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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
Joined: 26 Aug 2010
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Feb, 2012 12:11 pm    Post subject: War hammers         Reply with quote

I read the article on Poleaxes listed on this site, but I have a question about older, germanic style war hammers: is there much precedent for war hammers with a haft between 12'' and 36''? (30.48 and 91.44 cm, respectively.) I mention this because Thor's hammer Mjollnir (however you wish to spell it) is specifically mentioned in the Prose Edda as being short-handled (it wasn't 'cooked' long enough.) I do know that swedish and some germanic forge hammers present profiles similar to the hammer pendants, and there is mention that Thor could throw his hammer--something would could do with a forge hammer. However, the Edda's specificity of a short hafted hammer makes me wonder if there are longer hafted (2 hands?) warhammers. Is there any evidence of this? Would the head present a forge-hammer style head, or would it look more like a later period war hammer head? The gentle sloping head looks like a hammer I saw a few times in a local forge shop in Madison, but all these were very light hammer--more like a ball peen than a war hammer (not enough mass, too short.) They could be thrown, though, and maybe that's the point...


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highly decorated mjollnir pendant

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Modern Swedish forging hammer

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Regin the dwarf/smith from Hylestad stave church, Norway 12th cen.

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Mjollnir pendants

"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Peter Messent




Location: Texas
Joined: 03 Jan 2009

Posts: 226

PostPosted: Tue 21 Feb, 2012 3:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's been a long while since I posted, but this subject is close to my heart (as is my mjolnir pendant Big Grin )

I have a fascination (bordering obsession) with Viking age arms, armor and culture, but I have to admit to never having seen a Viking age war hammer. The typical Mjolnir pendant, short-handled with a chunky head and the sloping faces looks very similar to some smithing hammers I've seen. Modern examples might include a drilling hammer. I have actually seen some fantastic Mjolnir-likenesses made for altars from modern club hammers.

An alternative which I have pondered a couple times is that if you interpret a Mjolnir pendant as a hammer head rather than an entire hammer, it bears a much closer resemblance to later war hammers (ie, if the handle of the hammer went where the cord goes in your picture).

Ultimately I tend to think that Mjolnir is the fantastic weapon of the thunder god - not necessarily a representation of an actual hammer. Pragmatically, the Viking-age war hammer has no void to fill; massive concussive force is simply unnecessary in a world without plate armor, I would think. Thus, i would tend to deem it a waste of iron. For a hammer of the same scale as Mjolnir, i would imagine that you could make several Dane axes or spears that would be of much greater use.

While I think that throwing hammers makes more sense than throwing knives (pointy end first doesn't matter so much with a 5lb piece of iron) in a battlefield scenario, I don't think that a hammer would ever just be lobbed in battle - but stranger things have happened.

I'll be interested in hearing if anybody more knowledgeable has any info from the archaeological record, though. Happy
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R. Kolick





Joined: 04 Feb 2012

Posts: 114

PostPosted: Tue 21 Feb, 2012 6:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

i have to agree with you on the idea that a viking would have looked at a war hammer as a waste of iron.

i love viking culture and weapons history and armor and i have never read or heard about a viking war hammer in informational or even fiction books. i love my thors hammer pendent but given a choice i would rather have a sword or large seax over a hammer when the only armor is mail (unless it shoots lighting Laughing Out Loud )
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Peter Messent




Location: Texas
Joined: 03 Jan 2009

Posts: 226

PostPosted: Tue 21 Feb, 2012 8:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I tend to agree - I would rather have an axe or sword as well. However, I have often wondered how effective a viking-age sword would be against ring mail - particularly given how soft some swords of the age were. I guess that is a likely explanation for the frequency of leg-hacks among the dead found at viking-age battle sites, as well as the legs being an area generally uncovered by the shield. They were certainly not generally good piercers, which seems to be the most effective way of defeating mail.
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Alex Spreier




Location: Central Oregon
Joined: 21 Nov 2006
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PostPosted: Tue 21 Feb, 2012 10:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You also have to look at the fact that in many other European cultures the thunder/storm god carries a club or axe ( i.e. Perun, Perkunas, etc.). In fact, there is an anthropological theory (although, honestly, I can't remember where I read/heard it) that European cultures found Stone Age axes and that these were called "thunder stones" or "lightning stones" and that they were considered leftovers from lightning strikes. I really wish I could remember where I read that.

