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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 26 May, 2015 9:47 pm    Post subject: Extant War Axe Heads from the High Middle Ages: 1100-1300 AD         Reply with quote

As we all know, although war axes are commonly associated with being Viking weapons, their usage persisted through the High Middle Ages. We have mentions of their usage in several contexts: King Stephen was said to have wielded an axe at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141 AD, and Guy de Lusignan allegedly slew ten Muslims with a war axe at one point during the siege of Acre, to name but two instances.

Likewise, medieval manuscripts show their continued usage as well. Here's a sampling of them, below:


Hortus Deliciarum, 1185 AD


Liber ad honorem Augusti 1194 AD


AU MS.24 Bestiary 1200 AD


Huelgas Apocalypse, 1220 AD


Bible Moralisee, c. 1225-1249 AD


Maciejowski Bible, c. 1244-1254 AD


Francais 403 Apocalypse, 1250 AD


Morgan M.969 Bible with Prologue, c. 1275-1299 AD


Cloisters Apocalypse, 1300 AD

However, despite the fact that war axes continued to be used in Western Europe after the Viking era, I am not aware of many surviving antique axe heads that are dated to the High Middle Ages. For the purpose of this post, I am defining the High Middle Ages as between 1100 AD and 1300 AD. Normally, I would include part or all of the 11th century in the designation “High Medieval”, but as my readers undoubtedly already know, the 11th century is still part of the end of the Viking era. For the sake of simplicity and neat rounded numbers, 1100 AD can be used to mark the conclusion of the Viking ages, even if the designation is arbitrary and imperfect.

What I would like to know are: which surviving antique axes are dated to the period between 1100 AD to 1300 AD? How many do we have? Are some of the Type M Viking axes really from this period?

One of the relatively few axes I know of that dates from this period is the one shown on Hurstwic's page on Viking axes. They give its date as being from the 12th century, although I seem to recall that I had correspondence with the museum that holds it indicating that it was actually from the 13th century. I believe that it was kept at the Higgins Armory, although I am not certain about this. Hurstwic gives a total weight of 1.7 lbs (770 grams).





(Images from Hurstwic: http://www.hurstwic.com/history/articles/manu...ng_axe.htm)

What other axes from this time period are extant?
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Mark Lewis





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PostPosted: Wed 27 May, 2015 6:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This may be straying a little bit from what you had in mind, but here is a group of axes from your time period that I find very interesting.

Six ornate axe heads have been found scattered across Eastern Europe. The axes are decorated in identical style, with silver/copper plated blades depicting a stylized horned beast - perhaps an ox or elk. The ornamentation is a perfect match with the hilt of a sword held in the Bargello Museum in Florence. In addition, there are apparently matching stirrups in museums in Moscow and Lithuania, but I haven't been able to find photos of these.

The axes (and the sword) are most likely of Baltic origin, though only one axe was actually recovered in that region. Two were found in Western Poland, but sadly both were lost in WWII. Two more were found in Austria, and recently the sixth was recovered from a grave in Russia belonging to a warrior of the Golden Horde.

It's been suggested (but is impossible to prove of course) that the axes in Poland and Austria were taken as booty by Crusaders returning from the Prussian Crusades of the 13th century.

Tallinn, Estonia:


Zagan, Western Poland:


Gubin, Western Poland:


Golden Horde grave:


Austria/Poland:


sword in Florence:
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Wed 27 May, 2015 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Medieval axes from Norway still look at lot like axes from the Viking period.

Here an example dated loosely from 1100-1300 (from Hole)
Source: https://digitaltmuseum.no/011021908060/?query=bonde%C3%B8ks&page=5&pos=107&count=157

It has a typical Dane Axe head, but the stick is slightly curved towards the end as the later Peasant Militia Axes generally has much more pronounced.

A medieval axe from Övraby socken i Halland (then Denmark, now Sweden):
Source: http://mis.historiska.se/mis/sok/resultat_bil...qtype=bild
Length: 57 cm, Width: 3-3,7cm

This Swedish article talks about making reconstructions of medieval axes and have some pictures of candidates from around Scandinavia. NOTE: Their focus are 1300's tool-axes and not weapons (then some precision work axes might have functioned well as fighting weapons). But at least they show some pictures.
Source: http://craftlab.gu.se/digitalAssets/1334/1334...orunds.pdf

The more certain medieval ones are the above mentioned Halland axe on bild. 10 (fig. 10).
Bild 1-9 shows axes without a clear dating, which could mean late viking age/early medieval axes or later.
Bild 11-12 shows an axe from Husaby, Vestergötaland, Sweden from 1400-1500.
Bild 13-14 shows an axe from Lindholmen, Skåne (Scania, then Denmark, now Sweden) dated ~1300. Another such type from Scania and some from Denmark and one from Norway has also been found.
From Borringholm, Denmark (I have earlier made a thread about the Borringholm Sword - the place was in use from 1368-1412) you have found an 39cm axe-shaft, that with axe head has been reconstructed (Bild 15).
Another axe-shaft from ~1400 from Lund, Scania (70 cm) is seen reconstructed with axe head on bild 16.

Polish article with a short english abstract, that shows a find from Chociwel in 2014 of an 1400-1500 axe.
Source: https://www.academia.edu/11390492/Militaria_%C5%9Bredniowieczne_z_Chociwla_Late_medieval_weapons_from_Chociwel
It actually looks a bit like the bild 8-9 axe (the Swedish article above) from Lund Universitets Historiske Museum 24945. So it is a fighting axe type as the polish was found with also a spear and a dagger.


Last edited by Niels Just Rasmussen on Thu 28 May, 2015 9:26 am; edited 3 times in total
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Wed 27 May, 2015 12:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's certainly interesting, but extant axes indeed tend to be dated at 12th century at most, and then finds kinda disappear all the way to the 15th century...

Perhaps it's just bad luck, or maybe actually sign of some actual trends, hard to tell.

For what it's worth:

http://www.archeo.uw.edu.pl/swarch/Swiatowit-...93-514.pdf

Some 12th-13th century axes

http://asmund-pgd.blogspot.com/2013/11/typolo...rzeja.html

Here most of them are ~12th century too, though can also be earlier, sadly.

From Silesia to Polabie, so generally Wendish axes.
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Wed 27 May, 2015 12:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bartek Strojek wrote:

Some 12th-13th century axes

http://asmund-pgd.blogspot.com/2013/11/typolo...rzeja.html

Here most of them are ~12th century too, though can also be earlier, sadly.

From Silesia to Polabie, so generally Wendish axes.


Wow you actually have given me drawings of the (called typ 3 in the article) Lunow and Teterow axes (I will add them to my thread - http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=31531&start=22), that is comparable to the chamber grave axes from Viking Age Denmark. These are very unlikely from 1200-1300 unless Wends took the design from vikings and kept using it.
But the Wendish (most likely todays Sorbs) had extensive contacts and battles with the Danes after all during both Viking age and Middle ages.
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John Hardy




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PostPosted: Wed 27 May, 2015 10:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bartek Strojek wrote:
It's certainly interesting, but extant axes indeed tend to be dated at 12th century at most, and then finds kinda disappear all the way to the 15th century...

Perhaps it's just bad luck, or maybe actually sign of some actual trends, hard to tell.


For what it's worth:

http://www.archeo.uw.edu.pl/swarch/Swiatowit-...93-514.pdf

Some 12th-13th century axes

http://asmund-pgd.blogspot.com/2013/11/typolo...rzeja.html

Here most of them are ~12th century too, though can also be earlier, sadly.

From Silesia to Polabie, so generally Wendish axes.


My own offhand theory is that the lack of examples from 1200 to 1500 doesn't reflect a loss of popularity but instead simply a change in burial practices. Almost all the earlier axes come from pagan or pagan-influenced gravesites -- graves from "grave goods" cultures, where a person is buried with stuff to use in the afterlife. By and large, Christian cultures no longer did that.

So after 1100 or thereabouts, not too many grave finds.

That leaves lost weapons and heirlooms.

Axes are generally cheaper than swords and are also useful as all-round tools outside battle as well, so they would seem more likely to get worked to death and then recycled than would a sword. Hence not many around other than the occasional one that had been lost. (Much the same argument as for the lack of surviving examples of medieval kriegsmessers actually.)

