from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

As a mercenary (Frühneuhochdeutsch also Lanz servant ) is called a foot fighting, mostly German mercenaries of the late 15th and 16th century whose primary weapon after the Swiss model of mercenary the Pike ( "lance") was. Although mercenaries in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation originally called Imperial - Habsburg mercenaries were recruited, they fought for many other European rulers. Due to their progressive and disciplined fighting style, they were considered to be particularly powerful, but they always had the reputation of lootersand marauders who were able to devastate entire areas after failing to pay wages or in the event of "unemployment". The character of the Landsknechte developed especially during the reign of Emperor Maximilian I.

Development of the mercenary system


The designation Landsknecht is first recorded in the federal farewells of 1486 and means a "mercenary who (in contrast to the Swiss) is recruited in imperial lands". The name is presumed to be a deliberate demarcation from the Swiss pikemen who come from the mountains - and not from the flat country . In the 15th century, a Lantknecht was also called a bailiff (court messenger ) who took over military activities. Around 1502 the name Lanzknecht became established , which alluded to the mercenary pikes, which were actually classed as long skewers. The abbreviation Lanz (probably in Italian lanzo ) has also been traceable since 1527 .

Knecht probably points to the obligation of the mercenary recruited in the imperial land to the empire and the emperor. The colloquial term Landser for the German army soldier of the First and Second World War is perhaps derived from Landsknecht , perhaps also from Lanzknecht . In today's parlance, Landsknecht is sometimes used as a synonym for mercenary .

Origin of the mercenary army

The military system of the late Middle Ages was based on two pillars:

In addition to these feudal armies, rulers and cities that were gaining in strength increasingly recruited paid foot soldiers for individual campaigns, thereby questioning the war monopoly of the knightly class. In the 12th century, the Brabant Zones appeared in what is now Belgium , fighting for wages and booty, followed in the Hundred Years' War by the Armagnaks from France and the mercenaries under the leadership of the Italian condottieri , who, as entrepreneurs, did the war business of the northern Italian city-states. Such mercenary heaps offered a mixed picture and followed neither a uniform tactic nor a common law: In addition to professionally trained warriors such as Saracens and Genoese crossbowmen , peasant warriors and vagabonds flocked to the advertisers. Many battles had already proven that a disciplined fighting infantry equipped with polearms could withstand an independently operating heavy cavalry consisting of knights . Examples were:

Hussites who fought from their trailer camps out, and Swiss, strong in several thousand violent bunch of halberdiers challenged and pikemen, inspired the Reisläufertum of the late 15th century and became the forerunner of the mercenary system.

Origin of the mercenary system

Landsknechte and Turk, graphic by Albrecht Dürer
Landsknechte are subject to the Swiss contingent at the Battle of Dornach
Albrecht Altdorfer's depiction of the triumphal procession of Emperor Maximilian after the victory against Venice

After the death of Charles the Bold of Burgundy , his territorial inheritance fell to the Habsburg Maximilian, son of the then Emperor Friedrich III. To his claims against King Ludwig XI. To enforce militarily from France , Maximilian initially resorted to Flemish levies. Noble knights such as Count Engelbert von Nassau and the Count von Remont from the House of Savoy dismounted and joined the ranks of the spear bearers themselves. By winning at Guinegate Maximilian was able to claim most of his newly won territory; But in order to be able to counter further French attacks and to exert pressure on the powerful territorial states of Bavaria and Bohemia , while the emperor and imperial army were bound by the war with the Turks in Hungary , the Habsburgs continued to need their own powerful army. Since he could not fall back on vassals or on commandments, he was forced to recruit soldiers on his own. In 1487, only a few months after his coronation as German king, the term of the mercenary appeared for the first time in these recruitments.

These units were trained in Bruges under the command of Count Eitel Friedrich II. Von Hohenzollern and Swiss captains and from 1490 took the oath of allegiance to Maximilian, who wanted to shape them as a "war order" based on the existing knightly orders .

The heyday of the mercenary system

When the conflict with the Swiss Confederation escalated into the Swabian War at the end of the 15th century , Maximilians mercenaries went into action on the side of the Swabian Confederation , which had been founded in 1488 as a counterweight to the expansion efforts of the Bavarian Wittelsbachers . These imperial Swabian troops suffered humiliating defeats in the fight against the Swiss. This was the reason for the deep hatred between German mercenaries and Swiss travelers, despite their close relatives, which degenerated into the so-called "bad war", in which, in contrast to the "good war", no prisoners were taken and the defeated or wounded opponent was mercilessly cut down.

Georg von Frundsberg , who took part in the Swabian campaign and then fought in imperial service against the French who had invaded the Duchy of Milan , raised Maximilian's troops . He trained them on the basis of his experience with the Swiss soldiers, whose tactics he picked up and further developed. Frundsberg was soon known as the "father of the Landsknechte"; his troops won important victories against the French and the Swiss in the Italian wars . From then on, the behavior of the mercenaries was characterized by a growing sense of self-worth; they enforced their demands all the more self-confidently against their own employer, who was dependent on their obedience in battle. The onslaught of the German mercenaries finally culminated in the notorious Sacco di Roma , with the merciless sack of Rome in May 1527. From then on, mercenaries spread fear and terror. Frundsberg's death in 1528 therefore also marked a turning point in the history of the Landsknechte.

