Although not as often talked about as other mercenaries like the Varangian Guards of the Byzantine Emperor or the Catalan Grand Company, the Swiss pikemen were one of the most formidable military infantries from the Middle Ages. Even when their weaponry was not as impressive as the others, their speed and ingenuity sure could defeat the enemies. The Swiss pikemen were both feared and respected throughout Europe, and for good reasons.

Fiercest Fighters of Europe

The Swiss pikemen could be traced back to the 1300s, after the time when Switzerland decided to split from the Holy Roman Empire. Switzerland’s cantons declared a Confederacy, which means each person was free to live outside the rules of a leader. They were, at that time, the only territory that permitted such.

Duke Leopold I of Austria did not like the idea that Switzerland veered away from the Holy Roman Empire, and he was angry about it. In 1315, he sent his Hapsburg Army into Switzerland on a mission to force the cantons back to the Empire. He underestimated the Swiss as peasants with zero knowledge of armor or weaponry, which meant it would be an easy peasy fight for the army. This, however, was far from the truth.

Swiss mercenaries crossing the Alps (Luzerner Schilling). (Diebold Schilling the Younger, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

On November 15 of the same year, the peasants of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden joined forces and assaulted Leopold’s army with nothing but pikes. The peasants went home victorious, and their triumph allowed the three cantons to join forces and form the core of the Swiss Confederacy.