Battle ax in Russia. Useful versatility

Battle ax in Russia. Useful versatility
Old Russian axes from the collection of the State Historical Museum. At the top is a typical coinage. Axes axes beneath him. Wikimedia Commons Photos


Old Russian warrior could use cold weapon different types. One of the main weapons was a battle ax. Such a product could be useful on the battlefield and in the campaign, which contributed to its wide distribution and long-term maintenance in the ranks. In addition, for many centuries, battle axes have constantly evolved, giving advantages over the enemy.

Classification problem


To date, several thousand axes of various kinds and types have been discovered in the territories of Ancient Russia. At the same time, archaeologists did not always find battle axes used by warriors. Products similar in design could be used in the national economy or in the troops to solve supply problems. As a result, it was necessary to create a classification of axes, taking into account the universality of such products.

First of all, battle axes of all varieties and types stand out. In size, they basically did not differ from other axes, but had a smaller blade and were lighter - no more than 450-500. They were intended for battles, but could also be used for household purposes, although in this respect they did not differ in special convenience.


Classification of forms of battle axes from the "Old Russian weapons" A.N. Kirpichnikova

Some battle axes looked like status and ceremonial weapons. Such hatchets were small in size, mostly they were versions of compact coinage. They had a rich finish corresponding to the status of the owner.

The third main class is work axes. These were larger and heavier samples, designed to perform various works. In some situations, working axes were used in battle, but they lost noticeably to specialized models in terms of convenience.

Over several centuries of development, axes have repeatedly changed shape, and this also applies to combat and working models. Only for weapons X-XIII centuries. It is customary to distinguish eight different types of blades. They differ in the shape and size of the working part, the presence or absence of a protruding butt, etc.

Ax Options


The first mentions of Slavic warriors with axes date back to the 8th century, but archaeological data for that period are extremely scarce. A noticeable number of finds dates back to the 9th and 10th centuries. This was facilitated by the development of Old Russian rati, the need for mass weapons for infantry, as well as an active search for new designs and other factors.


Axes from GIM. Above is a broad-bladed coinage. In the middle - a mint with a reduced butt. Wikimedia Commons Photos

All known battle axes had a total length of not more than 750-800 mm. The blade length rarely exceeded 150-170 mm, and the mass was usually within the 400-500 g. A weapon of this configuration was quite convenient to carry and use - especially in combat. Some of the axes had a hole in the wide part of the blade, which at one time became the subject of controversy. It was found that a lace was threaded through the hole to secure the protective cover.

The ax itself was forged from iron or steel - depending on the capabilities of the blacksmith. A suitable tree walked on the ax, a simple and affordable material.

Probably, combat axes (type I in the table of A.N. Kirpichnikov) were borrowed from the nomads. Such weapons had a narrow and long blade, and also received a hammer-shaped butt. A strike with a mint could be carried out both with a blade and with a butt, which ensured effective transfer of energy to the target. In addition, the ax was distinguished by a good balance, which improved the accuracy of the blow.


Different designs of coinage. Figure from the book of A.V. Viskovatova "Historical description of clothing and weapons of the Russian troops "

The hammer-shaped butt could be used with a blade of various shapes, from narrow elongated to beard-shaped. There were also shorted shafts with a larger area designed for strikes.

The Scandinavian influence explains the appearance in Russia of ax-axes with a straightened upper edge and a rounded narrow blade drawn down (type V). This design of the blade made it possible to combine cutting with cutting. There were similar axes with a concave upper edge and a different butt (type IV).

So the so-called “from the Varangians” broad-blade poleaxes (type VII) - axes with a blade of a triangular or close shape, symmetrical or with slight asymmetry. It is curious that such samples could be equipped with a longer hatchet. The total length of such a battle ax, unlike other varieties, reached 1 m.


