Axemen or Masemen in real world: where they are used FOR REAL?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Oleksandr Sereda, Oct 8, 2021.

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  1. Oleksandr Sereda

    Oleksandr Sereda Chieftain

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    Hi guys,

    I'm just curious, were axemen or masemen used in real wars? We know spearmen were - good examples are greek and Macedonian phalanx. Swordsmen were - Rome Legions.

    But what about decently sized armies of axemen or masemen?

    Thanks!
     
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  2. Birdjaguar

    Birdjaguar Hanafubuki Super Moderator Supporter

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    Hello and welcome! :)

    Vikings were big on axes. When you say decent sized armies, what do you mean? Equipping larger armies was serious business and required both mass producing arms and "armor". Wood was readily available but metal less so, so spears and bows would be important. Swords and axes took more metal and more training. I don't know why swords predominated over axes, but I would guess that soldiers found them more effective in killing the enemy. Reach?
     
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  3. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    There was a great variety of types of axes used in warfare, from the smaller kinds you can throw to the kinds known as poleaxes. Those had quite a long reach.

    Maces? Not sure. There must be some historical basis for including maces as the weapons used by clerics in D&D.
     
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  4. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    Anglo-Saxons too.
    The fyrd were peasants and tended to use spears, thanes were gentry and used swords as a sign of status but huscarls were professionals and used poleaxes.
     
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  5. Snowygerry

    Snowygerry Prince

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    The city militia used them to some effect yes, alongside spears [pikes] and swords obviously.

    It was a cheap method of turning butchers, bakers, weavers etc. into a threat for professional [armoured] soldiers, not unlike the crossbows later...

    Goedendag on chest of Kortrijk - Courtrai Chest - Wikipedia

     
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  6. haroon

    haroon Deity

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    Not really good in this topic, but I imagine blunt weapon and its velocity would be super useful against armored troops. In this sense I believe mace can be commonly use. You hardly pierce armor, it's easier just to slam down the wearer, no?
     
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  7. Snowygerry

    Snowygerry Prince

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    I think so yes, the pikes stop the armoured rider, the mace bludgeons him once unhorsed.

    Axes and swords would require much more training to use effectively.
     
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  8. Zkribbler

    Zkribbler Deity

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    I remember reading about the Battle of Hastings. Bishop Odo, Wm the Conqueror's brother, carried a mace because canon law forbade him from spilling blood.
     
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  9. Snowygerry

    Snowygerry Prince

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    Interesting - may also be the logic in giving them to clerics in D&D :)

     
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  10. AmazonQueen

    AmazonQueen Virago

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    There were knights in the Wars of the Roses (era of plate armour) who died of internal bleeding without their armour being penetrated.
    This was the era of various types of hammer and pick being used as tin openers or smashers.
     
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  11. mitsho

    mitsho Deity

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    Weren‘t axes actually more common than swords?

    Military history is very interesting in that it shows how much culture - myths, stories and nowadays movies - shapes our ideas of warfare - and how often that is completely not aligned with how people actually thought. For example, that spears and later pikes were absolutely the most important weapon: cheaper to produce, easier to learn, and most important: it lets you keep a distance between you and the other guy making you not die. But that‘s in open battle and now we start getting into the details. I‘m sure, more knowleadgable posters will give longer answers soon, but there‘s also a lot of content on youtube (with combat training), reddit and „the Internet (tm)“. ;-)
     
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  12. Snowygerry

    Snowygerry Prince

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    Swords for a long time were the mark of the professional soldier, they were valued and expensive, the axe was a common household item, along with the knife - every man that went on a military campaign would likely have carried one even only just to chop wood.

    An axe, like a sword must be well kept to remain effective as weapon though, not very well suited to equip large groups of unprofessional soldiers.

    We have fairly good contemporary reports of how the maces were used :

    "With great heavy ironed staves, having a long sharp iron projecting, they (The Flemish) go to meet the French, such a staff, which they carry in war, is named Godendac in their country. Goden-dac that is to say Good-day, if one would express it in French. This staff is long and well contrived, made for striking with two hands. And when it is used for a crushing stroke, if he who strikes understands it and knows how to work well therewith, quickly he may recover his blow and strike, without any jest, with the projecting end forward, stabbing his enemy in the belly; and the iron is sharp that enters easily and straight forward into all places in which it may be thrust, if armour does not resist it"34

    WA308_34856_PIII348_GOEDENDAG-A-FOURTEEN_I.pdf (rcin.org.pl)
     
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  13. Sarin

    Sarin King

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    Axes were popular close quarters weapons of Eurasian steppe nomadic tribes-Skythians, Saka and others.
    As a common tool, axe was pressed into service as close quarters weapon by ranged troops almost worldwide throughout antiquity and medieval times.
    India in particular had a long tradition in using both axe and mace in pre-gunpowder times.
    Maces and flails were common in late medieval period as means of defeating plate armour. Hussites in particular were renowned for their affinity to them-and gunpowder.
     
