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Old 29th October 2022, 06:37 PM   #1
Jerseyman
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Default Omani Sayf/Saif

A recent acquisition, sadly with no scabbard. Having followed the threads over the years with interest I'm aware that there are forum members who will say that this is Muttrah souk re-hilt and therefore a fake. There are also members who will claim that this is a legitimate fighting blade. I purchased it in the full knowledge of these competing positions primarily because it's an old blade and I enjoy owning old blades. Unfortunately they're rarely available on my budget!

Having this in my hand I feel I finally have something to add to the discussion. Whether this is a European blade or not I couldn't say. It is certainly a fighting blade, well tempered and sharp with a certain amount of flex.

What I find most interesting is the distal taper which graduates down to the cutting edge all the way around - meaning the tip is equally as thin and sharp as the straight cutting edges. There is no sign that this was once a blade with a point which was re-ground. I can find no difference in the patination around the tip or edges.

To my eye this blade clearly seems to have been forged to this shape. Whether this is a re-hilt for the tourist market or not, this blade has only ever been this shape with a fully rounded end. Whatever the implication of that might be.

The photos are not great unfortunately.

The dimensions are:

Blade length - 820mm
Hilt length - 205mm
Blade width - 40mm > 10mm
Fuller - 240mm x 10mm
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Old 29th October 2022, 07:24 PM   #2
Jim McDougall
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This is a very nice example of these Omani sa'if, which have for many years been termed 'kattara' in the long standing literature. This is however incorrect and the term sa'if, while general, is how they are termed.

This blade does seem to be European with the 'running wolf' and character of the blade overall seeming to correspond with many German types.
While the Mutrah situation is well known as a location where examples were put together intended for souks, there is another factor to be aware of.

These type open hilt broadswords were also a status oriented accoutrerment which was worn by Omani men, especially merchants and official figures, much in the way the khanjhar daggers are worn. There have been considerable stockpiles of old European blades held in Bedouin arsenals which have been filtered into circulation over time from many years of trade.
Mutrah and other locations often simply fashioned these swords using these old blades, which were deemed of status on their own.

While this may be considered a 'fighting blade', in this particular style distinct to Oman with open cylindrical hilt, was never used in combat (Demmin, 1877; Burton, 1884). It is a hilt type used in traditional Omani/Zanzibari ceremonial functions and only in that staged combat.

The rounded tip on these is a feature used on many German broadsword blades of these types, and is primarily intended for slashing cuts. This is seen on the takouba blades of the Sahara which often had these type German blades.

There has indeed been a great deal of consternation over many years on these here, but I feel I learned a great deal on them through my colleague Peter Hudson, who in fact was in Oman for many years.

My 'not so nice' example acquired over 30 years ago before these became well known in the collecting community. In those days I thought they were fighting swords as well. This one more in the 'ceremonial' grouping.
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Old 29th October 2022, 08:11 PM   #3
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Jim, I'd guess yours once had a better looking leather cover on the grip and scabbard...
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Old 29th October 2022, 08:26 PM   #4
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Jim, I'd guess yours once had a better looking leather cover on the grip and scabbard...
Thanks Wayne , It was better, but still a pretty pedestrian example. I was excited at the time because then virtually nobody had these, and I found it in an auction in London. As always, I was just going for an example 'of the type'.
There was little knowledge on these, and the only useful reference was Robert Elgood's "Arms & Armour of Arabia". In that he noted the dearth of local knowledge of these and all other I had ever seen were the Demmin and Burton references .

I'm glad to see Jerseyman's example and to see these come up again.
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Old 1st November 2022, 12:52 PM   #5
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While this may be considered a 'fighting blade', in this particular style distinct to Oman with open cylindrical hilt, was never used in combat (Demmin, 1877; Burton, 1884). It is a hilt type used in traditional Omani/Zanzibari ceremonial functions and only in that staged combat.
Quite an informative post as always, Jim. Though I beg to differ in this particular. There are plenty of heirlooms still surviving amongst a number of Omani families that due trace back to actual use.

Omani dances, like the Ardha or the Syrian Aradah all use actual weaponry, from rifles to swords to dagger. I may recall Burton's quote but do appreciate if you copy it, but think he noted an observation of the dance, rather than an actual studied observation on the functionality of the sword.

On a separate comment; to this day, Omanis prefer older blades even for constructing new swords. Even though there is a surplus of modern made blades that are perfect for dance.
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Old 1st November 2022, 05:42 PM   #6
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Quite an informative post as always, Jim. Though I beg to differ in this particular. There are plenty of heirlooms still surviving amongst a number of Omani families that due trace back to actual use.

Omani dances, like the Ardha or the Syrian Aradah all use actual weaponry, from rifles to swords to dagger. I may recall Burton's quote but do appreciate if you copy it, but think he noted an observation of the dance, rather than an actual studied observation on the functionality of the sword.

On a separate comment; to this day, Omanis prefer older blades even for constructing new swords. Even though there is a surplus of modern made blades that are perfect for dance.
Thank you Lofty, it is always good to hear from you, and it has been some time since our discussions on these. I am sure that there are heirlooms among the Omani families that do trace back to times when the blades were in use. The form of Omani sword typically of those earlier times were with the crossguard, but having some similarities to many of the characteristics of this cylindrical hilt.
These were more in the interior regions as I recall from discussions, where traditional details were more strictly observed. Naturally these swords with crossguards were used just as you note.

