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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Wed 25 Nov, 2009 11:59 am    Post subject: Throwing Axes         Reply with quote

How common were throwing axes during the medieval period? I've heard of franciscas used by the Franks, but not much more than that. Are there many period depictions or surviving examples of what they looked like or how they were used? As mentioned in the Viking Throwing Axe thread, throwing axes seem very inefficient and ineffective when compared to javelins or spears.

Thanks
-Alain
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David Huggins




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PostPosted: Wed 25 Nov, 2009 3:14 pm    Post subject: Throwing axes         Reply with quote

Not sure how common throwing axes where in the general medieval period, no doubt some one some where throw an hand axe perhaps in extremis. If I recall correctly there is an image on the Bayeux Tapestry of a small axe flying through the air at the beginning of the battle, along with other sundry projectiles.

A quick Goggle search will give examples of Franciscas and appear to be a relative common grave good up to the mid 6th Century in some areas of N.W.Europe. One can become pretty proficient in throwing Franciscas quiet rapidly with practice, and no doubt these warriors did so too.Even if the axe head blade did not make a direct hit
the weight of the head and the handle no doubt would have had a damaging physical effect and a psychological impression.

best
Dave

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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Nov, 2009 12:07 am    Post subject: Re: Throwing Axes         Reply with quote

Alain D. wrote:
throwing axes seem very inefficient and ineffective when compared to javelins or spears.


Easy enough to wear a small axe on your belt, and it might be a useful camp tool as well. Perhaps not the most effective throwing weapon, but if you've got it with you, why not? Considering the trouble of carrying a spear around (maybe a second spear, if you want to keep one for close fighting), the throwing axe might be an efficient investment of effort.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Nov, 2009 8:55 am    Post subject: Re: Throwing Axes         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
Alain D. wrote:
throwing axes seem very inefficient and ineffective when compared to javelins or spears.


Easy enough to wear a small axe on your belt, and it might be a useful camp tool as well. Perhaps not the most effective throwing weapon, but if you've got it with you, why not? Considering the trouble of carrying a spear around (maybe a second spear, if you want to keep one for close fighting), the throwing axe might be an efficient investment of effort.


Maybe not great range as even a small axe will be heavy enough that throwing it far might be a challenge but the impact weight is an advantage at close range. ( This might vary a great deal but assume a small axe at least weighing a couple of pounds ).

The axe even if it hits with the handle is at the very least going to be very distracting and even an axe that initially hits with the handle will continue to rotate and still be very hazardous to the target.

I have very limited experience throwing axes but the first and only time I tried I found it much easier to be effective than with knife throwing at least in being able to get on target. Getting the axe to hit blade first was almost a done deal if the range was well chosen i.e. at X feet the axe would almost always stick if my release of the handle was clean and I didn't give the axe some unwanted extra spin.

Anyway, the point was that with a half hour of practice I could usually hit the target or be close enough that I wouldn't have wanted to be on the receiving end ! Now anyone having years of practice in an axe culture like the Franks or the Vikings would have been much more effective.

A thrown axe is very hard hitting and useful in the hand if not thrown as both a weapon and as a tool.

Carrying half a dozen axes would be a lot less practical than carrying half a dozen javelins thought. Wink So at most I could see carrying one larger axe for close in hand to hand fighting and one or two small axes for close range throwing. Question

Recovering the thrown axes for re-throwing should be fairly easy and common rather than running out of " ammunition", getting one's axe thrown back by a missed enemy being a high probability between two groups of axe throwers: This is both and advantage and disadvantage.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Thu 26 Nov, 2009 7:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Interesting points, thanks for the replies.

Are throwing axes large enough to use for regular work? About what size were typical throwing axes?
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Sam Gordon Campbell




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Nov, 2009 8:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I wouldn't surprise me if the throwing axe lived on in judicial duels. Talhoffer or someone apparently showed really odd dueling weapons, even throwing swords! Eek!
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 1:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alain D. wrote:
Interesting points, thanks for the replies.

Are throwing axes large enough to use for regular work? About what size were typical throwing axes?


Well there may be dedicated to fighting only axes but most axes can be used as tools unless the design is extreme as I don't see a very richly decorated axe or a large Danish fighting axes used for anything else than as a weapon.

A fighting axe will tend to be lighter than a wood axe as one has to be able to move it quickly and recover quickly while a wood chopping axe needs some mass to be effective. ( A fighting axe thinner in body with a reinforced edge and possibly sharper with a edge profile better suited to cutting than splitting for a working axe )

Many axes would be general purpose axes usable both as weapon or tool.