Decline of the mercenary system

Musketeers and pikemen from the time of the Thirty Years' War

Maximilian I and his successor Charles V always had to struggle with financial problems; the unreliable pay resulted in a lack of discipline and loyalty among the mercenaries. These hired themselves out to more and more warlords and mercenary entrepreneurs; they fought, among other things, in the Landshut War of Succession , in the Peasants' War and in the Schmalkaldic War . Foreign rulers such as the French kings also recruited mercenaries. Such countrymen fighting against the prohibition by the emperor and sovereign in the pay of foreign powers - such as the " black gang " in the pay of the French king - the mercenaries met mercilessly. German mercenaries fought under a foreign flag on military campaigns in North Africa, Venezuela and Eastern Europe, and their fighting style was also adopted in other armies via the European mercenary market. The armament, method of fencing, tactics and organization of the European armies were increasingly mixed and matched, and the prominent position of the German mercenaries also decreased. The puffed and slit clothing went out of fashion, the term Imperial foot servant replaced the term Landsknecht . At the Reichstag in Speyer in 1570 uniform imperial resolutions were passed that curtailed the rights of the mercenaries, making the army form of the mercenary largely a thing of the past. The recruitment and organization of mercenary armies in Germany lasted until the middle of the 17th century and played a decisive role again in the Thirty Years' War , after which, however, mercenaries were gradually displaced by the feudal state through the establishment and direct financing of standing armies .

Organization of the Landsknecht army


Recruitment scene in a tavern, contemporary drawing by Urs Graf

Most of the Landsknechte came from Baden , Alsace , Tyrol and Württemberg as well as from the Rhineland and Northern Germany . The recruitment of men from a common area strengthened the feeling of togetherness and morale.

Recruitment and drafting were carried out according to the Swiss model. A military leader known as experienced in the war and capable was commissioned as a warlord by the emperor, a prince or a city through the so-called appointment letter (also called patent) to set up a mercenary regiment. After the warlord had obtained the necessary financial means, as colonel of the regiment he put together the officers' staff, provided his officers with advertising patents , and then sent them out with drummers who drummed up potential recruits on the marketplaces.

If the recruits had registered, they had to go to the inspection, which was carried out on the running or sample area specified in the appointment letter . Towns, markets, villages and tavern owners at the muster stations were sometimes warned to have enough bread, meat and wine ready and not to sell them excessively to the incoming recruits. After the arrival of the volunteers, they were set up in front of a passage with two halberds and a pike, which each “contestant” had to walk through so that a war commissioner or the colonel as model master could check his physical condition and his armament man by man. During the survey, the regimental clerk's name, origin, age and status were entered in the sample roll. The recruitment took place for a period of three to six months. Applicants who were already experienced in the war, known as "bombarded servants", could demand more pay. It was not uncommon for frauds to occur: Since a mercenary had to pay for his equipment himself, sutlers sold weapons and armor at overpriced prices at the assembly points. The officers responsible for drafting were tempted to take advantage of their colonels by double counting some recruits or classifying inexperienced and poorly equipped men as heavily armed veterans in order to swindle a higher sum for the salary of the regiment and the difference to the actual sum for themselves keep yourself.

After the draft, the mercenaries were paid their first monthly salary and the regiment was divided into pennons of around 400 to 500 men, ideally including at least 100 combat-experienced mercenaries each, who received double their pay and were therefore referred to as double mercenaries . The entire regiment then gathered in a circle around the colonel, who read the article letter contained in the appointment letter . This comprised the rights and, above all, the duties of the mercenaries and was read out anew every six months. After the war articles had been read out, all mercenaries had to swear an oath on the emperor or the colonel on the instructions of the mayor and vow to behave in accordance with the field regulations laid down in the article letter. The mercenaries who were designated as ensigns also had to swear to defend the flag entrusted to them to the death. The formation of the regiment was completed by the division into Fähnlein (from around 1600 referred to as companies ) and Rotten .


The organization of the Landsknechte during the reign of Maximilian I formed the basis of the later army and was also taken over by other military commanders. The Landsknecht regiment had a strength of 4,000 men, but this number was seldom reached. A colonel who commanded several regiments held the rank of Supreme Field Captain or Colonel General and also had councils of war to provide support. A herald of officer rank stood by to transmit orders . In the absence of the colonel, he was replaced by the (colonel) Locotenens (who later became the lieutenant colonel ), a particularly experienced captain and himself leader of a ensign.

In the regiment

Colonel decreed next field doctor, interpreter , writer, drummers, pipers and salaried guard ( bodyguard and servant) for a "state" rod of specialized officials of his confidence (and later officers from Lat. Officium "office", "Service"):

