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Why do Swordsmen with Shield Slaugher Spearmen/Pikemen/Long Pole Arms

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  • Why do Swordsmen with Shield Slaugher Spearmen/Pikemen/Long Pole Arms

    I remembered reading "The Art of War In the Middle Ages" by Oman and he stated that while the Swiss Pikemen dominated the battlefield and destroyed anyone who fought them for half of the Middle Ages, near the end of Medieval Times and starting into the Renaissance era, the Swiss would no longer dominate.

    While a large reason for this dealt with the fact foreign armies, would copy the Swiss Pikemen and create their own counterparts, like the Lankerskreight (nor sure if this is the right spelling) of the Germans, the real blow dealt with when the Spanish faced the Swiss on the battlefield using their shield-and-sword infantry. In this battle Oman describes the Swiss as hopeless when the Spanish swordsmen clashed in with Swiss Pikemen and utterly massacred them.

    Other armies would copy the Spanish Swordsmen armed with Bucklers with their own equivalents and the Swiss would end up facing a large series of military disasters for much of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

    Oman states there is a parallel with the slaughter of Swiss by Spanish Swordsmen with Bucklers to when the Romans fought the Macedonia a thousand years earlier. The Romans armed with their rectangular shields and gladius would take on the Macedonian Phalanx head on and slaughter them with absolute ease. In fact in the biggest battle of the Macedonian Wars, the Macedonians would lose and lose thousands of soldiers int he process while the Romans would lose less than a 100 soldiers!

    Oman implies that the Spanish Swordsmen armed with Buckler was inspired when old Latin and Greek texts were rediscovered and European powers started using the newfound knowledge to their advantage in war (thus coming the implications that the Spanish probably copied the Romans when they came up with Swordsmen armed with Bucklers).

    What is the Swordsmen with shield dominating Spearmen,Pikemen or similar troops using very long Polearms?

    I'm even more interested with why the Romans dominated the Macedonian Phalanx considering the Macedonians had shields too!

  • #2
    Well maybe those stories are not true....

    Hmm pike is the bst weapon for cavalry. You have distance with it and when a group of soldiers is together (like phalanx) its a good tactic. Swordsmen are basic units and they maybe can broke their spears using some tactics but i dont see any big superiority over pikemen so im confused by your story.
    "Give me 100 000 croatian soldiers and I will conqure all world" - Napoleon Bonaparte

    Soldiers are coming and leaving while war will never end.

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    • #3
      I think other factors were involved as well. I'm no expert, but from what I understand, by that time (1500's) muskets and artillery had come to be important factors. The Swiss pike formations were very dense on relatively slow moving - perfect targets for musket and cannon. I recall the Spanish Tercio formation was excellent for the time because it incorporated combined arms.

      Also, I recall that the Roman legion had greater flexibility than the Greek phalanx.

      So, is it a result of the weaponry or the evolution of formations and tactics?

      One counter that I would offer is the Battle of Flodden. English billhooks decimated Scottish sword and shield infantry as well as their attempts at emulating the Swiss pikes.
      TTFN

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      • #4
        Also, on an individual level I saw a demo in which a fellow with a billhook type polearm sparred with a sword and shield fighter. With the various hooks the polearmer was able to snag the shield, trip the fighter and otherwise prevent him from even closing.

        I suppose it could go either way depending on skill. The shield could be used to push the polearm out of the way to close on the target.

        I do also recall reading about how, in the Japanese invasion of Korea, c1580's to 1590's, ashigaru armed with cross bladed yaris (spears) made short work of Ming cavalry and sword and shield infantry in several battles. Modern practitioners of yari jutsu use the same tactics of snag, trip, spear.
        TTFN

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        • #5
          I would offer that it depends on the mix of fighters involved. You would have two handed swordsmen, buckler and swordsmen, pikemen, arquebusmen, maybe some archers/crossbowmen and artillery with Cavalry waited nearby. Pikes need the other guys for protection. I consider Pikes the base you maneuver around. They are slow and can't move over rough ground easily. They can stand up to the pistol armed Cavalry carrying out Caracole tactics.

          Lansdsknecht liked to mix some two handed swordsmen in their Pike Formations. These guys could lop the blade off the other sides pikes and then they are armed with sticks!

          Pruitt
          Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

          Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

          by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Kendoka Girl View Post
            I think other factors were involved as well. I'm no expert, but from what I understand, by that time (1500's) muskets and artillery had come to be important factors. The Swiss pike formations were very dense on relatively slow moving - perfect targets for musket and cannon. I recall the Spanish Tercio formation was excellent for the time because it incorporated combined arms.

            Also, I recall that the Roman legion had greater flexibility than the Greek phalanx.

            So, is it a result of the weaponry or the evolution of formations and tactics?

            .
            Maybe nether. It could just be that the Swiss were just better troops, with greater discipline, physical and mental conditioning etc. and over time (especially with the influx of wealth from over-seas trade and New World Gold to finance warfighting) the other forces of Europe just got better in the areas in which the Swiss had excelled during the Dark Ages.

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            • #7
              The Spanish sword may have something to do with it. The Spanish sword was so feared that Hannibal and the Romans adopted versions of them. Fast forward to the Medieval Age and Spanish blacksmiths were still crafting high quality swords. A demand for quality swords wouldn't be absent a number of quality sword fighters. Since they used bucklers, it meant that the sword was not a longsword, like a two-handed medieval knight's sword. In Spain, the mastery of the sword wasn't restricted to nobility. So instead of a handful of sword masters (your knights), you had whole formations of them, just as the Swiss had whole formations of pikemen. A dense formation of pikes or any polearm weapon will have the problem of having a minimum range. Get closer than that minimum range and that weapon is useless, add on top of that the men crowded all around him limited his mobility and use of that weapon. A sword is a close-up weapon while a pike is a stand-off weapon. Skilled use of buckler and sword could get him closer than the pikemen want. The medieval Spanish sword could stab, slash and block. A skilled user would use every inch of the sword; pommel, cross-guard, knuckle guard (if there was one), point, edge, flat, even the scabbard. A sword allows easier use of the body like your shoulders, elbows, forearms, knees, shins, heels, thighs and feet to use while fighting. A pike or polearm can become heavy due to the length of it and using it to block and stab a bunch of swordsmen especially tiring. A swordsman can initiate and withdraw as he pleases, while a pikeman out of rank is an easy target for a group of swordsmen. Again the minimum effective range issue. If he had a shorter, lighter staff, like kung-fu martial artists use, he could probably match a swordsmen for speed, but it would be useless against cavalry or a quality made sword.

              Here's an interesting page: http://www.aceros-de-hispania.com/toledo-swords.htm
              The Europa Barbarorum II team [M2TW] needs YOUR HELP NOW HERE!

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              • #8
                I believe the Swiss Pikemen dominate up until the use of massed fire arms and battlefield artillery (Gustavus Adolphus). At that point, likes unsupported by firearms were merely targets. Even the tercio was exposed in the 30 years war by the Swedish army's use of combined arms and particularly, battlefield artillery

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Hansika View Post
                  Well maybe those stories are not true....

                  Hmm pike is the bst weapon for cavalry. You have distance with it and when a group of soldiers is together (like phalanx) its a good tactic. Swordsmen are basic units and they maybe can broke their spears using some tactics but i dont see any big superiority over pikemen so im confused by your story.
                  Here's an excerpt from Machiavelli's Art of War

