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8-08-2015, 16:45

The Widely Feared Swiss

No less fearsome than the English longbow on late medieval European battlei elds was another deadly weapon employed by masses of foot soldiers— the pike. Spears roughly 6 to 7 feet (2 m) long had been used by infantry in many parts of Europe all through the early medieval era. But in the 1100s and 1200s, a few local military strategists and commanders saw the wisdom of lengthening the spear and making it more specialized. h e result was the battle pike. h e weapon i rst appeared in three places—Scotland, Flanders (made up of parts of present-day northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands), and Switzerland. But the pike reached its greatest length and effectiveness among the Swiss. h eir crack late medieval infantry wielded pikes up to 18 feet (5.4 m) long. h ese soldiers also trained long and hard, including learning how to go on the of ensive as the English longbowmen did, rather than merely to assume defensive stances, as had King Harold’s foot soldiers at Hastings. The Swiss pikemen stood together in a large, dense formation often referred to as a hedge. h e Swiss called it the Gewalthaufen. Standing in about twenty rows, one behind another, its members held their weapons outward. his produced a massive forest of sharpened pike-points, a powerful and frightening barrier capable of warding of almost any enemy charge. “he irst four ranks of pikemen,” writes Douglas Miller, an expert on medieval Swiss warfare, leveled their pikes, creating an impenetrable wall, while the ifth and remaining ranks would hold their weapons upright, ready to ill in any gaps. Because of its length, the pike was held diferently by each of the irst four At a commander’s order, the Gewalthaufen also went on the of ensive. h e pikemen were so well trained and drilled that they could perform complex maneuvers, including sharp changes of direction, amazingly fast. Moreover, they were supported by units of foot soldiers wielding crossbows and other weapons. Together, the pikemen and their supporters numbered in the tens of thousands, made possible by the creation of a national army in Switzerland in the 1300s. A military draft allowed the Swiss to forge a permanent army of up to i fty-four thousand strong. At the time, other Europeans viewed that number as astounding. h ese factors explain why the Swiss armies, composed solely of infantry, were the most widely feared and successful military force in medieval Europe’s i nal years.