Swiss mercenaries were special troops during the medieval times that were famous for their services in the foreign armies. They were particularly employed by the kings of France during the late medieval times and for some time after that.
They proved their abilities time and again on the battleground, although their relative importance declined after the end of the medieval times because of technological advances.
The culture of mercenary forces increased in Europe during the late medieval times. These mercenaries mainly consisted of soldiers who had fought in some major battle but could not find permanent employment anymore.
The fame of Swiss mercenaries started growing during and after the 13th century as a result of their struggles against the Austrian Hapsburgs. Subsequently, they proved their abilities in several major battles and established themselves as the most sought after of medieval mercenaries.
Various innovative tactics and organisational methods were used by the Swiss mercenaries. If their force was of sufficient size, they could arrange into three columns known as Vorhut meaning vanguard, Gewalthut meaning centre, and Nechhut meaning rearguard.
If the force was small, it would be divided into two columns instead. They mostly relied on straightforward steamroller assault which was different from the traditional tactics of the Swiss cantons.
Swiss mercenaries used almost all the available weapons with different parts of the force using different weapons in which they had expertise. The most important weapons of the Swiss mercenaries were pike and halberd square, although they also deployed crossbows and other kinds of artillery.
With the introduction of firearms, they also began using handguns but this weapon did not assume the status of central importance because it was susceptible to damp conditions and was also slow to load at that time in history.
Swiss mercenaries participated in many famous wars during the medieval times. They particularly left their mark during the Italian Wars and established their virtual monopoly on pike mercenary services. During their struggle against the Austrian Hapsburgs, they played a very important role in the battles of Morgarten in 1315 and Sempach in 1386.
Pike attacks were the central weapon of the Swiss mercenaries and also one of the main reasons for their success. However, by the end of the medieval times, firearms were becoming increasingly common and the pike attacks were particularly vulnerable in the face of firearms.
Further, the Spanish rodeleros who were equipped with steel rodelas and side-swords proved to be more successful in man-to-man combat compared to the Swiss mercenaries. These factors combined in reducing the importance of the Swiss mercenaries.
Swiss mercenaries were expert troops of independent Swiss soldiers who established their importance as expert pike-men during the medieval times. They could also use a variety of other weapons and were among the most sought after mercenaries during the medieval times.
Swiss mercenaries played important role in various major battles, particularly the ones fought against Austria. The importance of Swiss mercenaries declined at the end of the medieval times with the introduction of firearms.