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  14. The_J

    The_J Say No 2 Net Validations Super Moderator Supporter

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  15. Sarin

    Sarin King

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    Re-reading this, I realize that OP wasn't actually answered much. Maces and axes were common as secondary weapons, but what OP is asking is about their use as primary weapon. That's a different thing. Since both weapons need room to swing, their use in classical and medieval Europe was limited due to overall use of close formation on battlefield. The only time I can recall is the use of Goedendag by Flemish militias, and use of large Dane axes and bardiches in northern and eastern Europe, in which they were often used in a manner similar to polearms.
    However, if you look elsewhere...maces and axes were common main weapons in Bronze Age Europe, Near and Middle East. Egypt, Assyria, and so on. As I mentioned earlier, mace and axe, along with sword, were main weapons of Kshatriya-Indian warrior caste, and regiments of these were fielded in their wars. Maces and clubs were also dominant weapons in Mesoamerican and Incan warfare. I believe you could also find some examples in SE Asia, but I don't recall anything offhand.
     
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  16. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

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    Exactly. There was a good article on maces and clerics in an old issue of Dragon Magazine, back in the '80s or thereabouts. Clerics were not allowed to spill blood, so they couldn't use edged weapons. But when you consider the common sense angle, this is actually quite ridiculous. Of course blood is going to be spilled if you split someone's head open or break their bones. At the very least you can cause a concussion and internal bleeding.

    There's a guy whose name I don't recall at the moment who has a channel devoted to researching and re-creating the life of a typical medieval knight - everything from his horse, weapons, and armor, to the food he ate and even the type of soap and candles he used.

    It's an excellent series of videos, and made me realize that there are parts of my ongoing NaNoWriMo project (11th century adventure story based on the computer game King's Heir: Rise to the Throne) that are completely inaccurate when it comes to how knights do things. The game suffers from Bonanza Syndrome - older father who has his two unmarried adult sons living with him. As in Bonanza, the family is wealthy, they control profitable natural resources, and... there are no women. Anywhere, other than the villain and the mother of one of the characters, who died in childbirth. So I've been creating missing characters of a variety of ages, ranks, and stations, including women. But even though the two knight characters should have been off administering the family estates outside the capitol city, the story won't work unless they live at home.

    Therefore, I've had to get creative when trying to mesh the source material with my historical research.

    But at least the game did get some stuff right. Not everyone uses a sword, there's a variety of armor (though I doubt it's accurate for the early 11th century), and nobody uses stirrups (newfangled things that most people in that region didn't have yet).

    There's another YT channel I've watched now and then, called Shadiversity. It's interesting, and covers a variety of topics from weapons and armor to architecture and how to construct castles and fortresses.
     
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  17. haroon

    haroon Deity

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    We got Phro back-then, but we still got @Ajidica now, perhaps he can elaborate more about this topic.
     
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  18. Snowygerry

    Snowygerry Prince

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    The famous Swiss pike formations included a second line armed with similar pole arms iirc, more than any single weapon, the counter to mounted knights was a combined-arms operation, I'm sure there are examples to be found in Italy too - anywhere where rich populous cities are looking to resist forces of armoured riders.
     
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  19. Ajidica

    Ajidica High Quality Person

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    I'll be focusing on Europe and the Near East because my knowledge of African, Indian, Asian, or Mesoamerican warfare is basically zero.
    Axes, swords, and maces were fundamentally secondary weapons compared to a good long stick with a pointy end. (I have my own thoughts about the Roman Gladius and its military use.) I can't think of any classical military units that were equipped solely with axes or maces, but then again, classical military history is not my strong point. Axes were certainly used -the Suebi were quite famous for using axes- and I believe Constantine's army at Milvian Bridge featured Ethiopian auxilliaries wielding massive iron-bound clubs (ie maces). Into the Middle Ages, as many have already noted, the Vikings were well known users of the axe (along with swords!) and were the developer of the famous two-handed 'dane axe'. Prior to this, two-handed axes weren't really a thing as it required some fairly sophisticated metalworking skill to pattern weld the hard edge to a softer core while keeping it sufficiently thin. The two handed dane axe went on to great fame in the heavily norse-influenced Anglo-Saxon Huscarls and the Byzantine Varangian Guard. Axes of varying types were used throughout the middle ages and single and two handed varieties across the spectrum, and if I remember right were quite popular among Arab heavy cavalry in the near east. Note that we have no evidence 'double headed axes' were ever actually a real thing outside of some ceremonial stuff.
    As far as maces, they were definitely used in the Middle Ages and were apparently quite popular with Byzantine and Persian heavy cavalry. I believe there was an instance where Hungarian cavalry refused to fight Byzantine cataphracts because of the Byzantine use of maces. It is important to note that the 'macemen' seen in Civilization4 with the ball connected to a handle by chain were, if they were actually used, very rare weapons. Some experimental archaeology with them shows they were very hard to use and quite dangerous to the wielder. As far as two-handed hafts with a chain on the top, those seem to have a been a bit more common, but were an outgrowth from a peasant weapon and likewise appear very uncommon.

