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  • Il gioco e la guerra nel secondo millennio
  • Antonella Cagnolati
Del Negro, Piero and Gherardo Ortalli, EDS. Il gioco e la guerra nel secondo millennio. Ludica, Italy: collana di storia del gioco, n. 9. Treviso/Roma: Edizioni Fondazione Benetton Studi e Ricerche/Viella, 2008. Pp. 219. Bibliography and index. $28.00.

The purpose of this book is to explain the complex relationship between games and war, by means of a detailed analysis that starts with the Middle Ages and leads up to the twentieth century. Besides the extensive and excellent introduction, the twelve essays that make up the book are divided into three distinct chronological periods: the first related to the medieval and modern ages, the second to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the last to the historical period following the Second World War. A very precise detailed bibliography, in which titles are given in chronological order, and an accurate index of names and places completes the book. The fundamental theme at the heart of the whole subject lies in the countless variable associations to be made between games and war, as seen in its numerous expressions and variations, right up to today's war games played on computer or the electronic simulations that take the place of field practice.

The boundary between the two areas has always been rather flexible: even in antiquity the game aspect existed in gruesome forms, such as the ludi circenses of ancient Rome. Games may be a simulation and a substitute for war, but also be used as a form of training: in addition, the physical exercise and competitive elements serve as a display of courage and prowess in the use of weapons. Games and war are also linked by other features: the existence of rules and of an arbiter super partes who has the final decision serve in both cases to avoid overstepping the established limit and giving way to massacre and anarchy.

"War games" date back to records of the thirteenth century in Piedmont: the town edicts contain mention of batalia de scuazolis, a sort of game played by opposing groups in the streets of Vercelli and Turin, which often ended in fighting and riots. It is interesting to note the connection between training for the cavalry and the academies of the nobility in seventeenth and eighteenth century Padua, where the renowned "Delia" Academy was set up for this purpose as an institute whose members practiced not only subjects such as riding, fencing, and mathematics, but also jousting, wrestling, and tournaments aimed at amusing the public.

The authors of manuals of the art of war laid emphasis, with great regret, on the way in which ancient virtues had fallen into disuse from the time when firearms had entered into war, to the point of rendering useless lances, pikestaffs, and riding itself. At the same time, fencing began to enjoy great popularity, as is testified by the numerous treatises and manuals laying down the rules of the game.

In the modern age the game of chess took on considerable importance as a metaphor of war. A very interesting essay by Bianchi is dedicated to this important subject which explains that chess must be considered not only as a game of considerable fascination and rational intellectual value, and as such the subject of substantial treatises from the seventeenth century onwards, but also as a strategic activity anticipating the tactical moves to be made in a war zone. [End Page 456]

Also of importance are the essays referring to the historical period following the Second World War. The very concept of training for war has undergone a profound change with the introduction of computer simulations. The essay by Lorioli follows and explains in detail the entire process of this change, making it very clear that there is a return to the idea of war being a combination of strategies, tactics, and planning, although it is increasingly virtual rather than real.

All the essays are technically well edited, thanks to the explanations provided in the notes and the abundance of bibliographic references. The central theme of the whole book, that is, the continuing relationship between games and war, is amply illustrated by...


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