Object Title

Pike

The pike is an extremely long and slender staff weapon used by infantry. It was usually between 5–7 m (16–22 ft) long, with a small, sharp, and often leaf-shaped iron head mounted on a wooden haft.

Development

The 'great age' of the pike was from the 14th to the mid-17th century.

Early pikemen used the weapon defensively, by forming walls of pikes. Its length made it difficult to manoeuvre quickly and therefore pikemen often also carried a sidearm, such as a sword. Later Swiss pikemen developed the use of the pike through rigorous training.

It was only when firearms developed significantly that the previously impenetrable formations of pikemen became more vulnerable.

Use and effect

Pikes were used by infantry. They were particularly effective when used in masses against cavalry, although they were also used against footsoldiers.

Their length made them unwieldy, but when used defensively or in mass columns or blocks - with four or five rows of pikes pointed towards the opposing force - they could be very effective. Men-at-arms would have found it nearly impossible to attack a wall of pike.

However, the unwieldy nature of the pike meant that pikemen would have struggled to turn easily. This would have made them vulnerable to attack, particularly from missile weapons.

Pikes were popular with urban militia and mercenaries. Swiss pikemen were well trained and were confident using pikes both defensively and aggressively. They could be recruited easily and their reputation for successful mass columned attacks made them popular, particularly with the French.

In 1471, another group of mercenaries - Flemish pikemen - found pikes to be:

"very useful against the fearful effects of cavalry trying to break their ranks, for there is no horse which, if not struck in the chest with a pike, will not unfailingly die. These pikemen can also approach and attack cavalry from the side and pierce them right through, nor is there any armour however good that they cannot pierce or break." [1]

[1] Jehan de Waurin, Receuil des Croniques, late-15th century

Statistics

Length of staff: average 5–7 m (16–22 ft)
Weight of pike-head: approx. 60g (2 oz.)

Associations

Author

Bob Woosnam-Savage