(Italian condotta, ‘contract’) The leader of a medieval mercenary band of soldiers. Mercenaries flourished in the climate of economic prosperity and inter-municipal warfare of 14th- and 15th-century Italy. The earliest such mercenaries were recruited from the unemployed mercenary ‘free companies’ of the 1360s and included Catalans, the Germans and Hungarians of the so-called Grand Company, and the English Sir John Hawkwood, leader of the White Company in the 14th century. The system was refined in the 15th century by the Sforzas, although the condottieri were always motivated by self-interest, and changing of sides and loyalties was frequent. The system died out as a result of the Habsburg-Valois wars of the 16th century, which led to changes in the financing and organization of armies.