                  FABRIZIO: The Roman without any doubt, and I will tell you the good and the bad of one and the other. The German infantry can sustain and overcome the cavalry. They are more expeditious in marching and in organizing themselves, because they are not burdened with arms. On the other hand, they are exposed to blows from near and far because of being unarmed. They are useless in land battles and in every fight where there is stalwart resistance. But the Romans sustained and overcame the cavalry, as these (Germans) do. They were safe from blows near and far because they were covered with armor. They were better able to attack and sustain attacks having the shields. They could more actively in tight places avail themselves of the sword than these (Germans) with the pike; and even if the latter had the sword, being without a shield, they become, in such a case, (equally) useless. They (the Romans) could safely assault towns, having the body covered, and being able to cover it even better with the shield. So that they had no other inconvenience than the heaviness of the arms (armor) and the annoyance of having to carry them; which inconveniences they overcame by accustoming the body to hardships and inducing it to endure hard work. And you know we do not suffer from things to which we are accustomed. And you must understand this, that the infantry must be able to fight with infantry and cavalry, and those are always useless who cannot sustain the (attacks of the) cavalry, or if they are able to sustain them, none the less have fear of infantry who are better armed and organized than they. Now if you will consider the German and the Roman infantry, you will find in the German ((as we have said)) the aptitude of overcoming cavalry, but great disadvantages when fighting with an infantry organized as they are, and armed as the Roman. So that there will be this advantage of the one over the other, that the Romans could overcome both the infantry and the cavalry, and the Germans only the cavalry.

                  COSIMO: I would desire that you give some more particular example, so that we might understand it better.

                  FABRIZIO: I say thusly, that in many places in our histories you will find the Roman infantry to have defeated numberless cavalry, but you will never find them to have been defeated by men on foot because of some defect they may have had in their arms or because of some advantage the enemy had in his. For if their manner of arming had been defective, it was necessary for them to follow one of two courses: either when they found one who was better armed than they, not to go on further with the conquest, or that they take up the manner of the foreigner, and leave off theirs: and since neither ensued, there follows, what can be easily conjectured, that this method of arming was better than that of anyone else. This has not yet occurred with the German infantry; for it has been seen that anytime they have had to combat with men on foot organized and as obstinate as they, they have made a bad showing; which results from the disadvantage they have in trying themselves against the arms of the enemy. When Filippo Visconti, Duke of Milan, was assaulted by eighteen thousand Swiss, he sent against them Count Carmingnuola, who was his Captain at that time. This man with six thousand cavalry and a few infantry went to encounter them, and, coming hand to hand with them, was repulsed with very great damage. Whence Carmingnuola as a prudent man quickly recognized the power of the enemy arms, and how much they prevailed against cavalry, and the weakness of cavalry against those on foot so organized; and regrouping his forces, again went to meet the Swiss, and as they came near he made his men-at-arms descend from their horses, and in that manner fought with them, and killed all but three thousand, who, seeing themselves consumed without having any remedy, threw their arms on the ground and surrendered.

                  COSIMO: Whence arises such a disadvantage?

                  FABRIZIO: I have told you a little while ago, but since you have not understood it, I will repeat it to you. The German infantry ((as was said a little while ago)) has almost no armor in defending itself, and use pikes and swords for offense. They come with these arms and order of battle to meet the enemy, who ((if he is well equipped with armor to defend himself, as were the men-at-arms of Carmingnuola who made them descend to their feet)) comes with his sword and order of battle to meet him, and he has no other difficulty than to come near the Swiss until he makes contact with them with the sword; for as soon as he makes contact with them, he combats them safely, for the German cannot use the pike against the enemy who is next to him because of the length of the staff, so he must use the sword, which is useless to him, as he has no armor and has to meet an enemy that is (protected) fully by armor. Whence, whoever considers the advantages and disadvantages of one and the other, will see that the one without armor has no remedy, but the one well armored will have no difficulty in overcoming the first blow and the first passes of the pike: for in battles, as you will understand better when I have demonstrated how they are put together, the men go so that of necessity they accost each other in a way that they are attacked on the breast, and if one is killed or thrown to the ground by the pike, those on foot who remain are so numerous that they are sufficient for victory. From this there resulted that Carmingnuola won with such a massacre of the Swiss, and with little loss to himself.

                  COSIMO: I see that those with Carmingnuola were men-at-arms, who, although they were on foot, were all covered with iron (armor), and, therefore, could make the attempt that they made; so that I think it would be necessary to arm the infantry in the same way if they want to make a similar attempt.

                  FABRIZIO: If you had remembered how I said the Romans were armed, you would not think this way. For an infantryman who has his head covered with iron, his breast protected by a cuirass and a shield, his arms and legs with armor, is much more apt to defend himself from pikes, and enter among them, than is a man-at-arms (cavalryman) on foot. I want to give you a small modem example. The Spanish infantry had descended from Sicily into the Kingdom of Naples in order to go and meet Consalvo who was besieged in Barletta by the French. They came to an encounter against Monsignor D'Obigni with his men-at-arms, and with about four thousand German infantry. The Germans, coming hand to hand with their pikes low, penetrated the (ranks of the) Spanish infantry; but the latter, aided by their spurs and the agility of their bodies, intermingled themselves with the Germans, so that they (the Germans) could not get near them with their swords; whence resulted the death of almost all of them, and the victory of the Spaniards. Everyone knows how many German infantry were killed in the engagement at Ravenna, which resulted from the same causes, for the Spanish infantry got as close as the reach of their swords to the German infantry, and would have destroyed all of them, if the German infantry had not been succored by the French Cavalry: none the less, the Spaniards pressing together made themselves secure in that place. I conclude, therefore, that a good infantry not only is able to sustain the (attack) of cavalry, but does not have fear of infantry, which ((as I have said many times)) proceeds from its arms (armor) and organization (discipline).

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Cicero View Post
                    Maybe nether. It could just be that the Swiss were just better troops, with greater discipline, physical and mental conditioning etc. and over time (especially with the influx of wealth from over-seas trade and New World Gold to finance warfighting) the other forces of Europe just got better in the areas in which the Swiss had excelled during the Dark Ages.
                    That's a good point. I've really come to see a military campaign in a bigger picture. The Swiss at the time had a lot of wealth to fund training and purchase better armor and weapons. The Swiss discipline was also legendary for that period, which is something the Scots could not match in fielding their pike formations.
                    TTFN

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Frtigern View Post
                      The Spanish sword may have something to do with it. The Spanish sword was so feared that Hannibal and the Romans adopted versions of them. Fast forward to the Medieval Age and Spanish blacksmiths were still crafting high quality swords. A demand for quality swords wouldn't be absent a number of quality sword fighters. Since they used bucklers, it meant that the sword was not a longsword, like a two-handed medieval knight's sword. In Spain, the mastery of the sword wasn't restricted to nobility. So instead of a handful of sword masters (your knights), you had whole formations of them, just as the Swiss had whole formations of pikemen. A dense formation of pikes or any polearm weapon will have the problem of having a minimum range. Get closer than that minimum range and that weapon is useless, add on top of that the men crowded all around him limited his mobility and use of that weapon. A sword is a close-up weapon while a pike is a stand-off weapon. Skilled use of buckler and sword could get him closer than the pikemen want. The medieval Spanish sword could stab, slash and block. A skilled user would use every inch of the sword; pommel, cross-guard, knuckle guard (if there was one), point, edge, flat, even the scabbard. A sword allows easier use of the body like your shoulders, elbows, forearms, knees, shins, heels, thighs and feet to use while fighting. A pike or polearm can become heavy due to the length of it and using it to block and stab a bunch of swordsmen especially tiring. A swordsman can initiate and withdraw as he pleases, while a pikeman out of rank is an easy target for a group of swordsmen. Again the minimum effective range issue. If he had a shorter, lighter staff, like kung-fu martial artists use, he could probably match a swordsmen for speed, but it would be useless against cavalry or a quality made sword.

                      Here's an interesting page: http://www.aceros-de-hispania.com/toledo-swords.htm
                      I recall my fencing master speaking very highly of the Spanish schools when he talked about the development of modern fencing. He was saying how their style and schools really began to take shape in the 1500's when better metallurgy and forging techniques resulted in lighter swords which allowed for more technique driven fencing instead of strength driven swordsmanship. The Spanish schools then fed knowledge into the Italian schools, which favored even faster swordsmanship in rapier and dagger fencing.

