THE SCIMITAR SWORD
The scimitar is a
sabre or sword of oriental origin, which is very lightweight, with a single
fine sharp blade; as one author described it more graphically, the scimitar
is a “sword reverting to the style of the sickle”. Its length can vary from
55 - 100 centimetres and it is finished with a protective hilt at the other
end from the blade.
It is said that the scimitar sword was exceptionally
hard and strong, and very resistant to blows, which it could absorb with
great ease. This is due to the use of a metal with special
characteristics called “Damascus steel”. This steel had a high carbon
content, more specifically from 1.5 to 2%, which granted it extreme hardness
and a unique beauty with wavy markings on the blade. The properties of
Damascus steel were admired throughout the West and attempts were made to
copy them with little success. On the Iberian Peninsula they did manage to
develop a metal with characteristics that were quite similar to those of
Damascus steel, in the renowned "Toledo steel".
The scimitar sword had a perfect design for attacking
whilst mounted on a horse because after the onslaught, the blade of the
sword did not remain embedded within the opponent which allowed the warrior
to continue advancing on the battlefield. It is said that the blade of
a scimitar cut the body of the adversary from the shoulder exiting through
the waist, in the same way that it could cut a silk handkerchief in half.
Scimitar sword with curved blade.
The term given to
the “scimitar” sword has its origin in the Persian word “shamsir”, which
also derived from the Italian word “cimitarra”. Both the geographical and
chronological origins of the scimitar sword are a subject of much debate
that still continues today. As regards the place of origin, some place
it in ancient Persia, although its use spread all over the Middle East from
India to the oriental coasts of the Mediterranean sea.
With respect to the date this sword appeared, despite
there being theories that place its origin in very ancient times (there are
authors who go back as far as Ancient Egypt) and others that state the the
scimitar sword did not appear until after the 12th century, what we can't
deny is that the period when this sword was most widespread was during the
Middle Ages. In fact, it is the weapon most characteristic of the
Medieval Arab world, often associated with the crusades between Christians
and Muslims. It was at this time that it started to appear in
pictorial representations, like in the picture below.
The sword was not merely a weapon used in war, but was
also surrounded by huge symbolism that had great significance in both
Christian and Muslim tradition. For the kings and nobles of
Christianity who fought against the Muslims, the sword symbolised the cross
of Christ (cross of the hilt with the blade). Whilst for Muslims, it
is said that the semicircular shape of its sabres represented the half moon,
and that therefore the sword itself symbolised the sacred weapon of Islam:
the weapon of Allah.
Medieval representation of the confrontation
between Christians and Muslims. On the right, Muslims carrying the
The most prominent
historical figure the scimitar is associated with is Salaheddîn Eyûbîen,
better known in the Western world as Saladin. This figure, who was born in
the what is known today as Iraq, was the most important Muslim general in
the Near East during the second half of the 12th century. He played a
leading role in the religious wars between Christians and Muslims for the
control of the Holy Land, notably in his victory against the Christians in
the battle of Hattin, an event that opened the doors to the conquest of
Jerusalem. Once the Christians heard of this development, the man who
was at the head of the Church at that time, Pope Urban III, called all the
Christian kings to the new campaign against the Muslims, the third crusade.
It was at this time that the leading role was taken by the figure Richard of
England, who was later called “Lionheart”.
The scimitar is a legendary sword that, in addition to
Saladin, has also been associated with other figures like Emilio Salgari's
creation the “Tiger of Malaysia” or Sandokan. This was a pirate from
south-east Asia who was the protagonist of numerous adventures in his
efforts to wage revenge on the British. Sinbad the Sailor was another
figure who always appeared wielding his scimitar sword and is one of the
heroes of the Arab story One thousand and one
nights. Today, this sword has also given
inspiration to many artists who design video game characters.
Illustration of the adventures of Sandokan who appears brandishing a
The scimitar is the generic name
given to Arab swords with a curved blade, however, this category could
include more specific types of curved swords with names according to the
regions of origin that adapted the initial model.
One of these is the sword of Turkish origins
named the kiliç.
Its origin is linked to the Mongolian movements of medieval times, although
other theories suggest that it dates back to around the 6th century.
It is a sword with a unique curved blade, the curvature of which starts in
the last third of the blade, and widens to display a counter-blade.
Arab Kiliç of Turkish origin with curved blade
In Persia the shamsir
sword was developed, a word which is
said to derive from the word “cimitarra”. The Shamsir sword can be classed
in the category of swords with a single blade, and this characteristic could
be found in the fact that the blade starts its curve from its first third.
Sometimes the blade could have a double pointed end to facilitate puncturing
In India we find the tulwar
which is very similar to the Persian shamsir.
In Morocco the characteristic curved sword is the nimcha.
Finally, the saif is
the term by which the curved sword in the Arabian region is known. The saif sabre
is a short double blade sword with a curved point.