The Tercio (Also known as Tercio Español, literally "Spanish tercio", and from tercio meaning "one-third") was a Renaissance era military formation similar to and derivative of the Swiss Pike square and was a term used to describe a mixed infantry formation of about 3,000 pikemen and musketeers in a mutually supportive formation; it was also sometimes referred to by other nations as a Spanish Square after its introduction by the Spanish army,George Gush Renaissance Armies: The Spanish. Retrieved on 2007-10-31.. and was widely adopted across international lines and dominated formalized field warfare for several centuries.
The Tercio Español
was a formalisation of the organization and fighting techniques that had been developed principally by Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba
, during the Italian Wars
George Ghush Renaissance Armies: The Spanish
. Retrieved on 2007-10-31.. (a series of conflicts from 1494 to 1559). It marked the transformation of medieval military institutions into the early modern
combined-armsGush, ibid army with a focus on infantry. (See: Pike and Shot
for an excellent description of the eventual formation.) Gonzalo Fernández, also known to historians as "The Father of Trench Warfare,"
developed it graduallyGush, ibid out of the need driven by the Spanish expeditionary forces' composition when entering the fray in Italy, where he faced excellent cavalry. The army was divided roughly into thirdsGush, ibid of crossbowmen, pikemen, and sword-and-buckler combined arms
teams, where the first were steadily replaced by arquebusiers
, and the last by more pikemen, generating in timeGush, ibid, a formation about one third armed with firearms
, and two thirds with pikes, which he also protected with defensive worksGush, ibid shaping the battle field and in particular, controlling the approaches against the faster cavalry.George Gush Renaissance Armies: The Spanish
. Retrieved on 2007-10-31..
Composition and characteristics
Tercios, consisting largely of professional soldiers with superior discipline and fighting spirit, were well known on the European battlefield for their nigh-invincibility in combat during the 16th and 17th centuries. The formation was often feared by enemy troops because of the legendary determination of its soldiers in combat – its reputation was fully established at the Battle of Pavia (1525), in which the French king was captured; the prospect of being thrown into battle against the Spanish tercios was even known to lead to desertions in opposing forces.
Although other major powers adopted the formation, their armies fell short of the fearsome reputation of the Spanish. That army, however, was not made up entirely of Spaniards, but was "an army of different nations", many of the troops being mercenaries (Landsknecht
) from Germany
and the Walloon
territories of the Spanish Netherlands
, as was a characteristic of European warfare of the 13th centuries–18th centuries before the revolutionary levies in the Napoleonic Wars
along with its concurrent influences leading to a rise of Nationalism
. In the 16th centuries–17th centuries however, the Spanish armies formed the core with Spanish subjects, and were consequently noted by others for their cohesiveness, superiority in discipline and overall professionalism.
Their professionalism was displayed in the Battle of Rocroi
in 1643, when the German and Walloon tercios fled from the battlefield, while the Spanish stayed on the field with their commander, absorbing four cavalry charges by the French, but never breaking the formation notwithstanding heavy bloodletting by the opposing artillery. The young Duke of Enghien, the French commander, observing the high casualties, then chivalrously offered "Honorable" surrender conditions, despite his luxury of both superior firepower from the artillery and superior mobility of the cavalry. These terms were just like those obtained by a besieged garrison letting the opponents into a fortress. Having agreed to those terms the remains of the two tercios, bloodied but unbeaten, left the field with deployed flags and weapons and were able to fight another day.
Moreover, Spanish arms methods and training practicesibid, 1st citation were widely adopted and practiced by the generals leading the small standing armies of the day, as well as the mercenary captains who were the hallmark of the era of warfare.ibid, 1st citation, inferrible: The armies of the era were primarily mercenaries or became like Wallenstein, "Military contractors"
Within the tercio, ranks of pikemen arrayed themselves together into one large block (cuadro
), similar to a pike square
. The musketeers were usually split up in several mobile groups (mangas
) and deployed relative to the cuadro
, typically with one manga
at each corner. By virtue of this combined-arms approach, the formation simultaneously enjoyed both the rigidity of its heavy infantry, along with its inherent ability to repulse cavalry and other units along its front, and the long-range firepower of its musketeers—which could also be easily reorganized to the flanks, making it a near-ideal defensive and offensive formation for the technology of the era.
Groups of tercios were typically arrayed in dragon-toothed formation (staggered—the leading edge of one unit level with the trailing edge of the preceding unit; see similar hedgehog defense concept). This enabled enfilade lines of fire and somewhat defiladed the army units themselves. Odd units alternated with even units, respectively one forward and one back, providing gaps for an unwary enemy to enter and enfilade itself, where it would encounter the combined direct and raking cross fire from the three tercios' gunners.
Outgunned and obsolete
The end of the tercio's dominance on the battlefield came with the decisive defeat of Catholic League's
army under Johann Tserclaes
at the first Battle of Breitenfeld
in 1631 by the Swedes under Gustavus Adolphus
, who organized his troops in more flexible linear formations. This had been made possible by improvements to the range and accuracy of firearms. Though tercio formations continued to be used with effect, such as at the Battle of Nördlingen (1634)
, the trend to the new linear formations was confirmed by increasing successes such as the French victory at Rocroi
in 1643. (Interestingly the tercios performed well at the battles of Breitenfeld and Rocroi, the negative outcomes being decided by the failures of their supporting cavalry). In the late 17th century, the Spanish army abandoned the then-obsolete tercio in favour of the more flexible system of battalions
, based on the French
model. This new system of fighting in linear formation, which had been promoted by the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus
in the 17th century, dominated the 18th century battlefield. The linear formation relied on shock force more than any other element: soldiers would fire their muskets simultaneously, demoralizing the enemy force. The tercios had difficulty withstanding this new formation, whose thin lines sustained fewer casualties by cannon fire.
Notes and reference links