Could it have been because of the introduction of the bayonet, particularly in "socket" form?

This question goes (well) beyond a related question. Until the introduction of a bayonet, musketeers (unless guarded by e.g. pikemen) were very vulnerable to attacks by men carrying blade weapons such as swords or spears. And they had little or no clear advantage over archers.

But the bayonet gave the musketeer a dual-purpose firearm AND blade weapon which might have tipped the balance. Was this in fact the case?


  1. Did the bayonet make it possible for musketeers to successfully "charge" equal-sized formations of archers without blade weapons that had been weakened by musket fire?

  2. Could a group of men armed only with bayonets sufficiently defend themselves against equal numbers of men armed with blade weapons or was it the firepower afforded by muskets that made the difference?

  • 2
    Sounds like a question for D'Artagnan. Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 4:30
  • I would guess the bayonet was only a quick fallback "I need to defend myself now", and that they also carried a proper melee weapon. But that's just a guess.
    – o0'.
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 7:20
  • 3
    Teaching a troop (I've done this) how to correctly use and employee a bayonet against enemy forces is fairly to extremely easy, when compared to attempting to make those same troops into competent swordsmen. The skills required are actually quite dissimilar.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 14:47
  • @Lohoris: I kind of doubt that's the case. A musket with a bayonet attached to it has roughly the same length and weight as a spear. But thanks for getting me to think about this.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 23:32
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    The Bayonet was primarily a anti cavalry weapon, with bayonets a formed well drilled steady infantry had a good chance of holding off cavalry. (reloading times , versus speed cavalry covering distance and effective range were problems otherwise) With foot troops the effectness of firepower of muskets over short distances and the relatively slowness of infantry closing to hand to hand meant muskets alone were enough. Bayonets were a response to cavalry and did away with the pikes.
    – pugsville
    Commented Sep 29, 2014 at 3:12

2 Answers 2


A very thought provoking Question; from checking on various sources on the internet the bayonet was used about 10 to 20 years before 1700. The earliest being plug bayonets, which had serious drawbacks, primary of which was that they were difficult to extract from the gun after use. The ring bayonet came in to use about 1700, but of a simple type that was not that well attached to the gun.

The Musket with a bayonet was not really as effective the Pike, but the firepower of the musket was better than the pike...

The more likely reason for the adoption of the musket was the flintlock mechanism which came into reliable use with guns like the Brown Bess. The British adoption of the Brown Bess dates from this time. Flintlocks were far more reliable that the preceding wheel-lock and Match-lock. They could even be used in rain, as long as you kept your powder dry.

Volley fire (alternate rows firing) predates 1700, so that a more or less continuous hail of bullets was possible, and so that would likely only have been part of the reason to adopt musket-men without pike-men to protect them.

  • As far as I can recall flintlock is less reliable than wheelock, but is decently reliable while cheap and much easier to repair/maintain than wheelock. Wheelock as a complex mechanism is more reliable, so really good as a personal defence weapon for a rich person, but very expensive, less durable, etc. which makes it bad choice for military weapon. Commented Nov 28, 2021 at 20:33

I'm drawing my answer from comments on this and the linked question, and from my recollection of other events. I don't know whether the introduction of the bayonet was decisive on the predominance of the musket, but I know that it was a "game changer."

First, users of missile weapons without bayonets were vulnerable to charges on open ground by soldiers with blade weapons. This was particularly true if these soldiers also had "fire capabilities." And true even if the soldiers without bayonets were better shots, as the Americans found out during the American Revolution. (Their early victories were from "concealed" positions as at Concord and Saratoga.)

Soldiers with a combination of muskets and bayonets (which together had roughly the length and weight of spears), may have been at a (slight) disadvantage against spearmen if they had no firepower, but the musket tipped the balance. Essentially it was a contest of "spears" that could also shoot, versus spears that couldn't.

One important factor was that both muskets and bayonets were easier to train the "average Joe" to use, as CGCampbell pointed out in a comment. So unless we are dealing with the Roman or Japanese samurai armies, that rules out swords as a viable alternative. It's possible that picked sword- spear- or bow- men might have been a match or better for an equivalent number of musketeers with bayonets, but that is not true of "average" wielders of such weapons.

In fact, it was the musket plus bayonet that made it possible to create large "national" armies numbering in the hundreds, rather than tens of thousands. And an army of 100,000 musketeers with bayonets was clearly worth more than 30,000-50,000 soldiers armed with the other weapons.

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    Just to be nitpicky (essentially agree with the answer): sword wasn't the main field weapon even for the samurai. This is a misconception coming maybe from popular depictions and because samurais hardly participated in real battles in the last 3-400 years, therefore the shorter version of their field sword become the iconic piece that they could use in street fights and drunken barfights.
    – Greg
    Commented Mar 3, 2019 at 6:42

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