A tercio (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈteɾθjo] "third") or tercio español ("Spanish third") was a powerful Spanish infantry division during the time of Habsburg Spain known for its victories on European battlefields in the early modern period.

The tercio was an administrative unit with command of up to 3,000 soldiers, subdivided originally into 10, later 12 compañías, made up of pikemen, swordsmen and arquebusiers or musketeers. These companies were deployed in battle and were further subdivided into units of 30 soldiers. These smaller units could be deployed individually or brought together to form what were sometimes called Spanish squares. These powerful infantry squares were also much used by other European powers, especially the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire.

The care that was taken to maintain a high number of "old soldiers" (veterans) in the units, and their professional training, together with the particular personality imprinted on them by the proud hidalgos of the lower nobility that nurtured them, made the tercios for a century and a half the best infantry in Europe. Moreover, the tercios were the first to efficiently mix pikes and firearms. Tercio companies dominated European battlefields in the sixteenth century and the first half of the 17th century and are seen by historians as a major development of early modern combined arms warfare.

Velázquez - de Breda o Las Lanzas (Museo del Prado, 1634-35)
Surrender of Breda by Velázquez, shows Ambrosio Spinola, commander of the Spanish tercio receiving the keys to the city from the defeated Dutch general in 1625.


Deployment of disembarked Tercios, 1583.

The use of massed pikes by Spanish armies began in the Granada War (1482–92). During the Italian Wars, under the direction of the Spanish general Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, called "the great captain", the system of combined groups of pikemen, arquebusiers and swordsmen developed. The conflicts at the end of the 15th century and early 16th century evolved into a tactically unique combination of combined arms centered around armored infantry.[1] To counter the French heavy cavalry, a colonelcy could theoretically have up to 6,000 men, but by 1534 this had been reduced to the tercio with a maximum of 3,000.[2]

Armies using tercio companies of up to 300 generally intended to field them in brigades of at least three, with one in the front and two behind. The rearward formations echeloned off on either side so that a unit called a coronelía ("colonelcy"), commanded by a colonel, was created. The Spanish tercios rarely had more than 1500 men. They were called tercios, meaning "thirds", because they were, in theory, made up originally of 1/3 pikemen, 1/3 swordsmen, and 1/3 of firearms. In time, the number of swordsmen was reduced. The only tercio to have 3,000 men was the Tercio de Galeras or the Galleys' Tercio, dedicated only for deployment in galleys and galleons and specialized in naval warfare and amphibious operations. It was assigned in 1537 by royal assent to the Spanish fleets in the Mediterranean and is the ancestor of today's Spanish Navy Marines.

Composition and characteristics

A tercio in "bastioned square," in battle

Although other powers adopted the tercio formation, their armies fell short of the fearsome reputation of the Spanish, who possessed a core of professional soldiers, which gave them an edge that was hard for other states to match.[3] That army was further supplemented by "an army of different nations", a reference to the fact that many of the troops were mercenaries from Germany (Landsknecht), and the Italian and Walloon territories of the Spanish Netherlands, as was characteristic of European warfare before the levies of the Napoleonic Wars. In the 16th and 17th centuries, however, the core of Spanish armies were formed by Spanish subjects, who were frequently praised by others for their cohesiveness, superiority in discipline and overall professionalism.[4]


Tercio 1
Schematic battle formation of a Tercio around 1600.

Within the tercio, ranks of pikemen arrayed themselves together into a hollow pike square (cuadro) with swordsmen – typically equipped with a short sword, a buckler, and javelins – inside; as the firearm rose in prominence, the swordsmen declined and were phased out. The arquebusiers (later, musketeers) were usually split up in several mobile groups called sleeves (mangas) and deployed relative to the cuadro, typically with one manga at each corner. By virtue of this combined-arms approach, the formation simultaneously enjoyed the staying power of its pike-armed infantry, the ranged firepower of its arquebusiers, as well as the ability to conduct assaults with sword-and-buckler men. In addition to its inherent ability to repulse cavalry and other units along its front, the long-range firepower of its arquebusiers could also be easily reorganized to the flanks, making it versatile in both offensive and defensive evolutions, as demonstrated by the success of the tercios at the Battle of Pavia 1525.

