Friday Frank’s Axe Tale Time

Jon here.
BEOWULF Age of Heroes is set in the early medieval period. Specifically it’s about the people of the later era remembering the Migration Era. So very roughly speaking the idea is that we have people in 800 to 1000 CE remembering their “half-remembered ancestor-time” of perhaps 500CE.

Awesome helmet by Wyrmwick Creations

Awesome helmet by Wyrmwick Creations

This gives us a huge canvas to play with – the storytellers don’t have access to archaeology or comprehensive histories of the times 5 centuries before.

We built this in with full knowledge that it lets us, and more importantly you, be very playful with historical influences, mixing up eras, timelines and historical events however you please. As long as they have the right flavour, then they fit. It’s why you’ll find Dane Axes (a weapon from the end of the early medieval era) alongside much earlier weapons. But they’re cool, and we like them, and they fit.

We did of course do our homework, researching the right flavour of weapons and equipment for this period of history. Which brings us to our Friday story.

The Francisca is a throwing axe, associated with the Franks – the people who live in what is modern day France. When we were writing BEOWULF Age of Heroes we wanted to evoke a period and people who lived in and around the Baltic and North Seas, but who fictionally had had no contact with the Romans, like their imagined ancestors in modern day Denmark and Northern Germany.

So we felt the word “Francisca” was just a bit too Latin-y, being strongly evocative of Franciscan monks and so on. We pondered.

And then I found myself in the national museum of Helsinki, being kindly shown around by my hosts when I was lucky enough to be a guest at Ropecon in 2019.

This was something of a pilgrimage for me. I knew there was an Ulfberht sword in the museum, and I really had to see the ceiling murals by Aleksi Gallen-Kallela.

Aleksi Gallen-Kallela painted scenes from the Finnish National Epic, the Kalevala – which was a huge influence on Tolkien. These paintings are remarkably modern, and amazingly beautiful.

I’d made an informal study of Ulfberht swords in the Helsinki area. There were 32 known finds of this kind of sword in that region (last time I looked, which was a few years ago now!). Ulfberht swords are the Mercedes Benz of the early medieval era – pricey status symbols forged in the Rhineland and exported all over Europe to be hilted locally. 32 such blades seems far more than there should be if the traditionally told history of Finland was to be believed. But that’s another story… it was an absolute treat to see one in the flesh, in Finland.

Of course the National Museum of Helsinki was full of other amazing finds from the Migration period. One such artefact was a Francisca throwing axe. Here’s a bad cellphone camera photo:

And check it out: it’s spelled “Franksika”! The perfect solution! It sounds so much more rugged and “northern” than the latin Francisca.

And that’s why you’ll find the Francisca spelled Fransiska in BEOWULF Age of Heroes.