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Jeffrey Faulk




Location: Georgia
Joined: 01 Jan 2011

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PostPosted: Tue 26 Apr, 2011 12:27 pm    Post subject: Classification of Islamic swords?         Reply with quote

Just a quick question. Is there any system established, similar to Oakeshott's typology for example, to classify the variety of swords found throughout the Islamic world in a historical/aesthetic context? It seems to me that with the huge volume of Islamic swords out there, there should be some way to classify them by blade type, if nothing else. Having a listing of the various types of grip, guard, and scabbard wouldn't hurt either.

If not, has anybody ever tried? I'm finding myself quite interested in this subject lately, as you might have noted by my other topic.

Thank you for sharing your knowledge!
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Apr, 2011 12:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That'd be difficult to say the least, seeing as "the Islamic world" extended all the way from West Africa (and even Spain) in the west to what is now Indonesia in the east and spanned a period of some fourteen centuries (and counting). Medieval Western Europe was much, much smaller than this.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Apr, 2011 1:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

However, these swords are classified into general types, each known by a particular name. This isn't comparable to the Oakeshott typology; these could all be described as "cruciform sword". But if you're happy with shamshir, kilij, keris, flyssa, etc. as types, it is out there.

I don't know of a single coherent description for the entire time/space of the Islamic world. The closest would be Stone, but Stone is not usually described as coherent. Others tend to focus much more narrowly geographically; Stone at least does cover everything from North Africa to Indonesia and the Philippines.

The classifications overlap, or at least some differently-named types are only geographically distinct, but otherwise similar enough to share a category.

On smaller scales, there are equivalents to Oakeshott. E.g., R. Shelford, "A Provisional Classification of the Swords of the Sarawak Tribes", The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 31, 219-228 (1901).

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Jeffrey Faulk




Location: Georgia
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Apr, 2011 1:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm aware of that. It's somewhat unfortunate as it makes the job pretty sizeable, but that doesn't mean someone hasn't tried before... I'm no scholar but I've collected a number of references and documents, and am considering collating them right here, actually. I'd like to know if it has been done before, though.
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Timo Nieminen




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Apr, 2011 3:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It hasn't been done that I know of [1]. I was thinking of suggesting it as an exercise, but on second thought, it seemed an excessively large and challenging task. And the complaints that you'd likely get because you combined/separated two categories that "should" have been separated/combined, or for your choice of language-of-origin for names for categories!

An open and available task if you're interested. Useful, too.

[1] Searching the usual databases for academic literature (and Google Scholar/Books) doesn't find any.

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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Sander Alsters




Location: Netherlands
Joined: 03 Jun 2009

Posts: 54

PostPosted: Tue 26 Apr, 2011 11:20 pm    Post subject: Islamic sword clasification         Reply with quote

As a Islamic arms and armour enthousiast I would love to see this thread develop. I bought a book regarding Iranian arms and armour written by Manouchehr Khoresani, forgive me if I misspeld his name, its from the top of my head. I asked him the same question. He told me that collecters have developed a system to class the swords for period and region. It was a complex systhem though. If someone could unravel it, that would be awesome!

As a sidenote, the term Kilij, Shamshire and so on are infact names for 'sword'. I know for a fact that Shamshire actually means lions tale. The name is also used for straight swords. Thus sometimes its hard to te what kind of swords there are reffering to in old scripts and such.

Kind Regards,
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Kurt Scholz





Joined: 09 Dec 2008

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PostPosted: Wed 27 Apr, 2011 2:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Splitting the Islamic world into regions sounds reasonable to me. They did it themselves in the Middle Ages and classified for example trebuchets accordingly.
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Jeffrey Faulk




Location: Georgia
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PostPosted: Wed 27 Apr, 2011 9:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I realize that many of the terms that are used for the different types of Islamic sword merely mean 'sword', but I find them useful for classifying the different blade types.

For my part I am mainly just considering compiling what could be described as an 'introductory article' to list the various types of swords found throughout, primarily, North Africa towards Muslim India; my knowledge of the Islamic world in Southeast Asia is too limited to really work with.

I am thinking of categorizing them by the various blade types-- shamshir, kilji (thick and thin bladed types), sayf/saif, nimcha, flyssa, et cetera-- then list variations of guards, grips, fittings and decoration. Given the massive volume of individual variety between even swords of the same type, I opine that this is the best that can be done without better knowledge of individual blades' provenance.

The problem however is that this isn't a 'classification', as in "and now here we have a kilji of type B, with a Turkish-styled guard and Mameluke grip...", this is just a listing of various swords and what distinguishes them. The question then becomes, 'is this necessary?' because I imagine many members here are fairly familiar with these weapons and their particular variations.

Thoughts? Please comment... thank you!
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Kurt Scholz





Joined: 09 Dec 2008

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PostPosted: Wed 27 Apr, 2011 11:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

South East Asia was deeply influenced by Hinduism before it turned Islamic, so I suspect close connections to India and many similar weapons. Of course there will also be indigenious types. A factor that had a strong influence on blades in the Islamic World is trade, I think even the Quran mentions Indian blades in Arabia. These are an item that is best produced by experienced personnel with the necessary supply of raw materials (like wootz) and they could be traded over long distances. In aggriculture for example the Islamic world was very similar and so distibuted planting techniques instead of developing a large trade with the harvest. If I remember correctly David Nicolle has a graphic overview of this weapons trade in the Islamic World in his Medieval Source Book II.

I suggest you can create an overview of attributes and later try to find clusters and give them names according to the most frequent names used for the items in a cluster. This way you avoid the fellacy of a classification that's possibly far away from emic view. Binary values are perhaps not the best solution and you have to use lots of fuzzy logic definitions using proportions and absolute values. If you draft an overview characteristics, a definition of regions we can perhaps offer more help. A selection of what you consider possible types after an overview of the material might also help us to help you fine tune the analysis. One thing you should keep in mind when looking at absolute numbers is the size of the skeletons of males that were likely to be armed in the region where the respective sword was used.
Another approach could be to start first with development lines and a graphic display of influence.
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