Francisca.

PADDYBOY

Historum Emeritas
Jan 2007
6,517
Scotland
The francisca was a small axe mainly associated with the Frank's but was also used by the Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic tribes. There have been several of these weapons found all over England.
The idea was to charge the enemy, then when within throwing distance, hurl these axes in unison and shatter the shields of the enemy? Some of the axes would be aimed at the ground in front of the enemy shield wall and apparently they would bounce indiscriminately amongst the enemy (let's hope they weren't wearing kilts)
I find it hard to understand how a small throwing axe similar to a tomahawk? Could shatter a shield? They must have been thrown at great speed and with great strength.

Anyone know much more about this remarkable little weapon
 
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pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,009
The francisca was a small axe mainly associated with the Frank's but was also used by the Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic tribes. There have been several of these weapons found all over England.
The idea was to charge the enemy, then when within throwing distance, hurl these axes in unison and shatter the shields of the enemy? Some the axes would be aimed at the ground in front of the enemy shield wall and apparently they would bounce indiscriminately amongst the enemy (let's hope they weren't wearing kilts)
I find it hard to understand how a small throwing axe similar to a tomahawk? Could shatter a shield? They must have been thrown at great speed and with great strength.

Anyone know much more about this remakab
The intent IIRC was to disrupt the enemy by rendering ineffective as many of the shields as possible. The francisca might break a shield (most were made of wood) or embed in the shield so it would be heavier to lift, or be otherwise damaged. The range was not that far, so an attack onrushing with spatha or other axes would find that enemy at a greater disadvantage. Just what I can remember anyway.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,779
Dispargum
If I remember correctly, there's only one source that describes how the Francisca was used - Procopius, and he's not the most reliable witness. In fact, he probably never saw Franks in battle and was repeating hearsay. Procopius did describe the tactic in the OP except that in his description the Franks were on defense and threw their axes at the charging enemy, but the effect was the same - break up or encumber the enemy shields just before the hand-to-hand combat began.

One would think that modern reenactors have tried to prove or disprove Procopius. We know what the Francisca looks like. It should be easy to duplicate and learn to use. However, I am not aware of any such experiments.
 

PADDYBOY

Historum Emeritas
Jan 2007
6,517
Scotland
The Vikings used a similar type of axe though it had more of a hook. The idea would be to embed the axe in the enemies shield thus providing a handle and enabling the Viking warrior to wrench the shield from his opponents grasp.
I don't know if a francisca could have been used in a similar fashion? It would require some sort of hook, like a barb? Or perhaps the Saxon warrior simply twisted the francisca into the shield???
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,009
One would think that modern reenactors have tried to prove or disprove Procopius. We know what the Francisca looks like. It should be easy to duplicate and learn to use. However, I am not aware of any such experiments.
Modern reenactors must deal with the modern realities of insurance underwriters and legal liability. :)
 

pikeshot1600

Ad Honoris
Jul 2009
10,009
The Vikings used a similar type of axe though it had more of a hook. The idea would be to embed the axe in the enemies shield thus providing a handle and enabling the Viking warrior to wrench the shield from his opponents grasp.
I don't know if a francisca could have been used in a similar fashion? It would require some sort of hook, like a barb? Or perhaps the Saxon warrior simply twisted the francisca into the shield???
In a 'history of technology,' the francisca might be considered a transference of tech from Frank to Anglo-Saxon to Viking. The tactics were pretty similar.
 

PADDYBOY

Historum Emeritas
Jan 2007
6,517
Scotland
Health and safety:lol:

Oops I was replying to the reenactors suggestion and got leap frogged:think:
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,011
MD, USA
No, you don't throw things like that AT shields, with the intention of doing whatever negatory things to the shields themselves. You thrown them at MEN, who may or may not be able to block or deflect them with their shields. You can probably make a francisca large and heavy enough to do significant damage to a shield, but I suspect they were not generally that large. Because you need to be able to THROW it.

No, you will not be using it as a handle, because to do so you have to approach your (now-angry) opponent with an empty hand. Were you planning on dropping your weapon or your shield to do this? And my usual solution to someone trying to grab my shield is to give it to them--smash it full-force right into their face.

Don't get me wrong, a volley of any thrown weapon is hugely distracting and potentially disrupting. They bounce and cartwheel all over the place, and it's really scary. Having something stuck in your shield can certainly be a problem, and even though shields are tough and designed to take weapon damage, splitting is still a potential problem.

Why would a "kilt" be a problem? Men wore tunics for thousands of years, after all, and trousers won't keep an axe out of your groin!

Finally, it should be noted that most *any* one-handed axe can be thrown. The francisca *looks* like it is specially shaped for throwing, but you *can* just use it as a hand weapon. The shape could be more stylistic than functional.

Remember that the problem with trying to identify any particular ancient weapon as some kind of super-weapon is that there was no such thing. Everyone had their cultural preferences, sure, but nothing was consistently and significantly better all around than spears, swords, axes, javelins, arrows, clubs, rocks--the usual things.

Matthew
 
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MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,999
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
In German, the head of a Francisca seems to have been called a frank, just like a man who would throw it. And it is used as a charge in heraldry.

Thus the Frankenstein coat of arms is yellow with a red frank:

House of Franckenstein - Wikipedia

Category:Coats of arms of Frankenstein family - Wikimedia Commons

Thus a coat of arms or flag with one or more franks would be a good symbol for the Frankish tribes.

Artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadma (1836-21912) painted "The Education of the Children of Clovis" (1861) showing a son of Clovis throwing a francisca.

Lawrence Alma-Tadema - Wikipedia
 
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