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Swords in Turkish and Islamic History

The word “Kılıç”  (Sword in English) is almost always seen in all Turkish dialects such as kilinc, kilij, kilish, kilis, kilic. In Arabic, the word "seyf", which literally means "to destroy", is used for the sword. In the Ottoman Empire, the sword was still known by many people today and was called the shamshir. People from many European countries know the Turkish sword as "shamshir". Swords, which became the most developed in the Ottoman period, became impossible to use against firearms with the start of the industrial revolution.


There are other war weapons similar to swords in the historical literature. The most common of these is daggers.  In archeology, the length separating the sword from the dagger is 40 centimeters; only thin long sharp  weapons above this measure are called swords. The sword, which has been regarded as the representative of heroism, independence and power since the past, has been carried by the nobility and the commanders in the East and the West.  Swords are divided into two types as straight and curved. Curved swords have sharp single faces, while straight swords are sharp on both sides. Curved swords that are shorter than others and with sharp inside curves are called "Yatagan Swords". Those with the appearance of a heavier weapon that gradually become wider are called “Pala.” (“Machetes” in English).

The sword consists of the handle and the cutter called the barrel (base).The name of the master of the sword or the name of its owner is usually written on the handle.  The shield that provides a comfortable grip between the handle and the barrel and prevents the hand from slipping during the stroke is called "balcak" (“visor” in English). In some swords, the part of the balcak that bends back like a bridge and protects the hand from attacks in collisions with the swords is called balcak arch or handle visor. Curved swords have a double-sided sharp top called yalman (zubâb in Arabic) in the part close to the junction of the barrel ridge and the sharp rim for the weapon to be stabbed. The barrel is usually kept in a leather-covered sheath (scabbard) on wood, and the sword is carried by a strap hanging from the waist or shoulder.

Tabari says that the sword was invented by Jamshid, the legendary ruler of Iran. In the middle ages the best swords were made of quality iron, called sword egg, by heating and forging. Then it is tempered with water in different styles.       

The oldest straight swords that have survived to the present day were found in Aslantepe,Malatya, Turkey. The lengths of these swords, made of bronze and silver inlaid, dated to the Early Bronze Age, are 46.3; 45; 48.5 cm. and their thickness is 4 millimeters. Today, these swords are exhibited in the Malatya museum.

Ancient Zulfiqar swords are usually straight swords over 50 centimeters long with an ivory or bone grip. It is understood that the curved sword, which was not as common as the straight sword and became famous in the Middle Ages as the Islamic sword, the Arab sword, and the Turkish sword, appeared and became widespread in the Near East.The oldest existing example of curved swords dates back to 1800 BC and was found in Biblos (Cebel).  Curved swords are seen in Assyrian and Late Hittite reliefs in the eighth and seventh centuries BC and it is understood that these swords were carried by hanging to the waist.

In these reliefs, there are also straight and curved daggers as well as curved swords, which are exactly like the medieval Islamic swords. Like Islamic daggers, these are carried by inserting into the belt at the waist. The handles of these swords and daggers are usually decorated with detailed fine art. The oldest curved swords, which are considered to be the prototypes of the classical Ottoman sword, belong to the second and first centuries BC in the Altai. They were excavated in the Kudırge and Katanda kurgans.Most of the human sculptures and paintings in Central Asia often have swords.