  • The pfennig master (later paymaster ) administered the war chest, took contributions and paid out the wages.
  • The camp was set up under the direction of the quartermaster . He raffled the camps to the individual flags. If possible, advantageous places were chosen where there was water, firewood and forage , and which were at least partially protected for defensive purposes by a river, mud or rough terrain. The commanders lived in tents , the servants usually in huts, which they built on a wooden frame with a covering of straw, brushwood or turf. Between the tents and huts there was a road for traffic and a special assembly point for every flag, the noise area. The quartermaster also administered weapons and armaments as well as horses and sold these to the mercenaries, who had to pay for their equipment themselves; he also took care of the purser and Fourieren the troop to the food supply ( Profandt ) or feed (fodder).
  • A mayor, as judge and judicial officer with the rank of captain, watched over law and order as well as compliance with the article letter in the regiment . He vowed "to the poor as well as the rich, no one to love nor sorrow, to lead the entrusted staff". The mayor headed the field court , supported by 12 lay judges from the regiment, his clerk and his court servant , a double mercenary who kept the court files, collected the fees, prepared negotiations and acted as bailiff . The mayor and his assistants took over for the mercenaries to do sports and notarization and storage of valuables.
  • The dreaded law enforcement officer and criminal prosecutor was the Profoss , because order and discipline were always endangered by greed for money and booty, drinking bouts, gambling and bullying up to the armed duel, the "bellows". The Profoss was entitled to special personal protection against acts of revenge . In addition to his function as prosecutor for military offenses, he also monitored the market and the sutlers in the mercenary camp; there he had to fix the price, to examine and appraise the goods brought into the warehouse, taking into account both the interests of the servants and those of the traders. He also received fees from his appraisal office, for example a certain amount from every barrel of wine, from every head of cattle that was slaughtered, the tongue or demurrage from the sutlers and cooks. After all, the profoss was also the organizer and head of the campfire service .
The iron etching Landsknecht with Wife by Daniel Hopfer from the early 16th century. Many mercenaries were accompanied by their wives and children on the campaign
  • The profoss was subordinate to the train - or whore webel , who commanded the extensive and difficult to lead train of sutlers, small craftsmen, cooks, bakers, butchers, brewers, carters, haulers , baggage boys, prostitutes , as well as the children and women of the mercenaries . There were also carts, draft animals and cattle for slaughter. The entourage was essential to the regiment's self-sufficiency. Sometimes the entourage of a mercenary army even carried its own flag, which the racing ensign waved, accompanied by a drummer. Members of the entourage could be called in for auxiliary work such as fastening the camp, digging trenches, filling bulwarks and weaving bundles of brushwood. In combat, the entourage was not allowed to hinder its own movements - for example during an attack - at the same time it had to be secured and protected against enemy attack and looting. The function of the whore's web was almost the only way of advancement in the military for simple mercenaries. Subordinate to him was the Rumormeister , usually an older mercenary who was no longer fit for arms and who intervened in the entourage in disputes, rioting, looting and attempts to desert. The Rumormeister always pulled a stick through the camp at night and struck the tenons of the barrels, so that the serving was to be ended and the night's rest ordered. This resulted in the military tattoo of the tattoo , which is still common in Germany today .
  • The convoy , in the wake of some some shady mob hovered, was under the direct authority of the police provost. On his behalf, Steckenknechte monitored the camp, seized the suspects in the event of criminal offenses and handed them over to their stockmaster , who took them into custody and locked them up. In addition, the male servants, together with the women in charge, took care of the latrine cleaning.
Captured mercenaries
  • In the entourage of Profoss - recognizable by the blood-red coat, the red feathers on the beret and the gallows rope on the belt - there was also the executioner , freeman or messenger. He erected the gallows in the camp as a place of execution, a place with important symbolic significance for law and the penal system, before which even the emperor used to take off his hat when riding past. The executioner carried out death sentences and corporal punishment with an executioner's sword or rope . The executioner also took care of the garbage disposal and the covering in the camp.

With the growth of the Landsknecht armies, additional offices were added:

  • In order to avoid uncontrolled robbery, burning and murder, destruction and looting should only take place on the express orders of the Colonel. If, according to the instructions of the colonel, buildings and localities were to be burned down or torn down, the colonel appointed the fire chief who proceeded with his fire servants against hostile localities.
  • If, after a victorious battle, the aim was to prevent the “wild booty” without discipline and instead to distribute the “common booty” fairly, the colonel appointed a booty master chosen from among its ranks .
  • The sergeant guarded, secured and fortified the camp.
  • Since one wagon was reckoned for every ten or so soldiers, a considerable fleet of vehicles came together for large campaigns , and a wagon master was appointed for the marching order and the shunting and maneuvering of the wagons to the wagon castle .
  • For large army organizations, the officials demanded as personal deputy a Locotenens (lat. "Locumtenens" = Place Amusing, Germanized also called Leutinger; today lieutenant ) or even its own "state" with satellites , servants and interpreters.

In the flag

The Fähnlein, the tactical battle group of the mercenaries, comprised around 300 pikemen and 100 double mercenaries, including 50 arquebusiers and 50 halberdiers, but the numerical weight shifted in the course of time in favor of the arquebusiers. The captain or captain was the leader of a penniless . As a role model, the captains usually fought in the front rows next to the double mercenaries with sword , battle ax or halberd . Often they were challenged to duels by opponents of the same rank .

