I would like to preface this by saying that English is not my first language so I ask that you excuse any grammatical errors.

So could a setting conceivably have pike and shot military tactics, but the industrialization of early to mid 19th century England?

I want there to be pikemen, musketeers, people with armor riding around on horses, but also textile mills, industrial levels of iron smelting... The way I am thinking is that pike and shot ended with the introduction of better guns, better cannons, and the invention bayonet. People stopped wearing armor because it didn't work against more powerful guns and it was expensive. With the industrial capacity to create lots of steel and iron, the supposed world would be able to create better and cheaper armor. However, with this industrial capacity, the supposed world would also be able to create better and cheaper guns (just like our own world has), which would defeat the purpose of better armor. Another issue with massed pike and shot formations was the introduction of cannons that could take out files of men. I think this led to linear tactics where only two guys would get hit by a cannonball versus a whole line of them. To counter the first two points, the supposed world could have less potent gunpowder. I thinking something along the lines of "chemical makeup is less powerful" or some hand-waving science-y thing since I don't really want to go to reinvent the periodic table and how atoms and electrons bond and break.

There would be two areas where this explanation can be flawed, rifling and lock-mechanisms. Rifling are just lines in the barrel that spin the bullet to make it go straighter. A society that can invent trains would definitely be able to carve lines into a metal tube. That is something I was unable to find a workaround for.

With regards to lock-mechanisms, many of the guns in the pike and shot era had matchlocks compared to the flintlocks of the Napoleonic era. Having matchlocks would help my "cause" since they are generally slower to reload and more of a hassle to deal with since you need to have a burning piece of match rope lit at all times (anything that can detract from the power of gun helps this "cause"). Flintlocks, on the other hand, are harder to manufacture but are vastly superior because you do not need to have a piece of burning match rope with you and can just pull a trigger and shoot the bullet. However, once again, a society that can develop trains would be able to develop and mass-produce flintlocks, which are only hard to produce in comparison to matchlocks. Flintlock guns were around during the time of pike and shot, but they were more expensive and only given to elite units or cannon guards (since having a piece of lit rope around barrels of gunpowder is dangerous). I do not think that I can say "flint doesn't exist" since flint and steel was an important way for humans to make fire and thus evolve, and removing such a fundamental object might mean that humans are still cavemen or something (butterfly effect idk?).

The last hurdle to overcome is the bayonet. With the introduction of the bayonet, the shot people in a pike and shot formation could have little pikes to ward of horsemen. This made the pike kind of obsolete. I don't know why the bayonet was not invented sooner in history. Because I do not know why this was invented earlier, I cannot come up with ways in the world for it to not come into existence, since I cannot come up with any way in our world that it did not come into existence at an earlier date.

However, there is still some hope. The French employed Cuirassiers (horsemen with armor) to great effect in the Napoleonic wars (early 19th century), and both the French and Prussians employed them in the Franco-Prussian war to moderate degrees of success. The latter was when both countries had industrialized to a certain extent, but they took way higher casualties than early period ones. The French also had Cuirassiers in world war one but they got shot by machine guns, however, that is beyond the scope of the industrialization/ tech level of the proposed world.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Rifling dates back to the very beginning of guns -- there are known rifled guns from the 14th century. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    May 12, 2021 at 15:42
  • $\begingroup$ You have a lot of good information, but have you considered creating an alternate reality with your story? Is that what you are trying to attempt? $\endgroup$
    – A Writer
    May 12, 2021 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, a sort of alternate reality where the civilian site of technology outstripped the military side. But I would also like to keep it believable and not have question like "Why don't they get then guns and shoot them?" Several of my favorite authors have created worlds in which one aspect of technology (normally used for fighting) could be applied to to other aspects of society (like in our real world), but are not, and have no "logical" explanation for it $\endgroup$
    – yeetman21
    May 12, 2021 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ So you may create a "logical" explanation. Have most people use matchlocks, while few are trying to use flintlocks - and all those flintlocks for some unknown reason are performing worse than matchlocks. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    May 12, 2021 at 16:53
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ When the first war comes along...."Your majesty, your Marshall is here to ask for additional funds. He says he found an inventor who can make our armies and navies invincible and guarantee a rapid victory by re-purposing off-the shelf technologies. He wants a mere 50,000 ducats for the experiment."...and in 12 months pike-and-shot have been replaced by needle-guns and artillery. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    May 12, 2021 at 17:10

