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Swords, Cutting and Military History

Islamic swords from the 14th century on (Islamic swords Part 2)

Islamic swords from the 14th century on (Islamic swords Part 2)

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As I mentioned in my previous article, there are few good resources on Islamic swords for the general reader.

Today I’m going to draw heavily on the articles by Dr. A. Rahmmn Zaky: Introduction to the study of Islamic Arms and Armour, which provides a short introduction to the main types of swords found in Islamic cultures;  and the article by Dr. Robert Elgood: An introduction to Arms and Armor from the Islamic world and India, which provides a detailed historical, religious and cultural overview on which to baFse our understanding.

While the swords in Dr. Zaky’s paper are themselves are listed alphabetically, he references them by the nationality / cultures which tended to use them.  Dr. Elgood notes that Islamic tradition had a heavy effect on sword designs and decoration;  similarly, he notes that various Islamic states could potential draw warriors from a variety of different cultures who, having committed themselves to aiding the Islamic empire, might easily have damaged blades from their homeland repaired or decorated in the style of their present abode, leading to some confusion as to the origin of the blade in question.

Dr. Elwood also notes that  “…the names in any single language may be spelt in a variety of forms. Some are more familiar to collectors than others. In any society the same object may be known by a multiplicity of names… …The Arabic word for a sword, saif, covers a wide variety of swords of different shapes from various countries.”  Thus there can be some discussion as to precisely which sword(s) historical treatises are referring to.

Note:  Wherever copyright allows, I will be posting pictures of the weapons in question.  However, finding copyright-free, good-quality images of these weapons has proven problematic.  Therefore, where necessary, I will be providing links to the images on  web sites or services where I am unable to obtain permission to post the picture directly.

 

Sword Types

Flyssa

Described as being a long, singled edged sword, with a straight back and a very long point. The width of the blade varies, being widest at the center of percussion, narrowing as it moves towards the hilt, then widening again. Often decorated, engraved and inlaid.  The hilts tend to be small-ish, with one-side grip and pommel (sabre-type).

Nationality / Region: Morroco, while it’s Wikipedia entry describes it as: “Berber traditional sword of the Kabyles[1] tribe of Algeria and part of Morocco during the 19th century and earlier.”

Detailed image of a flyssa, inlay and hilt, plus more examples (click on thumbnails to view more detail)

 

Kaskara

Double-edged straight blade with a plain-crossguard.

Wikipedia lists it as a: “…sword characteristic of Sudan, Chad, and Eritrea.[1] The blade of the kaskara was usually about a yard long, double edged and with a spatulate tip”;  the entry also cites an authority who says “…in the central and eastern Sudan, from Chad through Darfur and across to the Red Sea province, the straight, double-edged swords known as kaskara were an essential possession of most men”.  More detail here.

The classic scabbard for this blade includes a bulbous extension near the scabbard tip.

Nationality / Region: Sudan and Chad, specifically listed as being common to the Bagirmi people

Image source: Pinterest

 

Khanda

A classic Indian sword, described as having a “broad, straight blade sometimes widening near the point”.  Wikipedia describes it as: “The blade broadens from the hilt to the point, which is usually quite blunt. While both edges are sharp, one side usually has a strengthening plate along most of its length, which both adds weight to downward cuts and allows the wielder to place their hand on the plated edge. The hilt has a large plate guard and a wide finger guard connected to the pommel. The pommel is round and flat with a spike projecting from its centre. The spike may be used offensively or as a grip when delivering a two-handed stroke.”

Nationality / Region:  India

Image source:  Wikipedia

Khanda

 

Kiliji

The classic Turkish sabre.  Dr. Zaky describes it as “…broader, shorter and less curved than the Persian shamshir, having a fair curve, with the curve stopping some 10 inches to the point.  The blade then widens out abruptly and extends to the point nearly in a straight line, with a sharp edge on the back.”  He notes this design allows the kiliji to thrust (unlike the shamshir), but not very effectively.   The hilt is described as pistol-shaped, most often made of horn;  the cross-guard is short, often with balls or acorn decorations.  The shape of the blade requires the top-back of the scabbard have a slit to permit the sword to be sheathed.  In later periods this opening had spring-loaded or hinged clasps.

