Danish axe

The Danish axe is an early type of polearm, primarily used during the transition between the European "Viking Age" and early Middle Ages. Other names for the weapon include Dane-axe, English long axe, Viking axe, and hafted axe.

Construction

Most axes, both in period illustrations and extant artifact, that fall under the description of Danish Axe, possess Type L or Type M heads according to the Petersen axe typology. Both types consist of a wide, thin blade, with pronounced "horns" at both the toe and heel of the bit. Cutting surface varies, but is generally between 20 cm and 30 cm (8 and 12 inches). Type L blades tend to be smaller, with the toe of the bit swept forward for superior shearing capability. Later Type M blades are typically larger overall, with a more symmetrical toe and heel.

The blade itself was reasonably light and forged very thin, making it superb for cutting. The thickness of the body above the edge is as thin as 2mm. Many of these axes were constructed with a reinforced bit, typically of a higher carbon steel to facilitate a harder, sharper edge. Average weight of an axe this size is between 1 kg and 2 kg (2 and 4 pounds). Proportionally, the long axe has more in common with a modern meat cleaver than a wood axe. This complex construction results in a lively and quick weapon with devastating cutting ability.

Based on period depictions, the haft of a Longaxe for combat was usually between approx. 0.9 m and 1.2 m (3 and 4 feet) long, although Dane axes used as status symbols might be as long as 1.5 to 1.7 m (5 to 5 1/2ft). Such axes might also feature inlaid silver and frequently may not have the flared steel edge of a weapon designed for war. Some surviving examples also feature a brass haft cap, often richly decorated, which presumably served to keep the head of the weapon secure on the haft, as well as protecting the end of the haft from the rigors of battle. Ash and oak are the most likely materials for the haft, as they have always been the primary materials used for polearms in Europe.

History

Although the name retains its Scandinavian heritage, the Danish axe became widely used throughout Europe through the 13th century, as axes gained acceptance as a knightly weapon.

In addition to the Norse peoples, the Franks and Gaels, the formerly Danish-occupied Saxons of England adopted the use of the Dane-axe. Historical accounts invariably depict the Danish Axe as the weapon of the warrior elite. It is known to have been used by the Varangian Guard, also known as pelekyforos froura, the "axe-bearing guard". One surviving ivory plaque from the 10th century Constantinople depicts a Varangian holding an axe that is at least as tall as its wielder.

In the Bayeaux tapestry,a visual record of the ascent of William the Conqueror to the throne of England, the axe is almost exclusively wielded by well armored huscarls. These Huscarls formed the core bodyguard of King Harold at the Battle of Hastings. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts a Saxon thegn cleaving through a Norman knight and his horse with one blow.

Richard the Lionheart was often recorded wielding a large war axe, which may have been very similar to a Danish axe, though references are wildly exaggerated: " Long and long after he was quiet in his grave, his terrible battle-axe, with twenty English pounds of English steel in its mighty head..." - "A Child's History of England" by Charles Dickens

After the Battle of Stiklestad, the axe also became the symbol of St. Olaf and can still be seen on the Coat of Arms of Norway.


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