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Mameluke Sword: A Guide to the Marine Corps Officer’s Sword

Written By: Abigail Cambal
Updated: February 13, 2024
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

NO AI USED This Article has been written and edited by our team with no help of the AI

The Mameluke sword is the ceremonial saber of the United States Marine Corp officers. It is inspired by the scimitar swords wielded by the Mamluks, legendary warriors known for their exceptional skills in battle. This sword has also influenced the design of military swords of the French, British, and other Western armed forces. 

This article discusses the history of the Mameluke sword, its unique characteristics, and its significance to the Marine Corps.

The United States Marine Corps officers carry the Mameluke sword inspired by Mamluk warriors’ scimitars.
Mameluke swords have single-edged, slightly curved blades, often with detailed etchings and a hilt designed for ceremonial use.
The Mameluke sword’s design and use have evolved, maintaining its significance as a ceremonial weapon and a symbol of honor and tradition in the military.

Characteristics of the Mameluke Sword 

The first mention of the Mameluke sword comes from the Marine Corps Uniform Regulation in 1825. Here are the characteristics of the dress sword:

Metal and Construction

Most Mameluke blades are crafted from polished stainless steel or a heavily nickel-plated copper base, suited for its ceremonial purpose. 

The Marine Corps Systems Command inspects and certifies that each manufacturer conforms to the dress sword requirements. Hence, most officers carry blades from WKC, Atlanta Cutlery, Zubco, and other certified manufacturers.

Blade Appearance

WWI USMC Officer’s ‘Mameluke’ Sword And Scabbard
WWI USMC Officer’s ‘Mameluke’ Sword And Scabbard – Credits: Military Americana

The Mameluke sword is a saber with a single-edged, slightly curved blade. The appearance of the blade varies:

  • Early blades – had a fuller or groove running from the ricasso (near the handle) to the tip and were without decoration.
  • 1825 model – generally has plain blades.
  • 1875 model – features a blade with fancy etched designs.
  • More modern swords – have blades with gilt etching, showing designs from floral patterns to military trophies.

This sword traditionally includes a scroll with the words “United States Marines.” The owner’s name can also be engraved on the sword, read from the tip to the hilt.

If a Marine officer inherits a sword that already has another name engraved, they can keep using it as long as the sword meets the required standards.

Size and Length

Around 1825, thew officer’s Mameluke sword had a maximum overall length of about 95 centimeters, with its blade length around 83 centimeters. Today, the blade length ranges from 66 to 88 centimeters. As a rule of thumb, the overall length is determined by its traditional handling position, in which the tip will not fall more than 1 inch above or below eye level.

Sword Mounting

A Pair Of Us Marine Corps Officers Swords Of Mameluke Design, 1930s
A Pair Of Us Marine Corps Officers Swords Of Mameluke Design, 1930s – Credits: Bonhams

Around 1825, the Mameluke sword for officers had an overall length around 37 inches (95 centimeters), with the blade about 33 inches (83 centimeters) long. Today, the blade lengths of these swords range from 26 to 35 inches (66 – 88 centimeters).

The overall sword length is based on the traditional way of holding it. When held correctly, the tip should not be more than 1 inch (2.54 cm) above or below your eye level. This ensures the sword fits well for its wielder.

History of the Mameluke Sword

British Pattern 1831 sabre and scabbard
British Pattern 1831 sabre and scabbard – Credits: Wiki Media

The Marines were known for fighting pirates, and the Mameluke sword became a symbol of their courage and success. Here are some historical milestones for the sword:

  • Late 1700s

As part of organized government action, pirates from North African states (Morocco, Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli) captured ships in the Mediterranean. European countries and the United States paid them tributes to avoid being captured.

  • 1801 – 1805

The First Barbary War occurred as the U.S. stopped paying tributes. To end these issues, President Thomas Jefferson aimed to replace Tripoli’s government with exiled leader Hamet Karamanli. 

Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon of the U.S. Marine Corps played a key role in taking the city of Derna in Tripoli. Impressed, Karamanli gave him his own Mameluke sword. 

  • 1825

Archibald Henderson, a commandant of the Marine Corps, declared the Mameluke sword the official dress sword for officers. 

  • 1859 

Officers switched to a more battle-effective sword.

  • 1875

The use of the Mameluke sword was reinstated.

During the 19th century in the British Army, light cavalry officers and hussars adopted the Mameluke sword. In the Australian Army, those ranked Major General and above carry the Mameluke sword on ceremonial occasions. 

Origins of the Mameluke Sword

French Napoleonic Era Damascus Mameluke Sword
French Napoleonic Era Damascus Mameluke Sword – Credits: Live Auctioneers

The Mameluke sword is named after the Mamluk warriors of Egypt. Having fascinated European society, many armies including the Americans and British adopted their weaponry and style.

This is their story:

“Mamluk” comes from the Arabic word for slave. Taken as prisoners of war or received as gifts, they were inducted into the military and served the Ayyubid sultans. Eventually, they overthrew their rulers and established their own dynasty in Syria and Egypt.

Model 1850 U.S. Foot Officer's Sword
Model 1850 U.S. Foot Officer’s Sword – Credits: Worcester Museum

Compared to other Islamic swords, the Mamluks wielded scimitars or sabers with lighter and narrower curved blades. The blades often had inscriptions of the sultan or commander’s name, their official titles, or verses from the Quran. The crosspiece is similar to the Turkish Ottoman kilij or Persian shamshir. Some examples even had double-edged curved blades. 

  • 1517

Due to their failure to adopt field artillery weapons, the Ottoman Empire defeated them in Syria and Egypt 

  • 1798

After the French invasion of Egypt, the French Army recruited hundreds of Mamluk warriors to fight for Napoleon. Some served as personal bodyguards throughout the Napoleonic Wars. Impressed, the French adopted their scimitars.

  • 1826

The U.S. Marine Corps officers started to wear the Mameluke sword as part of their dress uniform from 1826. Under regulations, all Marine officers’ swords were plain with brass hilts, brass mounted leather scabbards, gold etching, and geometric lines.

  • 1859

The 1859 Uniform Regulations favored the foot officer’s sword (model 1850 Army sword) over the Mameluke sword as it was more efficient. It was then reinstated in 1875.Today, the Mameluke sword remains a ceremonial weapon for the Marine officers, representing the USMC’s fighting legacy.

Today, the Mameluke sword remains a ceremonial weapon for the Marine officers, representing the USMC’s fighting legacy.

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