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Old 3rd December 2012, 11:06 PM   #1
PClemente
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Default Horseman's 16th century Battle Axe

Hi All,

I am posting pictures of a 16th century horseman's battle axe for comment and observations. I am also trying to educate myself on such weapons and find there is little literature specifically on the horseman's axe. I was wondering when such weapons were in use and how late they were used on European battlefields (I have seen a contemporary picture of Prince Rupert carrying an axe during the English Civil War, and read accounts of Thirty Years War curriasseurs sometimes utilizing them as secondary arms).
As always thanks for your insight!
Regards,
P
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Old 4th December 2012, 03:35 PM   #2
fernando
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Hi P,
Nice axe you got there .
Have you started by the easiest method?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_axe

Sure there is some information on this subject here in the forum; trouble is to find it .
Maybe some of the members chime in with some input
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Old 4th December 2012, 04:58 PM   #3
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Axes continued in use in the eastern Europe for longer than the west but were used in the west into the 17th century. As full plate armour become fully developed twords the end of the 14th century wespons better suited to damaging/breaking it were needed. Simply put while a sword is great against soft targets you cannot cut your way through plate with it ( in fact both the Italian and German longsword schools developed techniques relying priciply on the point of the sword for dealing with armoured opponents as the edge of the sword was of limited effectiveness ). This cause the hammer, the mace and the axe to become of more importance. While an axe has a sharp cutting edge it is a small surface area, unlike the long blade of a sword, which makes it much more effective in transmitting force against a hard target as the force cannot spread out anywhere near as far on an axe blade as on that of a sword so it allowed an axe to be used against sort targets for cutting but also against hard targets as more of an impact weapon like a hammer or mace. Equipping it with a fluke or back spike which could punch a hole through plate armour and you had an effective weapon against hard targets and soft.
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Old 4th December 2012, 05:25 PM   #4
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So good that you came in, A Senefelder
Surely this transmission of knowledge contributes with a great added value to the forum
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Old 4th December 2012, 10:14 PM   #5
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Many thanks for the input gents.
Any guess as to regional origin of the axe? I have seen another axe with a wooden haft featuring nails down the length, but the axe itself seemed distinctly Italian in form, as opposed to this axe which appears more Germanic(?).
Also, is there anyway to tell if the haft is the original or at least period, as opposed to a later addition?
Thanks again!
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Old 5th December 2012, 01:17 AM   #6
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For what its worth and strictly my opinion, this particular axe feels a little Eastern European to me. The transition to all steel construction of war axes and hammers was in full swing in the 16th century ( and had more or less already transitioned in mace construction by the end of the 15th century ) hardwood hafts for all three remained popular in the east right into the early 18th century ( not that all steel construction couldn't be found in the east but hardwood construction was just as common as all steel construction became more of less the rule in the west by the 17th century ).
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Old 5th December 2012, 04:35 AM   #7
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This is far outside my normal fields, but this is an interesting looking axe, and I will say my thoughts corresponded with Alan with the East European feel. Actually I was thinking of the one in the saddle of 'The Polish Rider' by Rembrandt, probably because of the spiked poll. In looking further into that, what the 'rider' is actually carrying is a 'nadziak' which is actually a war hammer rather than axe, and this is clearly not a 'war hammer'.

I cannot resist noting the similarity of this axe to French boarding axes of 18th century, though the head is smaller. There really arent many resources on these in any depth, but my search was limited. I couldnt find references on English Civil War forces using battle axes, but certainly that does not mean they could not have been used, just not documented among the regularly employed weapons.
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Old 5th December 2012, 07:31 AM   #8
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this axe I "met" for the first time in London at Bonhams auction 22/04/2009 lot 82 and was described as european horseman's axe and probably!!! 17th century.
probably because these weapons are like daggers terribly difficult to place.

I'm far more at home in medieval swords and daggers, but my first impression was at that time and still is that it could be a French boarding axe from the 18th or 19th century.

herewith some 19th century examples

best,
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Old 5th December 2012, 12:42 PM   #9
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If one does a google image search for " czekan husarski " one will see the typical hussar axe/hatchet with a hammer opposite the axe head, but czekan with a bec de corbin were also used by the hussars of the Commonwealth, though much rarer. Whether the example is actually one of these I have no idea, but it does have their general shape.
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Old 5th December 2012, 07:06 PM   #10
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As I had noted earlier, this axe initially caused me to think of Rembrandts "Polish Rider" because of the 'crows beak' type spike and recalling the war hammer the figure in the painting is carrying. In looking into this I found that the weapon was the 'nadziak' which was similar to and often called by the term of another form, 'czekan'. These and the 'obuch' another form are well described in "Polish War Hammers: Nadziak, Czekan and Obuch" by Mieczyslaw Paskiewicz (JAAS, Vol. VIII).

