A warhammer is a hammer wielded for war, rather than construction. Just like the battleaxes, they evolved from the tools and could be used as ones outside the battle. Unlike the battleaxes, warhammers hadn't see much use until the late medieval.
Real warhammers have smallish heads on long shafts, designed more like claw hammers or pickaxes, and were used to both hammer unprotected heads and bash and break plate armor to the point where it became useless. To put it simply, they can do maul's and axe's work, and two handed ones can also be used to grapple things like halberds. The blunt side of the warhammer could be used as a less-lethal weapon, for when you need to capture some aristocrat and later torture some information out of him or sell him to his relatives. Otherwise it was damn handy for reducing people into bags of broken bones and shredded flesh. The spiked side of the warhammer had one of the best armour-piercing capability of its time, rivaled only by the ridiculously slow musket (yes, better than arquebuses and pistols; a well-drilled soldier could get off two or three shots per minute with a flintlock, three or four with a caplock musket). The main downside of the spike is that the it usually stuck inside armour after penetration, forcing the user to either spend a few precious seconds to pull it out, or just leave the weapon there. For this reason one-handed warhammers were usually carried by knights and elite troopers as their sidearm, and used only against armored opponents as one-shot weapons.
Two-handed warhammers on the other side become "poor man's halberds" - a cheap and effective weapon to make militiamen somewhat not useless against knights.
Versions without the hammer part and the beak part being bladed existed, but mostly outside the western Europe, most famous being eastern European chekan, and Japanaese kama, which both despite being invented half the world from each other and even evolving from different tools (axe and scythe respectively) ended up being pretty much the same. Bladed spike served primarily to make extracting it out of the enemy (or corpse) easier, but also helped with using it for grapling - not by increasing the reliability of grapple (in fact it lowered it), but by slicing arms and necks it was used to grapple.
In Fantasy, however, warhammers are instead usually depicted as sledgehammers with massive heads the size of anvils, used to bash people into a pulp. It is obvious that nobody actually used weapons like these because they were too goddamn heavy to carry to battle, let alone swing without throwing your back out. The only possible exception would be some of the larger all-wood or metal-reinforced mauls, but even those were intended more for bashing down doors and pegs than skulls.
Games Workshop has named several of their games after this classic weapon:
- Warhammer Fantasy Battle (or WHFB), a wargame taking place in a fantasy universe (orcs, elves, dwarves, magic, etc.). The game is named after Emperor Sigmar's iconic weapon.
- Warhammer 40,000 (WH40k or just 40k), another wargame, but this time taking place in a distant future, sci-fi version of the fantasy universe. Originally intended to be WHFB In Space, the two series are now considered completely separate.
- Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay (WH40KRP), a system of role-playing games set in the grim, dark future. Funnily enough, except for the little "Warhammer 40,000" logo on the covers, none of the games themselves actually have the word "Warhammer" anywhere in their titles.
- Warhammer Wednesday The fires from which /tg/ was born.
| Battleaxe - Dagger - Lance - Mace |
Pole-arm - Spear - Sword - Warhammer
| Bows and Arrows - Cannon - Crossbow |
Firearm - Rocket - Shuriken - Sling - Blowgun