After 1500, the axes we see are either high-status weapons preserved alongside their owners armour etc in wealthy households or else ones originally made and kept by the hundreds in the new centralized militia armouries.
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Thu 28 May, 2015 4:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Neither battle axes nor kriegsmessers would do well as tools. They were specialized for fighting and didn't have blade geometry and edge angles of a tool. The fact that they were often recycled into something else after they couldn't serve as weapon anymore has nothing to do with what you could do with them when they were still weapons.
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Bartek Strojek




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PostPosted: Thu 28 May, 2015 8:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:

These are very unlikely from 1200-1300 unless Wends took the design from vikings and kept using it.
But the Wendish (most likely todays Sorbs) had extensive contacts and battles with the Danes after all during both Viking age and Middle ages.


I'm afraid I don't follow this particular part - why would one of those axes being dated to post 1200 period be impossibel /without Scandinavian influence.

Similar axes were used perhaps as early as during Great Moravia existence, so it's not that unlikely that they could be used for a while after 1200 as well.

John Hardy wrote:

My own offhand theory is that the lack of examples from 1200 to 1500 doesn't reflect a loss of popularity but instead simply a change in burial practices. Almost all the earlier axes come from pagan or pagan-influenced gravesites -- graves from "grave goods" cultures, where a person is buried with stuff to use in the afterlife. By and large, Christian cultures no longer did that.

So after 1100 or thereabouts, not too many grave finds.


That's good theory, though it doesn't apply to Wendish axes like above - AFAIR none of them was found in a grave.

It would be unlikely though, because pagan Slavs were burning their dead anyway, and weren't generally practicing grave goods, at least not on such scale as Germanic people.
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Thu 28 May, 2015 9:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bartek Strojek wrote:
Niels Just Rasmussen wrote:

These are very unlikely from 1200-1300 unless Wends took the design from vikings and kept using it.
But the Wendish (most likely todays Sorbs) had extensive contacts and battles with the Danes after all during both Viking age and Middle ages.


I'm afraid I don't follow this particular part - why would one of those axes being dated to post 1200 period be impossibel /without Scandinavian influence.

Similar axes were used perhaps as early as during Great Moravia existence, so it's not that unlikely that they could be used for a while after 1200 as well.


Well sorry if I was unclear.
If ALL these “eastern typ 3" are from 1200 AD, then they must be based on influence from ~1000 AD Danish axes (unless the Wends made an independent similar invention), that continued to be used by the Wends, since the Danes and Wends had close contacts. The Danish "Over Hornbæk" Axe and the Teterow Axe are very similar looking and the Lunow Axe is close to the Rosenlund Chamber grave axe.
I just think that these "typ 3 axes" shown in the article are mostly from 1000 AD - the same as the Danish axes - and the tradition of using them might persisted into the Middle ages in todays Poland. [I'm only taking about the "typ 3"]

BUT this "typ 3" might also have persisted in Scandinavia as you have this example of a Norwegian Peasant Militia axe from 1700-1800 (the shaft is not original and is shortened from the original (sadly no info on the length of the original), so it could have originally been a 2-handed axe)
Battle-axes was in use in Norway until 1800.
Source: https://digitaltmuseum.no/011021909718/?query=bonde%C3%B8ks&page=5&pos=113&count=157

Luka Borscak wrote:
Neither battle axes nor kriegsmessers would do well as tools. They were specialized for fighting and didn't have blade geometry and edge angles of a tool. The fact that they were often recycled into something else after they couldn't serve as weapon anymore has nothing to do with what you could do with them when they were still weapons.


That is very true for bigger tree-felling axes that are quite unwieldy in combat, but when it comes to precision-viking-ship-building-axes it actually starts to get interesting, that something a bit like the "Typ 3" in shape is actually shown in the Bayeux Tapestry (and a written description from Snorri Sturluson on shipbuilding), just with very short shafts, and they actually have quite thin blades.
Some of the smaller one handed tool axes with small axeheads would have been useful in combat as their weight wouldn't have made them unwieldy. So when the King called for a campaign then you armed yourself this way (likely secondary weapon to a spear), if you couldn't afford better equipment. It actually seem like bearded axes in many cases were work tools (and the smaller ones could have a dual function as tool and weapon).
Source: http://www.stigombord.dk/skuldelev2/pdf/skibsbygning.pdf
Source: http://www.mfs.dk/sites/default/files/documen...00-123.pdf
Both sources in Danish.
You are absolutely right that real battlefield axes (like the Dane-Axe) are so thin that it's only real use is for combat. [my point is just that some tool axes are very thin as well].