Tercio companies advancing during the battle of Nieuwpoort 1600.

Groups of tercios were typically arrayed in dragon-toothed formation (staggered, with the leading edge of one unit level with the trailing edge of the preceding unit; see the similar hedgehog defence concept). This enabled enfilade lines of fire and somewhat defiladed the army units themselves. Odd units alternated with even units, respectively one forward and one back, providing gaps for an unwary enemy to enter and outflank itself, where it would become subjected to the combined direct and raking crossfire from the guns of three separate tercios. From their inception, tercio formations were meant to co-ordinate their field operations with cavalry.

Leadership of the Tercio

1650 - tercio
Officers of a tercio: an alabardero, alférez and arcabucero

Mirroring military organization today, the Tercio was led by a Maestre de Campo appointed by the King as the commanding officer and guarded by eight halberdiers. Assisting him was the sergeant major and a Furir Major in charge of logistics and armaments, with companies led by a Captain, also of royal appointment, with an Ensign in charge of the company color.

Companies had Sergeants, Furirs and Corporals in them. The Sergeants served as seconds-in-command of the company and brought the captain's orders to his soldiers; the Furirs were at orders to provide the necessary weapons and munitions, as well as additional men to the companies; and the Corporals, who led groups of 25 (similar to today's platoons), were always in obedience to the Captain's orders and brought to him any possible cases of disorder in the unit.

Each company had corps of drums made up of drummers and fifers, sounding duty calls in battle, with the drum major and fife major being provided by the Tercio headquarters.

The Tercio staff included a medical component (made up of a professional medic, a barber, and surgeons), chaplains and preachers, and a judicial unit, plus military constables enforcing order. They all reported to the Maestre de campo directly.


Tercios that initially served in Italy and the Spanish Netherlands were organized into:

  • 10 companies of 300 led by Captains, in which
    • 8 were Pikemen's Companies and
    • 2 were of arquebusiers

The companies were later reduced to 250-strong units.

During the actions in the Netherlands the Tercios were reorganized into three Colonelcies (Colonelías), led by Colonels (the predecessor of today's battalions), but subdivided into the same 12 companies of 250, two of arquebusiers and 10 of pikemen. Colonels were also of royal appointment. The Colonelcies were composed of a HQ unit and 4 companies each.


Organización de un tercio
Organization of a Tercio.
Tercio piquiers
Schematic depiction of the pikemen's combat drill.


Tercios and the Spanish Empire

Tercios were deployed all over Europe under the Habsburg rulers. They were made up of volunteers and built up around a core of professional soldiers and were highly trained. Sometimes later tercios did not stick to the all-volunteer model of the regular Imperial Spanish army – when the Habsburg king Philip II found himself in need of more troops, he raised a tercio of Catalan criminals to fight in Flanders,[5] a trend he continued with most Catalan criminals for the rest of his reign.[6] A large proportion of the Spanish army (which by the later half of the 16th century was entirely composed of tercio units: Tercio of Savoy, Tercio of Sicily) was deployed in the Netherlands to quell the increasingly difficult rebellion against the Habsburgs. Ironically, many units of Spanish tercios became part of the problem rather than the solution when the time came to pay them: with the Spanish coffers depleted by constant warfare, units often mutinied. For example, in April 1576, just after winning a major victory, unpaid tercios mutinied and occupied the town of Antwerp, threatening to sack it if their demands were not met.[7] Completely reliant on his troops, the Spanish commander could only comply.[8]

Specialized Tercios

On 24 February 1537 the Tercio de Galeras (Tercio of Galleys) was created, considered the first Marine unit in history. Today, the Real Infantería de Marina (Spanish Navy Marines) consider themselves heirs of this unit. There were other units of Navy Tercios with names such as Tercio Viejo de Armada (Old Navy Tercio) or Tercio Fijo de la Mar de Nápoles (Permanent Tercio of the Sea of Naples). Such specialized units were needed for the protracted war with the Ottoman Empire over the entire Mediterranean Sea.

