The Middle Eastern Calvary Sword: The Scimitar

3 minute read

An Eastern Cavalryman

Zordun charged across the open plains on his horse.  The wind blew in his face as he leaned down, urging a bit more speed from his mount.  As he did so, he heard the soft whisper of hundreds of arrows whistling through the air above him.  Barely managing to keep his eyes open against the dust stirred up from the sun-baked plains and the light of the noonday sun, he saw the arrows landing in the infantry in front of him, causing men to stumble and fall in cries of pain. 

He saw an answering rain of arrows rise up from behind the men and whistle past him, landing in some of the men unfortunate enough to ride slower than him.  Sending up a silent prayer of thanks for his swift ride, he slowed his horse slightly and raised his Scimitar, primed for battle.

Featured Sword: Scimitar

Scimitars and Katanas may seem similar at first glance - they are curved, Eastern swords developed near a thousand years ago. However, that is where their similarities end.

The first main difference lies in the forging process.  Scimitars are typically not forge welded like Katanas (heated, then welded to itself), they are beaten into shape blow by blow.  Thus they are made already curved - the shape provided by the smith at creation.  However, Katanas are made straight and remain so until they are quenched, at which time the uneven cooling of the blade due to clay applied by the swordsmith causes the blade to curve.

The second difference comes in their usage.  The scimitar was developed primarily for use on horseback.  The deep curve of the blade is excellent for slashing and making sure that the blade does not stick into its target - an excellent feature when riding by a target quickly.  Katanas were made to be status symbols and to finish duels between two lightly armored opponents quickly - often in one or two strokes.  A result of these different design choices are that Scimitars are worn with the edge down, while Katanas are worn with the edge facing up.

Finally, scimitars are one-handed weapons while Katanas are two-handed.  This means that the handle on a scimitar is much shorter than the Tsuka of a Katana.  The main exceptions are scimitar swords made for executions (needing two hands) and certain Katana fighting styles (such as duel-wielding).

Laying Waste

Swerving left and right to avoid the blows of the men around him, Zordun skillfully guided his horse.  Balancing carefully to remain upright, he skillfully slashed his blade at the nearest infantryman, causing a screen of pain and an arm to go limp.  Steeling himself for the next blow, he struck at an armored opponent, the blade going deep and hitting bone, then glancing off.  Knowing a straight sword would have likely stuck in the bone and risked pulling him off his horse into the thick of the battle, he again said a quick prayer of thanks.

Fun Facts

After the first Barbary war, a scimitar-like sword (mameluke) was presented to First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon by Ottoman Viceroy Prince Hamet due to the praiseworthy actions of the Marines during the war, which earned them much respect, even from their opponents.  20 years later, this type of sword was adopted for ceremonial wear by US Marine Officers.


The word Scimitar comes from either Middle French cimeterre or Italian scimitarra, both of which probably originally came from an Ottoman Turkish word that itself descended from the Persian word shamshēr (شمشیر‎ ) which literally means "paw claw".


There are many variations of Scimitars, each with their own name.

  • Shamshir (Iran)
  • Kilij (Turkey and Egypt)
  • Nimcha (Morocco)
    Pulwar (Afghanistan)
  • Talwar (Indian Subcontinent)
  • Kirpaan (Punjab, North Western India)
  • Shotel (Horn of Africa, primarily Ethiopia and Eritrea)
List credit of Wikipedia

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