Scimitar

Scimitar

[sim-i-ter]

A scimitar is a sword with a curved blade design finding its origins in Southwest Asia (Middle East).

The name can be used to refer to almost any Middle Eastern or South Asian sword with a curved blade. They include Arabic saif, Indian talwar, Persian shamshir, and Turkish kilij and yatağan, among others. These blades all were developed from the ubiquitous parent sword, the Turko-Mongol saber.

Etymology

The word "scimitar", known in English since 1548, derived from Medieval French cimeterre (15c.) or directly from Italian scimitarra, of unknown origin. Ottoman Turkish would be the expected source, but no such word has been found there.

A possible origin of 'scimitar' is from the Persian shim- or shamshir. This, in turn, is said to be derived from Middle Persian "shafshēr" meaning; "lion's claw" (sham = claw, shir = lion), in reference to the sword's curve. However, this is likely a folk etymology, as the word is already attested in Middle persian with the meaning "sword".

The following swords are usually called scimitars:

Scimitars in history

In the form of the khopesh, the scimitar started playing a sometimes significant role in Middle Eastern warfare more than two millennia before the advent of Islam. Egyptologist Zahi Hawass asserts that the Egyptians of the 18th Dynasty (circa 1600 B.C.) used new weapons technologies borrowed from the Hyksos, including "the scimitar" as important tools in fostering Egypt's regional domination which characterized much of the New Kingdom period (p 21-22). Some might judge Hawass' use of the term anachronistic but nonetheless this provides evidence for the use of something akin to the scimitar in well before the development of the Persian shamshir.

Many Islamic traditions adopted scimitars, as attested by their symbolic occurrence, e.g. on the Coat of arms of Saudi Arabia.

The scimitar in fiction and popular culture

In fiction, warriors of Middle Eastern cultures often use scimitars, for example the character Yellow Robe in Journey to the West. In the film The 13th Warrior Antonio Banderas' character makes a scimitar after finding the Viking swords too heavy. Also, it has become a stereotype that seafaring pirates favored this type of sword, as seen in numerous stories, television shows and movies.

Scimitars are also commonly used when the inclusion of a fairly exotic weapon is desired by authors of fantasy fiction and role-playing games. The Calormen warriors and royalty fight with scimitars in C. S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, as does Prince Borric, the main character in Raymond E. Feist's Prince of the Blood. Fantasy author R.A. Salvatore's dark elf protagonist Drizzt Do'Urden wields a pair of enchanted scimitars named Icingdeath and Twinkle (the blades are slightly curved). In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, most Orcs wield scimitars. Also, in the Redwall series, the vermins' typical weapon is the scimitar. Scimitars are also a weapon in RuneScape, an online video game, and can be bought in a shop located in an Arabian styled area. In the games of Prince of Persia the player's/prince's blade is a scimitar. In Diablo II, a scimitar is an early weapon, promoting fast attack speed and low damage.

Additionally, the scimitar has been a fairly popular namesake employed by comic book and science fiction writers. A wrestler, a minor Marvel Comics villain, and space craft in the Star Trek, Star Wars, and Wing Commander universes have all been named after the scimitar.

Jafat also uses a Scimitar in the "Hadrabubdla - Ashti's quest" comics.

The scimitar was also used in Arabia as a form of gladiatorial combat similar to the Roman fashion.

Sources and references

  • Etymology OnLine
  • Hawass, Zahi. (2005). Tutankhamun And the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. Washington DC: National Geographic Society

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