Naming conventions

Most Tercios were given names according to the place where they were cantoned or first deployed: thus they were Tercio de Sicilia, de Lombardía, de Nápoles (Tercio of Sicily, of Lombardy, of Naples) and so on. Some other Tercios were named for their commanding officer, like the Tercio de Moncada for its commander Miguel de Moncada (whose most famous soldier was Miguel de Cervantes). Some Tercios were named by their main function, such as Galeras or Viejo de Armada. Some others were named for their recruitment area.


Cross of Burgundy (Template)

The Cross of Burgundy was adopted as the symbol of the Tercios and the Spanish Empire.

Tercio - Liga

Tercio de la Liga (1571)

Tercio - Spínola

Unknown Tercio flag (appears near commander Ambrogio Spinola in the painting "The Surrender of Breda" of Diego Velázquez) (1621)

Tercio - Alburquerque

Tercio de Alburquerque (1643)

Tercio - Morados Viejos

Tercio Morados Viejos (1670)

Tercio - Amarillos Viejos

Tercio Amarillos Viejos (1680)

The Portuguese terços

Lagos46 kopie
Portuguese terços in the Battle of Alcácer Quibir (1578)

Portugal adopted the Spanish model of tercio in the 16th century, calling it terço. In 1578, under the reorganization of the Portuguese Army conducted by King Sebastian, four terços were established: the Terço of Lisbon, the Terço of Estremadura, the Terço of Alentejo, and the Terço of Algarve. Each had about 2,000 men, formed into eight companies.

The infantry of the army organized for the expedition to Morocco in 1578 was made up of these four terços together with the Terço of the Adventurers (totally made up of young nobles), three mercenary terços (the German, the Italian, and the Castilian), and a unit of elite sharpshooters of the Portuguese garrison of Tangier. This was the Portuguese force which fought the Battle of Alcácer Quibir.

While united with the Spanish Crown, from 1580 to 1640, Portugal kept the organization of terços, although the Army had declined. Several Spanish tercios were sent to Portugal; the principal of them, the Spanish infantry Tercio of the City of Lisbon, occupied the main fortresses of the Portuguese capital. The Terço of the Navy of the Crown of Portugal, the ancestor of the modern Portuguese Marines, was created in this period.

After the restoration of Portuguese sovereignty in 1640, the Army was reorganized by King John IV of Portugal. The terços remained the basic units of the Portuguese infantry. Two types of terços were organized: the paid terços (first line permanent units) and the auxiliary terços (second line militia units). Portugal won the Restoration War with these terços.

At the end of the 17th century, the terços were already organized as modern regiments. However, the first line terços were only transformed into regiments in 1707, during the War of the Spanish Succession – after the Spanish tercios were transformed into regiments in 1704. The second line terços were only transformed into militia regiments in 1796. Some of the old terços are direct ancestors of modern regiments of the Portuguese Army.


Rocroi, el último tercio, por Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau
The Battle of Rocroi (1643) marked the end of the supremacy of the Spanish Tercios, painting by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau picture

The first challenge to the dominance of the tercios came at the Battle of Nieuwpoort (1600). The victor of Nieuwpoort, the Dutch stadtholder Maurice, Prince of Orange, believed he could improve on the tercio by combining its methods with the organisation of the Roman legion. These shallower linear formations brought a greater proportion of available guns to bear on the enemy simultaneously. The result was that the tercios at Nieuwpoort were badly damaged by the weight of Dutch firepower. Yet the Spanish army very nearly succeeded in spite of internal dissensions that had compromised its regular command. The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) in the Low Countries continued to be characterized by sieges of cities and forts, while field battles were of secondary importance. Maurice's reforms did not lead to a revolution in warfare, but he had created an army that could meet the tercios on an even basis and that pointed the way to future developments. During the Thirty Years War (1618–1648) tercio formations began to be tested in more linear formations by the brilliant Swedish soldier-king Gustavus Adolphus. Eventually, however, the tried-and-true Spanish tactics defeated the supposedly invincible Swedish army at the Battle of Nördlingen (1634).[9]

Throughout its history, the tercio's form and composition was never static as it evolved to meet new challenges. Tercio formations employed by well trained troops with good cavalry support continued to win major battles such as Wimpfen (1622), Fleurus (1622), Breda (1624), Nördlingen (1634), Thionville (1639), Honnecourt (1641) and Valenciennes (1656). It was not until Rocroi (1643) that the Spanish tercio's reputation in major battles was shattered. Even then, the Rocroi defeat was precipitated by the collapse of the supporting cavalry rather than the failure of the tercios themselves, which had come close to besting the opposing infantry. Tercios continued to win important battles for a time after Rocroi and even after the Thirty Years War, but were already greatly modified from their older forms. By then, improvements in firearms and field artillery had given the new linear style a decided advantage. In response, the later 17th century "tercios" adopted so much of the linear style's organisation and tactics as to have little resemblance to the classic tercios of the previous century. In 1704, the Spanish tercios were transformed into regiments.