  • The captain also had his own "state" with a deputy (locotenens), two servants, a personal boy , the cook , a traveling servant (= mounted messenger), horse boy and, if necessary, an interpreter .
  • The ensign had an important task , a "strong, tall warrior in the strongest manhood", who was entrusted with the huge flag, the symbol of bravery, courage and honor of the ensign.
  • The ensign was together with the "game", i. H. Trumm Adige bearing (drummer) and Pfeifer, collecting, marching or in combat, the center of the war pile and gave optical marching and moving characters, from which later the function of the drum major derived. He was supported by two "games": a piper with a six-hole, cylindrically drilled pipe and a drummer who also accompanied the parliamentarian for negotiations with the enemy. He carried the tall, wooden, calfskin-covered drum on his bandolier , and the drumsticks tucked in front of his chest when he wasn't beating the five-beat march with them. In the camp, drums and whistles gave the signal for waking, alarm and gathering, for the gates of the guards and for the tattoo, and they played Landsknechtslieder on the march, sometimes from all flags to regimental music, and thus ensured - even if the lock step was still unknown - for the marching order.
  • In the Fähnlein were also a field clerk as a medic and surgeon for the physical and
  • a field chaplain as clergyman responsible for the spiritual salvation of the mercenaries.
  • A particularly experienced mercenary was appointed sergeant by the colonel . His job was to drill the mercenaries in the use of weapons and to instruct them in formation combat. He also took care of the division of duties and the organization of the back office. He was supported by management assistants who were elected monthly by the mercenaries by voting by show of hands, the "hand more", and were noted by the scribe on the drum with chalk. These took over the fair distribution of quarters and provisions, the distribution of ammunition and the assignment of security services. They provided their offices with a short weir , so, relieved of the long spear, they could do their service more flexibly.
  • These included two common Webel ,
  • the "Führer" (later also called guide ) for exploring and clearing up paths,
  • the Fourier for district exploration and
  • the Ambesanten, Amissaten (from French ambassade) or Ambrosaten as confidants.
  • About ten men or six double mercenaries at a time chose a Rottmeister , an experienced double mercenary comparable to the later non-commissioned officers , to lead their gang.


The salary of the mercenaries was uniformly regulated. Payment was made at the time of registration and then monthly. The soldier month was 28 days, i.e. four weeks, with a new soldier month also beginning after each battle. The reference currency was the Rhenish Gulden of 15 Batzen, 60 Kreuzer, 240 Pfennig or 480 Hellern each. Sometimes additional slaughter and storm wages, skirt, clothing or armor gulden as well as waiting money were paid in the event of delays in withdrawal. In addition, there was the prospect of booty after a victorious battle, which is why servants without pay commitments also took part in the campaign in so-called free flags. The salary of the Landsknechtsheere was based on the factor four at the beginning of the 16th century, since simple Landsknechte received four guilders (in northern Germany thalers) in silver and thus received significantly more wages than a foreman or full servant. Based on the cost of living of one to two guilders, the wages were initially quite high, but then remained the same despite increasing inflation during the 16th century. Regular and appropriate pay was not always the rule, which led to mutinies and disorderly looting.

The pay was:

Office Pay
Colonel -400 guilders
Colonel Locotenens -200 guilders
Captain, mayor, profoss, field doctor /
foreman, guard, guard, quartermaster, provisions, pfennig, and kit master
0–40 guilders
Clerk 0–24 guilders
Leutinger / Locotenens, ensign 0–20 guilders
Whore woman, chaplain, field woman 0–12 guilders
Gunsmith 8-16 guilders
Double mercenary, common woman, drummer, piper, guide, fourier, interpreter, cook 00–8 guilders
More quickly 00–6 guilders
Arquebusier, hook shooter 00+1 guilder allowance
Landsknecht, Trabant, carter, lad 00–4 guilders


Court hearing in the ring, iron etching From the Frundsberg war book by Jost Amman 1566

As a special privilege, the mercenaries had the right to their own union-like representation of interests, which independently regulated internal affairs of the community. The conference venue was the "ring", to which the general assembly of the servants sent their chosen confidants such as commonwebs, leaders or ambrosats as "ring-ready". In the ring, decisions were made in the name of the community , disputes were settled, criminal proceedings were carried out and judgments were made: what concerned everyone had to be decided by everyone. Meetings held outside the ring were considered unfair and were therefore viewed with suspicion and even classified and punished as mutiny. Outwardly, the Ambrosaten possessed respectable power as complainants or petitioners and confidently represented the demands of the Landsknechtsgemeinschaft against officers and colonels.

Personal disputes were carried out according to strict rules in a duel with the mercenary sword. For serious offenses, were led by the mayor twelve jurors from the Community to the Halsgerichtsordnung to Malefizgericht together and met in "Ring", the Public Assembly of the war heap. During the “Vergatterung” (meeting) in the “Ring”, strict discipline prevailed, and neither cursing nor speaking without asking. The representatives of the parties to the dispute - mostly leaders and common guards as advocates for the accused and Profoss as military policemen and prosecutors - presented their concerns. The defendant could request adjournment up to three times in order to obtain witnesses or evidence, but the jury had to judge by the fourth session at the latest. Corporal punishment or other measures considered degrading were prohibited, serious offenses were punished with death, with the executioner beheading the delinquent with the sword.

Saw the mercenaries of Fähnlein whose honor by particularly dishonorable or shameful misdeeds spotted, the mercenary community demanded the from old Femerecht a derivative 'right to the common man, "the colonel to restore the honor of the Fähnlein through its own jurisdiction. The field woman was in charge of the legal proceedings. The accused - the "poor man" - and the accuser - the Profoss - each received an advocate, and 38 servants were appointed as lay judges. If it came to a guilty verdict, the little ensign took to the next "sober" morning for the "right of long skewers", running the gauntlet . The mercenaries came up to the alley in three ranks, at the end of which the ensign rolled up the flag and rammed it into the ground, only to let it flutter again only after the atonement had been carried out. The condemned man now had to confess to his comrades that he forgave their judgment. Then he walked through the alley three times, accompanied by Profoss, to say goodbye to all comrades in arms and to ask their forgiveness for his outrage. In the end, Profoss hit the condemned man three times on the shoulder in the name of the Trinity , then he walked through the alley with a drum roll to be judged there by the felled sticks of his own comrades.

