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In fantasy literature there are plenty of examples of cultures (such as the Dwarves of Lord of the Rings) who favor axes or hammers above swords in combat. Did any historical army follow that pattern? Obviously some people in any battle will have unusual weapons, and an angry mob will grab anything that's convenient. Some armies (like the Greek phalanx) also used pikes or other length-based weapons that reduced the need for hand-to-hand weapons entirely.

But were there ever any armies where they fought up close and face-to-face, but where the standard melee weapon was an axe, a hammer, or something other than a straight blade like a sword or knife? I have a distant memory that Bronze Age cultures in the Middle East used some kind of sickle-shaped weapon, but I can't think of any after that.

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is this the sickle-shaped weapon you're looking for? –  Jeroen K Jan 6 '14 at 22:50
That is the weapon I was thinking of, but I wasn't looking for that one specifically, I was just offering it as an example. But thanks for the link! –  Nerrolken Jan 6 '14 at 22:53

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Chinese Imperial Guard used double-edged axes like these.

Russian strelets used axes like these in addition to black powder firearms.

Vikings famously preferred axes for both melee and throwing. So the practice wasn't uncommon at all.

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Awesome, thanks! That's great. I'm also curious: those three groups look like they're all "elite guard" units to some degree, smaller groups rather than 5,000-man legions and such. Do you know of any larger armies that followed that pattern, or was it usually associated with guards and raiders? –  Nerrolken Jan 6 '14 at 19:21
Russian strelets were the core of Russian 17th century army, they were not guards. They were used those curvy axe things in the picture for most of their combat: first they would plant them in the ground with blade sidewise and use to support the heavy black powder guns by placing the barrel on top of the handle for steadier support for better aim. This is why the bottom of the axe handle sometimes had a small pike. Then, when the enemy approached too close for reloading, strelets would pull the axe from the ground and used it in the melee that followed the shootout. –  Michael Jan 6 '14 at 19:34
Fascinating! Thanks! –  Nerrolken Jan 6 '14 at 19:40
Vikings as a general rule preferred swords. –  Lennart Regebro Jan 7 '14 at 6:11
@AlexanderWinn, here is a related question, where the 2nd picture shows nicely how strelets used their weapons. –  Michael Jan 20 '14 at 19:48

The french maillotins (wiki only in french) led a revolt in Paris, and consisted of several thousands of armed men. They managed to keep Charles VI imprisoned (in his palace ofcourse) for some time and held on to the city for about a year. Their name comes from the lead hammers of the weapons-depot of the city that where used to defend the walls from attackers.

The Huscarls of the Scandinavians and eleventh century Angle-Saxons fought with two handed Dane-axes. The Varangian guard of the byzantine emperors used the same weapon. Though an elite guard they numbered 6000 in the beginning. (Harald Hardrada, the guy who fought Harold Godwinson and his previously mentioned Huscarls for the throne of England was a Varangian btw).

Many ancient germanic warriors chose to wield clubs. some of them where depicted on Trajans column possesing swords but chosing to wield clubs (click next till number 17).

Among the emperor's strike force rushing along the Lower Moesia in scene 36 of the Column, a club-wielder is perhaps the most eye-catching figure. (...) In his left hand he holds a shield and on his right side a sword hangs from the baldric. The club in his right hais thin at the angle and widens towards the tip. Like other men in the scene, he holds his weapon ready; he will fight with the club first and only then with the sword.

The Bastarnae where famous for fighting bare chested with the Falx, shown below.enter image description here

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