Modern reconstruction of the old Russian ax. Wikimedia Commons Photos

It is curious that only axes-minting were purely military weapons, poorly adapted to other tasks. The specific configuration of the blade and the butt made it difficult to cut firewood or other work. All other types of battle axes and axes had economic "brothers." Typically, working axes, while maintaining the contours of the parts, differed from the combat dimensions and weight.

Combat and working axes of all known types were distributed throughout Ancient Russia and were actively used by squads. Moreover, in different periods and in different regions, these or those designs prevailed. Thus, mintings were more common in the South, near the places of their original appearance, and axes of the Scandinavian type were found in the northern regions. However, nothing prevented the interpenetration of weapons culture and the use of other people's experience.

Simple and massive


The battle ax, regardless of its type, was simpler and cheaper to manufacture than a sword, although it was inferior in this respect with a spear. As a result, already in the IX-X centuries. axes of various types are becoming one of rati's main weapons. At the same time, unlike other weapons, the ax was used only in infantry. Soldiers usually used special battle axes, and the militia often had to take workers.


Russian axes. Drawing from the book "Antiquities of the Russian state, published by the highest command"

In battle, the ax was useful due to its accuracy and impact power. In addition, he allowed to fight with the defense of the enemy. A successful strike was able to split a wooden shield, and chain mail or soft armor could not protect the warrior from fragmentation.

The battle ax maintained its position until the 12th century, when the situation began to change. In archaeological complexes dating from the 12th-13th centuries, axes are found in significant numbers, but with many spears, swords, etc. If possible, the warriors replaced the ax with a more convenient weapon with a long blade, while the militias kept it.

Despite the reduction in their role, battle axes remained in service. In addition, their development continued. The evolution of such weapons was associated with ax-axes of all versions. The shapes and configurations of the blade and the butt changed, the handle was finalized. Subsequently, these processes led to the appearance of a wide moon-shaped blade, on the basis of which the berdysh was created. Its final appearance was determined in the 15th century, and with these or those changes, such weapons lasted several centuries.


Berdysh of different configurations. Figure from the book of A.V. Viskovatova "Historical description of clothing and weapons of the Russian troops"

In parallel with battle axes in the troops, similar samples of economic purpose were used. With their help, the construction of various structures, the organization of engineering barriers, etc. It is noteworthy that in the role of a working tool the ax remains in our army until now, although its combat varieties have long gone down in history.

Useful versatility


The first battle axes among the Slavs appeared almost in the middle of the first millennium AD, and in the future such weapons became the most important attribute of an Old Russian warrior. For several centuries, battle axes of various types were used together with other infantry weapons.

However, the further development of rati, the growing importance of cavalry and new threats to the infantry led to the rearmament and change in the nomenclature of the main infantry equipment. The role of battle axes was reduced, part of their tasks were now solved with the help of swords and sabers. However, the development of axes did not stop and led to the emergence of new types of cold pole arms.

In the future, these samples were withdrawn from service due to final obsolescence. Despite all this, working axes have not gone away. They remained in the army and the national economy and did their work. The versatility and the ability to perform various tasks was useful - and leaving the battlefield, the axes were not left without work.
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  1. YOUR 18 November 2019 06: 37 New
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    Interesting stuff. Thanks to the author
    1. Krasnoyarsk 18 November 2019 09: 02 New
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      Quote: YOUR
      Interesting stuff. Thanks to the author

      Yeah, especially for the above picture which depicts a mint with a hexagonal nut. I’m trying to imagine how the blacksmith of the Middle Ages “forged” him. And I ask the question - was there a need?
      1. Flooding 18 November 2019 13: 14 New
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        And what does the illustration with the mint-klevets have to do with the declared theme of axes?
        1. Krasnoyarsk 18 November 2019 20: 20 New
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          Quote: Flood
          And what does the illustration with the mint-klevets have to do with the declared theme of axes?

