Hanwei / CAS Iberia Mammen Axe
A hands-on review by Alexi Goranov
The remnants of a beautiful small axe, which may have also functioned as a throwing axe, were found during the excavation of a grave in Mammen, Denmark. The original axe currently resides in the Copenhagen National Museum in Denmark. The axe is dated to 970-971 AD, and is thought to have belonged to an individual of high status, likely a chieftain. Jan Petersen categorized axes used during the Viking Age based on the shape of their heads. He classified them into twelve varieties, Types A-M (there is no Type J). The axe head of the Mammen axe is best described as a Petersen Type G. Although the axe head is partially corroded and the haft is gone, the beauty and elegance of the axe are still easily visible. The purpose of this review is to examine the reproduction of the Mammen axe offered by Hanwei (Item #2041-GT).
CAS Iberia / Hanwei offers a large selection of oriental and European weapons, including swords, daggers, pole weapons, and axes. Although the company is best known for its oriental swords, its European offerings are becoming ever more popular. Their weapons are designed by Paul Chen (founder of the Hanwei Forge), produced in China, and are distributed by CAS Iberia.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by CAS Iberia / Hanwei of China.
The light weight and short handle of this axe makes it a very fast weapon for hand-to-hand combat. This axe excels in speed but lacks in reach and power. While it is unlikely that this axe could decapitate an opponent, it should be able to seriously injure a lightly armoured combatant. I have not performed any throwing exercises with this weapon and I cannot make a definitive statement about the functionality of this axe as a "throwing axe".
Fit and Finish
What drew me personally to this weapon were its beauty and elegance. The original axe features intricate patterns on both sides in the Mammen style (named after the Mammen find). The patterns of the original, which are different on each side, are done with inlaid silver. The socket of the original axe is also ornamented with silver inlay and has two deep grooves crossing the socket and generating four raised platforms that carry the ornamentation.
The reproduction axe appears to carry an exacting reproduction of the patterns on each side of the axe. The grooves on the socket are also present, although they appear to be slightly shallower than those of the original. The major difference from the original is how the patterns on the axe head are made. In the case of the reproduction axe, the patterns are generated by very shallow grooves or holes filled with silver/white dye. To keep costs down, this appears to be a good solution, although after prolonged handling, some of the dye began to rub off.
The reproduction axe has blackened surfaces, which nicely contrast the silver dye used for the patterns. I do not know if there is an indication of blackening on the original, but the reproduction axe certainly looks nice this way. The blackening is done well and evenly, with only a few hard-to-notice uneven spots on one of the sides. The blackening may fade after much handling. It can be scratched but it takes some effort. Only the edge of the blade is left un-blackened, and it is mirror polished. There are some minor machine marks visible at the edge but these are easily removed with fine sand paper.
The axe head appears to have been cast but it bears none of the pits or imperfections often produced during the casting process. The shape of the head appears very similar to that of the original, although the reproduction has the well-defined, pronounced upper point of the edge, which is no longer present in the original. Also, the edge of the original is not parallel to the haft, as is the case on the reproduction axe. The axe head tapers evenly from the socket to about 1/2 inch from the edge, where the angle changes to form a more acute bevel for the edge.
The axe head is mounted on a short handle of unknown wood. The presence of imperfections in the wood raises some questions about the durability of the handle, but due to its short length this may not be a problem. The head is fixed to the wood by sliding the axe head from the bottom of the handle and forcing it over the slightly wider top of the handle. The slightly wider handle top prevents the axe head from flying off the handle. I am not sure if this is a period-appropriate method of mounting axe heads but it still seems secure after much handling. I forced my whole weight on the head, trying to push it down the handle, but it did not budge, indicating that this assembly is reasonable.
The edge of the axe is quite sharp. While it will not cut paper, I was not inclined to sharpen it further. My only comment is that at the top of the edge, the bevel is different on both sides, slanting the edge towards the right, when viewed from above. This problem is only noticeable upon close inspection; however, it is there.
I am very happy with this axe, and I wholeheartedly recommend it to Viking era aficionados, or any other collectors. No, this is not a perfect reproduction of the original. The method of decoration differs from the original and CAS Iberia / Hanwei may have taken some liberties with the construction. However, when the price of the axe is considered (about $60-$80 US), it is worth it! As far as I know, this is the most detailed reproduction of this specific axe on the production market. While this axe may not cater to the tastes of the most demanding customers, it should be able to please most collectors and practitioners out there. It certainly found a place in my collection.
About the Author
Alexi is a postdoc in the biological sciences at MIT. He has had an outstanding interest in medieval military history and weaponry for many years, but only started collecting in late 2003. His main interests lie towards European weapons and warfare practices of the 13th and 14th centuries.
Photographer: Alexi Goranov