What is a Dane Axe?

I recently got asked what is a Dane axes and why are they called Dane Axes?. The term comes from descriptions and writings of the early medieval period were the raiding cultures of northern Europe were seen as a great menace. Today we reference them as Vikings in popular culture and even in describing the nordic peoples of the time. Chroniclers of that period would often refer to them as Danes. Their attacks were feared and ranged from coastal raids to open warfare on the continent, such as the siege of Paris in 885.

DAne WAr Axe with ash haft and hardened edge

Dane War Axe

One of their main weapons were axes, fearsome in battle devastating on the receiving end. The one we reproduce is one of the larger examples from those that have survivied. The cutting edge being 10 inches or so long and can cut amazingly well. It was a main weapon during the early medieval period right through the 11th century. It can be seen in may of the images created in the Bayeux tapestry, an embroidered work depicting the events surrounding the Norman invasion of Anglo-Saxon England in and around 1066 AD. It is also commented on by Byzantine commentators as incredibly intimidating and used to great effect by the Varangian Guard


Dane Axe in Bayeux Tapestry

Dane Axe with refenforced edge

Dane Axe with reinforced cutting edge

Varangian Guard with Axes and Spears

Varangian Guard with Axes and Spears 

These large axes came in a variety of shapes. The adjustment of the shape would allow the cutting edge to have a different orientation to the target in combat. We explore some of these differences in the videos below and see what types of damage occurs to different targets with these elegant and impressive weapons.

 Dane Axe with Type L head shape

Type L Dane Axe

Check out this previous video of Nathan cutting tatami mats with an axe similar to the one in this video, demonstrating how well they cut unarmored targets. Here is a vid where we look at the reinforced Dane Axe in detail. The vid below looks at how it interacts with the armor of the day.

Want to learn more about the Dane's march across Europe? Check out the Vikings War and the Fall of the Carolingians a great translation of the Annals of St-Vaast by Steve Bivans. Great research and good way to understand the sources of what the history books we read are based on. If historical fiction is your thing try his novel Anno Draconis: The Viking Saga of Sigurd-Litt Ormr: Part One: Dawn of the Dragon long title, great book set in the same period.

divider swords

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

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