Swiss Pikemen


The legendary Swiss soldier Arnold Winkelried who valiantly threw himself onto the spears of the troops sent by the Holy Roman Empire to invade the Swiss Cantons. His actions allowed the Swiss to penetrate into the enemy lines and win the battle. The Battle of Sempach convinced the Swiss to adopt the Pike as their main weapon in battle.

Swiss pikemen were respected and feared throughout the medieval world as professional battle hardened warriors. They fought in lines creating an impenetrable wall of pikes that no foe could overcome, mirroring the hoplite shield walls of Ancient Greece. But what made the Swiss pikemen truly invincible was their skill in the attack. They would use drummers to keep themselves in line as they advanced forward, terrifying their less disciplined foe and charging their pikes into enemy infantry and cavalry. They were highly motivated, their homes in the Swiss Cantons were one of the only European enclaves not subject to the grinding tyranny of feudal lordship. The Swiss were freemen, owning their own land and bowing to no King or Queen. They fought for their land and as they did it they brought about a radical change in medieval warfare.  No more would rich noblemen ride roughshot on their horses trampling over the common people in Europe. The disciplined pike line was deadly to cavalry and there was very little defense when thousands of trained Swiss pikemen charged, spearing pikes into the enemy’s horses.  The Swiss pikemen handed warfare back to the people and made sure that it was the people, not noble lords, that decided the outcome of battles in the late medieval period.

The skill and discipline of the Swiss pikemen was so renowned that other countries in Europe hired them as mercenaries, the French and Italian militaries used them extensively throughout the 14th and 15th centuries to provide a solid core of fearsome warriors for their feudal armies. The ancestors of the Swiss pikemen are still used today forming the bodyguard for the Pope and representing the official army of the Vatican.


Pike vs. Pike. The pike system worked so well that other countries adopted it, causing battles in the late medieval period to be brutal affairs. Pictured, Swiss Pikemen face off against Landsknect soldiers.


Image of the Swiss mercenary, well trained, well equipped and deadly in battle.

Author: Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger