Who were the Spanish Tercios –

Los Tercios are considered one of the major military forces in the world, some considered them as the heirs of the Roman legions or the Macedonian phalanxes. These were under the orders of the so-called Catholic King, who was none other than King Charles I and V of Germany, who would inherit said title from his grandparents Fernando and Isabel, who not only referred to the faith of the Spanish monarchs but also to its universality, because in those times they spoke of the Spanish Empire. In this article we will tell you how the Spanish Tercios fought, what their function was and who was part of them.

How did the Spanish Tercios fight?

One of the most important characteristics of Los Tercios is that combined different types of weapons since the infantry used pikes and swords (cutting weapons), as well as arquebuses and muskets (firearms), which meant that they could adapt to the conditions of each confrontation and gave them an important tactical advantage.

The first barrier against the enemy was the pikemen, who used the “queen of arms”, the pica. They were placed as squads and were flanked by the arquebusiers (bearers of firearms) and were unbeatable against the cavalry. This predominance in the use of the pike was based on the Swiss model that had previously been fixed on the soldiers of ancient Macedonia (twenty-two-foot pikes) and the Romans (twelve feet), choosing a model fifteen feet long. at sixteen feet.

“Heavy muskets used to open fire first, usually more than 100 meters from the enemy. Later the arquebuses were fired at a shorter distance, and then the great mass of pikemen who were advancing in an orderly square formed an iron barrier lowering their long pikes aiming at the attacking troops. They were like gigantic hedgehogs made of steel, wood, and leather that maneuvered on the battlefield in terrifying ways. Together with these squads of pikemen, the “sleeves” of arquebusiers advanced on the flanks, smaller groups of soldiers with firearms that were arranged depending on the situation and the movements of the troops». Joaquín Blasco Nácher, president of the Valencian Napoleonic Association

How is it different from the Swiss model? They describe that it was not a combat unit but that the thirds were framed, which meant that the third could be fragmented and thrown into the fight in an individual combat. The ancient writings point out that in this, the Spaniards used to have a greater advantage than their enemies because they took the initiative and were “braves”.

But the success of the Tercios was not only the tactics on the battlefield, but also the strategy. As we will tell you later, they were located in different parts of Italy, which meant that they could be sent to different parts of Europe or easily cross the Mediterranean. In addition, the Italian lands where the Tercios were based did not remain unprotected, as soon as they moved, new recruits from the Spanish peninsula appeared for their defense and start of training.

What was the function of the Spanish Tercios?

In order to understand the function of this military body, we have to focus on when it arises. Although the exact date is not known, it is believed that it could be in the year 1534 and 1536because in the first of them he orders the reorganization of the Spanish infantry companies that had been in Italy for a long time -some from the Great Captain, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, others from the Almogavars-, and in the 36th he indicates that it is necessary to pay them.

During these years, the Catholic King ordered to regroup in three thirds the Spanish infantry and creates three commands with their military jurisdictions in the three most important states of Italy: the Kingdom of Naples, the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Lombardy (Duchy of Milan). In front of each third was a maestre de campo, a renowned captain, who was the authority.

It is important that you bear in mind that The Thirds could be contracted directly by the King but not only he, but they could also be under the request of the states or cities of which the Catholic King was sovereign. And because? Since the main function of Los Tercios was the defense of european territorieswhich were many.

Who formed the Spanish Tercios?

One of the aspects that define the Spanish Tercios is that they were not simply paid mercenaries, but rather experienced soldiers, veteran soldiers who were led -mostly- by very capable officers and who are described in history as men of honour, loyal to their king but above all they were united by their catholic fervor. All this made them an unalterable force, a powerful motivation that made them the winners of every battle and led to the creation of a fearsome reputation throughout Europe. Well, needless to say, his reputation lives on today.

At the time of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Catholic King, this army was made up of many nationalities: Germans, Walloons, Italians, Spanish, Burgundians, Irish, English, Scottish, Uscoques (today Croats) and Albanians.

As a curiosity, to finish this article, let you know that it is unknown why they received the name Terciosalthough there are many theories about it but none of them come to fruition, such as that the Catholic King created three thirds in Italy but falls under his own weight because after a few years he also created his third in Sardinia.

In turn, another interesting fact is that it was not until 1649 that this denomination did not reach the cavalry and, then, new thirds began to be created over the centuries and today it is still valid in the infantry units of the Legion, in the Marine infantry or the Civil Guard.

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