Francisca

Different types of the Francisca
Different types of the Francisca

The francisca or francesca is a throwing-axe that was used by the Merovingian and Carolingian Franks between the 5th and 8th centuries.

Etymology

The name “francisca” first appears in the book Ethymologiarum sive originum, libri XX by Isidor of Sevilla (c.570636).

The régime of Vichy France used the image of a stylised double-headed francisque as part of its iconography — compare fasces.

Description

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Franks made common use of the francisca, and their choice of weapon is how they arrived at the name of their people, and the name of the nation they founded, France. Troops would throw it from a distance of approximately ten to twelve metres. The edge of the axe was heavy so it would have a larger impact on the target, but because the axe wasn't balanced like a javelin, the francisca didn't fly as straight through the air, reducing range and accuracy.

The francisca has a characteristic S-shaped curve along the top of the head, the lower edge of the blade curving inward and then forming an elbow with the haft. The center of the axe head forms an angle of approximately 90–115° to the haft. The Francisca will slice into the target at the toe of the blade and along the blade itself, and will also stick into the taget upside-down at the heel. Most franciscas have a rounded or teardrop shaped eye for a tapered wooden haft, similar to Viking axes and tomahawks. Most franciscas were between eleven and twenty-three centimetres in length, and weighed between 200 and 1,300 grams.

Today the francisca remains in popular use as a throwing-axe in competitions, and as a weapon for re-enactors. Many report that the weapon often bounces unpredictably after hitting the ground, making it very difficult to block. In actual combat, this would serve to confuse, intimidate and disorganize an enemy line at the crucial moment before the Frankish charge hit. In some instances, the francisca is therefore superior to the more accurate javelin as a ranged weapon, and was far more lethal in close combat.

In French Colonial North America, the tomahawk was actually an updated francisca, all but indistinguishable from the ancient weapon.

See also

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