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Norman J. Finkelshteyn

Illustrated Summary of East European and West Asian Axes
based on finds in the former Soviet Union
By Norman Finkelshteyn
Unless stated otherwise, this article utilizes materials gathered:
Pre-10th century - from Vooruzheniye i voenoye delo Khazarskogo kaganata ("Arms and military organisation of the Khazar Kaganate") by .V. Komar and .V. Sukhobokov, Archaeological Institute of Ukraine, 2000 - mar_sukhobokov.htm
Post-10th century - from Drevniaya Rus - Gorod, Zamok, Selo ("Early Rus - City, Castle, Village") Edited by Arzihovskiy. (Chapter 7 "Armaments" available at
"Olen-Kolodetz Burial - Summary of finds by Dmitriy Ryaboy may be found at

The use of battle axes had an ancient tradition in the Caucas. They are found in great numbers in Alan catacombs but are practicaly absent from Steppes Bulgar burials and early Khazar Kurgans. They then begin to apear in the 7th century among the semi-settled Khazars who left Saltov cremation burials.
Axe Head Provenance:
45-47, 54, 55, 59 - Suhaya Gomolsha;
51, 52, 56 - Krasnaya Gorka;
53, 58 - Borisovo;
48, 60 - Netailovka;
50 - Lisiy Gorb;
57 - Kochetok.

The vast majority are small axes of "Chekan" type with a long narrow main blade and the back as a hammer (45, 46, 49-52, 54-57). A few have a secondary blade rather than a hammer (47, 48), and there is a very small number with a spike (53). Finaly, civilian "utility" axes at times apear in a military context (58, 59, 60).

10th century Chekan (Saltov - Khazar culture). Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
Photograph by Alexander Lemeshko

The "Chekan" type axe (type I) continued to be the most popular type of battle axe in the areas of "the Rus" at least through the 14th century. It seems that the ideal purely military axe for Eastern Europe and Western Asia was light (chekan axes average 200-350 grams) with a long, narrow blade.
Type I
1, 2 - Veskovo, Yaroslavskaya Obl.; 3, 5 - Gnezdovo, Smolenskaya Obl.; 4 - Kabanskov, Yaroslavskaya Obl.; 6 - Mohovo, Minkaya Obl.; 7 - Lukoml, Mogilevskaya Obl.; 8 - Gorodishe, Khmelnitzkaya obl.; 9 - Opanovichi, Grodnevskaya obl.

Type I-A
14 - Vladimirskaya obl.
Briefly, an axe with a larger head came around (Type I-A) in the tenth, early 11th century, but quickly fell out of use. This axe seems to have been a hybrid form with a utilitarian chekan-type axe (Type II) in an attempt to combine combat usefullness and camp utility.
Type II
10 - Chernigov; 11 - Vahrusheva, south-east Priladozhye; 12 - Gorodishe, Yaroslavskaya obl.; 13 - Mihailovskoye, Yaroslavskaya obl.

Type III
15 - Veskovo, Yaroslavskaya Obl.

12 century. Central Volga river basin.

A second type of "pure" battle axe (type III) with the same blade characteristics as the Chekan, this one reaching a maximum weight of 450 grams (1 pound), may have have developed in "Rus" areas and thence spread elsewhere in Europe. This axe apears in aproximately the 10th century.
The pure battle function of the Chekan and "Type III" axe is attested to by their characteristic heavy decoration, in contrast to the other types discussed. They were being used by noblemen who had no need for camp utility in their weapon.
"Axe of Andrei Bogolubskiy"
First half of 11th century. Vladimirovskaya Oblast or Volga river basin.

Late 12th-early 13th century. Pozhiya-Stanok, Kostromskaya Oblast.

Following these "pure" battle axes, were those that most succeessfully combined the piercing power of the "pure" battle axe with the camp utility of a wider blade. The Type IV essentially extended the blade of the Type III, and by the 12th century, the Type IV-A simplified the back of the axe.
Type IV
16 - Taglino, Leningradskaya obl.
Type IV-A
17 - Zaslavl, Minskaya obl.; 18 - Knyazha Gora, Cherkasskaya obl.

The "Type V" axe is most commonly found in the North of the Rus area. It is connected with Northern Europe and is termed "Finno-Rus" based on the area and spread of development. A Type V-A, which, while similar to Type V, does not seem to be geographically or chronologically connected, has a longer "tube" handle fitting. It developed in the 13th-14th century and continues in traditional folk use to this day in Western Ukraine and Moldavia.
A final "Bearded Type" is Type VI, with a double ended handle fitting.
Type V
19 - Kashina, south-east Priladozhye; 20 - Oslavye, Leningradskaya obl.; 21 - Kanevskiy rayon, Cherkasskaya obl.
Type VI
22 - East Novovest, south-east Priladozhye.

Type VII
23 - Kostina, south-east Priladozhye.
A thoroughly distinct group of Axe are the "Type VII". This is what we may call the "Viking" axe.
In the tenth century they are common throughout Northern Europe and are illustrated on the Bayeux tapestry in use by both the Anglo-saxon and Norman infantry. In Russia, these are mainly typical in the North and some are to be found in the burials of Farmers.

The Type VIII axe is quite uncommon, to be found solely in south-eastern Priladozhye and the teritories of the Muroma.
It is slightly larger than the "pure" battle axes discussed at the top, with a blade almost as narrow. However, it is never found with decorative detailing.
24 - Siznega, south-east Priladozhye.
25 - - Gorodishe, Khmelnitzkaya obl.; 26 - Type VIII-A - Maloye Terushevo Gorkovskoy obl.

While the "common wisdom" has been that the Axe is at best a secondary weapon for the Eurasian mounted warrior, some finds put this "wisdom" in doubt.

Olen-Kolodetz Axe
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg.
Photograph by Alexander Lemeshko

One such is the "Olen-Kolodetz" burial in the 13th-14th century Golden Horde.
(Summary of the find with citation may be found at this Article by Dmitriy Ryaboy).

The wealth and ornamentation of the burial as a whole, and the axe head itself make plain that the warrior buried there was of substantial importance, nevertheless No Saber (or sword of any kind) was found there.

Axe Head is 14.2 cm long and the blade is 9.5 cm wide. See above article for more details.

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