A Poleaxe, also known as pollaxe, is a European battle-axe that was widely used during the medieval period. It is known by several names such as poleaxe, pole-axe and polax among many others. Some other weapons like the Danish axe are often mistakenly referred to as poleaxe. However, etymological authorities suggest that the name was derived from “pollaxe” which means “head axe” in English, therefore a poleaxe has really nothing to do with the pole but the head instead.
Pole axes are weapons that are usually used by Knights and other men who fight while on foot. These are percussive in nature, which means that they are designed to make blows that intend to crush an opponent. For the same reason, this weapon was very popular among warriors in the medieval period as it enables them to disarm and disable well-armored opponents during combat.
“In many brutal medieval battles Pole axes such as the Polehammer, Bec de Corbin or Bec de Faucon – Hache in French, and the German Fussstreithammer were used to slaughter the enemy”.
What distinguishes a poleaxe from other medieval infantry weapons is its long shaft that ends with a combination of a hammer face opposite the blade, an axe and a pick. The English refers to the pole axe as a long-handed footman’s warhammer, which is a type of weapon that can be traced back to the Stone Age. These are weapons that have been carefully designed and shaped, and are attached to a wooden shaft. Nonetheless, these weapons can also be used for cutting, during this era, Knights and warriors use them to cut the limbs of their enemies.
According to studies, there are three basic types of pole axe during the medieval period, and they are the following:
A poleaxe is an example of a hybrid weapon during the medieval period. Throughout human history, man’s ability to work on metals has improved and in turn allowed man to create, refine and combine weapons. A poleaxe is one of the hybrid weapons introduced during this period, and these weapons were created and combined to diversify and increase its potential. It was in the 13th and 14th century when these weapons started becoming popular and in the 15th and 16th century, these weapons became widely used.
Due to extreme violence in the medieval era that were highlighted with battles in Europe and the Holy Land, the use of these kinds of weapons became rampant, especially in the crusades amongst crusaders. The poleaxe and other medieval weapons were used by Feudal Lords and Knights during this time, and they were used in various types of warfare.
However, men-at-arms also known as foot soldiers were the ones who pre-dominantly used the poleaxe. Weapons during this time were also dictated by status and position. Meanwhile, weapons used by knights were usually expensive due to its fighting power.
Pole axes can be traced way back to the Stone Ages but the medieval poleaxe is a special “hybrid” and most versatile weapon during this time. Medieval poleaxes were crafted by medieval blacksmiths and were mostly made of metals, either iron or steel.
Some poleaxes have langets added to them. These are long thin strips of metal that extended from the head down to the shaft to a certain length, riveted to the shaft of the arm. The purpose of adding langets was to strengthen the weapon, reinforce the torque and as protection from weak points between the head and the shaft.
The poleaxe gained its great popularity in the 15th century when there was a need for weapons that could penetrate armor plates. Medieval blacksmiths thought that combining an axe-blade, a spike and hammer into one weapon was the answer to this need.
In the 16th century, the poleaxe became a well favored weapon among knights and foot soldiers as it allowed a sophisticated fighting technique which was based on quarterstaff fighting. This technique is mainly characterized by the way the staff was held.
Warriors needed to grasp the shaft one quarter from the lower end and swing it over and around their heads to obtain great momentum and power, thus hacking down, tripping, blocking, disarming and slicing the enemy with its blows.
The poleaxe has several variations and each has advantages and disadvantages. Take for instance, a poleaxe with a spike could penetrate armor better and was a bit more handy. However, this kind of weapon may not enable the warrior to inflict more damage to his opponent as opposed to the other variation of the pole axe. Another advantage of using a much lighter poleaxe was a way to provide greater agility to the warrior.
On the other hand, an axe-head pole axe, which is another variation of this well-favored weapon, could cause more damage on unprotected areas of the body. The heavy weight of the axe enabled soldiers and knights to make a more forceful blows against their enemies. Opponents were likely to get trampled down with just one hit.
Given the two most common variations, the spiked pole axe became a more practical choice for one-on-one or single combat with an armor-plated opponent, whereas, the axe-headed version is ideal and would yield more advantage when used in a battlefield setting.
Here are some fascinating facts about Poleaxes: