Scimitar: Marines and Muslims

A scimitar is a long curved sword or saber, sometimes wider near the point and sharp on one side. Styles vary. Blades range from 30 to 36 inches (76 to 92 centimeters). There is no pommel, per se. Instead, at the end of the hilt there is generally a 90 degree bend that extends for one or two inches (about 5 cm). This actually made for a more stable weapon that was easier to hold onto when being swung with a slashing motion.


Designed as a one-handed weapon, the scimitar was most effective when used from horseback. It was also a close in weapon for foot soldiers. Heavier two-handed versions were made on occasion, especially for use against heavily armored foes. Scimitars were designed for slashing, hacking, and even a hooking stab. Its curve made it effective against shields when in the hands of a practiced user.

The scimitar probably originated in the early 8th century and may have been an Asian adaptation of a long, though straight, saber used by the Byzantine Empire. It became a favorite of Arabs and Muslims throughout the Middle-East. The scimitar fist came to the notice of Europe during the Crusades. It was a weapon commonly used by the Saracen that occupied the Palestine region during the Middle Ages.

The English word for the sword comes from either the French cimeterre, or the Italian scimitarra. The Persian term was shamshir. Popular in Muslim regions, the scimitar goes by many different names in different countries. The Arabic word is saif, which can be applied to swords in general. The Turkish is kilij. In Afghanistan it is called the pulwar and in India tulwar.

Today the sword is still used. In Saudi Arabia it is a means to administer capital punishment by decapitation. Interestingly, the scimitar is also the ceremonial sword used by some units of the United States Marine Corps. The sword is called a "Mameluke" sword. It originally came into fashion in 1805 when Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon was given a scimitar by a chieftain in North Africa while marching on Tripoli to attack the Barbary Pirates. The scimitar is now one of the oldest weapons in the U.S. arsenal.

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Interesting Fact:

For a short period in the 1950s Britain's Royal Air Navy employed an interceptor fighter called the Supermarine Scimitar. Its systems proved too complex for the time and the jet was quickly taken out of service.

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