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Differences between ancient pikemen and early rennaisance pikemen?

Discussion in 'Research' started by Netardapope, Apr 2, 2017.

  1. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

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    I think the question explains itself well enough. That being said, I'd like to add a caveat. I want to focus more on the tactics that had to do purely with pikes, no added guns or gunpowder. How did a regular pike formation around the mid 15th century differ from a Macedonian Phalanx?

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  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Others with more knowledge will correct me if I am wrong but I see the main difference as mobility.
    The Phalanx was designed to move across the battlefield pushing other forces back until they had to withdraw to regroup, broke and ran, or could be pinned somewhere and killed.
    The Pike formation was more static. It's primary use was to hold the opposition in place, or at least to stop them from being out manoeuvred, while muskets, cavalry, and artillery did the real damage. You have to factor in gunpowder a little as the weapons that came along changed the way war was waged and Pike units were a part of that.
    That isn't to say that both weapon formations didn't do multiple roles when required but they had their strengths.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2017
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  3. Netardapope

    Netardapope Sage

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    Did regular melee infantry dissapear during this era?

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  4. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I don't know when or if the melee disappears but we are talking about a 3-400 year period when the "modern" pike was in use...
    Before muskets and cannon gained the ascendancy, there were swordsmen with Pike units but they were more for defence of the formation than to engage in hand to hand fighting [if my war-gaming knowledge is to be relied on].
    When firearms became a force on the battle field, the pike were a screen for them.
    Then there is the "push of pikes" which is probably closes to the ancient Phalanx fighting. I don't know how often it came down to that...
     
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  5. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi,

    Not my area either. But my understanding (limited) is that the way pikes were used depended on the enemy saced. Early on the long pike - up to seven or eight metres - was a formation attacking weapon. In essence a whole bunch of soldiers got together and advanced the pikes held before them. And they were effective in that role, with provisos. One of those was that your formation was extremely vulnerable to side attacks as they couldn't turn and maintain formation quickly. In essence to be effective they have to be in a row facing their enemy. They were also reasonably useful as a defensive weapon and could be used as a shield in essence against cavalry charges, infantry charges while archers etc could stand behind them. They weren't really much use in melee though - and no doubt someone will correct me - which was why soldiers also carried swords.

    At some point they fell out of favour, not completely sure why, and didn't resurface until the middle ages. But oddly the only time after that that I can remember them being considered a significant valuable weapon / formation, was later again, during the Napoleonic wars, where ironically enough, firearms made them useful again. During those wars pikemen would be used in mobile defensive formations called pike squares. Riflemen would stand behind the pikemen, firing from relative safety. The enemy would then have to cross a significant piece of the battlefield, being shot at all the time, and the pikes acted as a wall. My recollection - and its vague - is that during all the Napoleonic wars only three pike squares were ever broken. They also reworked the pikes at some point to better withstand cavalry charges since horses were a major threat and could also wear leather armour. So the pike got a base that could be thumped down into the ground and a support bar as well which could also be rammed into the dirt. It meant that horses charging them couldn't simply knock the pikes back, and instead got impaled allthe way through as the ground took the impact.

    Ironically their end was also because of firearms - they give and take away! In essence pikemen are lightly armoured at best, and have only small shields if they had any at all. Thus when the enemy had riflemen formations, the pikeman became a slow moving target.

    Hope that helps.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  6. Futhark

    Futhark Inkling

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    I've read a lot of military history and, if memory serves, the ancient phalanx was superseded by the discipline and flexibility of the Roman legions. I read somewhere that a powerful infantry requires a strong central government to support them like the Roman Empire. The introduction of horse archers and the composite bow capable of penetrating armour also made them obsolete. Decentralised Europe favoured the raising of cavalry armies, and the armoured knight became prominent. Eventually infantry became a valued part of the armed forces again, and as stated above, I think pikemen were more of a mobile defensive line. However, this is based on my imperfect memory so don't take it as gospel.
     
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  7. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    If I remember correctly pike and shot tactics were obsolete by the time of the Napoleonic wars.

    I think a big diffrence is the main role on the battlefield. Ancient pikemen are more of a anti personel trops.
    During the renaissance cavalry was more common and more dangers and pikemen primary function was to protect other tropes from cavalery charges.
     
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  8. staiger95

    staiger95 Scribe

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    The Macedonian era phalanx would be a much larger unit (upwards of 200 or 300 men), and as mentioned above, primarily uni-directional, with noted vulnerabilities along flanks and rear. Tactically they were used as movable barriers to help corral and shape the battlefield, while other infantry or horsed units coordinated to deliver the bulk of attack.

    Early Renaissance pike formations would be smaller (100 or less) and trained for greater adaptability and maneuverability. Also working in coordination with other units, these formations would be more offensive, and often intermixed with other weaponry for even more flexibility in combat.
     
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  9. psychotick

    psychotick Auror

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    Hi Valiant,

    Could be. I'm dredging up thirty year old memories plus from wargamming! But yeah, as far as I can recall the pike squares were used during the Napoleonic wars, and were very effective. The pikemen would be three layers deep, front row kneeling, rows behind then crouched with their feet stomped firmly on the butt of the pike to hold it into the ground, while riflemen, or musket men would be interspersed with them - with bayonets fixed if they had them - and you might even have generals sitting in the middle directing things from safety in the middle of a battlefield.

    One of the things that made the square formation so effective was actually that its shape protected the flanks, something a line just couldn't do. And from memory the squares were a renaissance military strategy. The Macedonians used lines and pike charges which simply couldn't turn quickly enough to face the enemy if they flanked them. So the cavalry tactic was always to flank them and thus their mobility and speed gave them a huge edge over a pike line formation.

    The development of the square formation changed that, and made the pike useful once more as the cavalry lost their flanking advantage. And the use of muskets with their slow rate of reloading / firing and poor aim weren't as dangerous as they later became, meaning that a pike square could survive against them. It meant that the cavalry literally had to charge a pike square formation, because they couldn't just sit there and get shot at by people standing behind pikes, and the infantry were way too slow to run across the battlefield before getting shot. So the pike square formation forced the enemy to make a cavalry charge, and the pikes then took out the cavalry. The pike is quite likely the best melee weapon against cavalry ever invented. It was sort of a no win situation for the enemy. You either don't charge the square, and we shoot you. Or you do and we pike you, then shoot you! I wouldn't want to use it in hand to hand though!

    Advances in firepower, better technology as muskets gave way to rifles with greater accuracy, range and faster reloads, and of course the rise of the professional soldier with their musket / rifle lines, were what destroyed the value of the pike along with most other melee infantry. The standard three line rifleman formation with one line firing from the front and the other two reloading before advancing through their comrades, was a major advance on the battlefield and a pike square couldn't compete with that.

    But really the OP probably should be asking a military historian rather than an old wargammer like myself.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  10. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    Fundamentally, for the pikeman themselves, I think psychotik is correct in saying that the only difference between the Macedonian phalanx and the early modern pikemen is the usage of the infantry square. In terms of their roles in battle, it was actually exactly the same: to serve as a deterrent while others actually attacked (heavy cavalry for the Macedonians, gunmen for the early modern armies).

    Bayonets were also a major factor. Rather than having two groups of infantry, one with a melee weapon and one with a ranged weapon, armies preferred to have all infantry having a ranged weapon that could also double as a melee weapon if need be.
     
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  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I'm away from my books for another couple of days, but what psychotik describes sounds rather more like the 30YW. Maurice of Saxony and Gustavus Adolphus. Also, from a bit earlier, the tercios of Spain and the Landsknechten of Germany. And from still earlier, though without muskets, the Swiss pikemen.
     
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  12. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I read recently the during the ACW, the Confederacy thought about bringing back the Pike as an infantry weapon but never went through with it.
     
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  13. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

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    As far as I can recall, Renaissance/Late Medieval Pikemen didn't use shields. Hellenistic pike phalanxes did. The latter also tended to be a slow and steady glacier, an anvil for cavalry to hammer the enemy center with, while the former were quite adept at rapid attacks (the Swiss were famous for it) in their own right.
     
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