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Adam M.M.




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 7:41 am    Post subject: Pike to halberd ratio of Swiss soldiers         Reply with quote

As far as I know the halberd was the main weapon (supplemented by the pike) until after the Battle of Arbedo in 1422 when it became the other way around but I've been curious about the average ratio of pikemen to halberdiers (both before and after the pike became the main weapon). Does anyone have some information about this?

I realize there probably wasn't any fixed ratio as such but I can't imagine they just lumped them together at random proportions since they did fill different roles.
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Mark Lewis




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 8:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have heard the same regarding Arbedo being the turning point towards more pikes and less halberds, but nothing changes overnight and as you say there must be a lot of variance before and after. I suspect there are quite accurate numbers out there from cantonal records and such, if you can find them...

Osprey has some numbers in "The Swiss at War", for example a Zurich contingent in 1443 was about 58% "halberds and axes", 23% pikes, and the rest with crossbows and a few guns. So still plenty of halberds even 20 years after Arbedo.
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Pieter B.




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 8:20 am    Post subject: Re: Pike to halberd ratio of Swiss soldiers         Reply with quote

Adam M.M. wrote:
As far as I know the halberd was the main weapon (supplemented by the pike) until after the Battle of Arbedo in 1422 when it became the other way around but I've been curious about the average ratio of pikemen to halberdiers (both before and after the pike became the main weapon). Does anyone have some information about this?

I realize there probably wasn't any fixed ratio as such but I can't imagine they just lumped them together at random proportions since they did fill different roles.


Have you tried the search function on the forum?

I recall another thread discussing this topic in which some primary accounts were brought forward. These indicated that for some time after Arbedo the halberd was still favored by many Swiss soldiers.
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 9:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

At least some Swiss armies included significant numbers of halberdiers even into the middle or second half of the sixteenth century. In a 1594 text, Sir John Smythe recalled seeing Swiss halberdiers years ago in France and took inspiration from that example for his instructions on arranging halberdiers with pikers for his imagined ideal army.
Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
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Vasilly T




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 9:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't want to create another thread, so I'll ask here. Where I can read a detailed description of how the swiss fought? Like, how to use a halberd in the press of melee? Or was it dropped in favour of a sidearm in that case? Also, if I recall correctly, it was used to stop horses as well, so what length it should've been? I remember some sources stating it should be a foot longer than a halberdier's head, but is that enough to stop a horseman and still be useful in close quarters?
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Unfortunately I don't know of any period Swiss or German texts that provide a detailed account of the Swiss way of war. The aforementioned Sir John Smythe described how halberdiers in his ideal army would fight. That's far from removed from the glory days of Swiss pikers and halberdiers, but Smythe apparently did encounter Swiss halberdiers in mid-sixteenth-century France. Smythe wanted halberds to be no longer than six feet in total and well-suited for the blow as well as the thrust. He wrote that troops armed with such halberds could fight effectively in the press and should make blows at the head and thrusts at the face. His halberdiers were to follow the first five ranks of pikers at their heels.

Earlier, in a 1548 text, Raimond de Fourquevaux combined Niccolò Machiavelli's famous Art of War with his own martial experience. Unlike Machiavelli, who dismissed the halberd, Fourquevaux considered it an important weapon as long as it was well-made and not too light. Fourquevaux described halberdiers as being able to fight in the press in contrast to pikers who had to drop their pikes and draw swords.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Pieter B.




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 2:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Unfortunately I don't know of any period Swiss or German texts that provide a detailed account of the Swiss way of war. The aforementioned Sir John Smythe described how halberdiers in his ideal army would fight. That's far from removed from the glory days of Swiss pikers and halberdiers, but Smythe apparently did encounter Swiss halberdiers in mid-sixteenth-century France. Smythe wanted halberds to be no longer than six feet in total and well-suited for the blow as well as the thrust. He wrote that troops armed with such halberds could fight effectively in the press and should make blows at the head and thrusts at the face. His halberdiers were to follow the first five ranks of pikers at their heels.



I deduced a similar thing in my thread which covers the skeletal findings at Dornach, great to see some literary evidence too. I suppose this might also lend to credit to the theory that halberds could penetrate the average infantry helmet of the day.
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Vasilly T




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 3:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Unfortunately I don't know of any period Swiss or German texts that provide a detailed account of the Swiss way of war. The aforementioned Sir John Smythe described how halberdiers in his ideal army would fight. That's far from removed from the glory days of Swiss pikers and halberdiers, but Smythe apparently did encounter Swiss halberdiers in mid-sixteenth-century France. Smythe wanted halberds to be no longer than six feet in total and well-suited for the blow as well as the thrust. He wrote that troops armed with such halberds could fight effectively in the press and should make blows at the head and thrusts at the face. His halberdiers were to follow the first five ranks of pikers at their heels.

Earlier, in a 1548 text, Raimond de Fourquevaux combined Niccolò Machiavelli's famous Art of War with his own martial experience. Unlike Machiavelli, who dismissed the halberd, Fourquevaux considered it an important weapon as long as it was well-made and not too light. Fourquevaux described halberdiers as being able to fight in the press in contrast to pikers who had to drop their pikes and draw swords.