Famous battles



See also


  1. ^ This emphasis on the infantry was the result of Spain's shortage of cavalry and dependence on mules in daily life. Davies, T. R. 1961" Davies, T. R. (1961).
  2. ^ Davis, Trevor. The Golden Century of Spain, 1501–1621 London: Macmillan and Co, 1961. Page 24.
  3. ^ Lynch, John. The Hispanic World in Crisis and Change, 1578–1700 Cambridge: Blackwell, 1992. Page 117.
  4. ^ Davies, T. R. 1961
  5. ^ Lynch, John. Spain Under the Habsburgs, Volume One: Empire and Absolutism, 1516 to 1598. Oxford: Blackwell, 1964. Page 109.
  6. ^ Lynch, Spain Under the Habsburgs page 200.
  7. ^ Israel, The Dutch Republic, p. 185.
  8. ^ Lynch, Spain Under the Habsburgs page 284.
  9. ^ Laínez, Fernando Martínez (2011). Vientos de Gloria : grandes victorias de la historia de España. Madrid: Espasa. ISBN 9788467035605.


1st Legion Tercio "Great Captain Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba"

The 1st Legion Tercio is an infantry regiment of the Spanish Legion. The regiments headquarters is in Melilla and commands the I Spanish Legion Bandera.

3rd Legion Tercio "Don Juan de Austria"

The 3rd Legion Tercio "Don Juan de Austria" is a regiment of the Spanish Legion. Its headquarters are in Almería. The 3rd Tercio "Don Juan of Austria", of the Spanish Legion was created on 1 January 1940 in Spanish Protectorate of Morocco.

6th Infantry Regiment “Saboya”

The 6th Mechanized Infantry Regiment “Saboya” (Spanish: Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizada "Saboya" nº 6) is a mechanized infantry unit in the Spanish Army.

It was created as the Tercio of Savoy by Charles I on 1537, and was developed from the former Tercio of Lombardía. In 1707, by Royal Order of His Majesty Philip V of Spain, first king of the House of Bourbon in Spain, changed its name to Regiment of Savoy Nº 3. With its new name it participated in the War of the Spanish Succession with two battalions.

Its first commander was Álvaro de Sande, first Marqués de la Piovera. The patron saint of the regiment was Our Lady of the Rosary.

Aviazione Legionaria

The Legionary Air Force (Italian: Aviazione Legionaria, Spanish: Aviación Legionaria) was an expeditionary corps from the Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica Italiana). It was set up in 1936 and sent to provide logistical and tactical support to the rebel faction after the Spanish coup of July 1936 which marked the onset of the Spanish Civil War. The air force alongside its Nazi German allies, the Condor Legion fought against the Spanish Republic and the Aviación Legionaria supported the Italian ground troops of the Corpo Truppe Volontarie. They served from August 1936 to the end of the conflict in March 1939. Their main base of operations was Majorca in the Balearic Islands.

Battle of Fleurus (1622)

The Battle of Fleurus of August 29, 1622 was fought in the Spanish Netherlands between a Spanish army, and the Protestant forces of Ernst von Mansfeld and Christian of Brunswick during the Eighty Years' War and Thirty Years' War. The bloody struggle left the Protestants mangled and the Spanish masters of the field, but unable to block the enemy's march.

Battle of Nördlingen (1634)

The Battle of Nördlingen (German: Schlacht bei Nördlingen; Spanish: Batalla de Nördlingen; Swedish: Slaget vid Nördlingen) was fought in 1634 during the Thirty Years' War, on 27 August (Julian calendar) or 6 September (Gregorian calendar). The Roman Catholic Imperial army, bolstered by 15,000 Spanish soldiers, won a crushing victory over the combined Protestant armies of Sweden and their German-Protestant allies (Heilbronn Alliance).

