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SCIMITAR SWORD

The scimitar is a sable or a sword of oriental origin, very light, with a single, sharp, curved edge; as one author has described more graphically as a "sword in the form of a sickle" (hand-held curved blade used for harvesting grain crops or long grass). Its length can vary from 55 ? 100 centimetres, topped off at the opposite end to the blade with a pommel and hand guard.

It is said that the scimitar sword was exceptionally strong and hard, and very resistant to shocks, which it absorbed with ease. This is owed in part to the use of a metal with special characteristics called "Damascus steel". This steel had a high content of carbon, between 1.5 and 2% to be specific, which gave it its grand strength and a unique beauty with wavy markings on the edge. The properties of the Damascus steel were greatly admired throughout the Occident and attempts were made to imitate them, although with little success. In the Iberian Peninsula they did manage to develop a metal with characteristics rather similar to the Damsacus, which was named "Toledo steel". 

The scimitar sword had a perfect design for attacking on horseback as after using it to stab, the blade did not stay embedded in the opponent which allowed the warrior to continue advancing through the battlefield.  It is said that the blade of a scimitar would cut the body of an adversary from the shoulder to the waist, with the same ease you find in cutting a silk cloth down the middle.

Arab scimitar sword

Scimitar sword with a curved edge.

 

The term dedicated to this sword "scimitar" comes from the Persian word "shamsir" that in turn was derived from the Italian word "cimitarra". The geographical and chronological origins of the scimitar sword pose a difficult debate that is still open today. With regards to the place of origin, there are some who place it in ancient Persia, although its use spread throughout the Middle East from India through to the Eastern coasts of the Mediterranean sea.

With respect to the appearance date of this sword, in spite of the fact that there are theories that place its origin in ancient times (there are authors who go back even to Ancient Egypt) and others that claim the scimitar sword did not appear until after the twelfth century, what we cannot deny is that the peak of dissemination of this sword was during the Middle Ages. In fact, it is the most characteristic Medieval Arabic weapon in the world, often used in the Crusades between the Christians and the Muslims. It was at this point that pictoral representations with the scimitar swords started to appear, such as in the image below.

This sword was not merely a weapon to be used in battle, but it was also surrounded by symbolism, important in Christian as much as in Muslim traditions. For the Kings and Christian Noblemen that fought against the Muslims, the sword symbolised Christ's cross (the cross of the hand guard with the shaft). Whilst for the Muslims it is said that the semi-circular shape of the swords represented the crescent moon, and therefore their own swords symbolised the sacred weapon of Islam: Allah's weapon.

 Medieval pinture of the religion wars with christian and muslim swords

Medieval representation of the conflict between Christians and Muslims. On the right Muslims bearing Scimitar swords. 

 

The most prominent historical figure with whom the scimitar sword is associated was called Salaheddîn Eyûbîen, although he was better known in the Western World as Saladin. He was born in what is now Iraq and he was the most important Muslim general in the Middle East in the second half of the twelfth century. He starred in the religious wars between Christians and Muslims for domination in the Holy Land, emphasizing their victory over the Christians at the battle of Hattin, a victory which opened the door for the conquest of Jerusalem. After the victory was known of by the Christians, the head of the church at the time, Pope Urbano III summoned all of the Christian Kings in a new campaign against the Muslims, the Third Crusade. It was at this time that Richard the King of England gained prominence, who later became known as Richard the "Lionheart".

The scimitar is a legendary sword that in addition to Saladin, has been associated with other characters, as created by Emilio Salgari and nicknamed the "Tiger of Malaysia" or Sandokan. This character was a pirate from Southeast Asia and was the protagonist in numerous adventures in his vengeful endeavor against the British. Simbad the Sailor was also a character that always appeared with the assistance of his trusty scimitar sword and is one of the heroes from the Arabic tale "A Thousand and One Nights". It is also a sword that has inspired multiple video-game cartoon artists.

Sandohan picture with scimitar sword

Ilustration of the adventures of Sandokan shown weilding a scimitar sword.

The 'scimitar' is the generic name that is used to describe Arabic swords with a curved blade, nevertheless, this category encompasses many individual swords that were adapted from the original model with specific names given to them according to their regions of origin.

One of them is the sword with a Turkish origin called kiliç. Its origin is related to the movements of the Medieval Mongols, although other theories suggest that it originated in the fifteenth century. It is a curved singled-edged sword that tapers towards the last third of the blade where the curvature of the cutting edge starts, that widens and shows a sharpened back edge.

Kiliç o arabian curved sword similar to scimitar sword

Arabic Kiliç curved sword with Turkish origins.

The shamsir sword was developed in Persia, the word from which 'scimitar' is said to have derived. The Shamsir sword follows the same type of single-edged curved sword, and also it characteristically begins its curvature in the last third of the blade. Sometimes the pointed end could be double-edged in order to facilitate the puncture of the enemy.

In India we find the tulwar which is very similar to the Persian shamsir. In Morocco, the characteristic curved sword is called the nimcha. Lastly, the saif is the term by which the curved sword from the Saudi area is known. The saif saber is a short double-edged sword with a curved tip.

 

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