiero, managed briefly to maintain control over Rimini.

Patron of art and reputation

Sigismondo's valour and skill as general were widely recognized by his contemporaries. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia [] :

From his childhood he was a skilful and daring soldier, and throughout his life was regarded as almost the first captain in Italy

He was not a religious man, and his Tempio Malatestiano, also known as San Francesco, built in Rimini, by Leon Battista Alberti and decorated by artists including Piero della Francesca and Agostino di Duccio, was essentially a lay monument to Isotta degli Atti, his lover and third wife. It was a landmark Renaissance building, being the first church to use the Roman triumphal arch as part of its structure. Sigismondo also built a notable series of fortifications in his Romagna possessions, including the "Rocche" ("Castles") of Rimini and Fano.

Malatesta's reputation (albeit minor) was largely based on Pius II's perception of him, although numerous contemporary chronicles described him as a tyrant and a womanizer: he delved in "rape, adultery, and incest". ["Erotic Love through the ages [] ", Sardi. P. 119] Italian Renaissance historian Francesco Guicciardini defined him "enemy of every peace and well-living". [Rendina, p. 181] His deeds and political manoeuvers were characterized by all the typical play of violence, intrigues and subtleties typical of Renaissance Italy; however, Sigismondo was well aware of his sins, and tried to justify them in a series of love sonnets dedicated to Isotta.

In 1906, Edward Hutton published the historical novel "Sigismondo Malatesta", mostly sympathetic to its hero. It was slightly revised and reprinted under the title "The Mastiff of Rimini" in 1926.

Hutton's novel and Charles Emile Yriarte's "Un condottiere au XV Siècle" (1882) were among the main sources of American poet Ezra Pound's Malatesta Cantos (Cantos 8-11), first published in 1923. These are an admiring howbeit fragmentary account of Malatesta's career as warrior, lover and patron.

Largely infuenced by Pound, as well as by C. G. Jung, the critic Adrian Stokes devoted a study, "The Stones of Rimini" (1934), to the art created at Sigismondo's court.

See also

*House of Malatesta
*Francesco Sforza
*Republic of Venice
*Castel Sismondo
*Portrait of Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta



*cite book|first=Claudio|last=Rendina|title=I capitani di ventura|publisher=Newton Compton|city=Rome|year=1994

External links

* [ Commune di Rimini (translated)]

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