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These are a collection of Viking axe facts from several sources. The axe was an important weapon for the Vikings – here’s why.
The battle ready Viking axe was an often used weapons wielded by Viking warriors. Also known as a medieval throwing axe, these axes were both easy to create and repair. These weapons were brutally effective and well-suited to the wild but powerful strokes that Vikings utilized when they went into battle.
Viking axes were weapons designed for many uses. They could be used in a village, or on a farm to perform a number of tasks, yet when used in a fight, they became deadly weapons that could shatter shields and cleave through armor as easily as splitting logs. Viking battle axes were made in different one and two handed designs, all manufactured with either carbon steel or forged steel heads. Viking axes are universally as simple as they are effective.
Viking axes were manufactured in numerous sizes, from small hand and throwing axes to huge battle and war axes that Viking warriors wielded when committing themselves to a battle. Viking axes are not fancy and they do not have to be. A Viking axe was a deadly weapon with few equals in the hands of a Norseman.
Specific historical axes used by the Vikings are also known as Danish axes, an early type of polearm. Viking axes are normally made light enough to be thrown and were handcrafted axes with forged axe heads with the edges hardened. Other Viking axes were designed for perforating enemy armor, or cutting through helmets in close combat with their relatively short cutting edge.
Viking Axe Facts
The battle ready Viking axe was not only used for warfare, but also served as a tool on farms and for cutting timber, especially for building their Viking ships.
Authentic Viking Battle Axe
When thinking of authentic Viking axes, most people normally first think of battle axes, and a common image is that of a huge weapon that can only be used by trolls. In reality, Viking battle axes were well balanced, light and fast. They were not only used for fast, deadly attacks, but also for various nasty and sneaky moves.
The axe was often the obvious choice of weapon for the poorest men in the Viking age. Even the simplest farmhand had to have a wood axe to chop and split wood. When desperate, a poor farmer could simply take his farm axe and use it to fight.
Axes intended for battle were designed to look and operate very differently than farm axes. Axe heads were typically shaped of iron and only had a single edge.
In the Viking age, many different types of axe head shapes were used. In the early part of this era, the cutting edge was generally between 7 and 15cm (3 and 6 inches) long, while the axes became much bigger later in the Viking age. Broad axes could have crescent shaped edges between 22 and 45cm (9 and 18 inches) long.
The cutting edge of a large axe head (22cm / 9 inches long) was made from hardened steel that was welded to the iron head. The steel allowed the axe to hold a better edge than what would have been possible with iron.
Although these axes were mostly used for combat, there are some Scandinavian companies that still make these style axes with a more modern feel. The Gransfors Bruks Small Forest Axe is a great example of a high quality modern version of a Viking/Dane axe.
Hults Bruks and Gransfors Bruks are 2 of the biggest Swedish axe makers.
Viking Axe Construction
Axe heads typically had a wedge shaped cross section. The cross section of the head near the edge was however often a diamond shape, providing greater strength for the weight of iron.Some axe heads had a very thin, elegant cross section. Although these axes were too thin and delicate to be used for splitting wood, they are excellent for splitting skulls.
When looking at original Viking axe heads from axe restorations, especially those that are thick and wedge shaped, they clearly show evidence of having been produced as a single piece. The hole for the haft (also called the eye) was then punched out with a drift.
With thinner blades, the blade is folded around what eventually becomes the eye. A steel bit is then welded onto the iron head for the edge. The wrap was symmetrical in some cases, while in others it was asymmetrical, with the weld positioned slightly forward of the eye.
Some original axe heads have a clearly visible weld on the hammer (back) side of the eye. It is generally believed that those heads were made by first shaping the head and then splitting it at the back through its thickness. This would create a cross section that is Y shaped.
Both of the Y’s arms were then wrapped around to shape the eye, after which they were forge welded together. These eyes were normally shield shaped or D-shaped, and not round, and the hammer (back) was flat and thicker than the sides.
Interestingly enough, there does not seem to be any archaeological evidence for double edged axe heads, nor are they mentioned in any Viking stories.
It also seems that sheaths were not commonly used on axes in the Viking age to protect against accidental cuts, although there is some archaeological evidence to suggest that they were occasionally used.
The head of an axe can be fixed to the haft in a number of different ways. One way is to taper both the eye of the axe head and the haft. This will result in the head fitting firmly on the shaft and will prevent it from flying off the end. However the head is attached to the haft, the axe must be able resist both pushing and pulling forces.
Although there is virtually no information on axe hafts used in the Viking era, it is thought that they were most likely created using riving.
Axes with short hafts have a huge advantage in that they can be hidden easily. A small axe can be hidden under a cloak and used for a surprise attack, and were often held in reserve behind a shield.
Some believe that an axe was more difficult to control than a well-balanced weapon like a sword. With a well-made axe, this is not the case. An axe also has an advantage over any other edged weapon in that the curved edge concentrates all the power of the blow into a small section of the edge. This gives the axe enough force to punch through mail or a helmet.
An axe can be used for a variety of moves due to the curved shape of the head:
- The axe head can be used to hook an opponent’s ankle, thus throwing them off balance and onto the ground.
- It can be also hooked over another body part such as the neck, to force a person to move in a direction they don’t want to go.
- The axe can also be used to hook the edge of a shield, pulling it away to press an attack, or to disarm the opponent.