Combat use



The main weapon of the Landsknechte was the long spear , referred to as the pike from 1560; a polearm up to six meters long with a tip of almost 30 cm. Some philistines , cronies , cronies or rascals attached a foxtail to their pike as a good luck charm. The halberd , which is about two meters in length , was carried by the subordinates and double mercenaries. The sergeant (in later military jargon established as "spit") and the common sergeants aligned the ranks with her and thus ensured the unity of the formation. Glefen and partisans were also used as variants of the halberd , initially also the throwing spear called Schefflin and the morning star .


The Landsknecht sword was the Katzbalger with a short handle, S-shaped crossguard and blunt blade, and sometimes the long knife-like short or peasant guard as a stabbing weapon . The hand and a half sword, an epee-shaped sword with a narrow blade, was also occasionally used. Some double mercenaries fought with huge two-handed swords or bi (den) hands , called Flamberge with flamed blades , which could be longer than 1.60 meters. They had a very long and broad blade, a very long handle with long quillons curved at the ends and mostly knuckle bars with which trained fencers could perform skillful maneuvers. They had to prove with the certificate of a fencing master that they had mastered this sword. Mostly these unwieldy and difficult to wield weapons in combat, however, served representative purposes.


Before their Swiss rivals, the German mercenaries completely replaced the crossbow with handguns . Although this tried and tested crossbow was quickly cocked, silently fired the bolt, produced no gun smoke, could also be used in bad weather and had a devastating effect even against armored riders, Emperor Maximilians took it out of use by ordinance in 1507 and left some of the double mercenaries arm with hook boxes or arquebuses , which were manufactured in the workshops of Nuremberg , Augsburg , Suhl and Tyrol . Such matchlock rifles could penetrate armor or breastplate to a range of about 400 paces. However, loading was cumbersome and handling the unwieldy and 20 kg heavy weapons laborious and time-consuming, and the heavy recoil, the dangerous handling of the explosive ignition powder and the difficult handling, which was only possible when placed on a support fork, required skill and strength and exercise. The fork was light enough for the marksman to carry next to the rifle, and it turned in all directions as it was struck. During the loading process, the archer held it by a leather bow that was tied over his left arm. Aiming and hitting was - except at the shortest distance - more of a coincidence: Since the ball had to have play in order to load the arquebus effortlessly, the bullet wobbled in the barrel when fired and left the barrel with little accuracy.

The hooker wore a bandolier hung over his left shoulder and across his chest , from which the flask of ignition and eleven individual wooden bottles with propellants hung. In addition, there was the leather case filled with the 80 g, 30 mm thick lead balls. In the further course of the 16th century, lighter muskets replaced the unwieldy, heavy hook boxes, and the first wheel lock pistols were also used in close combat.


Only some of the mercenaries, mostly officers and double mercenaries, were protected by armor . Some pikemen and halberdiers wore chain mail , brigantine , cuirass or korazin or breastplate , sometimes with greaves to protect the thighs. In most cases, the expensive back plate was saved. The price of a pikeman armor was usually twelve guilders, that is, the pay for three months. The bishop's collar, a chain mesh that covered the neck and shoulder area, was also popular. Some Landsknechte wore a steel hood, a pear helmet or an iron hat until the balaclava and later the Morion became established as "headgear in the Burgundy style" at the beginning of the 16th century .

The captains usually protected themselves with almost complete armor, as they had to fight in the front rows of the formation. However, in contrast to the simple mercenaries, they could also afford such body protection. When choosing their armor, the colonels attached great importance to representation. In addition to high-quality field armor, some bought a horse armor for their horse.


The "Arckeley" or artillery of the Landsknecht Army had a special legal and organizational position. Gunsmiths or piece masters were permanently employed as war engineers and artillery officers. Fireworkers , bell- makers, blacksmiths , powder makers, carpenters and other craftsmen worked under their leadership . It was commanded by the Supreme Feldzeugmeister , who had a right to all intact artillery and other weapons of the defeated opponents when a conquered city was sacked. However, a third of this booty had to be given to the colonel. The crockery master was responsible for transporting the guns , while the kit manager watched over the ammunition and his own baggage of artillery. The artillerymen had their own legal system and could not be prosecuted by Profoss. If a mercenary, accused of a crime, managed to touch a gun while fleeing from the profoss , he could not be arrested within the next 72 hours as long as he was no more than 24 paces away from the gun. The rule was that by touching the gun, the persecuted person indicated that he was a mercenary of the artillery, which was only obliged to its captain within the army. Since guns generally did not remain unattended for long periods of time, the persecuted could expect an artillery member to become aware of his case within 72 hours, to establish the identity of the alleged artilleryman and then to bring him to justice. If the profoss violated this law, the commander of the artillery was entitled to withdraw all guns.

The entrenchment master, usually an experienced master craftsman, was responsible for laying field fortifications and was also subordinate to the captain of the artillery. Under his direction, the bulwarks, shovel builders or baggage men built fortifications, emergency bulwarks, bastions, bulwarks, and palisade fences.

