Were pike and shot tactics from the Italian wars used by the Spanish and Portuguese conquistadors?

May 2013
26
Hanover
#1
Recently I've been reading about the history of military developments in the pike and shot era. Rapid advances in firearms technology led to their wider adoption in battle which in turn caused the virtual obsolescence of the heavy cavalry which had been a decisive arm of battle for hundreds of years prior.

I had always wondered why huge empires such as the Incas and Aztecs had so much trouble, with superior numbers, against Spanish and Portuguese forces numbering only thousands, even hundreds.
Of course, there were many factors contributing to this, but reading about the Italian wars really puts things in perspective. Remember that these pike and shot tactics were developed for, and widely successful in, countering heavily armored knights on strong French horses.
If you are not covered in plate armor, have no access to firearms, and have no access to horses, I don't see how you could achieve what the French heavy cavalry failed to achieve. Unless the native armies had the wherewithal and the acumen to rapidly adopt in response to such tactics, the only outcome I can see is that the native armies are annihilated even more utterly than the French heavy cavalry was on multiple occasions.

Now what I don't know is, whether pike & shot (tercio) tactics were widely employed by the Spanish and Portuguese soldiers in the New World. What is the best way to characterize the native armies' clashes with the Europeans? Battle-hardened veteran pike and shot formations against a tactically outmatched foe, or untrained mercenaries against a numerically superior foe?
 
Aug 2011
107
The Castle Anthrax
#2
I'm not familiar with pike and shot tactics, but in the New World the Inca, Maya and Aztec initially welcomed the conquistadors. The Requerimiento was read in Spanish to them and hocus pocus, their territory was afterwards Spanish. As far as the tactics of the conflicts, language was probably the most decisive element. Language was wholly in the favor of the Spanish thanks to Jeronimo de Aguilar and La Malinche.

I'll monitor for insights on pike and shot tactics.
 
Likes: Millennium 7
Jul 2018
269
London
#3
I'm not familiar with pike and shot tactics, but in the New World the Inca, Maya and Aztec initially welcomed the conquistadors. The Requerimiento was read in Spanish to them and hocus pocus, their territory was afterwards Spanish. As far as the tactics of the conflicts, language was probably the most decisive element. Language was wholly in the favor of the Spanish thanks to Jeronimo de Aguilar and La Malinche.

I'll monitor for insights on pike and shot tactics.
I have a playlist about that
 
Likes: Phalo

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
4,876
Portugal
#4
Recently I've been reading about the history of military developments in the pike and shot era. Rapid advances in firearms technology led to their wider adoption in battle which in turn caused the virtual obsolescence of the heavy cavalry which had been a decisive arm of battle for hundreds of years prior.

I had always wondered why huge empires such as the Incas and Aztecs had so much trouble, with superior numbers, against Spanish and Portuguese forces numbering only thousands, even hundreds.

Of course, there were many factors contributing to this, but reading about the Italian wars really puts things in perspective. Remember that these pike and shot tactics were developed for, and widely successful in, countering heavily armored knights on strong French horses.
If you are not covered in plate armor, have no access to firearms, and have no access to horses, I don't see how you could achieve what the French heavy cavalry failed to achieve. Unless the native armies had the wherewithal and the acumen to rapidly adopt in response to such tactics, the only outcome I can see is that the native armies are annihilated even more utterly than the French heavy cavalry was on multiple occasions.

Now what I don't know is, whether pike & shot (tercio) tactics were widely employed by the Spanish and Portuguese soldiers in the New World. What is the best way to characterize the native armies' clashes with the Europeans? Battle-hardened veteran pike and shot formations against a tactically outmatched foe, or untrained mercenaries against a numerically superior foe?
The number of Portuguese and Spanish fighting with the indigenous populations in Africa, Asia and America was always quite low, and there was always a strong component of local auxiliaries, so that also changed the tactics. The tactics used in Italy were adapted to the circumstances. Furthermore we must say that it is quite different to fight against Aztecs than to fight against Ottomans and Somalis in Ethiopia, against Caribs than against Muslims in Malacca, or to fight against Incas than to fight against Muslims in India, Persians or Cambodians. Just to give some examples.

By the way, as far as I recall there were no Tercios/Terços abroad in the 16th century. Their number was scarce. Portugal had Companies of “Ordenaças” in India. Armed with “pike and shot” weapons. See for instance the tapestry of D. João de Castro (didn’t really found a good link here to give you an idea): Tapeçaria da série de D. João de Castro | Tapeçarias | National gallery of art, Tapestry, Museum
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
4,876
Portugal
#6
Sorry. In fact it is not only one tapestry, but a collection that celebrates the Campaigns of D. João de Castro in India. I think that it is on the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienn. It is an important iconographic source of the type of weapons that the Portuguese (and the European) and Indian used at the time.

Unfortunately it is not easy to find them in the net. Just partials:







 
Likes: Phalo

martin76

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
6,142
Spain
#7
Till I know not Tercios at all in America save one Tercio organized in Arauco (Chili) and one Tercio sent from Spain to Brazil during the Salvador de Bahía campaign in 1625-26. In America as Tulius wrote.. they used another tactics.... more flexible and portuguese and Spanish were a minority.
 
Apr 2018
274
USA
#8
Just to expand on what's been said, although they used pikes and firearms i don't think i would say that "pike and shot" tactics played a very big role just because there were rarely that many european troops fighting in distant regions in the first place, so I don't think they'd have much use for the swiss-style pike columns you see during the italian wars. Most of Cortes's first expedition were supposedly just sword and shield men, and over time the conqistadors tended to rely mostly on large numbers of native auxilliaries supported by the small numbers of spanish firearms, crossbows, and cavalry.

Large pike and shot formations did see some use in north africa at times during the 16th century. Although according to one Portuguese soldier they were already starting to prefer fielding fewer pikemen and more arquebuses against north african soldiers who didn't wear much armor. ~ O SOLDADO PRÁTICO ~: Those Damn' Arquebusiers!

This seems to have been even moreso the pattern in much of the americas with firearms generally being far more useful than polearms when fighting in dense forests or very hilly/mountainous terrain. In New England by the time of the Pequot War the English colonists had found the pikes, halberds, and bills they brought over to be pretty much useless against the Native Americans and were fighting with firearms almost exclusively, even though pikes would continue to be widely used for several more decades in europe.