Pike (weapon)

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A pike is a pole weapon, a very long thrusting spear used extensively by infantry both for attacks on enemy foot soldiers and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults. Unlike many similar weapons, the pike is not intended to be thrown. Pikes were used regularly in European warfare from the early Middle Ages[1] until around 1700, and wielded by foot soldiers deployed in close order. A similar weapon the Sarissa was also used by Alexander the Great's Macedonian infantry to great effect.

Contents

Design

The pike was an extremely long weapon, varying considerably in size, from 3 to 7.5 metres (10 to 25 feet) long.[2] It had a wooden shaft with an iron or steel spearhead affixed. The shaft near the head was often reinforced with metal strips called "cheeks" or langets. When the troops of opposing armies both carried the pike, it often grew in a sort of arms race, getting longer in both shaft and head length to give one side's pikemen an edge in the combat; the longest pikes could exceed 6 m (22 feet) in length. The extreme length of such weapons required a strong wood such as well-seasoned ash for the pole, which was tapered towards the point to prevent the pike from sagging on the ends, although this was always a problem in pike handling. It is a common mistake to refer to a bladed polearm as a pike. Such weapons are more generally halberds or glaives.

The great length of the pikes allowed a great concentration of spearheads to be presented to the enemy, with their wielders at a greater distance, but also made pikes unwieldy in close combat. This meant that pikemen had to be equipped with a shorter weapon such as a sword, mace, or dagger in order to defend themselves should the fighting degenerate into a melee. In general, however, pikemen attempted to avoid such disorganized combat, at which they were at a disadvantage. To compound their difficulties in a melee, the pikeman often did not have a shield or had only a small shield of limited use in close-quarters fighting.

Tactics

On the battlefield pikes were often used in "hedgehog" formations, particularly by troops such as rebel peasants and militias who had not received a great deal of training in tactical maneuvers with the weapon. In these, the troops simply stood and held their pikes out in the direction of the enemy, sometimes standing in great circles or squares with the men facing out in all directions so that the enemy was confronted by a forest of bristling pikeheads, and could not attack the formation from the sides or rear.

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