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Paulus Hector Mair

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Paulus Hector Mair

"Mair", Cod.icon. 312b f 64r
Born 1517
Augsburg, Germany
Died 10 Dec 1579 (age 62)
Augsburg, Germany
Spouse(s) Felizitas Kötzler
  • Civil servant
  • Historian
First printed
english edition
Knight and Hunt, 2008
Concordance by Michael Chidester
Signature Paulus Hector Mair Sig.png

Paulus Hector Mair (Paul Hektor Mayr, Meyer; 1517 – 1579) was a 16th century German aristocrat, civil servant, and fencer. He was born in 1517 to a wealthy and influential Augsburg patrician family. In his youth, he likely received training in fencing and grappling from the masters of Augsburg fencing guild, and early on developed a deep fascination with fencing treatises. He began his civil service as a secretary to the Augsburg City Council; by 1541, Mair was the city treasurer, and in 1545 he also took on the office of Master of Rations.

Mair's martial background is unknown, but as a citizen of a free city he would have had military obligations whenever the city went to war, and as a member of a patrician family he likely served in the cavalry. He was also an avid collector of fencing treatises and other literature on military history. Like his contemporary Joachim Meyer, Mair believed that the Medieval martial arts were being forgotten, and he saw this as a tragedy, idealizing the arts of fencing as a civilizing and character-building influence on men. Where Meyer sought to update the traditional fencing systems and apply them to contemporary weapons of war and defense, Mair was more interested in preserving historical teachings intact. Thus, some time in the latter part of the 1540s he commissioned what would become the most extensive compendium of German fencing treatises ever made, a massive two-volume manuscript compiling virtually every fencing treatise he could access. He retained the workshop of Jörg Breu the Younger to create the illustrations for the text,[1] and hired two Augsburg fencers to pose for the illustrations.[2] This project was extraordinarily expensive and took at least four years to complete. Ultimately, three copies of this compendium were produced, each more extensive than the last; the first (MSS Dresden C.93/C.94) was written in Early New High German, the second and most artistically ambitious (Cod.icon. 393) in New Latin, and the rougher third version (Cod. 10825/10826) incorporated both languages.

Beginning in the 1540s, Mair began purchasing older fencing manuscripts, some from fellow collector Lienhart Sollinger (a Freifechter who lived in Augsburg for many years) and others from auctions. Perhaps most significant of all of his acquisitions was the partially-completed treatise of Antonius Rast, a Master of the Long Sword and three-time Captain of the Marxbrüder fencing guild. The venerable master left it incomplete when he died in 1549, and in 1553 Mair produced a complete fencing manual (Reichsstadt "Schätze" Nr. 82) based on his notes. Ultimately, he owned over a dozen fencing manuscripts over the course of his life, including the following:

He also used several printed books as source material for his compendia, and presumably owned copies, including Der Allten Fechter gründtliche Kunst (printed by Christian Egenolff), Opera Nova by Achille Marozzo, and Ringer Kunst by Fabian von Auerswald.

Mair not only spent incredible sums of money on his fencing interests, but generally lead a lavish lifestyle and maintained his political influence with expensive parties and other entertainments for the burghers and patricians of Augsburg. This habit of living far beyond his means for decades exhausted his family's wealth, eventually leading him to sell the Latin version of his fencing manuscript (netting the princely sum of 800 florins) and finally to begin embezzling money from the Augsburg city coffers. This embezzlement was not discovered for many years (or perhaps was overlooked due to the political favor his parties garnered), until finally a disgruntled assistant reported him to the Augsburg City Council in 1579 and provoked an audit of his books. Mair was arrested, tried, and hanged as a thief at the age of 62. After Mair's death, his effects (including his library) were sold at auction to recoup some of the funds he had embezzled.

Whether viewed as an unwise scholar who paid the ultimate price for his art or an ignoble thief who violated his city's trust, Mair remains one of the most influential figures in the history of Kunst des Fechtens. By completing the fencing manual of Antonius Rast, Mair gave us valuable insight into the Augsburg fencing tradition; his own works are impressive on both an artistic and practical level, and his extensive commentary on the fencing illustrations in his collection serves to make potentially useful training aids out of what would otherwise be mere curiosities. Finally, in purchasing so many important fencing treatises he succeeded in preserving them for future generations; they were purchased by the fabulously wealthy Fugger family after his death and eventually passed to the Augsburg University Library, where they remain to this day.


Much of Mair's content represents his revision and expansion of the older treatises listed above, including adding descriptive content to uncaptioned illustrations. Where available, these illustrations are displayed in the left-most column, labeled "Source Illustrations", for comparison purposes. Mair's own illustrations appear in the second column, alongside the translation. Wherever possible, the version from the manuscript or book that Mair owned is displayed; in some cases, however, the only known copy is in a book that Mair never had access to as far as we know (suggesting the existence of lost manuscripts).

The Dresden version contains the fewest pieces and its artwork is most reminiscent of Breu's style, suggesting that it was the first copy produced. The Munich adds additional plays and sections on top of the Dresden's contents and the Vienna likewise augments the Munich, so it appears that this was order of creation; conversely, the Dresden has no unique content, and the only unique plays in the Munich are in the section on jousting. To give a visual sense of this evolution of the work, the Dresden illustrations are used wherever possible; the Munich illustrations appear only for those plays that are missing from the Dresden, and the Vienna for those that are likewise missing from the Munich.