    In terms of the period I know best, 'Dark Age' and 'Viking Age' warfare in the British Isles, the primary melee weapons were: spear for throwing and stabbing, heavier spear for stabbing, seax/long knife, hand axe, swords for high status individuals, and in the later period dane axes emerged for high status individuals. There are many interesting indications in archaeology that suggest there was a significant shift around 600 AD in how warfare was fought, moving from larger bodies of men fighting in relatively lose formation with a preponderance of throwing weapons toward smaller denser bodies of heavily armed men, and that it is tied in with the collapse of Mediterranean trade routes brought on the the Byzantine Gothic Wars and devastation of Italy and its effect on the British highland kingdoms, but that is getting beyond the scope of the question and is a highly speculative area anyhow given the almost complete lack of written sources. Spears were the most common weapon, good at keeping the enemy away and good at punching through chainmail. The seax/long knife were very common weapons across social classes and would have been very useful if combat turns into, as one historian has described it, a pushing and shoving rugby scrum. Hand axes weren't particularly common among the various inhabitants of Britain, but were very popular among the Vikings. The reasons for that is unclear, but the more compelling arguments I've seen include:
    a) the comparative poverty of the Norse and for a side arm hand axes were more effective than seaxs and cheaper than swords;
    b) hand axes could be more effective against armor than swords. I'm not entirely sure I buy this, as the Anglo-Saxons weren't stupid and would have used hand axes in combat over swords if there was a clear effectiveness increase. Hand axes are also harder to 'fence' with than swords as the weight in concentrated at the tip. I suspect the use of hand axes by the norse may be in part they were highly effective against the poorly trained fyrd who would be on hand to defend during a raid;
    c) hand axes are easier to maintain when you are away from a location with skilled metalworkers. Vikings were originally pirates/raiders, and based on the sagas were at the start of the period likely comprised of thoroughly unlikeable and violent men who got kicked out of the villages by the local jarl for being a wrong-un. Not exactly the sort of people with access to skilled metalworkers needed to maintain and produce swords. Nor are you likely to have access to a skilled swordsmith sailing around and raiding villages.
    d) as the period went on, the axe had become associated with the Norse as a sort of 'national weapon' and it was 'expected' a norse warrior fight with an axe.
    The two-handed dane axe emerged as a relatively specialized weapon for elite soldiers for both attacking and holding off an enemy. A bunch big guys clad in bright mail, with a helm of gold and garnet and boar tusk, wielding an axe as tall as you, and knowing full well they are your social and military superior is a pretty intimidating sight on the battlefield. Improvements in metallurgy and welding permitted the development of effective two handed axes. The Anglo-Saxon huscarls adopted it after getting conquered by the Danes and developing a Norse-Anglo-Saxon kingdom; and it spread to the Byzantine Varangian Guard through Norse mercenaries, such as Harald Hardrada.

    It is worth remembering that the use of any sort of weapon in combat requires a lot of training and experience, even pikes. Without extensive training, a pike block was incapable of doing much more than standing there. As the Swiss discovered, unless you can force the enemy to attack you, a pike block is vulnerable to missile fire and will be outmaneuvered. Getting a pike block on the offensive without losing cohesion is tricky as you have lots of people moving in close formation over rough ground with long weapons. Pretend you get some friends and form up a 3x3 square, all about 8" to a foot apart. Try moving over rough ground. You need to move in an almost perfect straight light or you risk bumping into the person next to you, which might cause people behind you to bump into you. You can't really slow down to step over a tricky bit (leaving out the inevitable bodies falling from earlier combat) without messing up the line behind you.

    The 'room to swing' wasn't really an issue. The famed dane axe was used in a period of dense shieldwall fighting. If you are fighting with a dane axe, both your hands are wielding it so you have to shield; accordingly, the axe must provide both offense and defense. If the axe head is pointing away from the enemy, it isn't protecting you and you are wide open to a spear thrust. In any sort of combat, if your weapon isn't pointed at the enemy, you better have a very good reason for it.
    As noted, the primary weapon in history, straight up from Ugg the Caveman to arguably the development of breech loading rifles was a long stick or tube with a point on the end, with other weapons serving as a sidearm or a highly specialized role.
    However, if you look elsewhere...maces and axes were common main weapons in Bronze Age Europe, Near and Middle East. Egypt, Assyria, and so on. As I mentioned earlier, mace and axe, along with sword, were main weapons of Kshatriya-Indian warrior caste, and regiments of these were fielded in their wars. Maces and clubs were also dominant weapons in Mesoamerican and Incan warfare. I believe you could also find some examples in SE Asia, but I don't recall anything offhand.[/QUOTE]

    Thanks for the thoughts!
     
