In Old English, the Axe was referred to as an æces, from which the Modern English word derives. Most axes found in early Anglo-Saxon graves were fairly small with a straight or slightly curved blade. Such hand-axes mainly served as a tool rather than a weapon, but could have been used as a weapon if the need arose. Fragments of the wood shaft survive in only a few examples, thus causing considerable difficulty in ascertaining the overall size of the weapon.
Several examples of the francisca, or frank throwing axe, have been found in England. These weapons can be distinguished from domestic hand axes by the curved shape of their heads. Two main forms of throwing axes have been identified in England (one type had a convex edge, and the other type had an S-shaped edge.) However, axes have been discovered that do not clearly fit into either category.
Writing in the sixth century CE, Byzantine* author Procopius, who was born in Caesarea, Israel, described the use of such throwing axes by the Franks, noting that they would be hurled at the enemy prior to engaging in hand-to-hand combat. The Frankish chronicler** Gregory of Tours (also writing in the sixth century) described the throwing of an axe at the enemy, in his History of the Franks.
It is from the Franks that the term francisca originated. However, various medieval authors used the term to refer to hand axes as well as throwing axes. The archaeological record indicates that the throwing axe was no longer in use by the seventh century, and it does not appear in the Frankish Ripuarian Law. This decline in usage may indicate the rise of more sophisticated battle formations. However, it again entered into use in the eighth and ninth centuries, upon its adoption by the Vikings.
*The byzantine empire ruled across the Mediterranean for 1,100 years
**a chronicler is a person that records important historical information
by Joe Moore