The pointed tips at each end of a Viking axe head were sharp and could be used as part of an offense. The tips can also be used for a slashing attack. The tips create nasty wounds when used for stabbing as the axe horn widens much more than a sword or spear point.
Axes were sometimes used to strike a non-lethal blow by using the axe hammer, the backside of the axe head. This was done to humiliate an opponent, or in some cases, was used against opponents considered so inferior that they aren’t worthy of a proper blow.
It would seem unlikely that axes were often thrown in fights, but when desperate, men will do whatever is necessary to succeed, so learning to throw axes was a life saving skill in itself. .
Other unusual moves with axes are described in the Viking sagas. These include leaping up and hooking the head of an axe over the wall of a fortification to get over the obstruction. Another technique would be to use an axe left-handed, causing the blows to come in on the undefended side of an opponent.
Viking axe heads could be shattered, especially when a stone or any other hard object was struck. other parts of the axe could be used for self defense.
The haft of an axe were often used for defense to block blows from the enemy. This sometimes resulted in the haft filing as the blow that was deflected broke it in two. To minimize the risk that the haft would break when used to block blows with edged weapons, axe hafts were sometimes wrapped with metal such as iron.
When looking at pictures of original Viking axe hafts, we can see a curve near the head. This is thought to be intentional and part of the weapon’s design. The curve helps maximize the transfer of power from the wielder’s limbs to the contact point of the edge with the target.
It is very possible that this type of haft was made with wood that grew with that curve naturally. The grain the wood would follow the curve and result in a very strong haft.
Viking Axe Facts
Viking axes were once the most common weapons used by ancient medieval Norse warriors. These Norsemen used two basic types of axes as weapons, the long axe and the hand axe.
Contrary to popular belief, talking about a Viking tomahawk is not historically correct as the tomahawk is actually a single handed ax from North America resembling a hatchet with a straight shaft. These were used by Native Americans as general purpose tools. In spite of this, and the fact that Viking axes were not normally thrown, there are axes available on Amazon that are described as a Viking Throwing Tomahawk and this Battle Ready Viking Axe.
A rune throwing axe or a rune thrownaxe is also not really a Viking throwing axe, but a fictional weapon used in the game RuneScape.
When going off to a battle or war, most Vikings early in the Middle Ages did not have a specific weapon made for battle, such as a spear or sword. They often had no choice but to grab the same axe used for chopping wood to use as a weapon. This is particularly true in the early Viking age.
Although a hand axe was not very glamorous as a weapon, it was very effective and deadly. Warriors with some skill could easily turn an enemy’s shield into splinters with a hand axe and even kill them in close combat.
The everyday hand axe was however not ideal as a weapon, although it was very effective. As its main purpose was to cut logs and trees it was by nature very heavy. A lighter weapon could still be used for hacking opponents, while they were easier to manipulate in battle and swinging repeatedly would not tire the warrior as easily.
As the Viking Age continued and the Norseman became more successful and had more money, they could build battle axes specifically for war.
The Best Battle Axes
As mentioned before, two basic types of axes were used by the medieval Scandinavian warriors, the long axe and the hand axe. Within these two types there were however numerous variations:
- Blade thickness and size varied widely. The Dane (Danish) axe for example had a wide, thin blade, while the bearded axe had more depth, making it more suitable for heavy duty work such as woodcutting due to its weight.
- The length of the haft (handle) of both types of axes varied. Viking battle axes were normally between one and five feet long (between 30 cm and 1.5 meters).
- Some axes’ blades were engraved with elaborate designs.
- Others axes were fitted with a cap at the end of the haft to protect the top from being damaged.
- Some axes featured horns at both the heel and toe of the bit.
It is interesting to note that nowhere in this article are the famed Viking double bladed axe mentioned. Although numerous images of Vikings depict them storming villages with horned helmets and wielding double bit axes, these images are historically not correct. There is no historic documentation or archaeological evidence that Norse warriors ever used double bladed axes or wore horned helmets.
Viking Battle Axe Main Types
Viking long axes were always made specifically for warfare and battles. They were usually between three and five feet long (0.9 meters and 1.5 meters). These weapons were used to hack at opponents from a safer distance than could be done with a hand axe. Although long, they were maneuverable and light, and had huge, wide blades. A disadvantage of a long axe when compared to a hand axe was that both hands were needed to swing it. This resulted in the Viking warrior not being able to hold a shield at the same time, which left them vulnerable.
The majority of Viking axes that were found in archaeological digs have a single blade and look like axes used to cut wood.
The Vikings did however over time improve hand axes to become more suited for fighting and self defense. Lighter weapons with wider, bigger blades were made and a hook was added to the lower end of the blade. This hook(or beard) had a variety of uses as discussed before. When compared to a long axe, the hand axe had a number of advantages:
- A hand axe could be hidden in a cloak or behind a shield, surprising an enemy that might think they are fighting an unarmed opponent.
- Hand axes could be wielded with one hand. This allows another weapon to be used, or using a shield for protection.
Bearded Axe Head
Bearded axe heads refer to different axes that were used as tools and weapons as early as the 6th century AD. These type of axes are most commonly linked to Viking Age Scandinavians. The lower part of an axe bit is known as the “beard”. This results in the cutting edge of the bearded axe extending below the width of the butt, providing a wide cutting surface while at the same time keeping the weight of the axe down. The beard was also useful in battle to pull weapons out of the enemy’s hands, or to pull down a shield while another attacker struck at the unprotected defender.