Help support TMP

"ECW: what really is meant by 'push of pike'?" Topic

17 Posts

All members in good standing are free to post here. Opinions expressed here are solely those of the posters, and have not been cleared with nor are they endorsed by The Miniatures Page.

For more information, see the TMP FAQ.

Back to the English Civil War Message Board

1,209 hits since 14 Jun 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Captain DEwell Inactive Member14 Jun 2017 1:07 p.m. PST

Whilst marvelling at Baccus 6mm ECW/TYW range, advertised today on TMP, I realised that I don't get the 'push of pike' concept of this warfare.

Looking at the figures displayed (thanks to Baccus) the pikemen make up only a small number of the regiment of soldiers. As an opponent approaches with similar numbers do they slow and adjust to left or right to ensure that pike v pike and musketeer v musketeer, or is it that they end up fighting whoever ends up in front of them? In which case, why does push of pike get mentioned so often?

Can someone kindly educate me here? Thanks.

TMP link

TMP link


Excellent range from Baccus, especially good for the bigger battles.

Thanks to Wargamers Guild for the third picture. link

Personal logo Jeff Ewing Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2017 1:27 p.m. PST

If I were a musketeer of the period I would get the flip out of the way of a bunch of guys with pikes! Much safer to snipe from the sides!

Black Cavalier14 Jun 2017 1:54 p.m. PST

The musketeers would move out of the was as the pike hot closer. And as the pike blocks converged, the opposing pikes would get crossed up until they were all in a big clump, and you couldn't untangle them.

At that point, all the pikemen could do was push back and forth until one side finally lost the "scrum" and broke and ran.

Shedman14 Jun 2017 2:12 p.m. PST

In my opinion push of pike was rare in the TYW / ECW

I think that most units would engage at musket range and shoot each other til once side was disrupted enough – due to casualties, low on ammo or just had enough

Then the winning side would charge forward to finish the job

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2017 4:36 p.m. PST

keep the horsemen from running you over.

Guillaume deGuy Supporting Member of TMP15 Jun 2017 7:24 a.m. PST

IMHO – I think the term arises from 100 to 150 years before ECW/TYW where it actually meant what it implies, some sort of scrum or tangle (like Holbein's famous "Bad War") where in halbrediers and swordmen came into play to break the deadlock.

While pikes where still in heavy use in the mid-17th c. firepower was becoming increasingly important and was producing more and more casualties. I think by the start of the ECW, "Push of Pike" had become the ubiquitous term for any close combat.

It seems to me that if it weren't some all purpose term there would be more descriptions of what it meant.

And, please, I offer this only as a consideration and not some factual pronouncement. :-)

MajorB15 Jun 2017 8:42 a.m. PST

The musketeers would move out of the was as the pike hot closer. And as the pike blocks converged, the opposing pikes would get crossed up until they were all in a big clump, and you couldn't untangle them.

At that point, all the pikemen could do was push back and forth until one side finally lost the "scrum" and broke and ran.

I don't agree with the "scrum" idea. I think a pike block would advance with the pikes held horizontally. Why have a pike at all (a long pole with a pointy bit at one end) unless you actually threaten to use said pointy bit on the enemy?

So opposing pike blocks would advance towards each other with pikes levelled. At some stage one side would then "bottle out" and refuse to advance further. Thus "push of pike" is a moral process rather than physical pushing.

Same sort of argument applies to the "othismos" in ancient times.

Guillaume deGuy Supporting Member of TMP15 Jun 2017 10:51 a.m. PST

Hi Major B,
The manuals (and the few discriptions) certainly show the pikes leveled in the approach. I wonder if it was a process that first involved thrusting and stabbing which devolved into the scrum-like situation as pikes were deflected up or down, lost their heads, dropped, etc. I'm putting a good deal of weight on the Holbein illustration (which may or may not be an eyewitness portrayal).

I like your idea of it being a moral process. This, in my mind at least, might support the general idea that "Push of Pike" ended up being simply the term for any close in (hand-to-hand) combat?

Captain DEwell Inactive Member16 Jun 2017 1:19 a.m. PST


16th century engraving by Hans Holbein the Younger. English and Swiss pikemen opposing each other.

(with thanks to Pinterest) link

coopman Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2017 4:25 a.m. PST

This is what the reenactors think that it was like:
YouTube link
Seems like a waste of a perfectly good pike to me!

davbenbak Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2017 7:23 a.m. PST

I can't believe no one has posted a clip from the movie about the Battle of Rocroi. If I have time later maybe I will.

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2017 9:34 a.m. PST

Just out of interest, when did English and Swiss pike ever fight against each other in the Renaissance period? They look a bit late to be the Burgundian wars.

Captain DEwell Inactive Member16 Jun 2017 10:10 a.m. PST

@Supercilius Maximus,

I'm curious as well. For my part, just copying what was written on the tin!

Guillaume deGuy Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2017 12:00 p.m. PST

I think I've read elsewhere that it is Swiss vs Landsknechts (which it certainly seems to look like). It's seems to be labeled wrong on Pinterest.

Incidently it is this portion of the engraving that is almost always shown, but the rest shows a large portion of the pike block not engaged and being harried by a well armored individual.

Personal logo BigRedBat Sponsoring Member of TMP16 Jun 2017 12:36 p.m. PST

It's an absolutely super engraving, but I rather suspect that the raised pikes are there as an artistic device to focus the eye on the centre of the picture (as do a lot of the spears and swords in the lower half).

Guillaume deGuy Supporting Member of TMP16 Jun 2017 1:47 p.m. PST

I can honestly say I had never considered the the position on pikes and other weapons as simply a compositional device, Simon. Thanks.

If that's taken off the table then I have always thought the Rocroi clip mentioned above looks plausible.

I'm still holding on to the idea that by the mid 17th c. the term "push of pikes" covered any type of close encounters with the enemy, for the foot anyway.

As much as anyone I would like a definitive answer to the OP. Heaven knows it's been debated time and time again.

Elenderil16 Jun 2017 3:46 p.m. PST

It's a long term bugbear in reenactment circles too. By the ECW musketry was much more destructive than it had been even 25 years earlier at the start of the TYW. In the ECW it was still often used as a volley and in with clubbed butts weapon system. In fact the English were renown for it. The Pikemen provided defence against cavalry and went in to hand hand at point of Pike. As others have said what's the point of an 18 foot stick if all you are going to do is wave it in the air! What is unclear is what happened after the the first rank of Pike got into melee with their opposite numbers. The pressure of the following ranks must have created a scrum where the likes were less effective by forcing the opposing front ranks together. Or did it. Period accounts (IIRC Lord Eythin wrote about it) say that individual duals between pikemen fencing with their Pike where less effective than the body staying in close formation and thrusting all the pikes forward at once. That would have required some space between the two blocks of Pike.

The answer is that we can be reasonably sure that a block of pikemen would advance with levelled pikes. At a distance of around 14 feet there would have been some attempt to stab each other at "Point of Pike" but after that it probably descended into a more chaotic close quarters brawl using side arms, swords, daggers and what have you. Whether Pike blocks went looking for opposing Pike blocks I suspect is a modern reenactorism more likely they just got stuck into what was in front of them. If that opponent didn't have Pike it was a bonus.

Sorry - only verified members can post on the forums.