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  20. Boris Gudenuf

    Boris Gudenuf Deity

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    Let me widen the discussion just a bit.

    The earliest weapons depicted in the hands of 'warriors' are axes and maces.
    Specifically, stone axes found in Palestinian archeological sites dating back to 7000 BCE, and stone maces and daggers found as sidearms along with slings at Catal Huyok (southern Anatolia) around the same time
    A stone-headed mace depicted around 3500 BCE in the hands of a Syrian/Canaanite figure - who, as @Ajidica quite accurately pointed out, is also carrying a 'stout spear'. A little later, in 3200 BCE, a pre-dynastic Egyptian warrior is shown with a long flint-tipped spear, cowhide shield, and stone-headed mace and (apparently flint) knife as a 'sidearm'.

    The reason for the popularity of a mace was later religious (the No Spilling Blood admonition of the medieval Church) but originally was much simpler: combat evidence is that in a melee only about 10% of the wounds are to the head - but 90% of head wounds are Fatal (from the US Army's macabre little book Wound Ballistics). Hit somebody over the head with a stick, you ma stun him, but if the end of the stick is weighted with a stone or copper/bronze head (turning it into a mace or axe), you can crack his skull like an egg. In battlefield mass graves dating from 2000 BCE to 1000 CE the majority of skeletons show head trauma, and the majority of the head trauma are holes in the skulls made by an axe or mace or (possibly) spear or sword point. Hit them with a club, they may get up again. Hit them with a mace or axe, and they are Done.

    As soon as people got metal, the maces and axes started being made with it. Shaft-hoe (narrow-bladed) axes of arsenical bronze appear in the Maikop Culture around 3500 BCE, and they traded metal goods to the Mesopotamian city-states and empires extensively, so they spread the axes there. Those 'battle axes' of bronze were also adopted by the Yamnaya and other 'horse cultures' further north in the modern eastern Ukraine (and stayed in use, in iron or steel, for many of the 'horse warriors' right up to the advent of gunpowder). The bronze-headed axes had also reached Italy (Remedello Culture in the Po Valley) by 3400 BCE.

    The two most common bronze 'secondary weapons' (after the spear, sometimes held in two hands like a later pike) in ancient Mesopotamia seem to have been the 'sickle short sword' and the bronze axe or mace. Bronze swords were relatively rare by comparison, at least from the archeological and pictorial evidence that survives.

    Shang Chinese chariot warriors are shown with long spears, bladed spears (primitive halberds), maces and axes. Unfortunately, we don't have any good pictorial evidence of Chinese infantry weapons until much later - Classical Warring States and Qin - and by that time the infantry are all conscripted peasants making use of easy-to-use weapons like long spears and crossbows.

    Parenthetically, the pike or spear are much easier to train with and use than the sword or axe, which is partially why spears and (later) pikes were so popular: a 'part-time' conscripted peasant or group of peasants could be trained to be at least minimally effective with them while using a sword or axe well took a ot of time in continuous practice. When the Roman Legions became almost entirely swordsmen (Marian Reforms), they were also recruited for 20 - 25 years: No Amateurs Need Apply. Also note that the Roman Legion never completely gave up 'long sticks with points': the Late Republic and early Imperial Legion also carried the pilum, heavy throwing spears, and after the first century CE started adding lanciarii - spearmen - to the Legions to defend against Sarmatian or Alan heavy cavalry or Sassanid Persian mounted troops.
    By the late Empire the Roman infantry were spearmen with a large, heavy shield and a long sword (spatha) which they were well-trained in using, so they combined the Civ game effects of Melee and Anti-Cav troops. The early Byzantine Thematic infantry were similarly armed, and the peasant spearman was the common warrior of the Carolingian and Anglo-Saxon 'levy' or Fyrd.

    Pattern welding was invented in either northern Gaul or Germany around the second century CE, and after that swords and other weapons were much better than the wrought iron edged clubs they had been before. Still, because of the time required to train with them, the axe and sword remained Professional Weapons in Europe - elite warriors, 'knights' and their equivalents. For most of the Medieval period, armored men on foot (elites) are shown with two-handed long axes rather than swords, and as early as 1279 CE it developed into the hallembart or halberd, by adding a spearpoint to the axe. This actually preceded the first Medieval pike units, but the first recorded use of the halberd in battle was at Morgarten in 1315 CE, where it was the combination of Swiss pikes and halberds that massacred a force of knights.
     
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