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A war hammer is a late medieval weapon of war intended for close combat action, the design of which resembles the hammer. Its appearance is similar to that of an ice axe. The war hammer consists of a handle and a head. The handle may be of different lengths, the longest being roughly equivalent to the halberd, and the shortest about the same as a mace. Long war hammers were pole weapons (polearms) meant for use against riders, whereas short ones were used in closer quarters and from horseback. Later war hammers often had a spike on one side of the head, thus making it a more versatile weapon.
War hammers were developed as a consequence of the ever more prevalent surface-hardened steel surfacing of wrought iron armours of the late medieval battlefields during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The surface of the armour was now as hard as the edge of a blade, so a blade tended to ricochet. Swords, or the blade of a battleaxe, were likely only to give a glancing blow, losing much of the impact, especially on the high curvature of the helmet. The war hammer could deliver the full force to the target.
War hammers, especially when mounted on a pole, could damage without penetrating the armour. In particular, they transmitted the impact through even the thickest helmet and caused concussions. A blade or spike tended to be used against other parts of the body where the armour was thinner, and penetration was easier, than through the helmet. The spike end could be used for grappling the target's armour, reins, or shield, or could be turned in the direction of the blow to pierce even heavy armour. Against mounted opponents, the weapon could also be directed at the legs of the horse, toppling the armoured foe to the ground where he could be more easily attacked.
The maul is a long-handled hammer with a heavy metal head, either of lead or iron. It is similar in appearance and function to a modern sledgehammer but is sometimes shown as having a spear-like spike on the fore-end of the haft.
The use of the maul as a weapon seems to date from the later 14th century. In 1382, rebellious citizens of Paris seized 3,000 mauls (fr. maillet) from the city armoury, leading to the rebels being dubbed Maillotins. Later in the same year, Froissart records French men-at-arms using mauls at the Battle of Roosebeke, demonstrating it was not simply a weapon of the lower classes.
A particular use of the maul was by archers in the 15th and 16th centuries. At the Battle of Agincourt, English longbowmen are recorded as using lead mauls, initially as a tool to drive in stakes but later as an improvised weapon. Other references during the century (for example, in Charles the Bold's 1472 Ordinance) suggest continued use. They are recorded as a weapon of Tudor archers as late as 1562.
Other types of war hammers
Maurice, Elector of Saxony wields a war hammer on a posthumous portrait
In popular culture
- Marvel Comics' Thor uses a gray square-headed war hammer named Mjolnir, which enhances his divine might, provides a variety of nature related powers and can only be lifted by whoever is worthy of the power of Thor. Anyone unworthy, no matter their level of strength, cannot lift it.
- Shao Khan and Raiden of the Mortal Kombat video game series have both used a type of war hammer in battle. Shao Khan has a type of maul called the Wrath Hammer which he has used extensively since his debut. Raiden, the God of Thunder, uses the mystical weapon sparingly and it is simply titled War Hammer.
- Robert Baratheon of A Song of Ice and Fire was known for using a war hammer in battles, with which he killed Prince Rhaegar in the Battle of the Trident.
- Dwalin the dwarf from The Hobbit films wields a very large war hammer.
- Tuchman, Barbara (1979). A distant Mirror. London: Penguin. p. 380. ISBN 0140054073.
- Bourchier, John (1523). Macaulay, G.C., ed. Chronicles of Froissart (1924 edition ed.). London. p. 288. Retrieved 2/8/09.
- Strickland, Matthew; Hardy,Robert (2005). The Great Warbow. Stroud: Sutton. p. 337. ISBN 0750931671.
- Strickland & Hardy (2005), p.364
- Strickland & Hardy (2005), p337
- Journey Into Mystery #83 (August 1962)
- Mortal Kombat: Deception
- Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones.