Mar 6, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Daneaxe of the Norsemen

Art by TL Jeffcoat
Legends often describe the Norsemen wielding a huge double bladed axe and a skullcap with horns on their head. The description of that conjures terrifying berserker giants bearing down on their enemies. Although there are many records of single bladed axes as tall as a man, there is no account of a Norsemen wearing a horned helm in actual battle or of the popular double bladed battle axe.

The horns would have only unbalanced the helm and gotten in the way of swinging his weapons. The extra blade would have been clumsy and impractical. Norsemen trained using the axe with techniques that would have not required an extra blade anyway. They were lethal enough with one simple blade. The danger it posed to its own wielder was also a reason Norsemen did not design these fantasy based axes. If a shield was rammed into their arms while holding the axe forward, the force of the shield could push the axe against them and that extra blade suddenly becomes their own demise.

There were several variations of axe the Norsemen used in battle. The most known was probably the Daneaxe. Originally based from a common axe used for cutting wood, but in the hands of the Norsemen it became a deadly weapon. The Daneaxe was simple to make, like the spear and was almost as common. Since all Norsemen grew up learning how to fight, they spent equal time learning to use both weapons.

The Daneaxe was typically as tall as a man with a long heavy blade, but not always. The head of the axe was forged with iron, and then steel was attached and sharpened into an edge. The iron made the weapon very affordable, and the steel gave it the durability it required in combat. The largest of these axes required two hands to manage.

The blades varied in size, and some had sharp edges nearly two feet in length. That’s almost as long as a common man’s arm from wrist to shoulder, and a blade that size could easily weigh over twenty pounds. Twenty pounds slammed into a chainmail covered chest is enough force to knock a man off his feet and break his ribs. Without armor, that would literally cut a man in two. Chainmail was designed to stop slicing blades like axes and swords, but despite the cushioning underneath, no man would be able resist losing his breath with a Daneaxe to the solar plexus.

Norsemen began altering the designs of the Daneaxe over the centuries. Some were shorter and lighter and were used for throwing or melee. Throwing axes for a Norsemen was like you or me tossing darts in a bar, it was as much a sport for these warriors as it was combat training. They called this lighter weapon the Mammen Axe. This axe might have been lighter, but it was still a destructive weapon in melee.

Another version was an alteration to the blade itself, making the sharp edge longer and adding spikes to the end and back of the blade. These axes later became popular in other parts of Europe and were called Bearded Axes.

Several ancient Daneaxes have been found with silver designs inlaid in the blades. The thick iron heads were perfect for adding special designs that may have honored either their family or their deities. They spiced up their armor by adding these designs to their blades, but no Norseman would charge into battle with a double axe and horned helm. This wasn’t a game to these men. Contrary to Hollywood movies, they really were practical and intelligent warriors. The horned helms that have been discovered were more likely ornamental, as a crown was for a noble or king.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. Well, the horned helmet thing makes sense, but I still can't picture a Norse dude without it! Not using a double axe...that I can see.

    Wow, 20 pounds for a Daneaxe? Yeah, serious power there.

    Sorry, but I'm totally stoked for the Avengers and Thor. Loved that flick even though he wore a horned helmet. ;-)

  2. lol, yes I love Thor. I used to read the comic when I was a kid. So the Avengers have a special place in my heart. I can't wait to see that movie.

    The horned helmet thing popped up centuries after the Norsemen settled down and moved away from their mythology. Some artist painted a picture of a Norsemen with the helm. That became very popular, so even though I know they didn't wear them in battle, I admit I picture them with horned helms. Heck, I have a culture in my fantasy series based off the Norsemen and I'm giving them horned helmets, you better believe it. Although maybe not too extravagant.