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What is a Scimitar Sword?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments

By Ardo — On Mar 23, 2013

Actually, TrogJoe, a slash with a scimitar would have made a swifter and cleaner kill than a straight sword, because the scimitar's strike point would have a lower surface area. A straight sword would have involved more hacking, because the pressure would be spread out on the blade.

Secondly, Armas, it was the Navy that adopted the scimitar first because they were practical for close combat, which was ideal for boarding an enemy ship, or for defending against boarding. A thrust with a scimitar properly done was very difficult to parry with a European sword, considering that just rotating the scimitar horizontally could be deadly.

Pirates were around long before the Islamic Empire, and the Viking era saw some pirates too.

But you raise interesting issues of what we understand about scimitars, the Islamic empire and "Eastern" swords.

By TrogJoe19 — On Jan 31, 2011

The sword technique needed for accurately dueling with a scimitar is much different than the Western styles of longer straight swords. The swords are much more adept at hacking than at stabbing, and are therefore deemed a more brutal weapon. It could be that the only Westerners who were interested in such harsh forms of killing were pirates, and so they adopted the scimitar. Most honorable folk preferred to kill their enemy swiftly and honorably without hacking him to pieces with such a brutal and atavistic weapon.

By JavaGhoul — On Jan 30, 2011


It is also possible that the scimitar was the most readily available form of weaponry for many European pirates, since they tended to raid African and Arabic areas.

By Armas1313 — On Jan 29, 2011

The association with pirates and scimitars is probably due to the fact that some of the first pirates were Muslim raiders in the Mediterranean. They dominated the seas for much of the dark ages, until a league of Venetians and Vatican-funded European corsairs drove them back. Their raids persisted all the way to the dawning of American naval power, when we crushed them indefinitely in a battle in North Africa and began to assert our own naval dominance in the world.

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