The term scimitar is a broad term that encompasses all thin, curved swords from Southwest Asia and the Middle East. The name is thought to be derived from the Persian word shafsher which means “lion’s claw,” due to its long, curved design. The word has been translated through many languages to end at scimitar. Varieties include the Arabian saif, the Persian shamshir, the Turkish kilij, the Indian tulwar, the Moroccan nimcha, and the Afghan pulwar.
The scimitar sword is an ancient sword, dating back to 1600 BCE by Egypt’s 18th dynasty. Egypt used the scimitar sword, then new technology, to dominate nearby rivals and spread their influence. The scimitar gradually spread throughout the regions, and each culture made their own adaptation.
An Arabian saif is what most people refer to when they use the term scimitar. The saif is double-edged, short, and straight with a curved tip. Persian shamshirs are radically curved swords that arc the most around the mid-point of the blade. Shamshirs have no pommel, very narrow blades, and typically don’t taper at all until the tip.
The kilij is a scimitar sword used by the Turks and the Ottoman Empire, and is appeared around the 15th century. The kilij is a unique kind of scimitar that has a slight taper down the straight of the blade until the last third of the sword, when it angles sharply and becomes deeper. After the First Barbary War, a bejeweled kilij was presented to the marine officer in charge, which has become a tradition in the Marine Corp. The Indian tulwar is a nearly identical blade to the shamshir, with the exception of a broader blade. The word tulwar literally means “sword” in Hindi.
The Moroccan nimcha is a scimitar sword used in the late 18th century, and is usually forged using the blades of older swords, dating from as early as the 17th century, and with blades from countries as distant as Germany. This created a wide variety of nimcha, and almost no two are the same. The Afghan pulwar is similar in blade design to the tulwar, but the cross guard on the pulwar angles in towards the blade to catch swords. Many pulwar hilts are engraved with ornamental inscriptions and designs.
The scimitar sword is used widely throughout fantasy worlds. Many books and video games feature the scimitar, and they are usually used by exotic characters or found in Arabian style locales. A common stereotype is of pirates using scimitars, though in reality, they were often too brash and impatient for sword fights.