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"Did infantry spacing increase as polearms became common?" Topic

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884 hits since 18 Jan 2017
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Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP18 Jan 2017 2:57 p.m. PST

While there was some use of two handed weapons in earlier periods. Most infantry would use one hand weapons and fight in some version of a shieldwall. This would be a rather close formation.

But by mid 14th century various two handed weapons became more and more common, be they two handed swords, axes, and various polearms. I assume these weapons demanded greater room to use?

Yellow Admiral Supporting Member of TMP18 Jan 2017 4:45 p.m. PST

I'd like to know that answer too. I've always assumed the same. Even one-handed long swords would seem to need some space.

- Ix

Piquet Rules18 Jan 2017 5:44 p.m. PST

Not necessarily true. They weren't always (ever? who knows…) swinging a polearm/halberd in great sweeping arcs. I've seen descriptions of using them as spear type arms, using hooked aspects of the weapon to pull the opponent off balance. Possibly an overhand 2 handed smash, or more likely to finish off an unfortunate enemy/victim.

uglyfatbloke18 Jan 2017 5:46 p.m. PST

A great many infantry in 13/14th C carried weapons that needed two hands…bills and spears.

Mako1118 Jan 2017 7:14 p.m. PST

I don't think so, from drawings/paintings I've seen, at least prior to contact.

Once that occurs, and there's mutual penetration, and casualties occur, then I suspect spacing would increase in order to permit the swinging of polearms, if desired.

Swiss halberdiers are reportedly famous for moving from the rear of their formations to the flanks and rear of others to destroy their enemies, while their front-rank troops pin their enemy in place.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP18 Jan 2017 7:59 p.m. PST

Two-handed weapons call for a two-handed answer. A fellow swinging a dopelsoldner obviously needs some space. On the other hand, a pikeman and maybe a halbardier has to be close to his fellows since he's relying on their weapons and not his shield.

Worth reiterating that we need to remember it's formation frontage, not individual space, so we have to consider number of ranks as well?

Personally, I think our guesses on numbers overall for medieval battles are so wild that I can't get into the sort of calculations I'd make in horse & musket--or in the wars of the Diadochi, come to that.

Quick, guys: give me good numbers broken down by weapon for any battle in the Wars of the Roses, show me the uncontested length of the battle line, and tell me how many ranks the archers and the men at arms stood in, and I can work out how much space a soldier took up within minutes. But I need all of that, and we don't have any of it.

Great War Ace Inactive Member18 Jan 2017 8:55 p.m. PST

Swiss pike, and halberd formed up alongside of the pike, stood pressed together with c. 18" of frontage per man. And up to fifty ranks deep (I am remembering this from Contamine). There was no swinging of halberds in that formation! Also, no movement, it must be assumed. Purely defensive frontage per man. Moving frontage would be c. 3' per man, in any period.

I agree with the idea that at the beginning of a fight the weapons would be used vertically and for thrusting.

Remember Rutger Hauer's two-handed sword work in the opening scenes of Flesh and Blood, in the narrow street. Very in close, using even the hilt as a weapon. Looks pretty convincing to me!

dapeters19 Jan 2017 2:01 p.m. PST

I think it's in Burt Hall's book, he confirms that infantry was using two handed weapons in a spear like way and this is what led to the rise of pikes and the increases in pike lengths. Hacking with these weapons probably happen after one side started to break.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP19 Jan 2017 4:21 p.m. PST

But they actually fenced with these weapons. Not simply poked. Two handed swords and polearms techniques are actually documented.

goragrad19 Jan 2017 8:33 p.m. PST

The studies on casualties from Morgarten showed vertical wounds from shoulder to waist.

In a press polearms (at least halberds) using a downward vertical stroke and gravity assist are still apparently quite effective.

Probably less tiring than swinging them in wide arcs and not requiring a significant amount of elbow room.

Great War Ace Inactive Member20 Jan 2017 1:39 p.m. PST

@Gun, "fencing" techniques are for one on one combats, not massed in line ranks deep.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP20 Jan 2017 1:56 p.m. PST

Sure they are. You have a polearm and no shield. You aren't going to stand there and be hit in the head no mater what armor you use. You will deflect, perry and counter. (Fencing)

goragrad20 Jan 2017 7:03 p.m. PST

With a halberd or bill one would be more likely to just block a vertical stroke. Still wouldn't need a lot of elbow room.

Parrying a thrust with a spear or pike again would not require a lot of lateral movement.

Big sweeping strikes and parries are saber or axe moves. In fencing with points movements are much smaller.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP21 Jan 2017 2:44 a.m. PST

I'm not saying they went around swinging them in huge circles standing 10 feet apart. I'm saying they would need somewhat bigger space then you got in a shieldwall. Generally you can't cut your way through plate arnor even with powerful strokes from a poleaxe. The guy needs to be on the ground. All those various thingies on the various polearms where all used during battle.

There are teqnuiqes with both polearms, arming swords and two handers to trip and enemy. Often weapons complimented each other. The guy with the arming sword would have a very hard time killing or wounding a guy in plate. However he would have many options and techniques to get the guy on the ground. At witch point a guy with a poleaxe or other armor cracking instrument could take him out. The armor used after 1350 by men at arms would make you extremely hard to kill. Some stabbing and light Chopping would not do it.

And so you need to get up close a and personal and used combined arms with in the unit. This would take more room then a shieldwall. But we're not talking feets and feets.

Pike formation with a few helbredes is a totally different animal from a formation of men at arms/infantry with a mix of, various polearms, swords, spears, bucklers ect.

