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07.09.2021

Old Germanic Axe

Decorated head of a 7th-century Merovingian battle axe, on view in the British Museum.

Iron axe tip; asymmetrical extended triangular blade; silver inlaid geometric motifs on both sides and tip; subrectangular socket for shaft.

Purchased with the help of the Christy Trust in the Antiquities Sale, estate of the late Dacre Kenrick Edwards, Esq. and others, owned by Messrs. Christy, London, April 26, 1961.

Battle axes were commonplace in Europe during the migration period and the subsequent Viking Age, and they are known from the 11th century Bayo tapestry showing Norman mounted knights fighting against Anglo-Saxon infantrymen. They continued in use throughout the rest of the Middle Ages; although their popularity declined in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, they did not disappear: Robert I of Scotland used one to defeat Sir Henry de Bogun in single combat at the start of the Battle of Bannockburn.in 1314, and in the 15th century they had a steady revival in use among horsemen in heavy armor.

Most medieval European battle axes had a sleeved tip (this meant that the broader end of the blade had a hole into which a wooden handle was inserted), and some included langets - long strips of metal attached to the front sides of the handle to prevent it from being damaged during combat. Sometimes the cheeks of the axe were engraved, etched, perforated, or inlaid with decorative patterns. Late period battle axes were usually all-metal. Medieval axes such as the halberd and axe were variants of the basic form of the battle axe.

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