-- Pike
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Time Period: 14th-17th century
Location: Europe
Common Construction: Wooden haft with a steel head

The easiest polearm to identify is the pike. Pikes range from 6 feet to a ridiculously long 22 feet, and they consist of nothing more than a wooden haft with a spear point. The idea behind the pike is that if you have enough of them pointed in the same direction, you can create a wall of sharp points that keep the enemy from getting close enough to attack you (unless they have longer pikes).

It sounds obvious, but the Macedonian Greeks under Philip II used a pike called the sarissa to conquer and unite all of Greece. Then, his son Alexander the Great used the sarissa to conquer the rest of the known world including Egypt and Persia, all the way to Northwestern India. This type of warfare was revolutionary and there was no counter for it when the phalanx was properly supported on the flanks by cavalry and javelineers called peltasts.

However, after Alexander the Great died, his generals began to rely on the phalanx too heavily, and did not protect the flanks adequately with other troops. This exposed the pike's weakness; these formations are defenseless when attacked from the sides or rear. The Romans would use this to their advantage and eventually defeat the Greeks. Rome would not carry on the tradition of pike based warfare, and it fell out of favor for 1000 years.

The "modern" age of polearms began in the 14th century when several battles demonstrated the power of long polearms over traditional cavalry and knights with conventional weapons. It began with the Battle of the Golden Spurs in 1302. This battle was between a traditional French army consisting of both infantry and mouted cavalry against a "peasant" army of Flemish militia and townspeople.

Unlike most peasant uprisings, the Flemish infantry were trained and well equipped, using a long spear known as a geldon. Even so, the French achieved some initial success with their conventional footmen. However, the nobles ordered the infantry to withdraw so that the knights could claim the victory. Due to the difficult terrain and well fortified Flemish position, the French cavalry suffered heavy losses and fled the battlefield. The battle is named after the golden spurs collected from the fallen French knights, which were hung in the local church.

Several years later, the English suffered a similar defeat to the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Even though the English fielded an army more than double the size of the Scottish forces, (including over 2,000 horsemen) the Scots were well trained in using a pike formation called the schiltron. They were able to use the natural terrain of the forest to force the English into a narrow channel, outmaneuver the slower English army and destroy the unsupported English cavalry in the woods north of Bannockburn.

These battles showed that an army of peasants and militia could defeat a group of professional soldiers and knights with the right weapons. Pikes and other polearms quickly gained favor and formation based warfare would rule the battlefield for several centuries. However, pikemen formations are susceptible to flanking maneuvers by fast troops such as cavalry, and very vulnerable to missile fire from bows, crossbows, and guns. As these ranged weapons became more prevalent and powerful, the use of pikemen diminished until the concept was abandoned by most nations in the early 18th century.

CE 14th Century, CE 15th Century, CE 16th Century, CE 17th Century, CE 18th Century, History, Medieval Europe, Polearm, Weapon

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