Great War Ace Inactive Member21 Jan 2017 9:27 p.m. PST

The "fencing" illustrations of moves with various weapons never show linear battle, only individuals. So the term "fencing" should not be applied to linear battle formations. These did not fight loose, but packed together, bodily crammed tight when on the defensive. As I referenced above, Contamine shows how small a space ten thousand Swiss pike and halberd occupied when standing defensively. We have already read here how rear rank halberdiers would sweep around the flanks of an attacking enemy and attack their flanks and rear. So we are not talking only about close order, but a combination of the two: densely packed formations, supported by rear ranks of two-handed weapon wielders who counterattack from much more loose formations. The fencing techniques would be used by them……….

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP22 Jan 2017 3:21 a.m. PST

Again pike formations are different then medieval men at arms formations.

And of course fencing illustrations only show single combat. You are supposed to learn it. You learn the teqnuiqes singlehandedly. Then move up to combines armes.

The polearms are battlefield weapons, not dueling weapons. Those technique are for battle. All those things on the polearms would be used.

If you just stand there poking. Nobody would get a anywhere. Battles would last week's. As both sides ineffectually poke at the armor of the enemy.
It's perfectly possible the reasons pikes won over men at arms in the end of medieval period was that pike formations where more dense.

dapeters25 Jan 2017 1:20 p.m. PST

After Many years of it gives me great pleasure to find something again that I can completely agree on with GWA.
GF "Again pike formations are different then medieval men at arms formations."
How? Yes certainly over time they became deeper.
Fencing is a corruption of the word defense. These books were all about dueling, of which a pike is not much use.
"If you just stand there poking. Nobody would get a anywhere. Battles would last week's. As both sides ineffectually poke at the armor of the enemy.
It's perfectly possible the reasons pikes won over men at arms in the end of medieval period was that pike formations where more dense."
Think about this for a moment, how would spears then be any different?, but now you stumbled on why spears and pikes replace pole weapons (more reach.)

Great War Ace Inactive Member25 Jan 2017 3:16 p.m. PST

More reach works as long as the enemy is kept at weapon range. As we know, the "arms race" involved more innovation on the use of already existing weapons than it did new weapons. Guisames, polearms, were only "new" in the way they were shaped, not in their kinetic capabilities over already existing, two-handed, bladed weapons. The spear was stuck on the end of it, thus combining an earlier "combined arms" approach using spear and two-handed axes.

But these later polearms were not the answer to dense pike formations, having been largely replaced by the same. What did in pike was the innovative use of "sword and buckler". Combined arms always sought to meet the formations of the enemy with its nemesis; and pike must be dropped when sword and buckler (literally) roll in.

Or, met with one's own sword and buckler. Shot, cavalry, pike and supporting polearm, and then sword and buckler. Back to the Roman advantage, with a twist: deliberately fighting even looser and going in under the pike hedge. So the fight for "more reach" went back along the same evolutionary path that ancient Greco-Macedonian pike did, evolving from the much shorter spears of the Greek hoplites.

Renaissance pike invented mobility that did not exist in earlier pike formations. I'm not sure how they came up with that one.

uglyfatbloke25 Jan 2017 4:39 p.m. PST

The pike comes a cropper in the face of cheap firearms really.

Great War Ace Inactive Member26 Jan 2017 9:10 a.m. PST

But not for a long time. Everybody has blocks of pike during the "pike and shot" era. It's only when the arquebus becomes the musket with a bayonet that pike disappears quickly.

uglyfatbloke26 Jan 2017 6:21 p.m. PST

Absolutely, but it had been in decline for quite a while, hence the decline in pikes relative to muskets through the 17th C; it's a process that strats well before the introduction of the bayonet – which , as you say, finished the job. Archer Jones is worth a shufti on this.

Elenderil18 Feb 2017 9:15 a.m. PST

For what it's worth in ECW reenactment the combination of a man with a pole arm and one with a sword is difficult to beat. The sword wielder is in front and slightly to the side. His job is to engage any one who gets past the business end of the pole arm. The pole arm user does the damage with thrusts the target can't counter. Given only a couple of pole arms per unit and deployed at the flanks as they are an officers weapon and that's their station this combination can roll up the flanks of a unit engaged frontally pretty quickly. For it to work though the two soldiers have to be close. So there isn't an automatic need for more space.

uglyfatbloke18 Feb 2017 10:13 a.m. PST

Interesting Elenderil. Any thoughts from the rest of the TMP hive?

Great War Ace Inactive Member18 Feb 2017 9:15 p.m. PST

Spear and Dane axe worked together. The sword was a backup weapon when either of those two broke. Interesting variation on combined weapons, having essentially a spear with an axe head included, supported by a sword in front……….

krisgibbo20 Feb 2017 8:14 a.m. PST

My limited training shows that polearms can be used in close order, with the full range of strikes becoming possible as the gaps appear or the formation breaks up.

Spears of a certain length again allow a fencing approach in close confines or in a duel. Sweeping use of the spear's staff requires space, but never underestimate the power of 7 or 8 feet of hardwood swung with menace.

That bills and halberds carry a spear point is a given and likely to be used in close order. Likewise, the butt spike of a good warhammer would have been used in a manner akin to fencing until a full blooded strike with the business end was made possible by an opening.

Two handed swords can be used to do anything that any other sword could do, just with alterations made necessary by the length and weight of the weapon. The bonus is the reach and power that can be generated by the weapon. These weapons can be utilised for battle, crowd control, bodyguard work and so on.

A brief visit to You Tube will provide examples of every weapon under the sun being used by modern enthusiasts. Even better, find a local HEMA club and go visit. My two cents.

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