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Two styles of scimitars: an Egyptian shamshir (left) and an Ottoman kilij (right) Sabel, shamshir, Egypten, 1800-talet%3F - Livrustkammaren - 60711.tif
Two styles of scimitars: an Egyptian shamshir (left) and an Ottoman kilij (right)

A scimitar ( /ˈsɪmɪtər/ or /ˈsɪmɪtɑːr/ ) [1] is a single-edged sword with a convex curved blade [2] [3] [4] associated with Middle Eastern, South Asian, or North African cultures. A European term, scimitar does not refer to one specific sword type, but an assortment of different Eastern curved swords inspired by types introduced to the Middle East by Central Asian ghilmans. These swords include the Persian shamshir (the origin of the word scimitar), the Arab saif, the Indian talwar, the North African nimcha, and the Turkish kilij. [4] [5] All such swords are originally derived from earlier curved swords developed in Turkic Central Asia (Turkestan). [6]



The English term scimitar is attested from the mid-16th century and derives from either the Middle French cimeterre (15th century) or from the Italian scimitarra. The ultimate source of these terms is corruptions of the Persian shamshir. [7] [8] Scimitar became used to describe all curved oriental blades, in contrast to the straight and double edged European swords of the time. [note 1]

The term سَيْفsaif in Arabic can refer to any Middle Eastern (or North African, South Asian) sword, straight or curved. Saif cognates with the ancient Greek xiphos , which may have been borrowed from a Semitic language, as both saif and xiphos go back to an old (Bronze Age) wanderwort of the eastern Mediterranean of unknown ultimate origin. Richard F. Burton derives both words from the Egyptian sfet. [10]

History of use

Arabs with scimitars from Boulanger's painting A Tale of 1001 Nights Boulanger Gustave Clarence Rodolphe A Tale of 1001 Nights.jpg
Arabs with scimitars from Boulanger's painting A Tale of 1001 Nights

The earliest evidence of scimitars is from the 9th century among soldiers in Khurasan. [11] They were used in horse warfare because of their relatively light weight when compared to larger swords and their curved design, good for slashing opponents while riding on a horse. Nomadic horsemen learned from experience that a curved edge is better for cutting strikes because the arc of the blade matches that of the sweep of the rider's arm as they slash the target while galloping. [12] Mongols, Rajputs and Sikhs used scimitars in warfare, among many other peoples.

The scimitar was widespread throughout the Middle East from at least the Ottoman period until the age of smokeless powder firearms relegated swords to dress and ceremonial function. The Egyptian khopesh, brought to Egypt by the Hyksos, resembled scimitars. [13] The khopesh is sometimes considered a scimitar. [2] [14] Early swords in Islamic lands were typically straight and double edged, following the tradition of the weapons used by the Islamic prophet Muhammad. [15] Though the famous double edged sword, Zulfiqar wielded by Ali was of a curved design, the curved design was probably introduced into central Islamic lands by Turkic warriors from central Asia who were employed as royal body-guards in the 9th century [15] and an Abbasid era blade has been discovered from Khurasan. [15] [11] These Turkic warriors sported an early type of sabre which had been used in central Asia since the 7th century, but failed to gain wider appeal initially in Islamic lands. There is a single surviving Seljuk saber from approximately the year 1200, which may indicate that under that empire curved blades saw some popularity. [16] Following the Mongol invasions of the 13th century the curved swords favored by the Turkic cavalry, formed lasting impacts across much of the Middle East. The adoption of these swords was incremental, starting not long after Mongol conquest, and lasting well into the 15th century. [12] During Islamization of the Turks, the kilij became more and more popular in the Islamic armies. When the Seljuk Empire invaded Persia and became the first Turkic Muslim political power in Western Asia, kilij became the dominant sword form. [17] The Iranian shamshir was created during the Turkic Seljuk Empire period of Iran.


