Monday, 25 January 2016

Sword vs Pike

           A good friend of mine grows increasingly frustrated with facebook. I can sympathise with this. If it were not the only means I currently have of communicating with my girlfriend I suspect I would be spending much less time on it too. On the other hand it does occasionally inspire posts to this blog. Recently I saw an illustration on facebook showing swordsmen fighting against hoplites. Below there were many smug comments about “bringing a sword to a pike fight”. That is exactly what you do do!

           The history of swordsmen beating pikes goes back at least to the Romans. Many of the enemies of the early Roman army used the phalanx and the signature fighting method of the Roman legion grew from combat with such adversaries. Fast forward a few centuries and you have the Spanish “sword and buckler men” or “Rodeleros”. Like the Swiss halberdiers and German Zweihändermen they were used to attack and disrupt pike formations.

           To understand the mechanism here imagine you are holding a spear a couple of metres long. If an enemy steps a pace beyond the point of your spear you can bring your point back an equal distance by moving your hands back. Now suppose you are holding a long pike of five or six metres. The enemy slips past the point of your pike and takes a couple of paces. He is beyond the distance you can easily withdraw your point to stab him! You can try stepping back yourself or shortening your hold on the pike. However, pikes were used in massed formations so the comrades behind you will prevent you being able to make these moves.

           This is exactly what the Romans and Rodeleros would do. Shield and sword allowed them to deflect or block the thrusting pike points and close the distance. Allegedly some Rodeleros would throw themselves to the ground and roll under the points. Halberdiers and Zweihändermen used the same basic idea but different weapons. Some claim the Zweihändermen would simply chop through the pikeshafts before laying into the pikemen.

           To resist such tactics a pike square would include its own contingent of swordsmen or halberdiers.

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