What is a Shamshir Sword?

Mary McMahon

A shamshir sword is a bladed weapon of Persian origin. This basic design spread from Persia across Asia, and many Southeast Asian nations developed their own versions of this blade, creating a family of similar weapons known collectively as scimitars. Some very fine examples of shamshirs can be seen on display in museums dedicated to the history of weaponry and swords, for people interested in historic weapons, and it is also possible to find both ornamental and functional replicas for sale.

The shamshir sword originated in the Middle East.
The shamshir sword originated in the Middle East.

As membership in the scimitar family would suggest, the shamshir sword has a curved blade. Classically, the blade is relatively straight and even as it projects from the hilt, and it develops a pronounced curve around halfway down the blade. The point of the blade is tapered, making it an excellent thrusting and stabbing weapon, and the balance of the sword usually falls right around the apex of the curve.

These swords appear to have been developed initially for the purpose of hunting, as depictions of early shamshirs in action would seem to indicate. The combination of a straight and curved blade would have facilitated hunting from horseback, allowing riders great control and precision. Eventually, the blade was adopted for military use as well, which allowed the curved design to spread as the Persians encountered rival armies. Many people associate the curved blade design with the Middle East, since this is the region the shamshir sword comes from, but some very interesting versions can be found in places like India and the Philippines.

The hilt and crossguard of a classical shamshir sword are usually fairly simple. Bronze was a commonly-used material for the crossguard in ancient times, while the hilt was made from bone, horn, or wood. The pommel of the blade is commonly offset to compensate for the curvature of the blade and make the sword more comfortable to grip. As with other artifacts from Islamic cultures, the hilts and blades of antique shamshirs often have verses from the Qu'ran or other religious ornamentation.

Rather than being worn vertically, as is the case with most straight swords, the shamshir sword was worn horizontally, classically on the left side, and often above the waist. The horizontal design facilitated easy removal of the sword from its sheath, allowing people to access their swords quickly when they needed to. The narrow blade is extremely lightweight, making the style easy to wear, and also very sharp, allowing the user to deliver a variety of thrusts, stabs, and cutting blows with the blade.

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