1. #1

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    Feb 2009

    How useful were lances *off* horseback?

    Just some really random questions which I hope someone will help me out with.

    I have very little real knowledge on medieval weaponry techniques, but from what I understand, the combination of lances and charging on horseback was one of the reasons why knights were so damn effective. But were fighters ever trained to fight with a lance off horseback, like a heavy spear? Or were they exclusively paired with horses?

  2. #2
    adouglasmhor's Avatar
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    Nov 2006
    Glasgow, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
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    Foot lances did exist, they possibly evolved into pikes. I don't know much more than that.

  3. #3
    DdlR's Avatar
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    Apr 2005
    Assuming that we're talking about the medieval cavalry or even jousting lance, the answer is (probably) no; the weapons were too long and unwieldy to be of much use in melee combat beyond the first (crushing) charge, so knights would carry swords, maces or similar weapons as close-range backup.

    On the other hand, foot soldiers were trained to use similarly long or even longer weapons against cavalry, and more-or-less similar weapons were likewise used in fencing schools during the Renaissance period.

  4. #4

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    Feb 2008
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    A strange question as this weapon was essentially in early form a javelin nad then later a pike designed to be used on horse back.

    So it was always the mounted equivalent of the war spear of the day.

    My own opinion on this is that any weapon which you are effectively drill foot soldiers to fight as a unit with that kills the enemy before they are able to strike you is a very good thing.

    Obviously once in melee range a 14 foot sharp stick is a bit unweildy so it was mostly used in conjunction with a weapon more effective at this range.

    It is also (in the later 14 foot incarnation as a javelin is a pretty good weapon to have in a 1 on 1 fight) of questionable use as a weapon outside of pitched warfare as a single warrior without the speed advantage of being mounted is going to have a hard time stopping their opponent from knocking it aside and getting in range.

    In terms of battlefield tactics the pike was designed to neutralize destrier charges but the need to group closely together made pike formations very vulnerable to archers.

    Think of it like scissors, paper and stone.

    Sorry for the over simplification.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    You might want to have a look at the Macedonian 'Sarissa' spear, it was about 13-14 ft , dated to the 4th Century B.C and needed to be wielded with two hands. Its how Philip II conquered the Greek and Northern barbarian armies and revolutionised Mediterranean warfare. As the sources say, Philip's army went through alot of intensive drill training to be able to use the sarissa in the correct formation. For ancient sources, have a look at :

    Plutarch, Life of Aemilius, 20.1.1-3.


    Plutarch, Life of Pelopidas, 18.5.


    Also read, Asklepiodotus, Aeneas Tacticus, and Arrian. For a good up to date summary on Macedonian warfare and the sarissa, read 'Greek Warfare: Myths and Realities by Hans Van Wees' or 'Soldiers and Ghosts by J.E Lendon'.

    Hope this helps
    Last edited by rydam; 3/02/2009 7:19am at .

  6. #6
    rocketsurgeon's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    The flip side. Ok really Pittsburgh.
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    If you're narrowing your question to medieval knights, IIR no example I've read of cavalry dismounting to reinforce infantry mentioned that they fought any differently than regular infantry. This would imply that they didn't hang on to their lances.

    When looking at how cavalry was equipped you should keep in mind pre-stirrup and post-stirrup tactics. Ancient cavalry didn't ride knee-to-knee, couch their lance and brace for a charge like medieval cavalry. If we're talking about a lance that is weighted and shaped specifically for couching, the answer to "how useful" is "not very."

    Now Alexander's (ancient) cavalry IIR had spears described as shorter versions of the footman's sarissa. The knight-in-shining-armor's lance was pretty purpose-specific and not something you would really describe as a short footman's spear.

  7. #7

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    Mar 2004
    Dayton, OH
    The spear work shown in Fiore and Uncle Johannes' traditions are said to be lances shortened down for use on foot. (as one possible explanation anyway).

    Peace favor your sword,

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    windsor UK
    aikido, medieval fencing
    Quote Originally Posted by lklawson View Post
    The spear work shown in Fiore and Uncle Johannes' traditions are said to be lances shortened down for use on foot. (as one possible explanation anyway).

    Peace favor your sword,
    Well really we can say that almost all pole arms had a lance like implement at one if not two business end.

    Lance as in spear proper seems to have been used in judicial dual. The lance, the sword and the dagger seems to have been the weapon a knight was expected to fight a judicial dual on foot in the 15th cent Germany.
    So you have a few techniques in the lichtanauer tradition (ie the ringeck, von speyer, von dandzig, judden lew, dobringer and Talhoffer)

    As well it seems to have been a current practice to use a demy- lance. I.e. a lance shortened down (i.e. probably something ending up being between 150-180cm) which will probably be used like half-sword. As you do not have a chance in hell to cut through armour, half-swording was mainly used in thrust.

    I hope that helps

  9. #9
    M1K3's Avatar
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    Southern NJ
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    The Swiss army was famous for their pikemen.

    The Pike Square (German: Gewalthaufen, meaning crowd of force) was a military tactic developed by the Swiss Confederacy during the 15th century for use by its infantry.

    The Swiss developed a tactic that could be used by mobile, lightly armored soldiers carrying only a long, steel-tipped pole for defence. However, the tactic depended on well trained and drilled troops who could move in unison while in close formation. While the use of pointed sticks to fend off cavalry was common throughout the Middle Ages, such barricades were usually fixed in position. The Swiss pikemen were to bring a change of paradigm by reintroducing the offensive element into pike warfare.

    A pike square generally consisted of about 100 men in a 10×10 formation. While on the move, the pike would be carried vertically. However, the troops were drilled to be able to point their pikes in any direction while stationary, with the men in the front of the formation kneeling to allow the men in the center or back to point their pikes over their heads. While stationary, the staff of each pike could be butted against the ground, giving it resistance against attack. Squares could be joined together to form a battle line. If surrounded, pikes could still be pointed in all directions. A well drilled square could turn on a dime, making it difficult to outmaneuver on horseback.

    Charles did not believe that a force even twice his size on foot without archers could possibly pose him any threat. However, Charles and his forces found the pike square impossible to penetrate on horseback and dangerous to approach on foot. When threatened the square could point all of the pikes at the enemy forces and merely move inexorably toward its target. All these considerations aside, the primary strength of the Swiss pike formation lay in its famous charge, a headlong rush against the enemy with leveled pikes and a coordinated battlecry. At Nancy, the Swiss routed the Burgundians, and Charles himself died in the battle. This success was repeated on various European battlefields, most remarkably in the early battles of the Italian Wars.

    The pike square dominated European battlefields and influenced the development of tactics well into the 17th century. When muskets became common weapons, the pikes were replaced by muskets with bayonets to the same effect.

    (From Wiki, Swis

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Basic Self-Defence
    Quote Originally Posted by Sadler View Post
    ... But were fighters ever trained to fight with a lance off horseback, like a heavy spear? Or were they exclusively paired with horses?
    ..so to directly answer the OP,
    YES, many Knights (and other ignoble fighters much more so, re.spear) were trained in the use of spear on foot, very keen on scrapping they were with practically all weapons of their period.

    pic to follow ...
    Oh dear. Uploaded a pic to god-knows-where ...
    Why can't I find how to upload pics to the 'weapons' section anymore???
    Last edited by Dirty Rooster; 3/11/2009 11:02am at .


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