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In English the word scimitar ( or ) 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."
Thus did scimitar originally refer to a broad family of swords, of which there are now identified many individual types. Among modern sword collectors and historians the term is not frequently used, as it does not well describe a particular typology of blade, although the term was indeed used historically. Instead the word sabre covers all forms of curved blade regardless of their place of origin.
The curved sword or "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. Early swords in Islamic lands were typically straight and double edged, following the tradition of the weapons used by The Prophet Mohammad.
"The Arabs during the time of the Prophet used swords, and not sabers." - David Alexander, Swords and Sabers During the Early Islamic Period (2001)
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 and an Abbasid era blade has been discovered from Khurasan. 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.
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.
The following are regional variations, that are within the scimitar family of swords. Note that while these loan-words are used in English to refer to specific sword designs, in many cases (at various stages in history) in their native languages they often will translate to the word "sword", of any design.
The English term scimitar is attested from the mid-16th century, derives from either the Middle French cimeterre (15th century) or from the Italian scimitarra. The ultimate source of these terms is unknown. Perhaps they are corruptions of the Persian shamshir, but the OED finds this explanation "unsatisfactory".
The Persian word shamsh?r literally means "paw claw," due to its long, curved design. The word has been translated through many languages to end at scimitar. In the Early Middle Ages, the Turkic people of Central Asia came into contact with Middle Eastern civilizations through their shared Islamic faith. Turkic Ghilman mamelukes serving under the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates introduced "kilij" type sabers to all of the other Middle Eastern cultures. Previously, Arabs and Persians used straight-bladed swords such as the earlier types of the Arab saif, takoba and kaskara.
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. The Iranian shamshir was created during the Turkic Seljuk Empire period of Iran.
The term saif in Arabic can refer to any Middle Eastern (or North African, South Asian) sword, straight or curved. The Arabic word cognates with the ancient Greek xiphos. The Greek word 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.
Scimitars 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. Mongols, Rajputs and Sikhs used scimitars in warfare, among many other peoples.
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 Russian enemy in the Finnish coat of arms of the Province of Karelia, which depicts two armored arms fighting with swords. The dexter sword symbolizes Swedish forces and the West, while the sinister scimitar symbolizes Russians and the East. Karelia has been a battleground between the Swedish and Russian empires for centuries. 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. During the period of Russian sovereignty over Finland (1809-1917), the scimitar was moved to the left paw of the lion, only to be returned to being trampled with the independence of Finland in 1917.
1836 - Brown Flag of Independence, Republic of Texas
Example of a modern jihadist flag showing two crossed swords.
Emblem of the Pakistan Army
Badge of Bangladesh Army
Lion and Sun Emblem of Persia Empire
Coat of arms of Province of Karelia
Many swords are related to the scimitar
The scimitar is used in the popular game Old School RuneScape and is often associated with the game in popular and meme culture
The scimitar has also been featured in the Redwall franchise, usually being used by corsairs.
The scimitar was the standard weapon for Azeem Edin Bashir Al Bakir on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
|url=value (help). Greenwood Press. p. 64. ISBN 0-313-32270-8.