The scimitar has been a symbol since ancient times. To the Akkadians, the scimitar, or harpe, was represented in art as something held by kings and the goddess Ishtar. In the Old Babylonian period, art depicts gods such as Marduk, Ishtar, Ninurta, and Nergal holding scimitars as a symbol of royalty. A common scene depicted in this period is a king or a god trampling on an enemy, a scimitar in their left hand. [18]

The flag of Saudi Arabia shows the shahada above a scimitar (design used during 1938-1973; the modern design shows the scimitar in a more stylized form) Flag of Saudi Arabia (1938-1973).svg
The flag of Saudi Arabia shows the shahada above a scimitar (design used during 1938–1973; the modern design shows the scimitar in a more stylized form)
Seal of the Ministry of National Defense (Turkey) MSB-Logo.png
Seal of the Ministry of National Defense (Turkey)

The sword (or saif) is an important symbol in Arab cultures, and is used as a metaphor in many phrases in the Arabic language.

The word occurs also in various symbolic and status titles in Arabic (and adopted in other languages) used in Islamic states, notably:

Saif and Saif al Din "Sword of the religion" are also common masculine (and male) Islamic names.

The scimitar appears as a symbol of the Russians in the Finnish coat of arms of the Province of Karelia, which depicts two armored arms fighting with swords - one Western and one Eastern, representing Karelia's troubled history as a border region between the east and the west. [19] [20] From this context, the sword and scimitar have found their way into the coat of arms of Finland, which depicts a lion brandishing a sword and trampling a scimitar. [21]

In Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg argue that the scimitar has been appropriated by Western culture and Hollywood to symbolize Arab Muslims in a negative light. Even though Muslims used straight-edge swords for the first two centuries of the Crusades, European Christians may have more closely tied the Christian cross-like shape of the swords to their cause. The authors commented that American cartoonists use the scimitar to symbolize "Muslim barbarity", despite the irony in scimitars being worn with some American military uniforms. [22]

In European art

In Shakespeare's works, the scimitar was a symbol for the East and the Islamic world. [23]

Scimitars were used in 19th century orientalist depictions of Middle Eastern men. [24] In the 20th century, they were often used to indicate that a character was Middle Eastern and occupying a villain role. [24]

In media


  1. This is apparent in Thomas Page's The Use of the Broad Sword (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." [9]

Related Research Articles

A sword is an edged, bladed weapon intended for manual cutting or thrusting. Its blade, longer than a knife or dagger, is attached to a hilt and can be straight or curved. A thrusting sword tends to have a straighter blade with a pointed tip. A slashing sword is more likely to be curved and to have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing. The precise definition of a sword varies by historical epoch and geographic region.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Falchion</span> One-handed, single-edged sword

A falchion is a one-handed, single-edged sword of European origin. 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 more like a machete with a crossguard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sabre</span> Type of sword

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 during 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> (Chinese 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 Kara-Khanid Khanate, also known as the Karakhanids, Qarakhanids, Ilek Khanids or the Afrasiabids, was a Turkic khanate that ruled Central Asia in the 9th through the early 13th century. The dynastic names of Karakhanids and Ilek Khanids refer to royal titles with Kara Khagan being the most important Turkic title up until the end of the dynasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sultanate of Rum</span> Turkish state in central Anatolia from 1077 to 1308

The Sultanate of Rum was a culturally Turco-Persian Sunni Muslim state, established over conquered Byzantine territories and peoples (Rûm) of Anatolia by the Seljuk Turks following their entry into Anatolia after the Battle of Manzikert (1071). The name Rûm was a synonym for the medieval Eastern Roman Empire and its peoples, as it remains in modern Turkish. The name is derived from the Aramaic (rhπmÈ) and Parthian (frwm) names for ancient Rome, itself ultimately a loan from Greek Ῥωμαῖοι.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shamshir</span> Type of Persian/Iranian curved sword

A shamshir is a type of Persian/Iranian sword with a radical curve. The name is derived from the Persian word shamshīr, which means "sword". The curved "scimitar" sword family includes the shamshir, kilij, talwar, pulwar and nimcha.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kilij</span> Sword

A kilij or a pusat is a type of one-handed, single-edged and curved scimitar used by the Seljuk Empire, Timurid Empire, Mamluk Empire, Ottoman Empire, and other Turkic khanates of Eurasian steppes and Turkestan. These blades developed from earlier Turko-Mongol sabers that were in use in lands controlled or influenced by the Turkic peoples.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Talwar</span> Type of sword from the Indian subcontinent

The talwar, also spelled talwaar and tulwar, is a type of curved sword or sabre from the Indian subcontinent.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zulfiqar</span> Double-bladed sword in Islamic imagery

Zulfiqar, also spelled Zu al-Faqar, Zulfikar, Dhu al-Faqar, Dhulfaqar or Dhulfiqar, is the sword of Ali ibn Abi Talib.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pulwar</span>

The pulwar or pulouar is a single-handed curved sword originating in Afghanistan.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nimcha</span> Type of sabre from North Africa

A Nimcha is a single-handed sword from north Africa, especially used in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. It is classified as a type of scimitar or saif. Becoming popular in north Africa during the 16th century, surviving nimcha are usually from the late 18th century onward and are notable for often using older blades. Stylistically they often bore Arabian type handles with tugrah inscribed on the blade.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Turco-Mongol tradition</span> 14th century ethnocultural synthesis in Asia

The Turco-Mongol or Turko-Mongol tradition was an ethnocultural synthesis that arose in Asia during the 14th century, among the ruling elites of the Golden Horde and the Chagatai Khanate. The ruling Mongol elites of these Khanates eventually assimilated into the Turkic populations that they conquered and ruled over, thus becoming known as Turco-Mongols. These elites gradually adopted Islam as well as Turkic languages, while retaining Mongol political and legal institutions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mameluke sword</span> Type of curved sword

A Mameluke sword is a cross-hilted, curved, scimitar-like sword historically derived from sabres used by Mamluk warriors of Mamluk Egypt after whom the sword is named. Egypt was, at least nominally, part of the Ottoman Empire and the sword most commonly used in Egypt was the same as used elsewhere in the empire, the kilij.

The Great Seljuk Empire, or the Seljuk Empire, was a high medieval, culturally Turco-Persian, Sunni Muslim empire, founded and ruled by the Qïnïq branch of Oghuz Turks. It spanned a total area of 3.9 million square kilometres from Anatolia and the Levant in the west to the Hindu Kush in the east, and from Central Asia in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south.

Saif is an Arabic name that means sword or scimitar. also, it means the protector of something.

The Saif, sometimes called a shamshir, depending on the era, has its origins in Arabia prior to the 7th century. Not much is known about this particular weapon, other than what Al-Kindi wrote in his treatise On Swords in the 9th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Turko-Mongol sabers</span> Cavalry Sabre

These swords were used by the Turkic and Mongolic nomads of the Eurasian steppes primarily between the 8th and 14th centuries. One of the earliest recorded sabres of this type was recovered from an Avar grave in Romania dating to the mid 7th century.

The Pattern 1831 sabre for General Officers is a British army pattern sword prescribed for the use of officers of the rank of major-general and above. It has been in continuous use from 1831 to the present. It is an example of a type of sword described as a mameluke sabre.



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  9. Page 1746.
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  11. 1 2 Lindsay 2005, p. 64.
  12. 1 2 "Military sabers of the Qing dynasty | Mandarin Mansion". Archived from the original on 2021-02-26. Retrieved 2019-09-28.
  13. Dean 2017, p. 76.
  14. Price 1885, p. 59.
  15. 1 2 3 Alexander, David (2001). "SWORDS AND SABERS DURING THE EARLY ISLAMIC PERIOD". Gladius. XXI: 193–220. doi: 10.3989/gladius.2001.86 . S2CID   161188853.
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  18. Massafra 2011, p. 342.
  19. Savolainen & Mehtonen 2016, p. 281.
  20. Wastl-Walter 2016, p. 53.
  21. Holmio 2001, p. 64.
  22. Gottschalk, Peter (2008). Islamophobia : making Muslims the enemy. Gabriel Greenberg. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 46–48. ISBN   978-0-7425-5286-9. OCLC   87130031.
  23. Niayesh, Ladan (2009-12-13). "Of Pearls and Scimitars: The Shakespearean Bazaar of Oriental Props". Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare (27): 83–98. doi:10.4000/shakespeare.1507. ISSN   2271-6424.
  24. 1 2 Sensoy, Özlem (15 December 2016). "Angry Muslim Man: Neo-orientalism and the Pop Culture Curriculum". Critical Education. 7 (16). doi:10.14288/ce.v7i16.186189.