          The declared theme - = Battle ax in Russia. Useful versatility =
          Is Mint a battle ax? Or maybe, God forgive me, carpenter?
          1. Flooding 18 November 2019 20: 48 New
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            Illustration number six explains everything.
            On its left is painted an ax-mint, on the right is a mint-klevets.
            The difference is obvious. It is difficult to call a mint an ax.
            He has no chopping part.
            1. Krasnoyarsk 19 November 2019 00: 09 New
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              Quote: Flood
              He has no chopping part.

              And so they are beaten not from top to bottom, like an ax, but from bottom to top, because - is it minted? wassat
              1. Flooding 19 November 2019 02: 39 New
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                Quote: Krasnoyarsk
                And so they are beaten not from top to bottom, like an ax, but from bottom to top, because - is it minted?

                I did not dispute your phrase about the hexagonal knob.
                Just joined with my question.
                Glad you understood the difference between the two weapons.
                My regards.
  2. bistrov. 18 November 2019 07: 20 New
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    I have a couple of army axes of the Soviet era, as well as scrap. At one time I "stole" from service when I was building a garage .. Unbearable things.
    1. VicktorVR 18 November 2019 10: 54 New
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      BSL - this is not a killed and irreplaceable thing in the household :)
  3. tlauicol 18 November 2019 07: 28 New
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    what is there with holes in the blade, decided?
    1. kalibr 18 November 2019 07: 54 New
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      Dear Ivan! Holes went along the butt of the blade of the berdysh and rings were inserted into them. There are even surviving samples. These are berdysh city guards. They walked at night and tinkled with them.
      1. tlauicol 18 November 2019 08: 30 New
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        weird. and you can’t sew on a belt, boots or clothes? did not even hear about it. hi


        I've asked about single holes - someone says: hang on a nail - as if it didn’t hang. someone: a throwing rope was inserted. garbage in my opinion both that, and another
        1. Mordvin 3 18 November 2019 09: 23 New
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          Quote: Tlauicol
          I've asked about single holes - someone says: hang on a nail - as if it didn’t hang. someone: a throwing rope was inserted. garbage in my opinion both that, and another

          This is for a wooden case. A cover is put on and fixed with a wand.

          Found somewhere in the excavations, I don’t remember exactly.
          Although it was so.
          request Can it for leather? The skin is rotted, the piece of iron left?
          1. tlauicol 18 November 2019 09: 32 New
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            maybe so request although you can quite do without a hole
            IMHO, leather wounds sooner or later
            1. Mordvin 3 18 November 2019 09: 46 New
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              Quote: Tlauicol
              IMHO, leather wounds sooner or later

              The cover was found somewhere in Russia, and the ax in the second photo was sold by someone from Scandinavia. Either the Swede or the Norwegian ... I don’t remember exactly, I’ve done these screenshots for a long time. All these pieces of iron used to be expensive, they were handled with care. Although infa came across that the hole was multifunctional. And for the cover, and for the suspension, and for zone hardening, and so that the carpenter, working at height, can hang it on the wall (infa from a German carpenter wink ) Something like this.
      2. knn54 18 November 2019 09: 13 New
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        Berdysh was still a good support for the musket. And someone read that applying a direct injection with a berdysh was part of the training program for archers.
        An ax is a weapon of war and peace.
      3. Mordvin 3 18 November 2019 09: 57 New
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        Quote: kalibr
        They walked at night and tinkled with them.