Last edited by Niels Just Rasmussen on Thu 28 May, 2015 10:35 am; edited 1 time in total
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Thu 28 May, 2015 10:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Found some more middle age axes.

This bearded example with some of the shaft preserved was found under the floor of a house in 2011 at Bispetorvet, Århus. It is attributed to around ~1400 AD and as a working axe.
Source: https://bispetorvet.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/c3b8kse31.jpg
X-ray: https://bispetorvet.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/c3b8kse1.jpg

Axes from Bølling Sø attributed to the battle of Grathe Hede, Jutland, in 1157 (though that is speculation).
It shows what is clearly a Dane-axe and then an axe to the right, that looks more like a tool axe used in the battle
[King Svend lost the battle and fled out into a swamp where he was captured by peasants and killed by an axe].

Source: http://d1109175.u38.surftown.dk/images/Grathe...rstore.jpg

Here's a picture of other axes attributed to the Grathe Hede battlesite itself and nearby Gråhede and that are quite varying types.
Source: http://www.denstoredanske.dk/@api/deki/files/...ze=webview

"Ildsmeden" makes a copy of the Skægøkse (Bearded Axe) found at Grathe Hede.
NB: It is primarily a tool-axe, that had been used as a weapon possibly all from Iron Age to the Middle ages.

Source: http://www.ildsmeden.dk/grafik/vare/vaaben/large/022.jpg
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Danny Grigg





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PostPosted: Sat 30 May, 2015 9:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig

More information and pics about the axe from the Higgins Museum:

http://www.higgins-collection.org/artifacts/1100

Battleaxe

Accession Number: 1100
Origin: Europe, perhaps 1200s
Materials: Iron; wood
Measure: 38 1/4" L. with haft; blade:6 1/8" L x 6" W
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz

Description

Head of steely iron, blade asymmetrically crescentic, with convex cutting edge. Pointed basal terminal opposed by rounded end. Strong rectangular shank with simple engraved lines & "X"s at socket. This is rather oval, with flat back & drawn out in rounded cusps above & below; the latter being deeper. Restored long wood oval section haft, tapering to flat butt. Remmants of dealer's tag adhered to reverse near head.

Bibliography

See "Medieval Catalogue", (London Museum), pp. 55, 63-65, type V, fig. 15(2). (WJK, 27 Feb 94)


The Higgins also have this axehead as well:

http://www.higgins-collection.org/artifacts/618


Danny
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Danny Grigg





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PostPosted: Sat 30 May, 2015 9:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig

I also posted some pics of axes here, however I think they are all outside the period you are looking for:

http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=132...p;start=20

Danny
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Wed 03 Jun, 2015 11:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The National Museum has uploaded a picture of the Axes found at Grathe Hede from the battle in 1157.

Apparently one of the axes (doesn't state which) have a "welded reinforcement of the edge with a harder steel".



 Attachment: 161.73 KB
Økser%2C-kampøkser%2C-stridsøkser_DMR-167961_800.jpg
Source: http://samlinger.natmus.dk/DMR/167961
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 10 Jun, 2015 7:16 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Niels,

The image of the axes attributed to Grathe Hede is confusing my understanding of war axes, because my impression is that as of the mid 12th century, it was basically only Type M style axes that were in use, tool axes not withstanding. I realize that these axes may not actually be from 1157 AD or the decades before it and that they might be significantly earlier. Still, I'm wondering: how much variety persists in the shape of war axe heads between 1100-1300 AD? It seems like there is more than I expect.
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Jun, 2015 8:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
Niels,

The image of the axes attributed to Grathe Hede is confusing my understanding of war axes, because my impression is that as of the mid 12th century, it was basically only Type M style axes that were in use, tool axes not withstanding. I realize that these axes may not actually be from 1157 AD or the decades before it and that they might be significantly earlier. Still, I'm wondering: how much variety persists in the shape of war axe heads between 1100-1300 AD? It seems like there is more than I expect.