Hmm, interesting, thank you for sharing. I wonder if it's still possible to stop a horseman with a six feet long halberd? Or is that a melee-only weapon that Smythe wanted his perfect halberdier to use? Are there any accounts on the length of the halberds that the Swiss used?
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Aug, 2015 9:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Machiavelli wrote that shafts of Swiss/German halberds were three braccia (arm's lengths), which for Florence was apparently around 70 inches (1.77m). This implies that weapon overall was around seven feet (2.13m), depending on the size of the head. As far as resisting cavalry goes, Matthew Sutcliffe, a late-16th-century military writer with limited actual experience, mentioned the possibility of resisting cavalry with halberds and with half-pikes.

As far as cutting helmets goes, I don't think Smythe's instructions necessarily imply that. They certainly imply that halberd blows to the head were effective, but they could have been effective without cleaving helms (stunning, kayoing, etc.). Smythe emphasized the need for long straight edges on halberds, so I assume that's what he wanted the halberdiers to strike with, but he also noted that halberds should have a strong beak opposite the blade. It's possible he wanted blows made partially, primarily, or only with the beak, though there's no evidence for this.

Read my historically inspired fantasy fiction in here. I walk along a winding path set by Ludovico Ariosto, William Morris, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ursula Le Guin.

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
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Vasilly T




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Aug, 2015 3:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin H. Abbott wrote:
Machiavelli wrote that shafts of Swiss/German halberds were three braccia (arm's lengths), which for Florence was apparently around 70 inches (1.77m). This implies that weapon overall was around seven feet (2.13m), depending on the size of the head. As far as resisting cavalry goes, Matthew Sutcliffe, a late-16th-century military writer with limited actual experience, mentioned the possibility of resisting cavalry with halberds and with half-pikes.

As far as cutting helmets goes, I don't think Smythe's instructions necessarily imply that. They certainly imply that halberd blows to the head were effective, but they could have been effective without cleaving helms (stunning, kayoing, etc.). Smythe emphasized the need for long straight edges on halberds, so I assume that's what he wanted the halberdiers to strike with, but he also noted that halberds should have a strong beak opposite the blade. It's possible he wanted blows made partially, primarily, or only with the beak, though there's no evidence for this.

I see. Thank you again.
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Adam M.M.




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PostPosted: Tue 25 Aug, 2015 6:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mark Lewis wrote:
I have heard the same regarding Arbedo being the turning point towards more pikes and less halberds, but nothing changes overnight and as you say there must be a lot of variance before and after. I suspect there are quite accurate numbers out there from cantonal records and such, if you can find them...

Osprey has some numbers in "The Swiss at War", for example a Zurich contingent in 1443 was about 58% "halberds and axes", 23% pikes, and the rest with crossbows and a few guns. So still plenty of halberds even 20 years after Arbedo.


That's really surprising to see such a large amount of halberds (and pollaxes? I assume that's what the "axes" are) at that date. It makes me wonder if the pike really even became the primary weapon after Arbedo, judging by this contingent at least it doesn't seem like pikes were prioritized, or that they were aiming for any specific proportion of pikes to halberds. But they're not lumped in with the halberds and axes either so they weren't considered interchangeable...
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Pieter B.




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PostPosted: Wed 26 Aug, 2015 4:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Adam M.M. wrote:
Mark Lewis wrote:
I have heard the same regarding Arbedo being the turning point towards more pikes and less halberds, but nothing changes overnight and as you say there must be a lot of variance before and after. I suspect there are quite accurate numbers out there from cantonal records and such, if you can find them...

Osprey has some numbers in "The Swiss at War", for example a Zurich contingent in 1443 was about 58% "halberds and axes", 23% pikes, and the rest with crossbows and a few guns. So still plenty of halberds even 20 years after Arbedo.


That's really surprising to see such a large amount of halberds (and pollaxes? I assume that's what the "axes" are) at that date. It makes me wonder if the pike really even became the primary weapon after Arbedo, judging by this contingent at least it doesn't seem like pikes were prioritized, or that they were aiming for any specific proportion of pikes to halberds. But they're not lumped in with the halberds and axes either so they weren't considered interchangeable...


It's good to remember that while army commanders or regimental leaders might prioritize pikes the soldiers themselves might not. I wouldn't be surprised if many Swiss soldiers preferred the halberd over the pike. Besides the ability to inflict devastating cuts it's also a tad lighter and more manageable, considering that 99% of the time you would be carrying a weapon instead of using it weight is a factor.

I am afraid I have been unable to find he older thread I was referring too earlier. If I recall correctly someone showed evidence of captains/regimental commanders having to enforce a minimum amount of pikes because soldiers were reluctant to show up with them. However since I cannot find it now you have to be careful accepting what I say Worried
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Mark Lewis




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PostPosted: Wed 26 Aug, 2015 4:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Pieter B. wrote:

It's good to remember that while army commanders or regimental leaders might prioritize pikes the soldiers themselves might not. I wouldn't be surprised if many Swiss soldiers preferred the halberd over the pike. Besides the ability to inflict devastating cuts it's also a tad lighter and more manageable, considering that 99% of the time you would be carrying a weapon instead of using it weight is a factor.

It also makes sense if you take into account that soldiers of the day were largely responsible for providing their own weapons... a halberd was a trusty, traditional weapon, practical for personal defence, that many Swiss likely already owned anyway, but a pike was none of those things.
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