6 Answers 6

  • They haven't had a real war recently.
    Wars force change on the military. Without actual combat, generals can delude themselves that the old way still works. Even with actual combat, it can take some time for the lesson to sink in.
    So assume that the military tradition calls for regiments of pike and regiments of shot, to be merged into mixed brigades only just before battle. On paper you can make a case for the benefits. There is unified training, the sergeant major general can adjust the mix to make best use of the units at hand, etc. Also, there are colonels of the ancient, traditional regiments of pike, and doing away with their regiments would do away with the jobs of those colonels.
    You could even assume that certain units have bayonet-equipped riflemen, but the main force still consists of pike and (rifled) shot. Tens of thousands of pikeheads in the royal armoury, polished every couple of years and given a new shaft every couple of decades.

  • Alternative: This is the lawful organization of the militia.
    People realize that militarily, the pikes are becoming obsolescent. But a free citizen of a city must be a pikeman in the city regiment, or he is no more than a runaway serf. And nobody wants to touch the legal arrangements with a 25-foot pole.

  • There is a (non-human) threat where a long pole is a good idea.
    Some animal that is hard to defeat with bullets, at least not quickly, yet where a bayonet is too short to be effective.
    I'm not quite sure, perhaps something with a central body and 10-foot-long tentacles? Nasty barbs and poison? Hard to kill with a single bullet because the core is too small (but then how to stab it?) or because it has two hearts and a diffuse nervous system?

  • $\begingroup$ You don't need any unusual features to create an animal that's resistant to musket fire. An American bison's skull is thick enough to deflect a low-velocity bullet, and if it's charging you, the skull is the only part you're able to hit. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    May 13, 2021 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark, would you want a pike against a charging bison? Or something like a boar spear? $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    May 13, 2021 at 6:00

Not only possible, but actual historical fact

Although rifling was invented in the 1500s ...

The problem with rifles was the tendency for powder fouling to accumulate in the rifling, making the piece more difficult to load with each shot. Eventually, the weapon could not be loaded until the bore was wiped clean. For this reason, smoothbore muskets remained the primary firearm of most armies until the mid-19th century. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musket

With respect to railways ...

1830 - The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened. It marked the beginning of the first steam passenger service which was locomotive-hauled and did not use animal power. The line had the first timetables for passengers and proper stations (with ticketing offices and platforms) and went on to prove the viability of rail transport. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_railway_history

Thus, historically it is accurate to say that smooth-bore firearms were still in military use when the railways were already commercial.


It happened in the real world. To make this last longer have your powder be even dirtier and harder to clean. Then rifling, although possible, could be delayed greatly in its usefulness. Additionally, in your world, it might be that owing to a long period of peace, armies had been slow to re-equip. If hostilities broke out suddenly for political reasons, the troops would have to go to war with their old-fashioned weapons.

  • $\begingroup$ While smoothbore muskets were mainstay of the armies till XIXth century, a Napoleonic wars musket was massively superior weapon to, say, XVIIth century predecessor - more reliable, more accurate, firing much faster, with slide on bayonet. and 1830s trains were super crude technology demonstrators. $\endgroup$
    – Archelaos
    May 13, 2021 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ The problem is the question is asking for pike and shot, which fell out of use around 1700. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    May 13, 2021 at 20:00

In order for pike and shot to remain viable, you need a few things:

  1. Cavalry. The main job of the "pike" part of the formation is to keep the cavalry away from the "shot" part. If you aren't facing cavalry, you get more out of your force by arming everyone you can with a musket.
  2. A low rate of fire. Cavalry can only overwhelm musket-armed infantry if they can cover the effective range of the guns before the infantry can fire many volleys.
  3. No socket bayonets. Early bayonets were of the "plug" type, where you could either fire your gun or use it as a spear, not both. Having a dedicated pike force is actually an advantage here, since your musketeers aren't losing time inserting or removing bayonets (it takes minutes to force a plug bayonet into place, and often two people to pull it back out of the gun barrel).

Requirement #3 is easy: the plug bayonet was invented two centuries after the personal firearm, and the socket bayonet was invented a century after that. It's quite believable that nobody ever thought of it, particularly if large-scale combat isn't common.

