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Norman J. Finkelshteyn

An Overview of Western Steppe Axes
(with a focus on Hungarian culture)
By Russ Mitchell

While the axe did not have the honored place in grave burials and social caste that we have found to be the case with the sabre, it was nevertheless a common weapon of war.
The axe has several advantages over other hand weapons. First of all, its value for penetrating armor is second-to-none. Second, it is a very durable weapon: not only is it unlikely to break, it also retains most of its effectiveness when the edge is dulled, due to the splitting nature of its cuts. Third, it can be thrown, and a thrown axe is very difficult to parry – and if ethnographic data holds true, extremely accurate. In recent times, a Transylvanian pig-herder was expected to be able to knock a boar unconscious by hitting him behind the ear with an axe thrown from twenty paces.
1. Baltas Szekerce2. Baltas Bard 3. Fokos Balta
The images here give several types of axes. These are only a shortened illustration, for the number of variations were immense. There is a Hungarian book of arms (which I unfortunately do not have) that gives illustrations of no fewer than 25 distinctly different surviving axe heads from this period.
4. Fokos Balta5. Fokos Bard 6. Kettos Fokos
Of these, the first is the “balta”. This refers to an axe with a tomahawk-like splitting head, very similar to those depicted in Carolingian miniatures. The haft may have been long or short, but was usually long. (NB: this is based on current research. Since wooden axe hafts usually don’t survive burial, this is open to challenge if other material arises.)
7. Balta8. Bard 9. Nyeltamaszos Balta
The other main variant is called a “bard”. It has a thin bearded edge, with roughly an inch of clearance between the bottom of the edge and the axe haft. This gives it greater utility for trapping weapons. This weapon is not a streitaxe, but has a thinner, narrower head that is farther from the haft. The hafts for this could be long or short, and in the later Middle Ages, in the 16th century, is often depicted with a short haft worn in the belt as a parrying weapon.

10. Nyeltamaszos Bard

11. Balta

There is an axe type found with a head similar to a bard, but with a long socket to protect the shaft. This weapon is considered to be taken from the Rus and/or the Bessenyő/ Pechenegs, and is almost invariably short-hafted.
Then it gets complicated.
There is a kind of axe with a long haft called the “fokos” (the "s" is pronounced as "sh" -- as in “sugar.”). The fokos is a cultural icon amongst the Hungarians – even today, schoolboys get small wooden toy fokos when they graduate from grade school, and many canes are made in the form. It was a military issue weapon not only until the renaissance, but even up to WWI. The best translation for this word is “backed.” A fokos may have a bard or balta blade backed by another bard blade (in the middle ages, never two balta), a hammer, a very short fan-like cutting blade, a spike, an oval knob, or even a hook.
Even more complex, with the exception of the hook (which is mostly from the renaissance onward), any of these may complement any other. So you may have a balta-faced, knob-backed fokos (technically fokosbalta), two knobs backing each other, a spike and hammer head (though from the renaissance onward it is called a hadicsakány, or military pick), two hammer heads, two balta heads, etc.
Most common were the axe heads, backed with spikes, knobs, and hammer-heads.

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