Battle Axe: A Weapon of War and History
A battle axe is an axe specifically designed for combat. Battle axes were specialized versions of utility axes. Many were suitable for use in one hand, while others were larger and were deployed two-handed. Battle axes are particularly associated in Western popular imagination with the Vikings, who used them as a stock weapon during their raids and conquests. In this article, we will explore the history, design, and use of battle axes in different cultures and periods.
Prehistory and the Ancient Mediterranean
The earliest known examples of battle axes date back to the Stone Age, when polished greenstone axes were used as weapons and tools by various cultures. These axes had a simple design, consisting of a stone head attached to a wooden handle with rawhide or cord. The stone head was usually oval or triangular in shape, with a sharp edge on one or both sides. The axes were used for chopping, hacking, and slashing enemies or prey.
In the ancient Mediterranean, battle axes were used by various civilizations, such as the Egyptians, the Minoans, the Mycenaeans, the Hittites, the Assyrians, and the Persians. These axes had more elaborate designs, featuring metal heads made of bronze or iron, often decorated with patterns or symbols. The metal heads were usually socketed or tanged, meaning that they had a hole or a projection that fitted into the wooden handle. The metal heads were also more varied in shape, ranging from crescent-shaped to fan-shaped to winged. Some of these axes had additional features, such as spikes, hooks, or flanges, to increase their effectiveness in combat.
In Europe, battle axes were widely used by various peoples and cultures throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Some of the most famous examples of European battle axes include:
- The francisca: A throwing axe used by the Franks and other Germanic tribes. It had a short wooden handle and a heavy metal head with a curved blade that created a boomerang-like effect when thrown. The francisca was used to disrupt enemy formations and cause confusion and panic among them.
- The dane axe: A large two-handed axe used by the Vikings and other Norsemen. It had a long wooden handle and a broad metal head with a thin blade that could deliver powerful blows. The dane axe was used to break through enemy shields and armor and inflict massive damage.
- The bearded axe: A one-handed axe used by the Vikings and other Norsemen. It had a wooden handle and a metal head with a long lower edge that extended below the shaft. The bearded axe was used to hook and pull down enemy shields or weapons and expose them to further attacks.
- The horseman’s axe: A one-handed axe used by mounted knights and warriors. It had a wooden handle and a metal head with a short blade and a hammer-like back. The horseman’s axe was used to strike at enemies from horseback or to finish off wounded foes on the ground.
- The halberd: A polearm that combined an axe blade with a spear point and a hook. It had a long wooden shaft and a metal head with different functions on each end. The halberd was used to chop, stab, or hook enemies at various ranges and angles.
Battle axes were also used by various cultures and peoples in other regions of the world, such as Asia, Africa, America, and Oceania. Some of the most notable examples of these battle axes include:
- The tabar: A one-handed axe used by the Persians and other peoples in Central Asia and India. It had a wooden handle and a metal head with a curved blade that resembled a crescent moon. The tabar was used to slash at enemies or chop through their armor.
- The tomahawk: A one-handed axe used by the Native Americans and later adopted by the European settlers. It had a wooden handle and a metal or stone head with a straight or slightly curved blade. The tomahawk was used for throwing or melee combat, as well as for hunting and chopping wood.
- The macuahuitl: A wooden club with obsidian blades embedded on its sides. It was