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What is a Scimitar Sword? History and its Origin

Written By: Jolene Sim
Published On: June 24, 2022
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

Unlike most European Swords that utilized double-edged blades, the Scimitar, known for its convex, curved blade, is a deadly cutting weapon that has been used across Central Asia, at least until the end of the Ottoman Empire. 

From its role in Middle Eastern history, its impact on warfare, and its unique characteristics, our team has compiled a guide on why it would make a great piece for any sword collection

Characteristics of the Scimitar

While you may have already seen this sword on video games like the Assassin’s Creed, the scimitar is a backsword used by most soldiers in the middle east for close combat in the early medieval period. Here are some of its unique characteristics, and why its design proved significant in battles during its time. 

Length and Weight

The scimitar’s size varies greatly in length and weight as it developed throughout history and was used in many countries. With designs that vary based on its originating culture, scimitars differ depending on the depth of the curve, thickness, weight of the blade, and length of the sword. Generally, It is estimated to be 30 to 36 inches long (76 to 92 cm), weighs at least two pounds (0.9 kg), and is about 5.5 inches wide (14 cm). 

Blade Quality

Its most prominent feature is the curved single blade that employs a mobile slashing motion. Unlike most western swords, the scimitar blade is generally narrow. While different cultures have tweaked its design, the upper third of the blade either frequently narrows or widens toward the tip. The blade’s curved design makes it efficient for slashing and thrusting. Despite its asymmetry, the sword maintains a good balance and swift maneuvering.

Types of Metal

Early scimitars were made out of Wootz Steel, a metal discovered in India. Its high carbon content boasted exceptional strength while retaining flexibility. 

Present blades use an alloy of stainless steel and different grades of carbon steel. When carbon is used for metallurgy, it shifts around the crystal lattice of the blade making it stronger. This is why high carbon steel blades are durable and are less likely to break upon pressure. 

Newer modifications were added to the sword. For instance, some of today’s scimitar swords use Damascus Steel, a hard, yet flexible type of steel that features different patterns on the metal, giving an additional aesthetic appeal to the sword

History of the Scimitar

Believed to have originated back in the 9th century, the word Scimitar is derived from the Persian Word shamshir, meaning “paw claw” due to its curved design. Here are some of the things you need to know about the scimitar’s long history.

Many falsely believed that the Scimitar originated from the Middle East

While the popularity of the scimitar is heavily associated with the Islamic Wars, this weapon has already existed outside of the Middle East for many centuries. Mongols and Turkish nomads were the first people to have used the scimitar for combat as early as the 7th century.

Sword Makers increased the Popularity of the Sword

Damascene sword makers contributed largely to the prominence of the scimitar in the region. While Damascus Swords generally feature high quality metallurgy, the techniques and materials applied to sword making produces incredible sword durability and uniquely singular designs. The flowing water patterns were typically seen in Damascene Scimitars and swords. 

It was identified with the Saracens

Battle of Jaffa, Richard the Lionheart, 1192 (Oil on Canvas), by Edouard Henri Girardet
Battle of Jaffa, Richard the Lionheart, 1192 (Oil on Canvas), by Edouard Henri Girardet ( Source)

In the 11th century, the Saracens were the collective term for any person practicing Islam. The weapon was mainly used for the Islamic resistance against the Crusaders. Thereafter, it became an icon closely associated with Muslims.

A Product of Climate, Culture, and Economics

Scimitar Sword in the Middle Ages
( Source)

Although this sword was not exclusively used in the temperate regions of Central Asia, the lighter and curved swords were favored because it served easier utility. While European warriors employed thicker armory, and straight bladed swords, the Central Asian warriors preferred lighter armors, and curved blades. 

Middle Eastern Civilizations adopted the Scimitar as a symbol of power

Scimitar Sword on a clay tablet
( Source)

Power and royalty were common themes associated with the Scimitar. Akkadian Art represented this weapon as something held by their kings and the Goddess Ishtar. Other Mesopotamian Deities also held this sword to represent royalty in Babylonian cultures. In Arabic traditions, it was adopted to symbolize different meanings, often to denote the State, Islam, and even God. 

It remains integral to the ceremonial military uniform

Polish Officer holding a Scimitar Sword
Polish Officer holding a Scimitar Sword ( Source)

Even though military combat no longer uses swords, many countries still use the scimitar as a prominent feature in their ceremonial uniforms. 

Types of Scimitar

The scimitar may be divided into two categories: The longer blades have softer curves used for cutting and thrusting and the shorter blades have more pronounced curves wielded for cutting only. 

While it may have several different names, the scimitar has many regional variations with some even adopted in the African continent.

Shamshir

Most notable for defining the first scimitars, the shamshir is a single-bladed sword with a radical curve that gained popularity in the 16th century. Its design became distinct to the other sabres forged during that period. Thinner than a typical scimitar, the Shamsir is a nimble sword. Its handles are made of animal horn and sometimes wood, while its distinctly bulging pommel is slightly offset to allow the resistance of centrifugal force in delivering hard cuts. 

Popular in the 18th to 19th Century cavalry, the US Marines still favor this sword in ceremonial functions. 

Talwar

Created in India by the Moghul empire in the 16th century, this sword took inspiration from the design of the Shamshir. However, the Talwar was made to have a broader blade, a softer curve, and a disc-shaped pommel providing a firmer grip. The talwar’s pommel design renders the wielder’s hold inflexible, effectively raising the efficiency of a stable draw cut technique.

The softer curve of the Talwar made it efficient for thrusting, just as much as it is for cutting. Both Infantry and Cavalry are known to have used the Talwar in battles. 

Kilij 

The Kilij sword appeared in the 15th century, used by the Turks and the Ottoman Empire. The curved blades began in the Hsiung Nu Period. Through their shared islamic faith, and further islamization of the Turkic people, middle eastern armies started using curved blades in replacement of their straight-bladed swords. 

These swords were forged with high carbon crucible steel and had a single sharp edge. The sword forms a slight taper on the straight part of the blade until the final third of the blade, where a visible curve angles steeply.

Nimcha

A sword prominent in Morocco and North Africa, the Nimcha first appeared in the 18th century and was usually forged as a product of older types of swords. The blades are sourced from weapons as early as the 17th century, from countries as remote as Germany.

The Uses of the Scimitar

Due to its similarities to the falchions and sabres, the scimitar may inflict serious injury by slashing and slicing the blade against foes. Traditionally, the Scimitar is wielded while riding on horseback for its lighter and easier grip without getting stuck in moving combat, unlike how long swords would.

With its lighter weight and strategic design, the scimitar permits easier maneuvering particularly with the elbows and wrists. Where the heavy sword requires simple swings and potent exertion, this weapon provides flexibility and creativity in making thrusts and cuts. 

Because the scimitar has become a great indicator of Central Asian craftsmanship as well as a symbol for great historical feats in armed combat, it is now highly sought by many collectors. A replica of the Scimitar would make a fine addition to any collection.

Conclusion

Spanning centuries and cultures, the scimitar is an important weapon that visualizes the impact of warfare in Central Asia. To this day, whether through replicas or pop culture references, the scimitar remains a memorable image of strategic resistance and signifies the birth of many traditions along with the formation of cultures across the region.

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