Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sword-and-Bucklermen: How They (Are Supposed to Have) Fought

(Above: Obelisk Miniatures WOS 001 10mm Conquistador Sword and Bucklermen from Obelisk's website)

Given the nature of Renaissance scholarship, it was perhaps inevitable that the Spanish sword-and-bucklermen, from the moment of their appearance on the battlefields of Italy, should have been equated with the sword-armed legionaries of ancient Rome. The analogy, of course, was reinforced and extended by the fact that the Spanish in Italy faced French armies with the usual complement of Swiss pikemen, who fought in a phalanx formation like the Greek infantry so often bested in combat by the legionaries. Renaissance scholars--chief among them the Florentine Machiavelli--viewed the confrontation of swordsman and pikeman in their own time as a repetition of the ancient confrontation of Roman legion and Greek phalanx.

Machiavelli, who was a military theoretician, not a soldier, well understood from his reading of the Greek historian Polybius that the ancient confrontation of swordsman and pikeman had been settled decisively in favor of the swordsman. The classical examples were numerous and included chiefly battles at Cynosephalae (197 B.C.), Magnesia (190 B.C.), and Pydna (168 B.C.).

The reason for the ascendancy of the swordsman was perceived to be his ability to exploit the cumbersome weapon and tactical formation of his pike-armed opponent to his advantage. The swordsman, if he could penetrate beyond the hedgehog-like front of the presented pikes (and this he did by throwing himself under the pike heads or thrusting them aside with his shield), would find the game easy enough. He could then rush into the formation of pikemen, whose pikes were useless encumbrances once the swordsman had infiltrated beyond their heads, and lay about with his sword. In this situation the pikeman had to drop his primary weapon and resort to his sword. The swordsman, with his shield and special sword training, would inevitably defeat the pikeman, who had neither shield nor particular training in the use of the sword. This, reduced to its simplest form, was the choreography of any individual duel between swordsman and pikeman in the classical age or during the Renaissance.

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