Mameluke Sword: A Guide to the Marine Corps Officer’s Sword
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.
Characteristics of the Mameluke
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.
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.
Size and Length
Around 1825, thew officer’s Mameluke
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).
History of the Mameluke Sword
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.
Archibald Henderson, a commandant of the Marine Corps, declared the Mameluke sword the official dress sword for officers.
Officers switched to a more battle-effective sword.
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
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.
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.
Due to their failure to adopt field artillery weapons, the Ottoman Empire defeated them in Syria and Egypt
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.
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.
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.