        They had nothing to do. All saboteurs will hide in time upon hearing this tinkle. laughing
        1. kalibr 19 November 2019 11: 26 New
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          Vladimir, they were city archers, they jangled, and the watchmen had beaters - a chopping board and a rope with a ball. And they pounded on this little mallet! And there were also "lattice". People locking lattices across the streets and at the sacrum (intersections). There was a lattice hut and every night he lattered the street. And the watchmen walked along the locked streets from and to and pounded at the beater. And the city archers went about those streets where there were no bars and tinkled in the berdysh. And if you wanted to go where at night, you had to go with a lantern and a signature sheet from the voivode or clerk, or each time explain that the wife was dying and asked for a note in the trellis book, and if there was no book in the morning the trellis should to report that Vanka-oblique from Koroviy lane was following the priest to the Church of the Exaltation of the Cross and that pop did the unsubscribe and put his hand to it! So then they fought crime! But there is no lantern and sheet - then you are a slave, on the rack and in court!
    2. Undecim 18 November 2019 10: 51 New
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      "For many battle axes, a hole on the blade is characteristic. For a long time, its purpose was uncertain. The hole on the blade was considered either a magic sign, or a decoration, or a production mark; they thought that an iron rod was inserted into the hole so that the ax would not cut too deep upon impact, or a wire was threaded through which it was attracted
      the back ax is thrown at the target. In fact, the hole was intended to
      fastening to the blade of the fabric cover, "until the person is cut off." It is possible that
      this hole was also used to hang the ax from the saddle, onto the wall, etc. "

      A. N. KIRPICHNIKOV ANCIENT RUSSIAN WEAPONS
      Second Edition
      SPEARS, SULITSES, BATTLE AX, MASKS, CHICKEN IX-XIII centuries.
      According to Kirpichnikov, the hole has no more than 15% of battle axes.

      One of the “freshest” archaeological finds of this kind is an iron ax inlaid with silver. Found in 2011 during excavations of a burial mound in the Shekshovo-9 burial ground near Suzdal. Along with geometric ornaments, the inlay included images of two princely signs - a trident and a trident.
      1. Mordvin 3 18 November 2019 13: 16 New
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        Quote: Undecim
        According to Kirpichnikov, the hole has no more than 15% of battle axes.

        Knives with a hole under the lanyard have about the same percentage, in my opinion.
  4. Avior 18 November 2019 11: 31 New
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    Found this among ancestors.
    As for a carpenter’s shape, it’s strange, but for a combat or lumberjack, why an elongated blunt butt (but in the upper middle figure in the table is similar) and not so old.

    Cleaver? So the size is small and the blade is asymmetrical with respect to the butt
    1. Trilobite Master 18 November 2019 12: 09 New
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      Quote: Avior
      Found this among ancestors.

      Really interesting. Not being a great connoisseur of knives, I would categorize this ax uniquely as a battle ax. smile
      Carpenter (my grandfather was a carpenter), the ax has a straight symmetrical blade, the lumberjack has a wide convex one, but neither tool needs such a butt.
      And what are the dimensions and weight of this unit? It seems that the length of the blade is no more than 8 cm. Did they manage to work? What did you think of it?
      1. Avior 18 November 2019 12: 12 New
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        Yes, this is a small ax.
        I found it with my old people, where did he- they don’t remember.
        And I don’t imagine how they work. In principle, I have enough modern tools, this one lies and I don’t know what to think of with it.
        I also have a carpenter’s hatchet, with a hammer on the butt, a symmetrical blade and a nail clipper, there is no mistake.
        And this one has a strange elongated butt, like a hammer uncomfortable.
        1. Trilobite Master 18 November 2019 14: 46 New
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          Quote: Avior
          I don’t know what to think of with him.

          To clean, tear off, put in order, make a good hatchet of walnut or maple and try it in practice - chop, chop ... smile Personally, I do this when I find something like this in myself. A couple of years ago, during excavation work on the site, I found tesla and scum, cleaned, imprisoned, now I am not overjoyed. smile
          By the way, if the ax is thoroughly and accurately cleaned, stigmas may appear, by which the date and place of manufacture will be determined.
          But in general, it seems to me, a piece tool.
          1. Mordvin 3 18 November 2019 16: 47 New
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            Quote: Trilobite Master
            To clean, tear off, put in order, make a good hatchet of walnut or maple and try it in practice - chop, chop ...

