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Scott Roush
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Location: Washburn, WI
Joined: 27 Jan 2011

Posts: 452

PostPosted: Mon 27 Jun, 2016 3:59 am    Post subject: Viking period fighting axe and spear size...         Reply with quote

I just returned from the Midwest Viking festival and was watching the various groups conduct their steel fighting. I noticed the preference for very small axe heads. Some of which only had 4 inch cutting edges and were only 6 inches or so across. I'm curious about what is known about this from the archaeological record. One source I've found suggests that axe size increased with time during the Viking age.

Any thoughts on this?

On a related note.. I've also been asked by some of the re-enactors to make very long bladed 'hewing spears'. I know that the Viking 'hewing spear' is a controversial item with the only source being the Icelandic Sagas. But would anybody be willing to share examples of particularly long blades spears from the Viking period.. whether or not they are considered 'Atgeirs', etc?

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Henrik Zoltan Toth




Location: Hungary
Joined: 18 Feb 2007

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PostPosted: Mon 27 Jun, 2016 7:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

All reenactment battles/shieldwalls and fights would look completely different if everybody had (normal looking) spears, not just swords or those small and/or hollow axes...
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Scott Roush
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Location: Washburn, WI
Joined: 27 Jan 2011

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PostPosted: Mon 27 Jun, 2016 11:27 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Henrik Zoltan Toth wrote:
All reenactment battles/shieldwalls and fights would look completely different if everybody had (normal looking) spears, not just swords or those small and/or hollow axes...


Okay.. this is what I'm wondering. I guess I was curious what led to the use of the very small axes I was seeing in use by the combatants.

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Mark Lewis





Joined: 19 Apr 2014

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PostPosted: Mon 27 Jun, 2016 3:27 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are some types of Viking axe heads that really do look very small indeed... Here is one that was discussed recently; I have seen it in person and the entire axehead would fit easily in my hand.


http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=33474

Scott Roush wrote:
One source I've found suggests that axe size increased with time during the Viking age.

This might be referring particularly to axes of Petersen's type M, the classic "Dane axe" shape, that become widespread by the 11th century. Here are three of different sizes, found together in Ireland.




Scott Roush wrote:
I know that the Viking 'hewing spear' is a controversial item with the only source being the Icelandic Sagas. But would anybody be willing to share examples of particularly long blades spears from the Viking period.. whether or not they are considered 'Atgeirs', etc?

Likewise, I do not know of any direct evidence for the "atgeir" in Viking times, but there were definitely some broad-bladed spearheads in use. Here are a few of different shapes, all are ornately decorated and from the same site in Norway.

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Michael Kelly





Joined: 22 Sep 2015

Posts: 57

PostPosted: Mon 27 Jun, 2016 11:32 pm    Post subject: Re: Viking period fighting axe and spear size...         Reply with quote

Scott Roush wrote:
I just returned from the Midwest Viking festival...


Where was this at? Is it an annual event?
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Scott Roush
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Location: Washburn, WI
Joined: 27 Jan 2011

Posts: 452

PostPosted: Tue 28 Jun, 2016 7:32 am    Post subject: Re: Viking period fighting axe and spear size...         Reply with quote

Michael Kelly wrote:
Scott Roush wrote:
I just returned from the Midwest Viking festival...


Where was this at? Is it an annual event?


Yes it is .. June 24, 25 next year. Moorhead, MN. A very lovely location with a viking ship reproduction and Norwegian stave church. I plan to make it a regular thing now. I'm hoping to be doing an iron smelt next year...

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Philip Dyer





Joined: 25 Jul 2013

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PostPosted: Tue 28 Jun, 2016 8:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Honestly it would be interesting to see a shield wall with everyone armed with sole handed spears with short swords, clubs, one handed axes as backups and one out of Twenty having a sword as a backup. Maybe one in 30 having a Dane axe and mail armor.
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
Joined: 23 Mar 2008

Posts: 424

PostPosted: Tue 28 Jun, 2016 9:09 am    Post subject: Re: Viking period fighting axe and spear size...         Reply with quote

Scott Roush wrote:
I just returned from the Midwest Viking festival and was watching the various groups conduct their steel fighting. I noticed the preference for very small axe heads. Some of which only had 4 inch cutting edges and were only 6 inches or so across. I'm curious about what is known about this from the archaeological record. One source I've found suggests that axe size increased with time during the Viking age.

I can't comment on Norse axes, or on what weapons are effective and safe in modern sports. But looking at surviving battle axes from around the world, I would say that a head which you can just about cover with your hand is medium sized. Bigger axeheads tend to be for long staff weapons, or specialized slashing weapons with long blades with a narrow cross-section. The axes which people carried in their belt or at their saddlebow rarely had a head much bigger than the head of a modern hatchet.

Did you have any doubt that if you hit someone in the head with a sharp version of one of those axes, they would fall down?
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Scott Roush
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Location: Washburn, WI
Joined: 27 Jan 2011

Posts: 452

PostPosted: Tue 28 Jun, 2016 10:59 am    Post subject: Re: Viking period fighting axe and spear size...         Reply with quote

Sean Manning wrote:
Scott Roush wrote:
I just returned from the Midwest Viking festival and was watching the various groups conduct their steel fighting. I noticed the preference for very small axe heads. Some of which only had 4 inch cutting edges and were only 6 inches or so across. I'm curious about what is known about this from the archaeological record. One source I've found suggests that axe size increased with time during the Viking age.

I can't comment on Norse axes, or on what weapons are effective and safe in modern sports. But looking at surviving battle axes from around the world, I would say that a head which you can just about cover with your hand is medium sized. Bigger axeheads tend to be for long staff weapons, or specialized slashing weapons with long blades with a narrow cross-section. The axes which people carried in their belt or at their saddlebow rarely had a head much bigger than the head of a modern hatchet.

