Makhaira

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Antique swords, fig. 1-3: Xiphos, fig. 4: Makhaira. Schwerter2.jpg
Antique swords, fig. 1-3: Xiphos, fig. 4: Makhaira.
Reconstruction of Mycenaean swords, the bottom one being a makhaira-type sword. Mycenaean swords recostruction.jpg
Reconstruction of Mycenaean swords, the bottom one being a makhaira-type sword.

The makhaira is a type of Ancient Greek bladed weapon, generally a large knife or sword with a single cutting edge.

Contents

Terminology

The Greek word μάχαιρα (mákhaira, plural mákhairai), also transliterated machaira or machaera, is related to μάχη (mákhē) "a battle", μάχεσθαι (mákhesthai) "to fight". It derives from the Proto-Indo-European *magh-.

Homer mentions the makhaira, but as a domestic knife of no great size. [1] In period texts, μάχαιρα has a variety of meanings, and can refer to virtually any knife or sword, even a surgeon's scalpel, but in a martial context it frequently refers to a type of one-edged sword; a sword designed primarily to cut rather than thrust. [2]

The Koine of the New Testament uses the word makhaira to refer to a sword generically, not making any particular distinction between native blades and the gladius of the Roman soldier. This ambiguity appears to have contributed to the apocryphal malchus, a supposedly short curved sword used by Peter to cut off the ear of a slave named Malchus during the arrest of Jesus. While such a weapon clearly is a makhaira by ancient definition, the imprecise nature of the word as used in the New Testament cannot provide any conclusive answer.

Makhaira entered classical Latin as machaera, "a sword". The dimachaerus was a type of Roman gladiator that fought with two swords. In modern Greek, μαχαίρι means "knife".

Modern scholars distinguish the makhaira from the kopis (an ancient term of similar meaning) based on whether the blade is forward curved (kopis), or not (makhaira). [3]

Characteristics

The figure on the right is wielding a makhaira - indicated by its asymmetric guard and pommel and the curve of the cutting edge (uppermost in the image) of the blade whilst the back of the blade is flat. Attic figured pelike c. 460BC. Dionysos Giant Louvre G434.jpg
The figure on the right is wielding a makhaira - indicated by its asymmetric guard and pommel and the curve of the cutting edge (uppermost in the image) of the blade whilst the back of the blade is flat. Attic figured pelike c. 460BC.

Makhaira were of various sizes and shapes, being regional, and not exclusively Greek. Greek art shows the Lacedaemonian and Persian armies employing swords with a single cutting edge, but Persian records show that their primary infantry sword was two edged and straight, similar to the Greek xiphos (cf. acinaces). Greek vase painting begins to show makhairai very infrequently from c.530 BC, though their depiction is increasingly common on 'red figure' ceramics from c.510 BC onwards.

The makhaira depicted in artworks was single-edged, having an expanded convex portion to the cutting part of the blade towards its tip. This concentrated weight, and therefore momentum, to this part of the blade allowing a forceful cut. The shape of the blade helped to make it so the makhaira could potentially cut through bone. [4]

Despite their relatively frequent depictions in art, archaeological remains of this type of sword are rare. [5]

Use

While Xenophon states that the xiphos was the conventional sword used by the Greek soldier of his time, he recommended the makhaira for cavalry. "I recommend a kopis rather than a xiphos, because from the height of a horse's back the cut of a machaira will serve you better than the thrust of a xiphos." (Xenophon, 12:11). [6] Archeological evidence suggests that the makhaira was more predominant in areas that were not so focused on using the phalanx, and instead focused more on cavalry. [7]

His reasoning concurs with the general practice of arming cavalry with cutting swords through the ages. Greek art along with Xenophon's further commentary suggests that the sword he intended for the cavalry was wider than the more modern sabre; more akin to the falchion or even machete.

