Sunday, July 25, 2010

What Was an Axe?

Combats by consent between men-at-arms in the 14th and 15th century were often fought with axes. Contemporary accounts speak of the hache in French, the azza in Italian, der axst in German and axe in English.

The vagueness of the terminology is frustrating, since the same word was also used for the ordinary civilian tool.

For the more specific form used in these combats by consent, we can look at other evidence: contemporary illustrations of those combats, contemporary combat manuals, and accounts of the combats. These sources agree that the axe in this context was wielded with both hands, and the head was designed to be effective when used backhand or forehand. One form had a cutting edge backed by either a hammer head or a fluke or spike.

Frequently, however, this type of “axe” had no cutting edge at all. Instead, a hammer head was backed by a fluke.. This is the most common form shown in contemporary fighting manuals and described in accounts of combats by consent.

These weapons often had spikes or dagues above the striking head and at the end of the haft. This was very typical but not universal, and some accounts describe axe combats fought “from high to low and without pushing

Combat manuals often show a fairly long shaft, and some suggest an overall weapon length, including spikes above and below, of six feet or more. However, the weapon could also be considerably shorter, and Fiore’s combat manual shows an azza with an overall length of about 4.5 feet or less.

No comments: