Hakkapeliitta is a 19th century Finnish modification of a contemporary name given by foreigners in the Holy Roman Empire and variously spelled as Hackapelit, Hackapelite, Hackapell, Haccapelit, or Haccapelite. These terms were based on a Finnish war cry hakkaa päälle (English: Hack on them; Swedish: hacka på), commonly translated as “Cut them down!”
The Hakkapeliitta were well-trained Finnish light cavalrymen who excelled in sudden and savage attacks, raiding and reconnaissance. The greatest advantage of the fast and lightly armored Hakkapeliitta cavalry was its charge. They typically had a sword, a helmet, and leather armor or a breastplate of steel. They would attack at a full gallop, fire the first pistol at twenty paces and the second at five paces, and then draw the sword. The horse itself was used like another weapon, as it was used to trample enemy infantry.
Despite popular Finnish belief, the Hakkapeliitta were not particularly well-known on the Central European battlefields; Finns are rarely mentioned in Central European sources of the time. Nonetheless, during the era of the Swedish Empire of the 17th century, the Finnish cavalry was constantly used in Germany, Bohemia, Poland and Denmark. Parts of the cavalry were stationed in Estonia and Livonia.
Aulis J. Alanen described the Finnish cavalry:
“Our [Finnish] Hakkapelites cannot have been any sort of fine representatives. I should mention a parade of the Gustaf Adolf troops in the Thirty Years’ War, while the king still lived. At first went the blue, yellow, green etc. mercenaries of the regiment in their flashy gear. Then came, clothed so-so, bridles and baldricks repaired with birch bark and cord, legs hanging from the backs of their small, shaggy horses, cutlasses dragging on the ground, a troop of hollow-cheeked but stern-eyed men. When the Dutch ambassador inquired who they were, the last rider, a fat German Quartermaster [kuormastovääpeli] in charge of the cargo proudly replied “The royal Life Guards: Finnish, pärkkele!”
- The name Hakkapeliitta was also taken up by Nokian Tyres in 1936 for its winter tires.
- The name “Hakkapeliitta” was also used by the weekly magazine of the Finnish voluntary Home Guard organisation (Suojeluskunnat) from 1926 until 1944.
- “Hakkaa päälle!” is today used by Finnish football fans.
- The Hakkapeliittans and their battle cry make an appearance in the novel 1632.
- A song by folk metal band Turisas titled “Rex Regi Rebellis” features the Swedish poem, and the “hakkaa päälle” cry.
- A song by alternative rock/metal band Tears of Magdalena titled “Cut em´Down” tells also legends of Hakkapeliitta light cavalry men.
- The Bearkillers, a protagonist faction in S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse series, uses this as their battle cry.
- In the video game Civilization V, the Hakkapeliitta are one of two unique units for the Swedish civilization. (The other is the Caroleans, under the later kings Charles XI and XII.)
- In the video game Empire: Total War, while playing as Kingdom of Sweden, player receives one unit of Finnish Hakkapeliitta Light Cavalry and is later able to recruit more if Military Governor is present in Finland.