The problem arises with #2: the precision machining that makes for reliable locomotives also permits rapid loading of muskets. During the American Civil War, infantry formations could sometimes hold off cavalry through sheer rate of fire; post-Civil-War, with the widespread use of breach-loading and repeating rifles, it was routine. You'll need some explanation for why your guns can't fire fast enough. Lack of recent combat works: hunting weapons don't have the rate-of-fire requirements of combat weapons.

Requirement #1 is pretty much inevitable. About the only reason you wouldn't have cavalry is if the terrain is unsuitable, and terrain unsuitable for cavalry is generally also unsuitable for trains.

(An alternative for #1 is that muskets are expensive, so you can't afford to arm everyone with one. But if you've got the industrial base to make trains, that isn't believable. A musket requires about as much steel as a meter of strap rail, or a few centimeters of solid track.)


Your fiction occurs in a time of flux.

You know a lot about military equipment and tactics for this period and you have ideas about how tech changed that. You need to use all that for your fiction.

Have your army like Cromwell's New model Army - mid 17th century and tricked out the way you want with armor, pikes and muskets. My understanding is that the equipment of Cromwells army was considered anachronistic even at the time but his tactics were advanced.

Then you move the industrial changes you want to this time. Perhaps in this timeline the Royalists opposing Cromwell spur these advances to give their side an edge. Now there are soldiers with advanced weaponry as you describe. Against them are Cromwellian soldiers using old weapons but led by a tactical genius. Can novel technology beat superior tactics?

That is a fiction I would read!


One example where it could work is country like China, where "old" combat styles were still in use in first half of XXth century due to combination of many factors.

What you want could be a huge empire, too big to be threatened by it's neighbors but lagging behind major powers abroad. Those powers are too far and have too small population to actually take land from the empire, but they still hold it in "protectorate" state through military and tech superiority and they will, for example build railroads on it's territory.

Empire is so big that wars between factions are frequent, though not really threatening the emperors especially as they are protected by troops from foreign powers. As it is backward technologically, those local wars are being fought old style, with pike and shot formations, especially as the huge size of the empire mean that cavalry is still major part of any army (as infantry can't move fast enough, that's one of major reasons Russia and later USSR kept cavalry units up to WW2, even though by 1938 they had more tanks than rest of the world combined).

"Warlords" use mostly locally produced XVIIth century style firearms, a lot of bladed weapons and armour. There are elite units using imported bolt-action rifles, but those are super rare (they may be imported legally or smuggled in, still without local production, they will be too expensive to equip an army), and local "knights/cuirassiers" can defeat them occasionally, "Last Samurai" style.


YES, in Theory

I believe you're going about this the wrong way. Instead of asking how the military side of things could be "slowed down" ask instead how the manufacturing side of things could be sped up! The great breakthrough of the 1700s was the Steam Engine and by extension manufacturing, trains, and all the rest. But the technology for such devices was floating around for centuries beforehand. (For a brief description of early steam engines see here ) Heck, the aeolipile, a very simple steam "engine" was invented by Hero of Alexandria in about 100ad. Sure you'd need a good amount of high-grade steel to create the pistons et al, but Wootz steel was being produced in large amounts in ancient India centuries before the Hero's engine! So all the basics were there, it just never got put together.

All it takes is somebody/several somebodies putting it all together quicker than happened in our timeline. Not impossible by any stretch. If you create the steam engine around, say, the 15th century you could easily have it developing in concert with the european-style military tactics of the day. These tactics wouldn't last forever, the mechanization brought on by the revolution would eventually lead to better guns. But if you're wanting to tell a good story 100 years of steam and pikes is plenty of time to have the story you want to tell! The trick is that by starting Steam earlier gunpowder tactics have further to go before the reach critical mass and make pikes obsolete. I wouldn't worry to much about armored cavalry going, they managed to hang around until 1915!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Wootz steel was being produced in large amounts in ancient India" - not large enough. Railroads are non-starter without blast furnace process. Yes, we can potentially have all of that centuries before, but the biggest issue is why weaponry technology would lag well behind civilian use? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    May 12, 2021 at 18:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The wootz process is not scalable: it worked because parts of India, by chance, happened to have just the right sorts of contaminants in their iron ore. It also wasn't very fast, typically producing ingots of only a few kilograms after a day or more of work. Compare to the Bessemer process, which could produce 5000 kg of iron in half an hour. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    May 13, 2021 at 2:43

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .