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Home > Auctions > 25th February 2020 > Tudor Era Iron-Handled War Hammer

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LOT 0494

GBP (£) 1,200 - 1,700
EUR (€) 1,410 - 2,000
USD ($) 1,570 - 2,220

Bid History: 1   |   Current bid: £1,200

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Bid History: 1   |   Current bid: £1,200

Tudor Era Iron-Handled War Hammer

16th-17th century AD

A war hammer or Nazdiak of Polish origin, the head composed of two pieces; the twisted shaft made of solid iron, and the head, made of one single piece, shaped like a hammer from one side and a pointed spike or dagger from the other side; the dagger showing a strong quadrangular outline, fixed to the shaft with an upper insertion hole and then rivetted, with the help of an auxiliary iron cap; its spike of a 'raven beak' shape of quadrangular section, while the hammer is flat at the top; the shaft is particularly twisted, and ends, in the lower part, with a short handle. 2.1 kg, 60cm (23 1/2"). Fine condition. Very rare.

From an important private family collection of arms and armour; acquired on the European art market in the 1980s, and thence by descent; accompanied by an academic report by military specialist Dr Raffaele D'Amato.

See Йотов В, Въоръжението и снаряжението от българското средновековие (VII-XI век), Варна, 2004; Brzezinski, R., Polish Armies 1569-1696 (1), London, 1987; Gilliot, C., Armes & Armures/Weapons & Armours, Bayeux, 2008.

The war hammer was a bulky weapon. The wider use of hammers, especially among riders, began in the 13th century, with the spread of armour, although traces of war hammers could already be found in 10th century Byzantium, with the weapon called akouphion (Yotov, 2004, pp.106-107). At the beginning it was made of a lead cylinder, extremely heavy with a handle (Gilliot, 2008, p.150). In the late Middle Ages (XIV-XVI centuries), with the introduction of a new means of defence - the plate armour, against which swords, axes, maces and other melee weapons were less effective, various types of war hammers became widely used. The old cylindrical plommée (lead cylindrical hammer) were replaced in the early 15th century, by the more solid and light iron hammer. This was a lighter weapon, not exceeding 2.5 kg, the knob of which was a hammer itself or had a hammer on one side and a beak on the other, that is, a facetted spike or a massive blade of different lengths, a straight or slightly curved blade. The name hammer comes from one of the elements of the warhead, even if the a real hammer itself may not be on it. Because of their appearance, hammerheads with beaks were often known by bird-related names, such as ‘black beak’ in Spain, ‘crow’s beak’ or ‘eagle’s beak’ in France, ‘falcon beak’ in Italy and ‘parrot beak’ in Germany and Poland. The bec de courbin' had a particular pointy beak aimed at delivering strong thrusts. Often there was also a point pointing upwards and additional short spikes, directly inserted on the impact surface of the hammer or sideways. The beak was capable of breaking chain mail or breaking through plate armour. With a hammer, the enemy could be stunned and his armour deformed. Beaks could also be used to capture the enemy, primarily pulling the rider off of his horse. But for this, hammers having long shafts were better suited. In this case the bec de courbin took up a long handle in the middle 15th century and was called, because of its primary use by the Swiss infantry, 'Lucerne Hammer'.

Compared to the mace and the axe attached to the saddlebow (arcione), the war hammer originated several variants which, to date, make it rather difficult to discriminate its archetypal form. The weapon presented here had in fact, enormous similarities with the horseman's pick, only in some of its regional variants well distinguishable from the war hammer (eg. the Polish nazdiak,) often called a raven-headed hammer of the type here represented. It has good parallels with Polish originals of 16th-17th centuries in the Wojska Polskiego Museum (Polish Army Museum), Warsaw, and illustrated in contemporary documents (Brzezinski, 1987, p.41).

Most probably this specimen is from a battlefield or a castle as it is in excellent condition. The horseman's pick has remarkable similarities with the war hammer, so that some variants of the two weapons are almost identical. In the Germanic areas, both weapons are identified as hammer ('hammer' in German language): reiterhammer ('knight's hammer') the horseman's pick and kriegshammer ('war hammer') the war hammer. The distinguishing element is the shape of the hammer head. Weapon apt to injure by blow, the proper war hammer had often a serrated and massive head. The hybrid forms (eg. Polish czekan,) similar to the peak of arms, instead present a hammerhead reduced to a mere counterweight for the long metallic 'beak' that protrudes on the other side of the head, destined to pierce the armor or the opponent's helmet. However, by comparing a Polish nazdiak with a French or Italian war hammer, fundamental differences stand out. There where the western war hammer (like the heaviest Italian mazzaapicchio) which is able to strike both with the head of the hammer, often toothed, and with the curved tip; the horseman's pick striking mainly with the pointed peak, while the hammerhead was reduced to a mere counterweight. Another distinctive feature of the Polish nazdiak is it being made entirely of metal, like the Italian war mace, and it being longer than the war hammer.

Eloquent in regard to its efficiency, is the witness of the account of Abbot Jędrzej Kitowicz, who lived at the time of August III of Poland (1696-1763):
'[The nazdiak] is a terrible instrument in the hands of the Poles, especially if they are in a warrior or altered mood. With the sabres you can cut off someone's hand, tear his face and injure him in the head and the sight of the blood that flows from the enemy can thus calm the resentment. But with the nazdiak you could cause a fatal injury without seeing the blood and, not seeing its, calm down, instead ending up hitting several times without cutting the skin but breaking bones and vertebrae. The nobles with clubs often beat their servants to death. Because of the danger it posed, they were forbidden to be armed during large assemblies or parliamentary sessions. [...] And in truth, it was a brigand's instrument, because if you hit someone with the pointed beak of the nadziak behind the ear, you kill it instantly, the temple pierced by the deadly iron. '(Jędrzej Kitowicz, Opis obyczajów za panowania Augusta III).