refers to heavily armed and armoured ground troops, as opposed to medium
or light infantry
, in which the warriors are relatively lightly-armoured. As modern infantry troops usually define their subgroups differently (such as by weapon or type of attack), 'heavy infantry' almost always is used to describe pre-gunpowder age troops.
History of the heavy infantry
In ancient Greece
was a common form of infantry
. Hoplites would act as both a city watch and as an army in the field . Hoplites were thought of as a force to be reckoned with because they would form a phalanx
, a tight band of spearmen, which aided them against lighter infantry and cavalry.
In the military of Ancient Rome, heavy infantry made up most of the Roman army. The heavy infantry of the pre-Marian Roman republic
included the Hastati
, and Triarii
. (although depending how the hastati was armed and armored, it could also be considered light infantry) The hastati, the youngest men in the line, were armed with a sword, or gladius
, and two javelins, or pila
. The pila (singular pilum) were usually thrown at a charging enemy before they engaged in hand-to-hand combat. They were also armed with a helmet, a bronze breast plate or a set of chainmail, and a shield - if they could afford it. The Principes were armed just like the hastati, but they were older, more experienced, and, because they had more money, better quality of arms. Principes were typically armed with pila, a gladius, chainmail, shield, and helmet. The other heavy infantry were the Triarii. These were armed and armored just like the hastati except for the fact that instead of holding pila to throw at the enemy, they used a large spear known as the hasta. The triarii were usually called in to end the battle and break the lines of the enemy. Rome's use of heavy infantry and a general lack of major cavalry forces meant they were stronger in pitched battle but more vulnerable to ambushes.
Heavy infantry was not as widely used in the Middle Ages because of a rise in heavy cavalry
. This began after the Battle of Adrianople
. The Goths used their heavy cavalry to rip apart the Roman legions. In the wake of this defeat, more emphasis was placed on cavalry. This was helped by the spreading of the German peoples into Western Europe
. The nobles of the various tribes rode rather than fought on foot. The Battle of Tours
was the final nail in the coffin for infantry in the Middle Ages. The battle, while a Christian victory, showed the Franks that they needed to be able to respond to threats from everywhere. Infantry, while useful in setpiece battles, could not keep up.
All of this would change when gunpowder was introduced in Europe in the late 14th century and the use of the pike was finally relearned. These weapons and discoveries would give birth to the Middle Age heavy infantry and would push heavy cavalry into an equal part of the army. Heavy infantry would usually be armored like a knight, with mail armor and maybe an iron helmet and would carry a pike (which was a very long thrusting spear, used extensively by the infantry both for attacks on other infantry and as a counter-measure against cavalry assaults). Other heavy infantry would probably be armed with little armor and maybe a gunpowder weapon, which were capable of penetrating armor. The introduction of such weapons as gunpowder and the pike resulted in the reintroduction of the infantry into armies and shifted dominance of the battlefield away from the knights.