Not terribly on-topic as to the OP's question about war hammers, but it is interesting. At least to me on the subject.

Compagno, Northwest Fencing Academy

http://bunkaijuju.blogspot.com/
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Mick Jarvis




Location: Australia
Joined: 18 Jul 2010

Posts: 76

PostPosted: Tue 21 Feb, 2012 11:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

when the hammer strikes metal is makes a loud noise and can shoot off sparks.. tho together would look as if it created thunder and Lightning so i can see why the Thunder gods had them as weapons
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Randall Moffett




Location: Northern Utah
Joined: 07 Jun 2006
Reading list: 5 books

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PostPosted: Wed 22 Feb, 2012 6:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A bit off the road but you have the Sutton Hoo hammer that is rather interesting. I was able to look at it in person with a friend who worked on the Sutton Hoo dig and am not of the opinion it was simple an ornament. I reminded me more of a late 15th or 16th century war hammer. I suspect it uses about the same material as an axe so on that front not an issue. And better than an axe it does not ever need sharpening and still works.

RPM
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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
Joined: 26 Aug 2010
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Posts: 482

PostPosted: Wed 22 Feb, 2012 7:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am familiar with the club/cudgel association with many indo-european thunder deities, but still find it interesting that the Edda is as specific as it is, and makes mention of a short haft. Perhaps (like later eastern european cultures--especially in poland) the club/mace had something to do with status, and those of bearing carried clubs and swords? I know some continental cultures had, in addition to swords, ritual clubs or canes of office (in Rome, the Carolingian empire, I think, and William the Conquerer--along with the ritual scepter/whetstone from Sutton Hoo?), and maybe the hammer is the ultimate male 'status club;' i.e. only smiths use it, and smiths are only male, so it would be a particularly male, strong aggressive symbol. Additionally, using one in actual combat would be very tiring and not terribly practical (as a short, single handed weapon?)

And terrifying like nobody's business:

Rush in or creep up in a shield wall, some guy opposite you suddenly chucks a hammer and your buddy is out for the fight. Or your shield is smashed into your helmet/body/face. Or it splits. The opponent has to be RIGHT THERE to use it, which may not give you much room to stick him or hack at him...?

I really don't know

"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Peter Messent




Location: Texas
Joined: 03 Jan 2009

Posts: 226

PostPosted: Wed 22 Feb, 2012 4:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alex - that is very interesting - especially when coupled with the fact that flint, which was of course used for stone age tools, creates a spark with a steel striker. In the stone age, a spark also could have been achieved with the use of a nugget of iron pyrite (though a good tool-steel striker is much more effective).

Mick - an astute observation, and perhaps in part cause for the reverence of certain folkloric blacksmiths. A good smith could make the difference between life or death, so surely a blessing from him could only be a good thing Big Grin

Randall - thank you for bringing up the Sutton Hoo hammer, I was not previously familiar with it myself - and I agree, it does look like a much later weapon to me - not least because most axes I have seen from the period tend to have a multi-purpose look - like they were tools that became weapons, or at least weapons that were based on/modified from tools. That hammer-axe looks fairly specifically like a weapon to me. What sort of size is it? It looks to me like it could be very large, or very small from the pictures.

