Any of the extinct cat species forming the subfamily Machairodontinae. They had two long, bladelike canine teeth in the upper jaw. They lived from 36.6 million years ago to about 10,000 years ago, arising in North America and Europe and spreading to Asia, Africa, and South America. The best-known, the short-limbed Smilodon of the Americas, was bigger than the modern lion. Its “sabres,” which grew to 8 in. (20 cm) long, were used to stab and slash prey, including the mastodon, whose pattern of extinction paralleled their own.
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The sabre or saber (see spelling differences) is a kind of sword that usually but not always has a curved, single-edged blade and a rather large hand guard, covering the knuckles of the hand as well as the thumb and forefinger. Although sabres are typically thought of as curved-bladed slashing weapons, those used by the world's heavy cavalry often had straight and even double-edged blades more suitable for thrusting. The length of sabres varied, and most were carried in a scabbard hanging from a shoulder belt known as a baldric or from a waist-mounted sword belt. Exceptions not intended for personal carry include the famed Patton saber adopted by the United States Army in 1913 and always mounted to the cavalryman's saddle.
The sabre saw extensive military use in the early 19th century, particularly in the Napoleonic Wars, during which Napoleon used heavy cavalry charges to great effect against his enemies. The sabre faded as a weapon by mid-century, as longer-range rifles made cavalry charges obsolete, even suicidal. In the American Civil War, the sabre was used infrequently as a weapon, but saw notable deployment in the Battle of Brandy Station and at East Cavalry Field at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Many cavalrymen—particularly on the Confederate side—eventually abandoned the long, heavy weapons in favour of revolvers and carbines. Although there was extensive debate over the effectiveness of "white" weapons such as the sabre and lance, the sabre remained the standard weapon of cavalry for mounted action in most armies until World War I (1914–18). Thereafter it was gradually relegated to the status of a ceremonial weapon, and most horse cavalry was replaced by armoured cavalry from 1930 on.
In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (16–18th century) a specific type of sabre-like mêlée weapon, the szabla, was used. The Don Cossacks used the shashka, which also saw military and police use in Imperial Russia and early Soviet Union.
During the 19th and in the early 20th century, sabres were also used by both mounted and dismounted personnel in some European police forces. When the sabre was used by mounted police against crowds, the results could be appalling, as in a key scene in Doctor Zhivago. The sabre was later phased out in favour of the baton (or night stick) for both practical and humanitarian reasons.
In the United States, swords with sabre blades are worn by Army, Navy, and Coast Guard officers. Marine officers and non-commissioned officers also wear such swords. They are not intended for use as weapons, however, and now serve primarily in ornamental or ceremonial functions.