It seems to me these war hammers remained in use in Eastern Europe well through the 17th and into 18th centuries with the use of armor helmets and cuirass, as well as other components in various degree. I have long been under the impression that the 'battle axe' was not particularly popular by these times, and that penetrating or blunt force weapons like the mace or war hammer were much more effective.

The hammer (much as the mace) delivered powerful blows which would not only compromise armor plate, but the armor itself became the wounding element as the trauma was transmitted within. Not only would these cause broken bones or trauma, but as noted compromised the armor and could impair the viability of movement. The spike or 'crows beak' could also be used for devastating and deadly penetrating blows, and in the case of mail, of course the broken links also became wounding material.

The practicality of the axe head on the boarding axes was that this could be used for chopping and clearing in utilitarian requirements, at the same time be a deadly weapon.

The interesting drawing of the figure in the English Civil War wielding what appears could be a battle axe, it would seem might suggest a cut down halberd. I have not found record of English horsemen in that period using battle axes in sources I have checked, and would appreciate knowing of which sources might reflect that.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 5th December 2012, 07:26 PM   #11
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Axe's can be quite difficult to place.

Have a look at this completed eBay listing for an axe described as an Antique German fireman's axe:
http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/ANTIQUE-G...R-/360523052060
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Old 5th December 2012, 07:34 PM   #12
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This is an all steel horsemans axe of later 16th or earlier 17th century type that I used to own. It is of the type commonly seen in Western Europe and includes a belt hook. It is not particularlly long as I recall perhaps 20 inches which indicates to me that it was not necessarilly meant for downward strokes at opponents on the ground ( this would cause the rider to bend down in a somewhat awkward manner to do so which a longer sword would not ) but for use against a level opponent, ie. another mounted man. I would be currious to know the dimenstions of the original axe posted as the pic does give it the impression of being somewhat long in the haft. The fluke/backspike on this example was not only pointed but actually sharpened meaning that the edges of the fluke had been sharpened to an edge.
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Old 5th December 2012, 07:49 PM   #13
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Outstanding Gene, sure looks like this one!

Just found something in "Arms and Armour of the English Civil Wars" David Blackmore, Royal Armouries (p.9).
The author describes the English light cavalry known as harqubusiers as armed with '..a poll axe in his hand" (as cited from John Vernon, "The Young Horseman" London 1644; and of the Royalist cavalry, from the Earl of Clarendon ("History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England", 1888), the horsemen having a 'poleaxe'.
Here I think terminology and etymology have created interesting perceptions, as these are typically foot troops weapons used to breach armor with polearms (about 8 ft or longer). The term 'poll' apparantly was used rather redundantly to describe an axe, but technically while the term means 'head' (cf. axe head) it actually refers to the back or 'butt' of the axe head.
These poleaxes also most often had not only an axe blade and spiked 'poll' but a fluke or spike atop the head. This seems to closely approximate the illustration shown of the axe held by the figure in the original post, and likely a cut down poleaxe, not halberd as I suggested earlier (these had larger heads).
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Old 5th December 2012, 09:13 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Outstanding Gene, sure looks like this one!

Just found something in "Arms and Armour of the English Civil Wars" David Blackmore, Royal Armouries (p.9).
The author describes the English light cavalry known as harqubusiers as armed with '..a poll axe in his hand" (as cited from John Vernon, "The Young Horseman" London 1644; and of the Royalist cavalry, from the Earl of Clarendon ("History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England", 1888), the horsemen having a 'poleaxe'.
Here I think terminology and etymology have created interesting perceptions, as these are typically foot troops weapons used to breach armor with polearms (about 8 ft or longer). The term 'poll' apparantly was used rather redundantly to describe an axe, but technically while the term means 'head' (cf. axe head) it actually refers to the back or 'butt' of the axe head.
These poleaxes also most often had not only an axe blade and spiked 'poll' but a fluke or spike atop the head. This seems to closely approximate the illustration shown of the axe held by the figure in the original post, and likely a cut down poleaxe, not halberd as I suggested earlier (these had larger heads).



Thank you my friend.
I still have hopes that I might identify those two small axes of mine.
In my seemingly unending quest for similar pieces to compare I realise just how problematic it can be to identify these at first seemingly 'obvious' types.

The amount of Fireman's axes from France, Germany and other mainland European countries which look superficially the same as Saddle axes or boarding axes is apparent once you start looking for "fireman's axes" lol!

The path to this from my little probable Tabar is a slippery slope from Focos and othe Hungarian/Eastern European walking axes!

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=13791

Nightmare!
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Old 5th December 2012, 09:47 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
As I had noted earlier, this axe initially caused me to think of Rembrandts "Polish Rider" because of the 'crows beak' type spike and recalling the war hammer the figure in the painting is carrying. In looking into this I found that the weapon was the 'nadziak' which was similar to and often called by the term of another form, 'czekan'. These and the 'obuch' another form are well described in "Polish War Hammers: Nadziak, Czekan and Obuch" by Mieczyslaw Paskiewicz (JAAS, Vol. VIII).

It seems to me these war hammers remained in use in Eastern Europe well through the 17th and into 18th centuries with the use of armor helmets and cuirass, as well as other components in various degree. I have long been under the impression that the 'battle axe' was not particularly popular by these times, and that penetrating or blunt force weapons like the mace or war hammer were much more effective.

The hammer (much as the mace) delivered powerful blows which would not only compromise armor plate, but the armor itself became the wounding element as the trauma was transmitted within. Not only would these cause broken bones or trauma, but as noted compromised the armor and could impair the viability of movement. The spike or 'crows beak' could also be used for devastating and deadly penetrating blows, and in the case of mail, of course the broken links also became wounding material.

The practicality of the axe head on the boarding axes was that this could be used for chopping and clearing in utilitarian requirements, at the same time be a deadly weapon.

The interesting drawing of the figure in the English Civil War wielding what appears could be a battle axe, it would seem might suggest a cut down halberd. I have not found record of English horsemen in that period using battle axes in sources I have checked, and would appreciate knowing of which sources might reflect that.

All best regards,
Jim



I should avoid reading your posts Jim!


Because you give me so much to think about that I'll be 'googling' for days to come!
Fantastic post and a Rembrandt as well!

As for the drawing of the Rupert from the English Civil war....
I wonder if the axe isn't more part of the political statement that the drawing represents?
His villainy is clear as he single handedly pillages the poor downtrodden city of 'Brimighani' (Birmingham) accompanied by his hellhound 'Boy' (An evil poodle with supernatural powers!).
Perhaps his 'axe' was part of the symbolism of the piece?
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Old 5th December 2012, 10:40 PM   #16
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Wow, that warhammer is positively wicked looking!
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Old 6th December 2012, 12:25 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Atlantia
I should avoid reading your posts Jim!


Because you give me so much to think about that I'll be 'googling' for days to come!
Fantastic post and a Rembrandt as well!

As for the drawing of the Rupert from the English Civil war....
I wonder if the axe isn't more part of the political statement that the drawing represents?
His villainy is clear as he single handedly pillages the poor downtrodden city of 'Brimighani' (Birmingham) accompanied by his hellhound 'Boy' (An evil poodle with supernatural powers!).
Perhaps his 'axe' was part of the symbolism of the piece?



LOL! Welcome to my world Gene My curiosity and fascination with the history is almost maniacal. I can barely get through movies or articles etc. without the research alarm sounding. I was intrigued by Rembrandt and symbolism hidden in classic art long before the DaVinci code. There are so many nuances and inuendos in these works, its wonderfully amazing.

You are spot on in your idea of symbolism in these kinds of illustrations which are often far more than 'artistic license' and actually become in a sense allegorical. As I noted, it is observed in these two accounts of these cavalrymen, one contemporary, the other Victorian, that they carried pollaxes/poleaxes, respectively. Obviously a horseman is not going to be carrying an 8-10ft. polearm, so either the term was used rather collectively for war hammer or these were indeed polearms, but cut down hafts for mounted use.
This kind of investigation and analysis is known as 'historical detection' and is best described in a book titled "After the Fact", Davidson & Lytle, 1982.
Thats what I always think of us here as, historical weapons investigators

All the very best,
Jim
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Old 6th December 2012, 02:20 AM   #18
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I don't have the reference handy, but Henry Bouquet, the Swiss British Army officer who won several battles during the French and Indian War, recommended his cavalry carry battle axes.
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Old 6th December 2012, 05:50 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aiontay
I don't have the reference handy, but Henry Bouquet, the Swiss British Army officer who won several battles during the French and Indian War, recommended his cavalry carry battle axes.


Hmm, which reminds me that there are some "Sapper's axes" that look like saddle axes!
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Old 7th December 2012, 05:25 PM   #20
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currently the axe under discussion from post #1 is offered in different market places (ebay, goantiques) on the Internet by an American arms and armour dealer.
it is against the forum policy to discuss an article which is in the sale, I believe.

best,
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Old 7th December 2012, 05:37 PM   #21
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Thread immediately locked.
Thank you Jasper.
It looks like PClemente hasn't read the forum rules .
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