Poleaxe Weapon

What was a Medieval Poleaxe?

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.

Medieval Poleaxe Weapons

Medieval Knights used Poleaxes which were ideal medieval weapons

Medieval Poleaxe

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”.

Poleaxe Weapons

Collection of various Poleaxe weapons used by medieval footsoldiers

Medieval Poleaxe Description

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 refer to the poleaxe as a long-handed footman’s Warhammer, which is a type of weapon that can be traced back to the Stone Age.

Medieval Poleaxe Footsoldier

A medieval footsoldier holds a Medieval Poleaxe Weapon

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.

Poleaxe Weapons

Medieval Weapons – Poleaxe – Collection of various Poleaxes used by Medieval Knights

Types of Poleaxe

According to studies, there are three basic types of poleaxe during the medieval period

  • The Throwing Hammer is a type of poleaxe considered a derivative of a throwing hatchet.
  • The Short Hammer is a weapon used by warriors in the 13th to the 16th century. This type of poleaxe is sometimes considered the horseman’s hammer and is a one-handed type of weapon.
  • The Long-handed Footman’s Hammer is more commonly referred to as the poleaxe.  This is a longer version of what was known as the short hammer and requires the use of both hands. It was also widely used during the 14th to 16th centuries.

Knights and Foot soldiers Battle of Agincourt

History of the Poleaxe

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 their potential.  It was in the 13th and 14th centuries when these weapons started becoming popular and in the 15th and 16th centuries, these weapons became widely used.

Who used the Poleaxe?

Due to extreme violence in the medieval era that was 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.

First Crusades Baldwin of Boulogne entering Edessa 1098

How was the Medieval Poleaxe Made

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.

Medieval Blacksmith at Work

Blacksmith is at work using a forge and heat to mold the blade of a medieval weapon

How was the Poleaxe used in battle?

The poleaxe gained 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 a 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 that 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.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Poleaxe

On the other hand, an ax-head pole axe, which is another variation of this well-favored weapon, could cause more damage to unprotected areas of the body. The heavyweight of the axe enabled soldiers and knights to make a more forceful blow against their enemies. Opponents were likely to get trampled down with just one hit.

Given the two most common variations, the spiked poleaxe 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.

Poleaxe Facts

Here are some fascinating facts about Poleaxes:

  • A Poleaxe consists of axe blade, spike and hammer, mounted on a wooden shaft or a pole.
  • Poleaxes are usually between 4 to 5 feet long
  • The name poleaxe was derived from the English word pollaxe which means axe head
  • Bec de Corbin is a pole hammer that was widely used during the 14th century.
  • Bec de Faucon is a polearm that has a larger hammerhead and spike, with a length of 5 to 7 feet