War hammer

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For the fictional franchise, see Warhammer Fantasy (setting).
War hammer
Indo-Persian war hammer.jpg
Indo-Persian war hammer, heavy iron head with a hammer in front, a 4.5 in curved spike on the other side, cut channel decorations, hard wood shaft.
Type Impact weapon or polearm
Place of origin Europe and Indo-Persia
Service history
In service Medieval
Head type Hammer, sometimes an additional spike
Haft type One or two handed

A war hammer is a late medieval weapon of war intended for close combat action, whose design resembles the hammer. Its appearance is similar to that of an ice axe.


Detail of the head of a war hammer

The war hammer consists of a handle and a head. The length of the handle may vary, the longest being roughly equivalent to that of the halberd, and the shortest about the same as that of 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.

War hammers were developed as a consequence of the prevalence of surface-hardened steel surfacing of wrought iron armors of the late medieval battlefields during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The surface of the armor was now as hard as the edge of a blade, so a blade tended to ricochet. Swords and battleaxes were likely to only 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. Later war hammers often had a spike on one side of the head, making them more versatile weapons. A blade or spike tended to be used not against helmets but against other parts of the body where the armor was thinner and penetration was easier. The spike end could be used for grappling the target's armor, reins, or shield, or could be turned in the direction of the blow to pierce even heavy armor. 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. Similar in appearance and function to a modern sledgehammer, it 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 (French: maillet) from the city armory, leading to the rebels being dubbed Maillotins.[1] Later in the same year, Froissart records French men-at-arms using mauls at the Battle of Roosebeke, demonstrating they were not simply weapons of the lower classes.[2]

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.[3] Other references during the century (for example, in Charles the Bold's 1472 Ordinance) suggest continued use.[4] They are recorded as a weapon of Tudor archers as late as 1562.[5]

Related weapons[edit]


In popular culture[edit]

  • The Games Workshop tabletop wargame Warhammer features Sigmar, founder of The Empire, who wields a mighty Dwarf-made Warhammer, from which the name of the "Warhammer Fantasy" setting is derived. Originally a spinoff game although it later became more popular than the original, Warhammer 40,000 is also named after the hammer of Sigmar, although neither the character nor the weapon appear in this setting.
  • 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.[6] However, Thor's hammer is considerably shorter than most war hammers and he typically wields it only one handed.
  • 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.[7]
  • 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.[8]
  • Dwalin the dwarf from The Hobbit films wields a very large war hammer.
  • Doomhammer is a war hammer from the Warcraft series of games. It was originally seen in possession of Orgrim Doomhammer, whose family is the weapon's namesake. After his death, this weapon was passed onto his protege and successor, Thrall, who, as Warchief of the Horde, has wielded the hammer since then, even up to his retirement as warchief and ascension as a true shaman.
  • In the popular role playing game series, The Elder Scrolls, a large variety of war hammers are available to the player.
  • In Fire Emblem, units can be equipped with hammers. They are usually classified as a type of axe, and are particularly effective against heavily-armored units.
  • In the Diablo series of video games, War Hammers can be equipped by warrior classes.


  1. ^ Tuchman, Barbara (1979). A distant Mirror. London: Penguin. p. 380. ISBN 0140054073. 
  2. ^ Bourchier, John (1523). Macaulay, G.C., ed. Chronicles of Froissart (1924 ed.). London. p. 288. Archived from the original on 2012-02-23. 
  3. ^ Strickland, Matthew; Hardy,Robert (2005). The Great Warbow. Stroud: Sutton. p. 337. ISBN 0750931671. 
  4. ^ Strickland & Hardy (2005), p.364
  5. ^ Strickland & Hardy (2005), p337
  6. ^ Journey Into Mystery #83 (August 1962)
  7. ^ Mortal Kombat: Deception
  8. ^ Martin, George R. R. A Game of Thrones.

External links[edit]