Getting back to your question: I don't think there is a single model or size of throwing axe and to answer the question one would have to specify the time and place or culture !

A tomahawk or small hatchet are both throwable but look a bit different. A much larger axe single or double bit can also be throw as is done in woodsman competitions but one would not normally prefer an axe with a 4 foot handle to use as a dedicated throwing axe: So a " typical " throwing axe might have a 12" to 18" handle and look like a tomahawk or Francisca.

Here are a few example to illustrate what I was discussing above:

1) Nordland axe like this one http://www.arms-n-armor.com/pole213.html is a small axe that could be thrown and usable as a camp axe or a wood working axe.
2) This axe, Hungarian axe, weapon only but I guess in an emergency to cut down an obstacle or clear a fighting space etc .... it might be used as a working axe if nothing else was readily available, but it really is only a weapon.
http://www.arms-n-armor.com/pole104.html
3) Horseman's axe: Weapon only and using it as a tool would really be only if the definition of work included cutting through a shield. Wink Laughing Out Loud http://www.arms-n-armor.com/pole006.html
4) Danish axe: Weapon axe but might be pressed into doing work in preparing a defensive position or chopping into a wooden door or stockade, cutting wood to repair a damaged drakkar ( Viking fighting ship ).
http://www.arms-n-armor.com/pole024.html
5) Poleaxe: Again weapon only http://www.arms-n-armor.com/pole010.html
6) Italian Bill: Weapon only but I could see it being used to cut some branches preparing a camp site in a pinch. Wink Eek! Laughing Out Loud

Anyway, in most cases one would use working axes rather than one's weapons if any where available but just about any cutting instrument might be used in an emergency.

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!


Last edited by Jean Thibodeau on Fri 27 Nov, 2009 5:11 am; edited 1 time in total
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Werner Stiegler





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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 2:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Didn't somebody post an old B/W photograph from the Bayrische Nationalmuseeum with a throwing axe being displayed amongst other items? It was a very plain, small axe made completely of metal down to the handle which had an additional point.
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Nat Lamb




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 4:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean, I think I agree with your assesment of all those axes except number 5. It could be reversed and used to help with preperation of tough cuts of meat prior to cooking Wink Razz
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 6:41 am    Post subject: Re: Throwing Axes         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
I have very limited experience throwing axes but the first and only time I tried I found it much easier to be effective than with knife throwing at least in being able to get on target. Getting the axe to hit blade first was almost a done deal if the range was well chosen i.e. at X feet the axe would almost always stick if my release of the handle was clean and I didn't give the axe some unwanted extra spin.


I had the same experience practicing throwing a hatchet against the log pile when I was a kid. From a set distance (I think it was about 15 feet or 5 meters) and a stereotypical throw it soon became easy to place the blade dead on within a hand-sized area. But I imagine a master axe thrower could learn to adjust the rate of handle spin and velocity to match any distance within throwing range, probably even adjusting for different axes.

To what degree this was practiced systematically in medieval times I have no idea, but it seems likely to occur logically to anyone who used an axe and was prepared to give it up at a strategic moment (e.g. to render the shield of an oncoming enemy ineffective) and then bring out their secondary weapon (e.g. sword).
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 8:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nice replies everyone, interesting stuff.

Thanks for the list Jean, I appreciate the examples Happy

I was mostly thinking about the Franks using throwing axes, but I'm also curious about how their use evolved over time.

Are there any manuscripts or treatises with illustrations of throwing axes?

Thanks
-Alain
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 1:07 pm    Post subject: Re: Throwing Axes         Reply with quote

Alain D. wrote:
How common were throwing axes during the medieval period? -Alain


Alain, I think some of us interpreted this question to mean how much did axe throwing persist in the medieval period, i.e., after ~1066. What time period and geographic area do you have in mind?
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Sa'ar Nudel




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 2:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The late middle ages Hungary saw use of the Hurlbat - a purposely designed throwing axe of various shapes, forged in all-steel construction. Think of an oversized, off-centered shurikan.
Curator of Beit Ussishkin, regional nature & history museum, Upper Galilee.
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Fri 27 Nov, 2009 6:57 pm    Post subject: Re: Throwing Axes         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
Alain D. wrote:
How common were throwing axes during the medieval period? -Alain


Alain, I think some of us interpreted this question to mean how much did axe throwing persist in the medieval period, i.e., after ~1066. What time period and geographic area do you have in mind?


