Friday, April 16, 2010

The Viking Axe

There was a time during the Bronze Age when the axe was an extremely popular weapon. It featured prominently among the Egyptian arsenal, for example. The axe didn't require much metal, it was sturdier than a bronze sword, and it packed a wallop.

But spears took over when armed formation came into vogue. And as metallurgy advanced, swords became more prominent as status symbols among the warrior elite. And as a result, axes almost completely disappeared as purpose-made weapons of war during Late Classical times and the early Dark Ages.

But not among the Northmen. When the Vikings began raiding Europe, they re-introduced the axe to the arsenals of warriors. The Viking nations loved the axe partly for the same reasons the ancients did -- and it was cheap. The sword was far more revered in the North, but the axe was far more available. And it was a reliable weapon of terror, which was a vital component of their raids. It became a recognized symbol of the Northmen, and was practically an identifier of the Byzantine Varangian Guard.

This axe is a hand axe. The handle is about 2 1/2 feet long, roughly the same length as a sword, and it is easily handled with one hand. The head has more in common with a meat cleaver than a wood axe. It is a thinner cross-section than a modern wood axe, so it is lighter. Also, the force concentrates at a smaller point along the edge. The edge is broad, but not as long as a two-handed Danish axe. The back part of the bottom point can be used to hook shields or limbs.

I bought this axe over 10 years ago at the local Renn Fest. The artisan who made it warned me that it was wall-hanger quality. I'm not so sure... I've been foolish enough to use it roughly and hack up stuff in my backyard. The head is fine, and I've never had to replace the haft. I can't swear it will hold up in a pitched battle, but it seems pretty reliable to me. And honestly, I'm not likely to go over the side of a longship for pillaging action any time soon...

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