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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 11:45 am    Post subject: Falchions, Messers, and the Middle East         Reply with quote

Many of the people of this forum are undoubtedly aware that in public perception, people from the Middle East carried curved swords like falchions and messers. One need look no farther than the cover of the Super Nintendo game for Aladdin to see an example of this:





Yet, as we also know, these weapons are European, rather than Middle Eastern, in origin.

How did this association between curved European swords and Middle Eastern people begin? I was looking through a book that discussed how Jews, heretics and Muslims were discussed and characterized in terms of monsters or the monstrous in the Middle Ages, and the book included numerous period images. One thing thing that I noticed which I had not previously been conscious of was the fact that Muslims were often depicted carrying falchions and messers in late medieval/renaissance artwork. In other words, this association between Middle Easterners and curved swords already existed in the minds of Europeans during the Middle Ages.

What lead to this?
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Robert Subiaga Jr.





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PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 11:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There are probably many, many factors, but one I can think of that may play a large role is symbolism. The straight European sword has the general shape of a cross, and was sometimes used as one upon which a Christian knight might swear. The crescent moon, on the other hand, has great symbolism is Islam, even to this day on things like the flag of Saudi Arabia. Once the idea of sword shape as symbolic of a religion caught on, it became self-perpetuating; and once popular images were predominantly of that sword type, even the consciousness of the religious symbolism often became moot.
Starting in a hollowed log of wood—some thousand miles up a river, with an infinitesimal prospect of returning! I ask myself "Why?" and the only echo is "damned fool!...the Devil drives...
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 11:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

During the medevial period, there was contact between the middle east and Europe. However, this mostly took the form of somebody going to the other region to trade or fight.
These could give oral acounts of what the place they had visted looked like, but this would of course not be all that accurate.

Single edged swords and sabres where in use in the middle east in the middle ages, so it is reasonable to belive that someone mentioned "single edged swords" or even "curved single edged swords" when they got home.
This would be overheard by the cousin of a friend of an illuminator, resulting in the illuminator drawing the arabs with a single edged sword. Which would of course look like a falchion, since that was how he knew them.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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George P.





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PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 12:09 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sabres were in use in Serbia during the 14th century, but I'm not sure about earlier. There is evidence of its usage in Ragusa from 1363 onwards.
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David Sutton




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PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 1:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Is it possible that there may have been a mistaken association by some western medieval artists of the Mongols (who IIRC used curved swords) with Muslims?
'Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all'

'To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing'

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Werner Stiegler





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PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 2:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
How did this association between curved European swords and Middle Eastern people begin?


The bible. Bible Illustrations show everyone from over there with huge falchion-like swords.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 3:18 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Werner Stiegler wrote:
Quote:
How did this association between curved European swords and Middle Eastern people begin?


The bible. Bible Illustrations show everyone from over there with huge falchion-like swords.


Okay, but where in turn did this come from?

So far, Elling's hypothesis seems to be the most probable to me.
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Steven H




Location: Boston
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PostPosted: Mon 29 Jun, 2009 7:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Werner Stiegler wrote:
Quote:
How did this association between curved European swords and Middle Eastern people begin?


The bible. Bible Illustrations show everyone from over there with huge falchion-like swords.


Yes, but people were drawing pictures in Bibles before Islam even existed. So that still doesn't tell us where, when etc.

Cheers,
Steven

Kunstbruder - Boston area Historical Combat Study
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Tue 30 Jun, 2009 5:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The byzantines used sabres from the 9th century on, having adopted them from nomad mercenaries. The arabs probably adopted them from the byzantines, in turn.
"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Michael G.





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PostPosted: Tue 30 Jun, 2009 9:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't quote me on this, but I think I have heard that the various Middle Eastern "scimitar" type weapons, like the shamshir, kilij, etc., were originally introduced by the Turks. By the time of the Crusades, the various Turkish groups were the major Muslim miitary powers in the Middle East, so the use of these weapons by the Muslim Turks may well have stuck in the minds of Europeans.