Sorry about that. I was thinking mostly Western Europe and any time between the fall of Rome and 1500, but the Franks were one of the only examples I personally knew of using the 'francisca' throwing axe.

Interesting example Sa'ar, I was able to find some good pictures online. It seems like a design with multiple points might be easier to use?

-Alain
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Sa'ar Nudel




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PostPosted: Tue 01 Dec, 2009 2:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Multiple points ease the hitting. BTW, throwing an axe takes much more effort than throwing a knife, though it is easier to hit with, and the impact is much more destructive.
The hurlbat existed in many designs - all in one piece construction. Some have double blades, some have just plain points with no blade at all, hence called (contemporary) throwing cross.

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Danny Grigg





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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2009 12:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alain

From the book:
The Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons Edited by Leonid Tarassuk & Claude Blair

War hammer
[Last paragraph)]
"From the 14th to early 16th centuries, a special type of the war hammer was used in central Europe as a missile weapon, which was given a spinning motion in flight. Functionally similar to the throwing axes, these war hammers had a conical pointed head with a spike and a fluke, and the steel handle was also sharply pointed at the bottom. In its simplest form, the throwing hammer had the form of a Latin cross whose four pointed arms were designed to inflict a wound however the weapon hit."

http://www.hermann-historica.de/auktion/hhm48...at48_1.txt

Hurlbats
http://www.hermann-historica.de/auktion/hhm57...at57_a.txt

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=8729

Danny
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2009 1:03 pm    Post subject: Re: Throwing Axes         Reply with quote

Alain D. wrote:

Sorry about that. I was thinking mostly Western Europe and any time between the fall of Rome and 1500, but the Franks were one of the only examples I personally knew of using the 'francisca' throwing axe.


The francisca seems to be "Frankish" (Merovingian/ Carolingian) era. I can't recall many being dated to high medieval era. Some previous comments on the Bayeux tapestry have suggested that a throwing projectile illustrated was actually a simple club. ( I am not sure which image is being considered here as a throwing axe in late 11th/12th century era artwork time frame.) Franciscas are also rather plain mild carbon steel construction, in my opinion indicating disposable functionality, even though one would hope to recover it after a battle. This seems more consistent with Roman era experiences with Germanic tribes that typically opened battles with lots of projectiles. One web author has posted some interesting results of experimenting with a reproduction francisca using his best guess at an authentic curved handle. He found that his francisca tended to bounce and tumble like a random bowling ball taking some upward leaks after hitting the ground. The mass is significant enough if one were to simply get hit in the shins by one. Hence, in his opinion, precise targeting of the francisca may not have been critical for period battle tactics involving multiple lines of opponents.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Alain D.





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PostPosted: Wed 02 Dec, 2009 5:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nice replies

Jared, that's a really interesting idea about the curved handles that I hadn't thought about before. It does seem like that would make a lot of sense in massed battle though.

-Alain
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Sa'ar Nudel




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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2009 12:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Danny Grigg wrote:
Alain

From the book:
The Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons Edited by Leonid Tarassuk & Claude Blair

War hammer
[Last paragraph)]
"From the 14th to early 16th centuries, a special type of the war hammer was used in central Europe as a missile weapon, which was given a spinning motion in flight. Functionally similar to the throwing axes, these war hammers had a conical pointed head with a spike and a fluke, and the steel handle was also sharply pointed at the bottom. In its simplest form, the throwing hammer had the form of a Latin cross whose four pointed arms were designed to inflict a wound however the weapon hit."

http://www.hermann-historica.de/auktion/hhm48...at48_1.txt

Hurlbats
http://www.hermann-historica.de/auktion/hhm57...at57_a.txt

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=8729

Danny


Excellent quote & links. Worth bumping up Cool

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B. Fulton





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PostPosted: Thu 03 Dec, 2009 10:00 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

While I've never thrown a francisca, i've done enough work with tomahawks, and know experienced tomahawk throwers.

I wouldn't carry a bunch of them around, but having a small hand axe for camp chores and general cutting needs that can serve as a "backup" weapon if a spear broke.......they can be thrown, and taught to be thrown, relatively easily.

the Rangers of the Revolutionary era and French and Indian wars used the tomahawk for a similar purpose, and tomahawks are still in use by modern Rangers in Afghanistan as a tool, though in a pinch, they're a handy close in weapon (tomahawks also apparently freak Arabs and Afghans out quite a bit, they're intimidated by them). The lightweight head and handle spinning has always made it easier for me to use more or less accurately in throwing than a knife for the same purpose, though I've never had formal training in it.
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