After the failure of the tercio system in the first Battle of Breitenfeld in 1631, the professional Spanish troops deployed at Nördlingen proved the tercio system could still contend with the deployment improvements devised by Maurice of Orange and Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden in their respective troops.

Battle of Rocroi

The Battle of Rocroi of 19 May 1643 resulted in the victory of a French army under the Duc d'Enghien against the Spanish Army under General Francisco de Melo only five days after the accession of Louis XIV of France to the throne of France, late in the Thirty Years' War. The battle is considered by many to be the turning point of the perceived invincibility of the Spanish Tercio that dominated European battlefields in the 16th century and the first half of the 17th century. After Rocroi, the Spanish abandoned the tercio system and began to use linear Dutch-style battalions like the French.


Bullfighting is a physical contest that involves humans and animals attempting to publicly subdue, immobilise, or kill a bull, usually according to a set of rules, guidelines, or cultural expectations. There are many different forms and varieties in various locations around the world. Some forms involve dancing around or over a cow or bull, or attempting to grasp an object from the animal.

The best-known form of bullfighting is Spanish-style bullfighting, a traditional spectacle in countries including Spain, Portugal, parts of southern France, and some Latin American countries (Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru). While some forms are sometimes considered to be a blood sport, in some countries, for example Spain, it is defined as an art form or cultural event and relevant regulatory frameworks liken it to other cultural events and heritage. In Spain, toreros (see Bullfighter) are almost as popular as football stars, often supported by sponsors and appearing in press. A particular breed of cattle, the Spanish Fighting Bull, is used for this type of bullfighting. These bulls must be bred in large ranches, and in conditions as similar as possible to the way they would live in the wild.

There are many historic fighting venues in the Iberian Peninsula, France, and Latin America. The largest venue of its kind is the Plaza México in central Mexico City, which seats 48,000 people, and the oldest are the Plazas of Béjar and Ronda, in the Spanish provinces of Salamanca and Málaga. All the bullrings have a complex pricing system, main factors being the sun and shadow, proximity to the action, and experience levels of torero.The practice of bullfighting is controversial because of a range of concerns including animal welfare, funding, and religion. Bullfighting is illegal in most countries, but remains legal in most areas of Spain and Portugal, as well as in some Hispanic American countries and some parts of southern France.

CD Tercio

Club Deportivo Tercio is a military football team based in Melilla in the autonomous community of Melilla. They currently play in Primera Autonómica de Melilla.

Maestre de campo

Maestre de campo was a rank created in 1534 by the Emperor Carlos V, inferior in rank only to the capitán general and acted as a chief of staff. He was chosen by the monarch in the Council of State, and commanded a tercio. Their powers were similar to those of the old marshals of the Kingdom of Castile: he had the power to administer justice and to regulate the food supply. His personal guard consisted of eight German halberdiers, paid by the king, who accompanied him everywhere. Immediately inferior in the chain of command was the sargento mayor. One of the most famous maestre de campo was Julian Romero, a common soldier who reached the rank of maestre de campo and that brought victory to the Spanish tercios in the battles of San Quintín and Gravelines.

In the overseas colonies of the Spanish Empire a governor held the rank of capitán general over his local forces and would appoint his maestre de campo.


A picador (Spanish pronunciation: [pikaˈðoɾ]; pl. picadores) is one of the pair of horsemen in a Spanish bullfight that jab the bull with a lance. They perform in the tercio de varas which is the first of the three stages in a Spanish bullfight.