Wikipedia notes “…The width of the blade stays narrow (with a slight taper) up until the last 30% of its length, at which point it flares out and becomes wider. This distinctive flaring tip is called a “yalman” (false edge) and it greatly adds to the cutting power of the sword.”

Nationality / Region:  Turkish

Image source:  Wikipedia

Kiliji

 

Nimsha /Nimcha

NimchaA short sabre often found with the bottom cross-guard extending down, becoming a knuckle-guard, and connecting to the pommel.

A relatively modern design, Wikipedia notes: “These blades are usually from the late 18th century onwards and are notable for often using older blades. Many nimcha have European blades from as early as the 17th century, and from as far away as Germany. “

Nationality / Region:  Moroccan, Algeria

Image: Metropolitan Museum

 

 

 

 

Pulwar

A sword with a curved blade, short quillions curving towards the blade, and a round hand-guard. Considered a variety of the tulwar.

Nationality / Region:  India.  Aslo  described as: “…a single handed curved sword from Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is the traditional sword of the Pashtun people.”

Image: Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution

Pulwar

 

Qama

Described as the national sword of Moslem Georgia, according to Wikipedia a “…type of long and wide double edged fighting knife or short sword, native to Circassia and neighboring regions in the Caucasus“.

Thought to be the precursor to the Cossack dagger.

Nationality / Region:  Caucasus

Image source: Wikipedia

Qama

 

Quaddara

Noted as a “Persian” long sword with a similar shape to the Qama or kindjal

Nationality / Region:  Caucasus

Image source: Wikipedia

Quaddara

 

Saif / Scimitar / Shamshir

A broad-bladed sword with a heavy curve and a hooked pommel.

Saif / scimitars came into use after the 14th century, and were popular for being lighter in weight than a broadsword, and for their heavily curved design, which made slashing from horseback very easy.

Nationality / Region:  Arabic peninsula , though the shamshir is considered a Persian blade, are often inscribed, with simple hooked cross-guards.

Image source:  Sword History.com

Saif

 

Shashka

Common to the Caucasus, described as being a mostly straight sword with a light curve near the tip, making it effective for both thrusting and slashing.  It has no cross-guard.  Possibly the forerunner of the Cossack sabre.

Nationality / Region:  Caucasus and Russia.

Image source: Photobucket

Shashka

 

Shotel

A double-edged, diamond-shaped blade with a deep-curve, almost a half-circle.  An average blade is about 40 inches in length, measured along the entire length of the blade.  However, a direct line from hilt to tip is only about 30 inches, the curve of the blade accounting for the extra length.

Nationality / Region:  Abyssinia (ancient Ethiopia)

Image source:  Viking Sword.com

Shotel

 

Takouba

A straight, single-edged sword with a pronounced taper towards the tip,  with either a simple, straight cross-guard or totally lacking one.

Nationality / Region:  African Sahara

Image: Takouba Research Society

Takouba

 

Talwar / Tulwar

A very common class of weapon, which includes most of the swords of India.  The typical talwar has a both a lesser curve and wider blade than the scimitar / shamshir, and lacks the yelman (false-edge) of the kiliji.

Nationality / Region:  India, Persia

Image source:  Wikipedia

Talwar

 

Yatagan

A relatively short, inward curving sabre, almost exclusively used in Ottoman Turkey and its provinces.  The inward-curve is designed to aid in cutting;  most yatagan have no guard, but the large, plate-like pommel which spreads out like wings.  Most are 60 to 80 cm in length.

Nationality / Region:  Ottoman Empire

Image source: Napoleonic Sword Collection

Yatagan

 

 

Sources

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