Add in the symbolism (cross vs. crescent) mentioned by Robert, and illustrators had all the excuse they needed. As Elling mentioned, the European illustrators would simply draw the curved swords they knew first hand--falchions--just as Muslim warriors are often shown in European-style armor (though sometimes with a turban for effect).
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Samuel Bena




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2009 5:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

George P. wrote:
Sabres were in use in Serbia during the 14th century, but I'm not sure about earlier. There is evidence of its usage in Ragusa from 1363 onwards.


Hello Happy , do you have a link to peroid illuminations , images etc(if there are any online) ? AFAIK Serbian medieval arnament was generally western european in origin, however Turkish incursion from the beggining of 14th century could mix up things ( like Rac hussar/gusar cavalry armed with sabres etc. not to mention numerous other "nomadic" people inhabiting balkans like Cumans) .. Thank you and sorry for being a bit off topic
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Samuel Bena




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2009 5:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
The byzantines used sabres from the 9th century on, having adopted them from nomad mercenaries. The arabs probably adopted them from the byzantines, in turn.


It seems to me that it was not really the Byzantines, since in the pre-mongol /Turkic conquest/early crusading era Arabs used pretty much straight bladed swords. I think that the various Turkmen tribes (who were also used as mercenaries during the various Byzantine civil wars in Anatolia) that converted to Islam as well as subsequent Mongol invasion were the cause for the spread of sabres in the middle east.
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George P.





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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2009 12:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Samuel Bena wrote:
George P. wrote:
Sabres were in use in Serbia during the 14th century, but I'm not sure about earlier. There is evidence of its usage in Ragusa from 1363 onwards.


Hello Happy , do you have a link to peroid illuminations , images etc(if there are any online) ? AFAIK Serbian medieval arnament was generally western european in origin, however Turkish incursion from the beggining of 14th century could mix up things ( like Rac hussar/gusar cavalry armed with sabres etc. not to mention numerous other "nomadic" people inhabiting balkans like Cumans) .. Thank you and sorry for being a bit off topic


Hello. You are right as far as Serbian arms and armour being western-ish, but here and there one sees evidence of that not always being the case.
Heres a frescoe from Pec with a Sabre. painted in 1316.
http://i243.photobucket.com/albums/ff17/Despo...1189904922
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Robin Palmer




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2009 2:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi all

From what I have read the Muslims of the crusader period used straight swords very little different from the western knights the sabre came in with the Mongles and Turkerman later. As to the origins of single edged curved blades in Europe there are examples dating back to the bronze age not huge numbers but enough to say the idear was not unique to the east.

Your bob palmer
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Elling Polden




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PostPosted: Wed 01 Jul, 2009 11:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I remember, the sabre that "won the middle east" in the 16th century, replacing the straight sword almost completely, was the indian Samshir, wich has a much deeper curve than earlier magyar/turk/byzantine sabres.
http://www.vikingsword.com/ethsword/shamshir/index.html
Previous to this, sabres where around but where not THE sword of the region. However they must have been common enough for medevial european to notice.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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Samuel Bena




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jul, 2009 5:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

George P. wrote:
Samuel Bena wrote:
George P. wrote:
Sabres were in use in Serbia during the 14th century, but I'm not sure about earlier. There is evidence of its usage in Ragusa from 1363 onwards.


Hello Happy , do you have a link to period illuminations , images etc(if there are any online) ? AFAIK Serbian medieval arnament was generally western european in origin, however Turkish incursion from the beggining of 14th century could mix up things ( like Rac hussar/gusar cavalry armed with sabres etc. not to mention numerous other "nomadic" people inhabiting balkans like Cumans) .. Thank you and sorry for being a bit off topic


Hello. You are right as far as Serbian arms and armour being western-ish, but here and there one sees evidence of that not always being the case.
Heres a frescoe from Pec with a Sabre. painted in 1316.
http://i243.photobucket.com/albums/ff17/Despo...1189904922


Thanks you for the pic , it looks amazing. Sorry for bothering you further but could you point me into other period sources as well(Serbian 14-15 century)? I would be delighted. I am looking into the transition when Serbs shifted from Western Knightly (straight swords/western style armour) look to more oriental/nomadic(carrying sabres , such as the Rac hussars in the painting from the Battle of Orsha 1514) Thanks again Wink
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Samuel Bena




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jul, 2009 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Elling Polden wrote:
As far as I remember, the sabre that "won the middle east" in the 16th century, replacing the straight sword almost completely, was the indian Samshir, wich has a much deeper curve than earlier magyar/turk/byzantine sabres.
http://www.vikingsword.com/ethsword/shamshir/index.html
Previous to this, sabres where around but where not THE sword of the region. However they must have been common enough for medevial european to notice.


They definitely were but I think it has to do more with pressure from neighbors/overlords. For example the different Russian principalities ; generally speaking the southern ones were de facto vassals to the remaining Golden Horde (later Crimean Khaganate)in the medieval period and thus had the access to sabre manufacturing , whereas the Novogorod principality with its straight arming/longswords had its biggest contact / war pressure from Lithuania , Teutonic Order and Polish kingdom. IIRC in the later period following 1500s (and wars with Poland-Lithuania) Russians even bought / made use of the more western Polish-Hungarian type of sabres. What is interesting however is that kingdom of Hungary that was constantly attacked by saber wielding nomads (Pechengs , Cumans , Mongols you name it) did not manufacture the weapon in quantity , but used more germanic weapons for its nobility (there was irregular horse , but mostly from balkans or provided by nomads like Szekeli(sic) and Cumans, that used sabres but thats another story). It was not until Mohacs (1526) , and Ottoman takeover that the saber was THE main weapon.

Sorry for the long rambling , just some food for though Big Grin
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George P.





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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jul, 2009 5:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Samuel Bena wrote:
I am looking into the transition when Serbs shifted from Western Knightly (straight swords/western style armour) look to more oriental/nomadic(carrying sabres , such as the Rac hussars in the painting from the Battle of Orsha 1514) Thanks again Wink


You won't find that sort of info on frescoes. In my opinion, they never really shifted to oriental. As far as I know, once the turks took over in the second half of the 15th century, Serbs were not permitted arms and armour until a few centuries later, which is when turkish style weaponry started being used in the ranks of 'Hajduks' and 'Uskoci' and later by all taking part in the two rebellions.
One sort of armour that was used is 'Toke', and probably originated from the Turks in some way.
18th century:
http://img37.imageshack.us/img37/1279/copyofdscf0710.jpg
http://muzejhercegovine.org/images/etnologija/25.JPG

As for Serbian period sources, if you pm me your address, I'll make you a cd of the pics I took on a tour of Serbian Medieval Monasteries.

Nice to see someone interested.

Sorry for the offtopic.
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Samuel Bena




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PostPosted: Thu 02 Jul, 2009 1:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

George P. wrote:
Samuel Bena wrote:
I am looking into the transition when Serbs shifted from Western Knightly (straight swords/western style armour) look to more oriental/nomadic(carrying sabres , such as the Rac hussars in the painting from the Battle of Orsha 1514) Thanks again Wink


You won't find that sort of info on frescoes. In my opinion, they never really shifted to oriental. As far as I know, once the turks took over in the second half of the 15th century, Serbs were not permitted arms and armour until a few centuries later, which is when turkish style weaponry started being used in the ranks of 'Hajduks' and 'Uskoci' and later by all taking part in the two rebellions.
One sort of armour that was used is 'Toke', and probably originated from the Turks in some way.
18th century:
http://img37.imageshack.us/img37/1279/copyofdscf0710.jpg
http://muzejhercegovine.org/images/etnologija/25.JPG

As for Serbian period sources, if you pm me your address, I'll make you a cd of the pics I took on a tour of Serbian Medieval Monasteries.

Nice to see someone interested.

Sorry for the offtopic.


I have sent you a PM Happy , however i must disagree on that "not shifting to oriental style" part . You might find Dario's blog interesting http://dariocaballeros.blogspot.com/ (the july 1 post about hussar development).
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Lafayette C Curtis




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PostPosted: Sun 05 Jul, 2009 11:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The association probably didn't crystallize before the 15th century or so; wasn't there a fairly recent thread about medieval European representations of Crusading-era Saracens that looked just like the knights of Christendom--including straight swords--with the exceptions of round shields and/or weird hats or turbans?
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