Antique Swords, Rapiers, Broadswords, Pole Arms, Guns, and Armour
    |   home  |
Use browser's back button to return to the previous page
A Brief History of the Pike and the Swiss Mercenary
The main weapons of war in the ancient world were the sword and the javelin, being used by all major armies from the Egyptians to the Roman legions and Alexander the Great. One of the main infantry weapons of Alexander was the sarissa, a spear of at least 15 feet long. The use of long spears, or pikes, in disciplined formations was revived by the Helvetic Confederation, a unified collection of city states and cantons now known as Switzerland, in the last quarter of the 15th Century. Strikingly similar to those of Alexander the Great, their formations of deep broad squares made a nearly impenetrable hedge of steel.

Combining a strict warrior’s code and absolute discipline (instant death to anyone who broke ranks), the Swiss perfected the use and tactics of the pike. Victories over Charles the Bold of Burgundy at Grandson and Morat in 1476 and against Maximillian at Dornach in 1499, established the Swiss pike tactics as the infantry standard for all European armies for the next century and a half. The relatively poor Swiss often made their livelihood from pay and booty as mercenaries in foreign service. The individual cantons themselves, of which Luzern was one, often made a very profitable wholesale trade in mercenaries. Companies or even whole cantons of armed soldiers often fought in foreign wars working for the highest bidder. This was the beginning of the famous “Landsknecht” mercenaries.

One might think that the advent of firearms would have made the pike obsolete, as it did with the armored knight. However, the slow-loading musketeer was incredibly vulnerable to a swift cavalry attack. As a result, firearms were used in conjunction with the pike to provide the protection and force of the pike square with the firepower of the musketeer. Often several ranks of musketeers would shelter under the front ranks of a pike square. Another tactic would put “horns” of musketeers at the corners of a pike square to provide shot in all directions. If the musketeers came under cavalry attack they simply came under the pike shafts or went inside the square itself. A well disciplined pike square was virtually impervious to cavalry, a tactic which continued into the 19th century with the infantry squares of bayonet-mounted muskets so effective during the Napoleonic Wars.

The rugged terrain and the Swiss tendency for strict discipline and military preparedness helped to achieve the neutral status they have enjoyed for many years. This military preparedness is the reason why these pikes have been kept serviceable in an arsenal since the 15th Century and why we now offer this unprecedented opportunity to own an original untouched piece of important military history. One can only imagine the many campaigns these pikes have been involved in during their more than 5 century existence!