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Miners battle-ax

Saxon master armorer

Saxony, third quarter of the XVII century

Material: Forged iron, wood and engraved bone

Size: 78 cm. Long

review by gherardo turchi

Rare and ancient battle-ax called “miners” in forged iron with an inlaid wooden handle having some engraved bone inserts, made in one of those workshops of master armorers active in Saxony, in northern Germany, during the seventeenth century.

Commonly and improperly called “Saxon miners axes”, these weapons take their name from the miners corporation, the first one to use them in war, the miners. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were filled with battles throughout Europe; soldiers forcely enlisted by armies took part in these battles, not being free to choose. In the sixteenth century, among the guilds that took part in the border wars, there was also the one of the Saxon miners, strapping men who massively filled the German military ranks.

The sixteenth century was a century of great internal struggles for Germany, that led to what is known as the Thirty Years’ War in the following century. As mentioned, at those times many men were engaged in various battles and not all of them, indeed almost none, except the great rulers or high-ranking soldiers, were equipped with weapons and armaments from the reigning power.

Thus, it happened that not only the enlisted were militarily assigned against their will, but they also had to bring their own weapons. The Saxon miners’ guild, therefore, adopted the ax with which they carried out their work in the mine as a symbolic weapon, adapting it to the new warlike use. For this reason, Saxon battle-axes with a particular trapezoidal shape are still known today by this name.

This type of weapons, nimbly handling and easy to carry, were widely re-evaluated during the seventeenth century, so that many high-ranking German commanders made extensive use of them, both on the battlefields and during military parades. The miners battle-ax quickly became one of the most requested weapons of German armorers.

The decorative taste was then considerably refined concerning these weapons, passing from rough pieces of iron mounted on improvised wooden handles to real representative weapons, to which great respect for forging and decoration was due.

This weapon belongs to the manufacture of the third quarter of the seventeenth century. With a forged iron blade bearing the armorer’s initials, engraved on both sides and decorated in the center with the typical trefoil fretwork, it is assembled on a fruit-tree wood handle, richly inlaid with ovoid medallions on which, through the technique of engraving, scenes of working miners are depicted.

These inlays alternate with other smaller ones, of a round shape, depicting flowers and faces. The final part of the handle is particularly interesting, completely covered in engraved bone on which the coat of arms of the Saxon electorate is depicted on one side and the coat of arms of the miners’ guild on the other. This weapon ends on one side with a small bone pommel, while on the other it has a turned bronze head applied to the iron tip.

This work is in a rather good state of conservation and, besides being a great addition to the catalog of works manufactured in Saxony during the seventeenth century, it represents a real historical document attesting one of the renowned guilds of warrior workers in the German history.

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