Ax Head


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 373

Although the collection of the Department of Arms and Armor numbers approximately 14,000 objects, the Museum has comparatively few examples of early medieval European armor or weapons, and even fewer with a large degree of decoration or in non-excavated condition. This Scandinavian axe head, therefore, makes an important addition to the collection as a fine medieval piece and in particular for being the first elaborately decorated Viking axe head to become part of the permanent collection. Decorated weapons – swords, axes, spears – were the most highly valued possessions of Viking men, essential as symbols of their rank and status within society, in addition to serving as functional fighting equipment. This axe head is an excellent example of the broad axe form, and is rare and significant for the extent and intact state of its scrollwork ornament, richly inlaid in silver wire.

The form and construction exemplify all the features that define and distinguish this type of axe head. The cutting edge, or bit, curves in an arc from the toe to the heel; the top edge of the body is slightly longer than the bottom, making the head asymmetrically biased towards the toe. Both edges narrow into a short neck, which develops into the socket. The lower edge of the socket extends into a short rounded point or lappet. Other than a broad plain band along both sides of the cutting edge, the axe head is decorated overall with silver wire inlay in scroll and linear patterns.

Ax Head, Steel, silver, Scandinavian

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