The 14th century pike and its measurements

Monday, February 08, 2016

Now that we have established (in this blogpost) the fact that pikes were certainly used in the 14th century, we can try to fathom what they looked like in this period.

Text sources
From an entry in the accountbooks of Ghent in Flanders of 1353, we learn that the pike is counted among the langhe wapine (long weapons) next to staves, axes and lances. But the question then remains how long. Also you could ask yourself if possibly the words spear and pike were synonyms for the same weapon? This last question can be answered with a 'No', because in a law from the county of Zeeland of 1290 both spear and pike are mentioned as separate weapons.
This law states that whoever carries een speere of een pieck (a spear or a pike) without a 'spear-iron' (spearhead) of 6 thumbs (6 inches = 15,24 cm) in length, shall have to pay a fine and will have his spear or pike confiscated. The two weapons evidently were very alike, very long sticks that both were equipped with the same kind of spearhead. This means their difference can only be explained by differing lengths.
Luckily we have two sources that prescribe pike lengths. The first can be found in an article by Müller-Hickler from 1906 where he writes that the citizens of Turin in the north of Italy had to have pikes of 18 feet in 1327. The second is a law of 1390 from Bremen in the north of Germany, summing up what armour and weapons the inhabitants of the rural area around the city were obliged to own at all times. It says their pikes should be at least 16 feet tall:

En jewelik lantman in de zulven Vylande schal hebben to ewigen tyden ene troyen, eyen yseren hud, en par wapenhanschen, enen schilt, ene worpbarden unde enen peck van zesteyn voten unde kortere nicht, by broke ener mark, ...
"Every landman in this same Vyland (the municipal rural area around Bremen) shall have at all times a troyen (protective padded coat), an iron hat, a pair of gauntlets, a shield, a throwing axe and a pike of sixteen feet and not shorter, on pain of paying one mark, .... " (Ehmck, 1883)

If we assume that a medieval foot measured on average 28 centimeters, we can calculate that 16 feet is about 4,5 meters and 18 feet equals about 5 meters. In comparison, the prescribed pike length for the Burgundian troops in 1473 was 14 and 16 feet, while the city militia of Utrecht in 1521 had to have 18 feet, just like the length prescribed a hundred years later in the Dutch Republic. With the above information we now know that pikes measured in between 4 and 5 meters, but mostly between 4,5 and 5 meters in length, and contained pikeheads of ideally 15 cm in length.

Extant pikes
Because there are no extant pikes of the 14th century (please let us know, when you know of any), there is the need to look at later specimens to get an idea of what their pikeheads and shafts might have looked like. When Müller-Hickler wrote his article on pikes in 1906 there were still hundreds of 15th and 16th century ones extant in several town arsenals and museums in the south of Germany and in Switzerland, which he examined. Of course it might be that some of these pikes were older, but were never identified as such because nobody considered them to be 14th century weapons. It is hard to tell without for example carbon-dating the pikeshafts. And even then you might run into the fact that shafts can be replaced during or after the working life of a pike. Pikeheads found through archaeology may often have been dated on the assumption that pikes are a post medieval weapon as well. For instance this pikehead was found in Rotterdam in 1952 and is credited as being a 16th century Spanish infantry pike. But what would make this a Spanish pike and not one produced in the Low Countries, and aren't all pikes infantry weapons anyway? This sort of doubtful identification illustrates that dug up remains of pikes that are said to be post medieval may in some cases be, for example, late medieval. Large scale research into and cataloguing of extant and excavated pikes would help massively in this respect.

Müller-Hickler described in 1906 that the extant pikes he saw were all made of ash, often impregnated, and that an average pike weighed about 5 pounds, so 2,5 kilograms. Their lengths varied between 3,85 and 5,15 meter, but longer than 5 meters was really scarce and the average length of the twenty pikes he measured into detail was 4,65 m. Six of these had an average diameter of 24.7 mm at 10 cm underneath the pikehead, 3 meters from the pikehead the diameter was 35.8 mm on average, and at the bottom it was about 30.3 mm. So they showed a nice taper from thinnest at the top to thick in the middle and thinner at the bottom. With a total length of 4.65 m their point of balance was somewhere around 2.38 m beneath the pikehead, so roughly halfway the shaft.
Further more Müller-Hickler identified two types of pikehead, a flat bladed one and a 'dagger' like head with a square cross-section. The blades of the flat ones were at most 16 cm in length until the top of the shaft, while the blade of the dagger type could measure up to 18 cm until the same point. If only their length until the start of the 'neck' on the pikehead itself was measured, they were respectively 14 and 13 cm in length. The width of the flat ones was 3.5 cm at most while the dagger type blade was 1.8 cm at its thickest. The langets, the strips of steel attached to the pikeheads and running partly down the shaft, measured between 20 and 55 cm in length and about 1.2 cm in width. They were nailed to the shaft with 3 to 6 nails each. Only a very few of the examined pikes had a chape on their bottom, and these were very decorative, probably meaning that a normal pike would have had no chape there.
Five years ago Matthew Kelty posted some of his pike research on the forum of the myArmoury website. Here are the approximate dimensions he found on two 16th century pikes from the Landeszeughaus (arsenal) of Graz in Austria. They come pretty close to the ones found by Müller-Hickler and the ones in the text sources. Another great book on polearms among which pikes, is a book by Waldman.

Literature that I referred to
Ehmck, D.R. (1883), Bremisches Urkundenbuch, vol. 4; 1381-1410
Müller-Hickler, H. (1906), Studien über den langen Spieß
Waldman, J. (2005), Hafted Weapons in Medieval and Renaissance Europe; The Evolution of European Staff Weapons between 1200 and 1650.

You Might Also Like

0 reacties | replies