                      Just a thought though...would sword and buckler infantry have to have a longer frontal line and a less dense formation? If so, would that allow a greater number of pikemen to confront a lesser number of swordsman in a given area?
                      TTFN

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Kendoka Girl View Post
                        I recall my fencing master speaking very highly of the Spanish schools when he talked about the development of modern fencing. He was saying how their style and schools really began to take shape in the 1500's when better metallurgy and forging techniques resulted in lighter swords which allowed for more technique driven fencing instead of strength driven swordsmanship. The Spanish schools then fed knowledge into the Italian schools, which favored even faster swordsmanship in rapier and dagger fencing.

                        Just a thought though...would sword and buckler infantry have to have a longer frontal line and a less dense formation? If so, would that allow a greater number of pikemen to confront a lesser number of swordsman in a given area?
                        It makes you wonder how true the stories of a Japanese samurai who went to Spain to have a Spanish blacksmith make him a sword. After all, they had contact with them. It would be a real rarity to see a katana forged with Spanish steel and methods.

                        Yes the sword and buckler infantry have a looser formation by nature of the space needed to wield their weapons. However since they are so much more mobile and offensive, they can initiate the attack, while the pikemen hope to land a thrust while the swordsmen attack. The tactic I believe was to have another unit of pikemen or polearmed men tie up the other pikemen, while the sword buckler infantry would maneuver around their flanks attack.

                        A pic of what they might have looked like from the game Medieval 2 Total War:


                        A pic of what the Swiss pike formation might have looked like from same game:
                        The Europa Barbarorum II team [M2TW] needs YOUR HELP NOW HERE!

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Pisces Adonis View Post
                          Oman states there is a parallel with the slaughter of Swiss by Spanish Swordsmen with Bucklers to when the Romans fought the Macedonia a thousand years earlier. The Romans armed with their rectangular shields and gladius would take on the Macedonian Phalanx head on and slaughter them with absolute ease.
                          That is to severely overstate the issue. No Roman army ever took a phalanx "head on" and slaughter it. In fact, the attestations we have of these battles indicate that the Roman legionaries suffered severely. The phalanx was only defeated when its formation was either broken by the ground, flanked and gotten behind of or (as at Cynoscephalae) a combination of same. Until the phalanx faltered over a river bed at Pydna, the Roman forces were not only pinned by it but their shields and armour were run through by the sarisae. At Cynoscephalae Philip V drove the entire Roman left back onto their camp with only the right "half" (it was less than this) of his phalanx.

                          No phalanx - Macedonian - was ever taken head on unless by another Macedonian phalanx (Sellasia, 222).
                          Paralus

                          Ἐπὶ τοὺς πατέρας, ὦ κακαὶ κεφαλαί, τοὺς μετὰ Φιλίππου καὶ Ἀλεξάνδρου τὰ ὅλα κατειργασμένους;
                          Wicked men, you sin against your fathers, who conquered the whole world under Philip and Alexander.

                          Academia.edu

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                          • #14
                            I read that around the 1550's on, European steel began to make its way into Samurai armies, called namban steel. Both weapons and armor were forged from this. Many of those examples were made for the higher ranking daimyo, but by the Momoyama Period of the 1580's modified European style armor is not an uncommon sight. Tokugawa Ieyasu owned a famous suit of Spanish armor which was modified a bit to suit Japanese taste, but it was still unmistakably a pidgeon breasted cuirass and a morion. One of the times he is noted to have worn this was during his victory at Sekigahara, which ensured him of being the next Shogun.
                            TTFN

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                            • #15
                              I wouldn't necessarily say that swords and shields "slaughter" pikes. At best the results seem to be rather mixed, either the pikemen hold and seem invincible or they get broken somehow and the swordsmen tear them up.

                              Although the question is a bit iffy. Historically, dedicated "swordsmen" almost never had a proper place on the battlefield. One of the biggest advantages of a sword after all is that it makes a good sidearm, you can put it in a scabbard and free up your hands for something far more useful like a bow or a polearm. Even the Romans had their heavy javelins first and then their gladius second.

                              I think the issue when it comes to pikes in particular is simply that the primary advantage of a spear is it's reach, but that's just not going to do you any good against a twenty foot pike (Unless you threw it). So you might as well just draw your sword and charge in with something that's a little bit handier for beating things away.

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