The pollaxe was one of the most important knightly weapons of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Usually between four and a half and seven feet in overall length, pole axes typically combined several different weapon dynamics into a single tool optimized for defeating armor during combat on foot. By the mid-15th century, European armor had developed into a very protective technology that made the wearer relatively safe from attack by weapons designed to cut and cleave. Combining an axe blade, a hammer head, and a thrusting spike at the end, the knightly pole axe was a grave threat to anyone, armored or not, on the battlefield, the tournament lists, or on the dueling ground.
Pollaxes tend to have relatively short cutting surfaces that concentrate kinetic energy into a small area, thereby focusing all of the force of a strike in one location.
The Use of the Pollaxe
Though it is sometimes thought of as a rather crude weapon for taking baseball style swings at your opponent, the pole axe was actually a sophisticated weapon that demanded skill and knowledge for maximum effectiveness. In the image below from Paulus Kal's late 15th century treatise, you can see the knight on the right hooking the leg of the other combatant. This indicates that the axe head was not only for cleaving, but also served as a hook. You will also note that the knights are fighting at relatively close range with their hands spread far apart. This is a grip that is optimal for complex binding actions and for using both ends of the pole.
You can also observe the use of the butt of the weapon in a thrust in this plate from an early 17th century manuscript based on the earlier Fiore di Battaglia.
The art of fighting with the pollaxe was closely related to quarter staff technique in which both ends of the weapon are frequently utilized, as well as the point. In the below plate you can see some of the intricate binding work advocated by the masters. What we rarely see in the manuscripts are the kind of two-handed, Hail Mary, strokes that are commonly portrayed in popular culture. Such strikes are slow and, due to the weight and length of the weapons, likely to result in a broken haft -- an undesirable outcome in a fight!
The Arms and Armor Knightly Pollaxe is a reproduction of a famous example (A926) housed in The Wallace Collection, London, England that is dated to around the year 1475. Ours is composed of eleven different cast and forged pieces of steel, fitted together on a carefully selected and worked ash haft. Pollaxes typically differ from some other pole arms, such as halberds, insofar as they are made of many separate pieces of steel or iron, rather than forged from a single piece. See this excellent article from MyArmoury.com for more details on their construction.
The axe has langets on all four sides, and a rondel to guard the hands. We have placed the rondel where it is currently located on the original, though we suspect that it may originally have been located closer to the head and then moved, perhaps during an over-zealous Victorian period restoration. If you would like a pole axe with the rondel closer to the head just let us know.
Hammer Face of the Knightly Pole Axe
We are very pleased that this piece has been recognized as an excellent reproduction by many experts and has been used by historical reenactors and museums such as the pair pictured below, which were commissioned by Hampton Court Palace.
A pair of Pole Axe used by interpreters at Hampton Court Palace, UK
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.