The salary of the gunners - called piece servants - and their rott masters was higher than that of the other mercenaries, but they were not allowed to participate in looting. The artillerymen were always given preferential treatment when it came to food. The loading gunners , known as Schneller , received six guilders a month, 50% more pay than the mercenaries. They suspected "black art", sorcery and the work of the devil in the puzzling war technique of the Arckeley.

The "Tolle Grete", a giant gun from the 15th century.
Field gun from the 16th century.

The guns often had sonorous names such as “ Lazy Maid ”, “Chriemhilde”, “Spinner”, “ Tolle Grete ” or the “ Big Pumhardt ”, which is exhibited today in the Army History Museum in Vienna. There was a wide variety of types and terms, so Maximilian I tried to define uniform names and categories for the guns of the Landsknecht armies.

"Rifles" or "pieces" were used for direct shooting in flat fire (barrel elevation up to 45 °).

  • There was the Scharfmetze , a 70-pound siege gun, the barrel of which was pulled by 16 and the carriage by a further six horses.
  • and the fourth, a 40-pounder, drawn by twelve or six horses.
  • The field guns followed, like the 20-pound emergency snake,
  • the 11-pound field snake or serpent,
  • the 8 pound half-snake,
  • the 6 pound falconet.
  • In addition, there were major box , Notbüchse or nightingale, Basilisk , kartouwe (actually Quartane: Quarter bushings), Singerin, Falkaune , Ronterde, Pommer, Sau , trolley, Bock, Emergency, centering and latch sleeve and the ribauldequin or organ gun.
  • In addition, there was the Bombarde , which was jacked up on stable wooden beams, to destroy fortifications in direct shot, often behind a fold-up umbrella made of stable wooden beams.
  • and the Tarasnitzen (Terrabüchsen) and Haufnitzen taken over from the Hussite Wars to defend the wagon castle .
  • Fire pots or mortars , firecrackers, scooters and throwing kettles were used as high-angle fire guns (tube elevation over 45 °) against fortresses or during sieges , with hollow spheres already filled with powder sometimes being fired as explosive projectiles.


heavy rider, based on a study by Albrecht Dürer from 1495. A foxtail is pinned to the tip of the lance as a talisman.

The cavalry also had a special legal and organizational position in the farmhand army. Their men-in-arms , later also known as German horsemen , were also soldiers, but mostly came from the nobility or the patrician population of the cities. They were armored and privileged over the common mercenaries, which often led to disputes and fights.


The formation of the Landsknecht regiments was initially based strongly on the almost square Harste or hordes of violence of the Swiss, which could number several thousand men. Neither military drill nor fixed marching orders were known, which is why Georg von Frundsberg trained his mercenaries based on his own experience. In addition, the division into the vanguard, main force and rearguard, the setting of the spears for thrusting, the provision of the shooters for the attack by fire or the identification of weak points in the enemy's line-up.

At the beginning of the battle, the arquebusiers stepped forward and shot gaps in the opposing formations. During pauses in loading and at the beginning of close combat, the arquebusiers stepped back into the square and were protected by the pikemen. Now the " lost heap " - about 1/5 to 1/10 of the total strength of the regiment fought under its red blood flag - advanced on the enemy in order to shake the opponent's battle formation in the first clash. Such death squads, made up of volunteers, convicted criminals and drawn soldiers, often only equipped with katzbalgers and two-handed knives, served as an advance division during the attack, but also as rearguard during the retreat. The lost heap was followed by the “ Helle Haufen ” as the main force . In the front row, the captain fought with his experienced and well-armored double mercenaries, including an elite of two-handed swordsmen, and more rarely Rondartschieren or Tartschenieren with a short spear and a round shield, who cut breaches in the enemy lines as "street tugs". On the left and right wing, the sergeant and the two common sergeants held the line-up of the roughly 18-man deep and wide fourth order together. In the center of the Gevierthaufens the ensign waved the flag, stretched high, as a standard visible from afar, around which the multicolored mercenary group kept gathering in the turmoil of battle. The ensign was ordered

"To leave life and limb with the same [note: the flag], so if you are shot in the hand in which you carry the flag that you take it in the other hand, or will you be damaged on the same hand that You take the flag in your mouth and let it fly. But if you are overtaken by the enemy, you should wrap yourself in it and let life and body inside. "

Field pfeifers and drummers strode near the flag, passing on command signals that drowned out the noise of the battle. When the opposing hordes of violence collided, there was a tremendous crowd, hitting and stabbing. Man to man tightly pressed together, almost without being able to use the weapon, the foremost limbs wedged together. If they were well armed, some of the skewers broke on the first impact, were pushed into the air or, despite the scratched notches, slipped backwards through the hands of the servants. If the first limb fell to the ground, the second and third limbs pushed forward, and the rear limbs pressed and pushed. Any retreat had to be prevented, fleeing comrades were killed. If it was finally possible to push the opponent back in a violent collision by pushing and pushing and to break his order in his backward movement, then there was no holding back, the opponent was knocked down and run over.

Landsknechte in battle (detail from Albrecht Altdorfer's painting "Alexanderschlacht")

If the encircling of the Gevierthaufens threatened by opposing troops, the mercenaries formed the circular " hedgehog ", also called "little wheel". The arquebusiers withdrew behind the pikemen, who waited for the attack with propped up weapons.

The wagon castle, based on the Hussite model, also served as a fixed base, defensive position and place of refuge .

The most important support weapon of the violence was the artillery. If it was fired in good time and in a well-positioned position, its massive iron balls struck deep breaches in the densely packed enemy battle groups. However, the cumbersome loading process did not allow rapid fire. Aiming equipment and ballistic knowledge were inadequate, and the cumbersome artillery's accuracy against moving targets was poor. If the opposing heap of violence found cover or the fire escaped during the attack, the valuable artillery threatened to fall into the hands of the enemy, especially since the artillery was immobile, cumbersome and vulnerable in mobile combat. It took up to ten horses to transport a gun. When Emperor Maximilian moved into the field in 1507, only half of his artillery is said to have been drawn, so that the teams had to turn around after setting up the first half and bring the second half of the artillery forward. The combat value of the artillery was therefore significantly higher , especially in longer positional battles and during sieges .

The Landsknechtsführer perfected the combat tactics, especially after the example of the Spanish general Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba y Aguilar . In 1495 he had received 2,000 soldiers from Maximilian I in order to reform the Spanish infantry with their help. Indeed, within a few years, the Spanish infantry gained an outstanding reputation. The reforms of Cordoba included the development of the so-called Tercio formation, also known as the “Spanish Square”. The heap was reduced in size so that it could be maneuvered better. To protect the flanks and to increase the firepower, arquebusiers were posted at the corners of the square. The resulting Tercios spread out on the battlefield like a chessboard to give each other fire protection. Until the Thirty Years' War , the foot soldiers of most European armies fought in this square-symmetrical battle arrangement.

Living conditions

Social origin and position

The mercenaries were often simple peasant sons, craftsmen and journeymen and petty criminals who hoped for prosperity from the relatively high wages and possible plundering, but also to young aristocratic sons who were excluded from inheritance. If originally only innocent and honest men were to be recruited, all rabble was later hired. The population distrusted them and feared them. In 16th century German crucifixion paintings it was customary to depict the Roman soldiers as a symbol of immorality and blasphemy after the image of the mercenaries. Sebastian Franck described them in his Chronica des gantzen Teutschen lands, aller Teütschen [...]. corresponding:

“Throughout the bank it is always an evil useless people, not a few then Munich and Pfaffen. If it is in war, there is hardly anyone under a thousand who is content with his wages, sunder stabbing, hawen, gotslestern, listening, playing, murdering, burning, robbing, making widows and wise men, is ir common craft and ultimate entertainment. "

The mercenaries sometimes lived in abundance, then again in poverty and misery. If their warlords lacked the necessary money, the mercenaries forcibly took what they needed. After their dismissal, released from their military duties and left to their fate, they were hardly considered to be vagabonds and rioted, hungry and dissatisfied, wandering around, "gartend" (fermented: gathering, gating), i.e. H. begging or plundering through the country, which mainly caused the rural population to suffer. These garden brothers, appearing in bands, became a plague and devastated entire regions. Sebastian Franck wrote accordingly:

"If you bumble home after the kreg with the bluotgeld and sweat of the poor, then you make other people with inen workless, idle in the place of cross-white umb with everyone annoyance, and nobody is not useful than the wort and pretend to be they commanded them to hurry against perdition. The others, to whom the booty was not advised, run around outside in the garden, which zuo Teutsch means begging, who is a pious heathen, let alone a Christian, who is ashamed in his heart. "

Philipp Herzog von Kleve warned:

"From common servants [...] I don't know anything better, when that ain Everyone masters himself in front of Inen, alls vil Jm possible, beware, but when he must have inevitably need to urge, then betzal he wants sy, use sy after hand, and taut the crimes evil. "

In addition to the socially marginalized position of the mercenaries, their extremely low life expectancy occurred. Even a slight injury in combat could result in a wound infection that led to the death of the person concerned. There was no medical care worth mentioning or even hospitals . In addition, there were epidemics that killed numerous people, especially during long sieges. Also venereal diseases were extremely common. There was a contemporary saying, not without good reason, that one rarely sees old mercenaries. War invalids had only one life as a beggar.

Hans Sachs wrote:

“I've never seen wild people. / Their clothes of the wildest customs, / Flamed, hacked and cut. / On one hand they would bare their thighs, / The others would have wide pants, / Those who hung down to their feet, / How the deaf people who were hosted walked. / Your face scratched and gagged, / In the wildest manner; / All in all: desolate form, / How one painted the devil years ago. "

Landsknecht fashion

Landsknecht 1530

Landsknechte expressed their audacity with an extravagant, provocative appearance. Their extremely colorful clothing consisted of puffed and slit shirts and trousers, to which they put on a hood or, diagonally over it, a wide-brimmed beret , brightly decorated with feathers and wool bushes . On their feet they wore the cow's mouth shoes named after their shape . Since there were no uniforms, the servants used to distinguish themselves in combat by a ribbon of a certain color that was worn across the chest. In order to distinguish themselves from civilians, the sticks were considered to be the identification mark of the armed band. The imperial troops of Austria carried a pine branch as sticks until after the Thirty Years War. The pine branch was still a symbol of the Austrian military during the First World War, and the Hungarian border troops carried it until the end of the Second World War.