Did you have any doubt that if you hit someone in the head with a sharp version of one of those axes, they would fall down?


Great stuff.. thank you. And NO to your last question. Not at all. I actually did bring two smaller axes I made to this event that were interesting to me from the Danish bog finds that I didn't think of as weapons (I have since been corrected). I've simply had it in my head from looking at so many museum show pieces and popular accounts..that fighting axes were bigger. It's been fun for me to make these bigger axes.. but now my perception of the reality is changing.

edit: When you mention 'bigger axeheads with long blades and narrow cross-section'.. THAT is the type of axe that I have typically been making. Big.. but also light and fast. And that has led me to wonder about the small axes I saw there. From my perspective.. the bigger axes are still very nimble weapons. But.. not likely to be on a belt and I suppose used for specialized purposes.. as you allude to.

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Scott Roush
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Location: Washburn, WI
Joined: 27 Jan 2011

Posts: 452

PostPosted: Tue 28 Jun, 2016 4:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Philip Dyer wrote:
Honestly it would be interesting to see a shield wall with everyone armed with sole handed spears with short swords, clubs, one handed axes as backups and one out of Twenty having a sword as a backup. Maybe one in 30 having a Dane axe and mail armor.


Philip.. I'm curious about these short swords you mention. Are you referring to the longer seaxs? I heard once that many of the European Viking age re-enactors and steel fighters were requesting a lot of short swords for shield wall fighting. That never made sense to me given that there are very few 'short swords' in the archaeological record. I suppose if they really meant 'seax'.. then it makes more sense. I DO understand that a shorter sword would be more useful in a shield wall situation.. but I just see very few double edged short swords in the Viking age...

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Philip Dyer





Joined: 25 Jul 2013

Posts: 495

PostPosted: Tue 28 Jun, 2016 5:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

[quote="Scott Roush"]
Philip Dyer wrote:
Honestly it would be interesting to see a shield wall with everyone armed with sole handed spears with short swords, clubs, one handed axes as backups and one out of Twenty having a sword as a backup. Maybe one in 30 having a Dane axe and mail armor.


Philip.. I'm curious about these short swords you mention. Are you referring to the longer seaxs? I heard once that many of the European Viking age re-enactors and steel fighters were requesting a lot of short swords for shield wall fighting. That never made sense to me given that there are very few 'short swords' in the archaeological record. I suppose if they really meant 'seax'.. then it makes more sense. I DO understand that a shorter sword would be more useful in a shield wall situation.. but I just see very few double edged short swords in the Viking age...[/quote Yes, long seaxs are functionally speaking, short swords
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Sean Manning




Location: Austria
Joined: 23 Mar 2008

Posts: 424

PostPosted: Wed 29 Jun, 2016 12:07 am    Post subject: Re: Viking period fighting axe and spear size...         Reply with quote

Scott Roush wrote:
Sean Manning wrote:
Scott Roush wrote:
I just returned from the Midwest Viking festival and was watching the various groups conduct their steel fighting. I noticed the preference for very small axe heads. Some of which only had 4 inch cutting edges and were only 6 inches or so across. I'm curious about what is known about this from the archaeological record. One source I've found suggests that axe size increased with time during the Viking age.

I can't comment on Norse axes, or on what weapons are effective and safe in modern sports. But looking at surviving battle axes from around the world, I would say that a head which you can just about cover with your hand is medium sized. Bigger axeheads tend to be for long staff weapons, or specialized slashing weapons with long blades with a narrow cross-section. The axes which people carried in their belt or at their saddlebow rarely had a head much bigger than the head of a modern hatchet.

Did you have any doubt that if you hit someone in the head with a sharp version of one of those axes, they would fall down?


Great stuff.. thank you. And NO to your last question. Not at all. I actually did bring two smaller axes I made to this event that were interesting to me from the Danish bog finds that I didn't think of as weapons (I have since been corrected). I've simply had it in my head from looking at so many museum show pieces and popular accounts..that fighting axes were bigger. It's been fun for me to make these bigger axes.. but now my perception of the reality is changing.

edit: When you mention 'bigger axeheads with long blades and narrow cross-section'.. THAT is the type of axe that I have typically been making. Big.. but also light and fast. And that has led me to wonder about the small axes I saw there. From my perspective.. the bigger axes are still very nimble weapons. But.. not likely to be on a belt and I suppose used for specialized purposes.. as you allude to.

You can find a long, narrow axehead which is built like a bardiche, but hatchet-sized, in in this photo). That looks to me like it was made to slash faces and arms open and give some nasty thrusts, not cleave and chop things off.

Here are some piercing axes in the British Museum. They are 8” and 9” long and 300 and 500 grams, and based on art they were mounted on hafts 18-24” long, but if an angry Scythian came at me with one, I don't think “that is a tiny little weapon” would be on the top of my mind Happy I have seen much smaller, lighter horsemen's hammers from the 16th and 17th century which were at least in theory supposed to get people's attention through pistol-proof armour.

When people carry a weapon every day but use it a few times in their life if ever, they often decide that light and compact beats big and bulky and covered in spiky bits.
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Aaron Woods




Location: Indiana, USA/Norway/Isle of Lewis
Joined: 22 Oct 2017
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PostPosted: Wed 27 Dec, 2017 12:19 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I noticed a lot of reenactors use unreal shaft lengths and heads to small also hears a real one.


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The same three-pound weapon is elegant and robust to a skilled practitioner while his desk-bound colleague might think it ungainly and sluggish. The understanding we must have is that to the men who skillfully used these tools, they weighed just right.

http://www.thearma.org/essays/weights.htm#.WgdkeHNOnqB
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