A man wielding a makhaira. Red figure amphora c. 460BC Neck-amphora swordsman Louvre G216.jpg
A man wielding a makhaira. Red figure amphora c. 460BC

See also

Animals

There are examples of animals that have makhaira or machaira in their names.

Related Research Articles

A machete is a broad blade used either as an agricultural implement similar to an axe, or in combat like a long-bladed knife. The blade is typically 30 to 45 centimetres long and usually under 3 millimetres (0.12 in) thick. In the Spanish language, the word is possibly a diminutive form of the word macho, which was used to refer to sledgehammers., alternatively, its origin may be machaera, the name given by the Romans to the falcata. In the English language, an equivalent term is matchet, though it is less commonly used. In the English-speaking Caribbean, such as Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Grenada and in Trinidad and Tobago, the term cutlass is used for these agricultural tools.

<i>Gladius</i> Sword

Gladius is a Latin word meaning "sword", but in its narrow sense, it refers to the sword of Ancient Roman foot soldiers. Early ancient Roman swords were similar to those of the Greeks, called xiphe. From the 3rd century BC, however, the Romans adopted a sword based on the weapons used by the Celtiberians in Hispania late into the Punic Wars, known in Latin as the gladius hispaniensis, or "Hispanic sword".

Falchion One-handed, single-edged sword

A falchion is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European origin, whose design is reminiscent of the modern machete. Falchions are found in different forms from around the 13th century up to and including the 16th century. In some versions the falchion looks rather like the seax and later the sabre, and in other versions the form is irregular or like a machete with a crossguard.

Sabre Type of sword used for combat on horseback

A sabre is a type of backsword with a curved blade associated with the light cavalry of the early modern and Napoleonic periods. Originally associated with Central European cavalry such as the hussars, the sabre became widespread in Western Europe in the Thirty Years' War. Lighter sabres also became popular with infantry of the early 17th century. In the 19th century, models with less curving blades became common and were also used by heavy cavalry.

This is a list of types of swords.

<i>Dao</i> (sword) Single-edged Chinese sword primarily used for slashing and chopping

Dao are single-edged Chinese swords, primarily used for slashing and chopping. The most common form is also known as the Chinese sabre, although those with wider blades are sometimes referred to as Chinese broadswords. In China, the dao is considered one of the four traditional weapons, along with the gun, qiang (spear), and the jian, called in this group “The General of Weapons".

The yatagan or yataghan is a type of Ottoman knife or short sabre used from the mid-16th to late 19th centuries. The yatagan was extensively used in Ottoman Turkey and in areas under immediate Ottoman influence, such as the Balkans and the Caucasus.

Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, which is a type of sword.

Classification of swords

The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.

Kopis

The term kopis in Ancient Greece could describe a heavy knife with a forward-curving blade, primarily used as a tool for cutting meat, for ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice, or refer to a single edged cutting or "cut and thrust" sword with a similarly shaped blade.

Xiphos Iron Age weapon

The xiphos is a double-edged, one-handed Iron Age straight shortsword used by the ancient Greeks. It was a secondary battlefield weapon for the Greek armies after the dory or javelin. The classic blade was generally about 45–60 cm (18–24 in) long, although the Spartans supposedly preferred to use blades as short as 30 cm (12 in) around the era of the Greco-Persian Wars. The xiphos sometimes has a midrib, and is diamond or lenticular in cross-section. It was a rather light weapon, with a weight around 450 to 900 grams or 1-2 lbs. It was generally hung from a baldric under the left arm. The xiphos was generally used only when the spear was broken, taken by the enemy, or discarded for close combat. Very few xiphe are known to have survived.

The falcata is a type of sword typical of pre-Roman Iberia. The falcata was used to great effect for warfare in the ancient Iberian peninsula, and is firmly associated with the southern Iberian tribes, among other ancient peoples of Hispania. It was highly prized by the ancient general Hannibal, who equipped Carthaginian troops with it during the Second Punic War.