The leather doublet tied in front of the chest and brightly colored stockings were also typical. The origin of the slit fashion is unclear. It is believed that the tight clothing of the late 15th century was extremely obstructive in combat. The mercenaries therefore slit them open, tied scraps of cloth around their sleeves and let the thick undersides fluff out. Two-tone split clothing, called “ Mi-Parti ”, was also popular . The striking puffed and slit clothing of the mercenaries, which was supposed to achieve an impressive effect , contradicted the strict class-oriented dress code and was considered presumptuous by the bourgeoisie and the nobility. On the initiative of Maximilian I, however , the Reichstag in Augsburg , which met in 1503, granted them the right to dress as they see fit. The clothing was based on Venetian, French and Spanish influences, but was absolutely inconsistent. Only the officers were usually recognizable by a colorful sash. Occasionally the “philistines” or “cronies” cut off their trousers just above the left knee in order to be able to handle the pike better and to show their pride in their position. The trousers of most of the mercenaries suggested a particularly large genitals, which clergy in particular noted with horror. The fashion of codpieces goes back to the mercenaries that their codpiece auspolsterten first. The clothing of the Landsknechte also influenced the civilian fashion of the Europe of that time and was even reproduced with puffed and slotted parade armor.

Well-known Landsknechte and Landsknechtsführer


  • Thomas Arnold: The Renaissance at War. London 2002, ISBN 0-304-36353-7 .
  • Ernst Götzinger: Real Lexicon of German antiquities. Leipzig 1885, from which the quotations from Sebastian Franck: Chronica des gantzen Teutschen lands, all Teütschen peoples herkom (m) s, names, dealings, good deeds from (n) (unn) bad deeds [...]. Apiario, Bern 1539.
  • Reinhard Baumann: Landsknechte. Their history and culture from the late Middle Ages to the Thirty Years War. CH Beck, Munich 1994.
  • Friedrich Blau: The German Landsknechte - A cultural image. CA Starke Verlag, Görlitz 1882. ( Textarchiv - Internet Archive ). Reprint, Vienna 1985, ISBN 3-88851-032-5 .
  • Peter Burschel: Mercenaries in northwest Germany in the 16th and 17th centuries . Social history studies, Göttingen 1994.
  • Hans Delbrück : History of the art of war: The Middle Ages. The Modern Age. ISBN 3-937872-42-6 .
  • Siegfried Fiedler: tactics and strategy of the Landsknechte. Augsburg 2002.
  • Albert Hochheimer: betrayed and sold. The history of the European mercenaries. Henry Goverts Verlag, Stuttgart 1967.
  • Stefan Kroll , Kersten Krüger (Hrsg.): Military and rural society in the early modern times. Hamburg 2000.
  • Douglas Miller, John Richards: Landsknechte 1486-1560. St. Augustin 2004, ISBN 3-87748-636-3 .
  • Reinhold Müller, Manfred Lachmann: minstrel, trumpeter, hoboist. Berlin (East) 1988, ISBN 3-327-00852-3 .
  • Georg Ortenburg: Weapons and the use of weapons in the age of the mercenaries. Koblenz 1984.
  • Heinrich Pleticha : Landsknecht Bundschuh mercenaries - The great time of the Landsknechte, the turmoil of the peasant uprisings and the Thirty Years War. Würzburg 1974, ISBN 3-401-03714-5 .
  • Gerhard Quaas : The craft of the mercenaries. Weapons and armaments between 1500 and 1600 (= military history and defense sciences , volume 3). Commissioned by the Defense Technical Study Collection of the Federal Office for Defense Technology and Procurement, Biblio-Verlag, Osnabrück 1997, ISBN 3-7648-2508-1 .
  • Matthias Rogg : Landsknechte and Reisläufer: Images of soldiers. A stand in the art of the 16th century (= war in history . Volume 5). Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2002, ISBN 3-506-74474-7 .
  • Volker Schmidtchen: Warfare in the late Middle Ages. Technology, tactics, theory. Weinheim 1990, ISBN 3-527-17580-6 .
  • Birgit von Seggern: The Landsknecht in the mirror of Renaissance graphics. Bonn 2003.
  • Ralf Vollmuth : The medical service in the mercenary armies of the late Middle Ages and early modern times. Problems and possible solutions ( Würzburg medical historical research . Volume 51). Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1991, ISBN 3-88479-800-6 .
  • Karl Ueberhorst: The "pious" Landsknechte . In: The Gazebo . 1881 ( full text [ Wikisource ]).

Web links

Commons : Landsknecht  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Landsknecht  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ( Memento from November 13, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) (January 3, 2010)
  2. ^ Friedrich Kluge , Alfred Götze : Etymological dictionary of the German language . 20th ed., Ed. by Walther Mitzka , De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1967; Reprint (“21st unchanged edition”) ibid 1975, ISBN 3-11-005709-3 , p. 422.
  3. ^ Friedrich Kluge, Alfred Götze: Etymological dictionary of the German language. 1975, p. 422.
  4. ( Memento from November 11, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  5. Ralf Vollmuth: Notes on ship hygiene, nutrition, health care and health care in the military seafaring of the empire at the time of the mercenary system. In: Würzburger medical history reports , Volume 11, 1993, pp. 289-310, here: p. 290.
  7. ( Memento from November 9, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  10. ( Memento from November 10, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  11. ( memento from April 20, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) accessed on November 9, 2013.
  12. ( Memento from November 13, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  13. Apiario, Bern 1539