Siege of Castelnuovo

The Siege of Castelnuovo was an engagement during the Ottoman-Habsburg struggle for control of the Mediterranean, which took place in July 1539 in the walled town of Castelnuovo, present-day Herceg Novi, Montenegro. Castelnuovo had been conquered by elements of various Spanish tercios the year before during the failed campaign of the Holy League against the Ottoman Empire in Eastern Mediterranean waters. The walled town was besieged by land and sea by a powerful Ottoman army under Hayreddin Barbarossa, who offered an honorable surrender to the defenders. These terms were rejected by the Spanish commanding officer Francisco de Sarmiento and his captains even though they knew that the Holy League's fleet, defeated at the Battle of Preveza, could not relieve them. During the siege Barbarossa's army suffered heavy losses due to the stubborn resistance of Sarmiento's men. However, Castelnuovo eventually fell into Ottoman hands and almost all the Spanish defenders, including Sarmiento, were killed. The loss of the town ended the Christian attempt to regain control of the Eastern Mediterranean. The courage displayed by the Old Tercio of Naples, however, was praised and admired throughout Europe and was the subject of numerous poems and songs.

Siege of Saint-Omer

The Siege of Saint-Omer (May 24 – July 16, 1638) was a siege in the Thirty Years' War in which a French army under Gaspard III de Coligny, Maréchal de Châtillon, laid siege to the Flemish city of Saint-Omer, defended by a small garrison in command of Lancelot II Schetz, count of Grobbendonck. Despite several initial successes in the capture of the minor forts around Saint-Omer, on the night of 8/9 June a Spanish relief army under Thomas Francis, Prince of Carignano surprised Châtillon's troops and established a small fort in the middle of the French lines. An entire army corps under Maréchal de La Force was ordered to move towards Saint-Omer to support Châtillon siege, but on July 12 a further Imperial-Spanish force commanded by Ottavio Piccolomini entered Saint-Omer, resolving the French marshals to withdraw.

Spanish-style bullfighting

Spanish-style bullfighting, known as a corrida de toros (literally a "running of the bulls"), tauromaquia or fiesta, is practiced in Spain, where it originates, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, as well as in parts of Southern France and Portugal. In a traditional corrida, three toreros, also called matadores or, in French, toréadors, each fight two out of a total of six fighting bulls, each of which is at least four years old and weighs up to about 600 kg (1,300 lb) (with a minimum weight limit of 460 kg (1,010 lb) for the bullrings of the first degree). Bullfighting season in Spain runs from March to October.

Spanish Legion

The Spanish Legion (Spanish: Legión Española, La Legión), informally known as the Tercio or the Tercios, is a unit of the Spanish Army and Spain's Rapid Reaction Force. It was raised in the 1920s to serve as part of Spain's Army of Africa. The unit, which was established in January 1920 as the Spanish equivalent of the French Foreign Legion, was initially known as the Tercio de Extranjeros ("Tercio of foreigners"), the name under which it began fighting in the Rif War of 1920–1926. Although it recruited some foreigners mostly from Spanish-speaking nations, it recruited predominantly from Spaniards. As a result, and since it existed to serve in Spanish Morocco, it was soon renamed Tercio de Marruecos ("Tercio of Morocco"). By the end of the Rif War it had expanded and again changed its name, to the "Spanish Legion", with several "tercios" as sub-units.

The Legion played a major role in the Nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. In post-Franco Spain, the modern Legion has undertaken tours of duty in the Yugoslav Wars, Afghanistan, Iraq and Operation Libre Hidalgo UNIFIL

Spanish Marine Infantry

The Spanish Marine Infantry (Spanish: Infantería de Marina; lit, Naval infantry) is the marine corps of the Spanish Navy (Armada Española) responsible for conducting amphibious warfare by utilizing naval platforms and resources. The Marine Corps is fully integrated into the Armada's structure.

The Corps was formed in 1537 by Charles I of Spain (also known as Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor), making it the oldest marine corps in existence in the world, drawing from the Compañías Viejas del Mar de Nápoles.

Tercio, Colorado

Tercio is an extinct town in Las Animas County, in the U.S. state of Colorado. The GNIS classifies it as a populated place.A post office called Tercio was established in 1902, and remained in operation until 1949. The community was the third (Spanish: tercio) mining community established by Colorado Fuel and Iron, hence the name.

Tercio of Idiáquez

The Tercio of Idiaquez was a Spanish native tercio, a group of armed infantry, who fought in the Battle of Nördlingen, in the Thirty Years' War.

Tércio Pacitti

Tércio Pacitti (September 9, 1928 in Atibaia - June 18, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro), São Paulo, Brazil is an electronic engineer and computer scientist in Brazil.

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