Kai - interesting thoughts - I think that the principle "go in hard and you won't get hurt!" may apply somewhat in small-scale fighting (ie, get too close for your opponent to utilize spear/axe/sword effectively as fast as possible) but really, I think that a skilled opponent would cut that supposition down - also, while hammers have heft, a usable short-handled hammer really doesn't have enough mass that it doesn't need a good swing to take somebody out. I think that a one-handed axe or seax would generally have just as much or more success at a similar range - really, I think that if your intention is to get close enough to negate their weapons, stabbing is the only option for you. Your comparison of hammer to club and club to scepter is interesting though, something I will need to give some thought to.
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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
Joined: 26 Aug 2010
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Posts: 482

PostPosted: Thu 23 Feb, 2012 11:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

(I can't figure out that cool quote thing, even with the 'quote' button, but:)

Peter M said:
"I think that a skilled opponent would cut that supposition down - also, while hammers have heft, a usable short-handled hammer really doesn't have enough mass that it doesn't need a good swing to take somebody out. I think that a one-handed axe or seax would generally have just as much or more success at a similar range - really, I think that if your intention is to get close enough to negate their weapons, stabbing is the only option for you."

I agree, and wouldn't pick a short hammer for a main battle weapon--too many other weapons can assume the roles that a hammer can, with other benefits. However, after seeing opponents and friends alike with seaxes, axes or spears, and to be then facing an opponent armed with a short hammer (I don't think this happened much/at all, but the idea is scary), especially if he had a veteran look about him, would at least give me a moments mental pause

I was originally asking about the historical precedence of such a weapon, as I would question it's combat effectiveness, give the forms I assumed it might take, and the armor and combative styles of the period.

"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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William P




Location: Sydney, Australia
Joined: 11 Jul 2010

Posts: 1,436

PostPosted: Thu 23 Feb, 2012 11:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

the book Weapons And Fighting Techniques Of The Medieval Warrior, seems to assert that a knight might THROW a mace before making contact in a charge, i assume this is due to him not having time to get a second lance

but a thrown hammer, even a small one, would do a LOT of damage to another shield,
using it like a francisca might be plausible even if it wasnt used.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CcCbL_y3zTM&am...ideo_title the benefits of francisca according to this guy
throwing a hammer at a battle line would hurt especially considering only a small percentage of people had helmets or armour of any sort during the dark ages i think the figure is around 5-20 %
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Peter Messent




Location: Texas
Joined: 03 Jan 2009

Posts: 226

PostPosted: Fri 24 Feb, 2012 3:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kai - Personally, if I were about to face off with a veteran of viking age warfare I'd pause for thought even if he wielded a haddock in one hand and a toilet brush in the other Laughing Out Loud

William - interesting note about the franciscas. I had often thought it was a weird and overcomplicated style. However, I don't think the same would be true of hammers with regards to bounciness: even a relatively small sledge (I'm going off the assumption that anything lighter than a small sledge or club hammer would be too light to do any significant damage on a rebound, and that it's purely a hammer, not a spike or axe hammer) is pretty heavy, too heavy I think to have as much range or bounce as a francisca - I think it would just lose so much kinetic energy at first hit. And even if a club hammer did bounce and hit you, it just strikes me (NPI!) as being a remarkably inefficient use of metal - it's certainly not going to stick into you, and you could probably make a few franciscas or bearded axes from one hammer. I tend to think that if blunt heavy objects were going to be lobbed at an army, you would either throw rocks (which, of course, did happen) or tie a string around a rock for a bit of extra leverage and throw it (which also happened). Rocks are cheap, you find them all over the place and if you're just going to throw it away anyway, you may as well use them I would think, particularly against unarmoured opponents. I might go buy a club hammer and throw it at a shield just to test the theory, though.

With regards to knights throwing maces, I feel that I gotta be missing something, but why would he carry a mace at all if he didn't want to be holding it when he made contact? I could certainly understand, though, using a mace where a mace is appropriate and then throwing it at somebody when you require a different weapon for a different situation - I think that the value of iron goes out the window when it weighing you down may get you killed.
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