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Toni Šušnjar




Location: Split, Croatia
Joined: 03 Feb 2020

Posts: 6

PostPosted: Mon 24 Feb, 2020 5:19 am    Post subject: Menavlion vs Pike         Reply with quote

After Arabs introduced heavy cavalry (cataphracts), Byzantines responded by introducing the short, thick pike - menavlion; a spear with a shaft so thick that one could barely, if at all, wrap a hand completely around it (basically, when you held it, your thumb and index fingers would not touch). Yet I have found no mention of similar weapons in 15th and 16th centuries, despite heavy cavalry having even more advanced armour in those times; instead, much longer but relatively flimsier pikes seem to have been preferred (menavlion was 2,7 - 3,6 meters long, while pikes were often 5,5 - 7,5 meters long, much closer to sarissa, but with a smaller spearhed and narrower shaft than menavlion). So the question is why, and how did it impact tactics? The only reason I can think of for this difference lies in cavalry itself: Sassanid, Byzantine and Arab cataphracts appear to have used maces and similar one-handed weapons for shock combat, while lancers were used exclusively against opposing cavalry. Meanwhile, Western knights used long lances, which would have significantly outranged menavlion, thus necessitating the pike to also increase in length as an answer. But if menavlion was necessary to stop the charge of cataphracts, how would have thinner pike fared against much more heavily armoured knights of 14th and 15th century? Or was horse armour (barding) uncommon enough among Western knights to make such a question moot?
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Dashiell Harrison




Location: California
Joined: 14 Jun 2014

Posts: 39

PostPosted: Mon 24 Feb, 2020 10:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Long pikes were deployed in dense formations. For every rank in the pike square, there's another rank of pike-points projecting out in front of the formation. A horse charging into a pike formation wouldn't just be running into a single pike, but would instead be running into numerous successive pikes. My guess would be that this would more than make up for each individual pike being slimmer and less capable of stopping the horse in its tracks alone.
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Anthony Clipsom




Location: YORKSHIRE, UK
Joined: 27 Jul 2009

Posts: 90

PostPosted: Tue 25 Feb, 2020 12:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
Long pikes were deployed in dense formations. For every rank in the pike square, there's another rank of pike-points projecting out in front of the formation. A horse charging into a pike formation wouldn't just be running into a single pike, but would instead be running into numerous successive pikes. My guess would be that this would more than make up for each individual pike being slimmer and less capable of stopping the horse in its tracks alone.


Whereas the Byzantine manuals show that there was only 1 rank of menaulion carriers and these stood in front of the first spear armed ranks, having moved from the rear. Or they were deployed to make a flank attack. So use is certainly different - it doesn't seem to rely on a dense mass of men with these weapons.

Anthony Clipsom
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Toni Šušnjar




Location: Split, Croatia
Joined: 03 Feb 2020

Posts: 6

PostPosted: Tue 25 Feb, 2020 11:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dashiell Harrison wrote:
Long pikes were deployed in dense formations. For every rank in the pike square, there's another rank of pike-points projecting out in front of the formation. A horse charging into a pike formation wouldn't just be running into a single pike, but would instead be running into numerous successive pikes. My guess would be that this would more than make up for each individual pike being slimmer and less capable of stopping the horse in its tracks alone.


That is true, but disciplined cavalry - which admittedly was a rare occurence - was still able to shatter pikes through successive charges. IIRC, Polish hussars had a procedure for it - running at pikes at an angle - but they were not the only ones to pull it off. Menaulion, as Anthony points out, was deployed just one rank deep, but was designed so it was harder to shatter.

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