Reconstruction hypothesis of a XV cent. war hammer

By Maio d'Azzal Team
Article by Giovanni Sartori

“E·l cavalier, cuy Dieus aiut,
s’es guarnit del senall de Crist,
tantost con a lo draguon vist.
En son cavall puyet aloc
e tenc ves ell aytant con poc,
s’asta davant si bien rrigent,
e det tal colp a la cerpent
qu’aloc en terra vay caser.”
[188 to 195 lines from the ms. B.N. fr. 14973](1)

The first prize for the tournament organized by the Company of Famaleonis was realised following two main ideas: uniqueness and usability.
With the president of the company Eugenio Larosa, we started to look for an object that could represent both these characteristics, a knightly war hammer was the clear choice.
This weapon, very popular between European knights and noblemen, could compete with other knightly weapons as estocs and maces for effectiveness in the battlefield.
We must consider that this kind of weapon was employed from the 14th to the 17th century and this is clear evidence of its dispersal and versatility.
For this reason our choice was naturally driven to this weapon that is at the same time one of the most representative and one of the less represented in the medieval reenactment world.

Design and research

We have tried to modify the original shape of the classic 15th century war hammer to create a unique piece, for this reason we have studied originals from the 14th to the beginning of the 15th century.

From all the war-hammers extant in museums around the world we have identified a small group of six that contain zoomorphic forms and decorations(2) (in this group there are also some foot-combat war hammers) that could represent a good source for our work. In particular there is a war hammer with a dragon shaped head (belonging from the Carrara’s family(3)) conserved at the Correr Museum in Venice and dated to the end of the 15th century. That was the starting point to design our piece.

The dragon, the king of lizards and snakes and then an infernal beast for medieval men, was represented many times in medieval and renaissance art (painting, sculpture, jewelry…). We also found him on the effigies or paintings of Saint George, but also on the Cathedrals and Churches: on the outside of buildings as an apotropaic monster (like gargoyles), on the internal capitals as a concrete statement of God’s creation power(4) (Saint Agostino tells us that “monster belongs to monstrando, that means the teaching of something by pointing it”)(5) .

Furthermore the theme of the dragon is connected with Fama Leonis because the patron of the company is Saint George and this prize would be seen as auspicious for the knight that gains it.



With the beast and the weapon, thanks to the skills of the artist Alberto Dalla Valle, we have realized a clay prototype inspired by the Correr war-hammer and modified to be a 15th century weapon. At the same time we have looked for other forms and decorations that could be applied on the rest of the weapon.
For example the pine-cone decoration on the lower socket is a classic theme of the Italian renaissance stretching back to paleochristian and ancient Roman tradition.
The geometrical decoration on the handle, the octagonal shape of the sockets and shaft are typical of 15th century weapons such as maces and polearms(6) .

We have decided to construct the entire hammer in steel (Aisi 1045, similar to the medieval steels)(7) and not of latten like the Correr one and other similar examples.

This choice would be a sort of blacksmith challenge because we have tried to realize the piece only with “medieval” techniques: hot and cold chiseling, filing, forging, fire-welding. Moreover, supporting us from an historical point of view, there are some existing evidences of zoomorphic decorations made of steel or iron in XV cent weapons(8).


Description and structure


The weapon is composed of four parts: hammer head, upper socket with spike, lower socket and shaft.
The upper and lower sockets constructed by forging and fire welding a flat piece of steel, similar to the methods used in making a gun barrel.

The hammer head is fixed to the socket through a hole (made by forging) through which is inserted the spike that is the upper part of the socket.  The shaft is made of Italian walnut worked with files, saws, chisels and treated with a mixture of linseed oil, resins and beeswax.

These types of natural substances are well known and commonly used in the middle ages by woodworkers, artisans and artists.

A very special Thank to Thomas Hayman and Carlo Paggiarino for the translation of this article from Italian to English.



1) From the article of Maria Carla Marinoni: IL DRAGO E LA PRINCIPESSA: Considerazioni su una «Vita di S. Giorgio» occitanica. Annali della Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia dell'Università degli Studi di Milano Volume LVII - Fascicolo III – Settembre-Dicembre 2004

2)1-Correr Museum (Venice) n°inv: Cl. XIV n. 0182; 2- Ex Higgins Armoury Museum n° inv: #HAM 2000.02, now Worcester Art Museum (WAM); 3- Musée de l’Armée (Paris) n°inv: K84; 4- Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) n°inv: 14.25.465; 5-Royal Scottish Museum (Edinburgh) n°inv. Unk. ; 6-University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Cambridge) n° inv: AL.101.1.

3) Baron C. A. de Cosson. A War-Hammer in the Museo Correr, Venice. In: The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 42, No. 241 (Apr., 1923), pp. 188+190-191

4) An intheresting text about this argument is written from Luca Frigerio: BESTIARIO MEDIEVALE, animali simbolici nell’arte cristiana. Ed. Ancora, Milano, 2014.

5) Agostino, De Civitate Dei, XXI, 8, 5.

6) Some examples:
Knightly Mace dated 1470 c.a. at the Wallace Collection Museum n°inv: A978.
Knightly Mace dated at the second half of the XV cent sold from Christie’s (sale 9168, 24 aprile 2001, lotto 49).

7) See the studies of Alan Williams about arms and armor metallurgy on his books: “The knight and the blast furnace” (Ed. Brill Academic Pub, 2003) and “The sword and the crucible” (Ed. Brill Academic Pub, 2012).

8)Some examples :
Two handed hunting sword dated at the end of XV cent. from Ex Higgins Armoury Museum n° inv: #HAM 2007.01, now Worcester Art Museum (WAM). Ceremony Sword of the Emperor Sigmund I dated 1433 at the Kunstistorisches Museum (Wien) n°inv A 49.


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