"Skæg-økser" (Bearded axes) was likely a compromise weapon for a long time (both war- and tool-axe) - probably Iron Age to Middle Ages. It has something to do with the King calling for campaign (Leding) and the free peasants had to show up with weapons (spear & shield as minimum). Having your bearded axe as a sidearm makes absolute sense, as only rich farmers or nobles could afford a Dane Axe or a Sword.
Some bearded axes, though, was likely designated war axes [probably useful for hooking techniques].

This article shows the following figures of Medieval Scandinavian Axes with dates [NB: "1200-årene" means 1200's]:
Source (page 7, fig. 10+11): http://www.remiddelalderdager.no/uploads/1/3/...lalder.pdf

Fig. 10 from
Sigurd Grieg (1943): Hugg- og støtvåpen fra middelalderen. Separat ur nordisk kultur XII:B.
Våpen. Stockholm (page 123).

Fig. 11 from Finn Hødnebø (Norw. Ed.) 1975: Kulturhistorisk leksikon for nordisk middelalder. Bind XX.
Gyldendal Norsk Forlag (page 657-658).
So this image should show the major types from Nordic Middle Ages.

So it is a bewildering array of different types, just as the ones located at Grathe Hede.

War-Axes [based on the Dane Axe] was in use in Norway until 1800. As I showed in this thread about the Norwegian Bondeøks.
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...highlight=

Axes for viking ship building with pictures from Bayeux Tapestry.
[So these work axes a very slender to make precise woodcutting. For instance the "Bredbil" (Hedeby example) is perhaps in actually a shipbuilder axe - used as weapon? - as seen from Denmark (Rosenlund, Over Hornbæk, Trelleborg] and northern Poland in the middle ages, Teterow + many others..

Source: http://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/uploads/pics/svoekser.jpg

Remember that saws are a roman thing. Scandinavians used often very thin and slender axes for precise wood work and they would be very useful as war axes!

See the "Skaraborg Ax" on page 14 of this Norwegian thesis by Ingar Figenschau (2012)
Øksemateriale fra Troms og Finnmark, ca 1050-1900 evt: En handverksbasert gjenstandsanalyse
.
Source: https://www.ub.uit.no/munin/bitstream/handle/10037/4305/thesis.pdf?...

It is actually a axe for precise wood work (so it needs to be very thin to go almost parallel with the wood) and would make a good hooking axe for combat.


Last edited by Niels Just Rasmussen on Wed 10 Jun, 2015 9:34 am; edited 1 time in total
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Niels Just Rasmussen




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Jun, 2015 9:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just like at this amazing long use of the "Bredbil".

Norwegian Peasant Militia axe from 1700-1800:

Source: http://digitaltmuseum.no/011021909718/?query=...;count=157

Rosenlund axe from the Viking Age chamber grave (930-950 AD):

Source: https://www.academia.edu/4140756/Nabo_fjende_og_forbillede_-_Danernes_forhold_til_Tyskland_i_det_ark%C3%A6ologiske_fundbillede

Do the archaeologist have the viking one it turned the wrong way?
Or did the guy that put a new shorter shaft (stated on the webside) on the Norwegian Peasant axe do it wrong?

So a "shipbuilder axe" used for warfare. Some of the Viking Age ones are found in quite high-status graves with prestige swords. So some of the specialized wood-axes could apparently make excellent weapons.....
In fact "viking ships" were build in Norway until 1900.

Hypothesis:
Maybe you used it the with the long bill-part upwards and with a short shaft for shipbuilding work (precision) and then for war you turned it around and use it with a long shaft - given more power and more hooking efficiency?
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Fri 04 Sep, 2015 10:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Although this is not an example of an extant axe head, this particular manuscript image does give a good example of a comparatively rare axe form in the High Middle Ages, namely the single-handed war axe. The axe in the background (upper right) looks as though it may have a hollowed out section to reduce its mass.

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