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IIRC ancient & medieval soldiers have been wielding axes in battles since Sumerian times.

My question is essentially, how were these warriors deployed in an Army? Most soldiers were in tight formation with spears (or swords in the Romans' case) on the battlefield, there doesn't seem to be any advantage to having warriors wield axes like this or like this.

Are there any examples of a formation of axemen defeating a formation of, say, spearmen or romans? What tactical advantages did soldiers with axes have over the humble spearman that convinced generals it was a good idea to have them in war?

Is there role simply exaggerated? All this is very confusing to me!

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  • Usual use for axemen was exactly to break formations of various spearmen or pikemen, or even better catch them by surprise from sides or rear. Therefore, they wouldn't be deployed in formation, with exception of soldiers armed with mix of spear and axe (i.e. halberd ). Axemen were very useful in skirmishes and ambushes on unfavorable terrain (woods, mountains, swamps ...) . Not so much in classical battles in open fields and prepared formations.
    – rs.29
    Jul 3 at 11:47
  • One handy thing about axes are they can go over a shield wall and hook a shield allowing the combatant to yank the shield from the opposing soldier.
    – ed.hank
    Jul 3 at 13:51
  • Ah Okay interesting
    – gdsfshtre
    Jul 3 at 15:09

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