Shashka

The shashka or shasqua, is a kind of sabre; single-edged, single-handed, and guardless backsword. In appearance, the shashka is midway between a typically curved sabre and a straight sword. It has a slightly curved blade, and can be effective for both cutting and thrusting.

Pattern 1908 cavalry sword Type of cavalry sword

The 1908 Pattern Cavalry Trooper's Sword was the last service sword issued to the cavalry of the British Army. It has been called the most effective cavalry sword ever designed, although its introduction occurred as swords finally became obsolete as military weapons. In use, it, like other thrust-based cavalry swords, is best described as a one-handed lance, due to its complete lack of utility for anything but the charge. In fact, the closely related US Model 1913 Cavalry Saber was issued with only a saddle scabbard, as it was not considered to be of much use to a dismounted cavalryman. Colonial troops, who could expect to engage in melee combat with opposing cavalry frequently carried cut and thrust swords either instead of, or in addition to, the P1908/1912.

Harpe

The harpē (ἅρπη) was a type of sword or sickle; a sword with a sickle protrusion along one edge near the tip of the blade. The harpe is mentioned in Greek and Roman sources, and almost always in mythological contexts.

Scimitar Sword

In English the word scimitar refers to a backsword or sabre with a curved blade. Adapted from the Italian word scimitarra in the mid 16th century from an unknown source, the word became used for all 'Oriental' blades which were curved, compared to the more commonly straight and double edged European swords of the time. This is apparent in Thomas Page's The Use of the Broad Sword. Published: 1746:

"The Sword was of enormous length and breadth, heavy and unweildy, design'd only for right down chopping by the Force of a strong Arm; till Time and Experience discovering the Disadvantages, by Degrees contracted its Length and lighten'd its Weight in to the more handy Form of the Scymitar; which was first invented by the Eastern Nations, and has continued to be their principal Weapon to this Day:....""The Saracens, Turks and Persians, made use of but three different Throws with the Scymitar, and one of those, only on Horseback; the other two on Foot."

A single-edged sword may be any single-edged bladed weapon with a hilt which is shorter than a polearm.

Basket-hilted sword Sword with basket-like hand protection

The basket-hilted sword is a sword type of the early modern era characterised by a basket-shaped guard that protects the hand. The basket hilt is a development of the quillons added to swords' crossguards since the Late Middle Ages. In modern times, this variety of sword is also sometimes referred to as the broadsword.

Ancient Greek military personal equipment

Ancient Greek weapons and armor were primarily geared towards combat between individuals. Their primary technique was called the phalanx, a formation consisting of massed shield wall, which required heavy frontal armor and medium-ranged weapons such as spears. Soldiers were required to provide their own panoply, which could prove expensive, however the lack of any official peace-keeping force meant that most Greek citizens carried weapons as a matter of course for self-defence. Because individuals provided their own equipment, there was considerable diversity in arms and armour among the Hellenistic troops.

References

  1. Gordon, p. 24
  2. For a good summary of the evidence, see F. Quesada Sanz: "Máchaira, kopís, falcata" in Homenaje a Francisco Torrent, Madrid, 1994, pp. 75-94.
  3. Tarassuk & Blair, s.v. "kopis," The Complete Encyclopedia of Arms and Weapons, 1979.
  4. MOLLOY, BARRY (2010). "Swords and Swordsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age". American Journal of Archaeology. 114 (3): 403–428. doi:10.3764/aja.114.3.403. ISSN   0002-9114. JSTOR   25684288.
  5. Gordon, p. 24
  6. Sidnell, P. (2006)Warhorse: Cavalry in Ancient Warfare. Continuum International Publishing Group, pp. 33-34.
  7. Mödlinger, Marianne (2015). "Review of Die barbarischen Einflüsse in der griechischen Bewaffnung. Internationale Archäologie 125, Marek Verčík". Archaeologia Austriaca. 99: 259–264. doi:10.1553/archaeologia99s259. ISSN   0003-8008. JSTOR   43955762.

Bibliography