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A Phalanx of Guns: The Spanish Tercio Essay

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By the beginning of the 16th century, the gradually increasing use of firearms in European warfare, along with the resurgence of older weaponry and tactics, had brought about a calamity of mixed weaponry which military minds struggled to apply efficiently and effectively on the battlefield, challenging the way wars had been fought for centuries. The dominating infantry weapons of the era, developed primarily in response to the overwhelming dominance of cavalry in the late medieval European system, were the heavy pike and the arquebus, the predecessor to the musket of later centuries. The limitations of both weapons severely restricted the situations in which they could be used independently and remain effective, and, as the Italian Wars escalated, military leaders of Habsburg Spain began fielding a new tactical formation of combined pikes and small firearms known as the tercio. This basic formation of the army’s core, supported in varying degrees by cavalry of both light and heavy types, became a standard in Europe for much of the next two centuries and heavily influenced the development of tactics and warfare in general during the late Renaissance and Early Modern Period. The application of tested weaponry in the innovative formation of the tercio in many ways resembled the Macedonian pike phalanx of Phillip II and Alexander, not merely in its basic form and appearance, but also in the administrative techniques used in its creation and the influential legacy which each of these formations left on the areas which encountered them.
The tercio as a distinct tactical entity developed gradually over the early 1500’s as the result of efforts to reconcile the inherent limitations of the available weaponry with the conditions of field...


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...t brought those tactics to their full potential. What sets the tercio apart is the set of circumstances particular to the 16th and early 17th centuries: namely, the increasing influence of firearms and the timely demise of heavy cavalry on the battlefield. These factors allowed the tercio to flourish for the lack of competition for nearly two centuries, bringing Europe to a deadlock.


Works Cited
Hall, Bert S. Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe: Gunpowder, Technology, and Tactics. Baltimore, MA: John Hopkins University Press, 1997. Print

Creveld, Martin van. Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1991. Print

Griess, Thomas E. (ed). The Dawn of Modern Warfare. Wayne, NJ: Avery Publishing Group Inc., 1984. Print

Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc, 1981. Print


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