            And hang on the wall. Nice thing.
    2. Mordvin 3 18 November 2019 13: 29 New
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      Quote: Avior
      Cleaver? So the size is small and the blade is asymmetrical with respect to the butt

      It looks like Polish, 17-th century, troubled times, although there can be no certainty on 100%. And there is no stigma?
      1. Avior 18 November 2019 17: 01 New
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        I'll try to look carefully, I did not consider in detail.
  5. Trilobite Master 18 November 2019 11: 55 New
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    Good article, competent, balanced. There’s nothing to complain about at all - everything is written correctly. Some points can only be supplemented, for example,
    Combat and working axes of all known types were distributed throughout Ancient Russia and were actively used by squads. Moreover, in different periods and in different regions, these or those designs prevailed. Thus, mintings were more common in the South, near the places of their original appearance, and axes of the Scandinavian type were found in the northern regions.

    from which it follows with obviousness that one-handed light axes with a narrow blade, minting axes, are the weapons of an equestrian warrior, while heavy broad-blade two-handed axes are, in fact, the absolute weapon of the time - the subject of infantry equipment that he could successfully use from the second row military structure, being covered by the first row of shield bearers (Scandinavian version of the battle).
    It wasn’t so important for a horseman to strike at the gallop (which increases their strength many times), swing much more importantly, to beat more accurately and more often, which just made it possible to make a chasing ax.
    For a warrior who fought in a dense foot formation against the same formation, the degree of crushing impact was more important than accuracy and frequency, since in fact his goal was not a single soldier, but the entire enemy formation - he hit a dense, well-defended and inactive structure having the task of breaking a gap in it.
    It is interesting that precisely in the period taken by the author there is almost no information about the use of throwing axes. However, in Russia they did not receive serious distribution, we preferred sulits, but in Europe the Franciscans stopped using the Vikings, and the Herbats appeared in the late Middle Ages.
    And the last.
    They will call me Russophobe again now ( smile ), but nevertheless I note that until contacts with the Khazars in the south and the Scandinavians in the north were established, traces of the developed own military culture of the Eastern Slavs were not tight.
  6. akims 18 November 2019 18: 33 New
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    But such an instance, who will tell? It seems not modern.
    1. kalibr 18 November 2019 20: 55 New
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      This is just the most modern ax. Rusty only!
      1. Ingvar 72 19 November 2019 07: 09 New
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        Quote: kalibr
        This is just the most modern ax

        No Vyacheslav, not modern. Have you seen these on sale? Me not.
        1. kalibr 19 November 2019 11: 19 New
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          Igor, I have not seen such among archaeological finds.
        2. Mordvin 3 19 November 2019 12: 38 New
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          Quote: Ingvar 72
          No Vyacheslav, not modern. Have you seen these on sale? Me not.

          Igor, in a place circled around, obviously should be a stigma, you see after all. To determine, the first thing to do is to clean and upload a photo with a ruler, and from all sides (and photo of the eye). And then they dig out in the raw shed the rusty grandfathers ax of the 90's and run around, asking how long such a miracle is worth.

          The axes in the USSR were worth somewhere, or a little more, less, and were issued by millions. And they themselves made of springs, lying somewhere in the pantry one such.
          1. Ingvar 72 19 November 2019 18: 58 New
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            Quote: mordvin xnumx
            And then they dig up in the damp shed the rusty grandfathers ax of the 90s and run around, asking how long such a miracle is worth.

            No, no, Volodya, I'm not saying that the ax is ancient. But it is not modern, most likely the years of the 40s, or 30s. Or maybe a little earlier. request
            1. Mordvin 3 19 November 2019 19: 44 New
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              Quote: Ingvar 72
              But it is not modern, most likely the years 40's, or 30's. Or maybe a little earlier.

              This is a Russian ax of a lumberjack, such began to appear quite a while ago, somewhere in the 17 century, but it is difficult to say when it was made specifically for this, above. In form - yes, a very old type. Here is a similar one.
              It seems to be used in the 18-19 centuries usually.
  7. Tank hard 18 November 2019 23: 07 New
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    The ax was successfully used by both professional warriors and the militia, both by infantry and cavalry (yes, yes, the same coinage). The ax has not lost relevance so far. hi