What I was trying to describe referred to this form of open hilt, as pictured in the OP, and I added my example. Burton (1884, p.166) notes "Demmin (p.396) finds it 'difficult to understand how this singular weapon could be wielded;. It serves mostly for show , and when wanted, is used like a quarterstaff with both hands"

Burton, a master swordsman, had noted 'sword dancing' in the interior of Africa, and had been in Zanzibar so certainly saw the Omani sword dance there, and was disdainful of this type of 'swordsmanship'.
However, it has always been clear that the Arab overall is inherently skilled in the use of the sword.
It was simply this particular hilt form and its dress which was primarily for 'show', as noted, and in these ceremonial performances.

It was worn by Arab (Omani) gentlemen (as Burton notes) meaning as a status symbol by important figures such as merchants and officials, and appears to have had a notable 'swagger' as such an accoutrement.

Burton (op. cit. p166) notes, "...their cousins, the Badawin (sic) living about Maskat, have conserved with a religious respect, many ancient weapons, won or bought in older days, and possibly dating from crusading times".

While Burton, though a master of the sword, did not carry out empirical analysis of the type of sword in question, it seemed apparent to him (as well as the other writer, Auguste Demmin (1877), that these were for show and not actual combat. As far as I have known, the only observed references to these swords have been ceremonially (in dancing) or worn as a fashionable accoutrement along with the khajhar.

These observations were substantiated through many years in Oman in field research as were noted in previous discussions years ago here as you recall.
These were amazing discussions in which I gained virtually all the knowledge I maintain on these weapons to date, and I am grateful to all you have contributed to that.
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Old 1st November 2022, 06:48 PM   #7
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Here are images of the 'battle swords' which indeed have combat use in Oman, and held traditionally in place for more centuries than can be accurately described, but certainly into early use by the Abbasids, In the Ibathi Faith in the interior of Oman, was the center of the presence of this type of sword which is of course directly associated with the long cylindrical hilt sword discussed here.
From my understanding, the interior of Oman was far more religiously fundamental than the Omani littoral and Muscat, where trade activity and outside influence deeply influenced styles etc.

As Oman has been effectively closed off to most of the outside world until recent times, aside obviously from trade in Muscat, and its Sultanate in Zanzibar, there was very little known of its history and these weapons. As have often been noted, even the Omani's have little notable knowledge of their history at large, nor that of these weapons. as there does not seem to be formal study of these subjects there. In recent times, this has been advancing and our studies here have I think added to the corpus of knowledge on these arms.
Prior to this, the references to Arabian arms in English has been limited to "the Arms ans Armour of Arabia" by Robert Elgood (1994) which provided the benchmark for these studies, and indeed noted the dearth of information on the Omani examples.
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Old 1st November 2022, 06:50 PM   #8
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Jim, as you probably know, I also find the theory, based on Peter's "trust me bro" sources, that the saifs with conical hilts were only for show and dance, unconvincing. That is not to say they were not used for traditional dance. I am sure they were, but I also believe that they were an actual weapon, in a similar way takoubas and kakskaras were both weapon and a formal part of a man's dress. Here is some of my reasoning:
1) Almost all of these blades are imports and are heavily marked, whether in Europe or in imitation of European marks in order to suggest a certain standard of quality. If these were never intended for combat use, cheaper local blades/blade like pieces of steel would have sufficed. Why even put fullering on blades if they are never going to be pulled out of a scabbard?
2) These swords are present in drawings of local warriors, who also wear bucklers and matchlocks. We also see them in pictures of bodyguards. It seems odd that the only non-functional piece of equipment on a warrior would the side arm, or that bodyguards would not be armed.
3) The kattara, the curved version, has the same kind of hilt. Curved swords being non-traditional, why would the locals waste valuable imported sabres on hilts that would not be functional? Are curved swords even used in traditional dance?
4) The lanyards going through the holes in the pommels are intended to prevent the sword from slipping out of the hand. Such use cannot be during the dance, when the swords are thrown in the air, so the lanyard would be completely redundant unless these swords were also intended to serve as weapons.
5) A German postcard with trophies from the Arab Uprising in Tanganyika shows a Zanzibari nimcha, a southern Yemeni silver hilted saif and one of these saifs with cylindrical hilts, along with a whole bunch of daggers. So we know at least some were used in battle.

By second half of the 19th century, Zanzibar authority was fragmenting and whatever forces the Sultan had in East Africa were completely ineffective. However, slavers like Tippu Tip (posing with a kattara for photos) were engaged in skirmishes and even some pitched battles in the heart of the continent, and apart from their firearms they most certainly used edged weapons as well. If they did not use conical hilted saifs, what did they use then? Ancient saif Yarubis from the 18th century and other, even earlier relics?

When I look at these saifs, I see both a weapon and a vital accessory to any man's dress, sometimes used in traditional dance. Parallels can be made with the takouba. Burton questioned how effective they would be, from his Western point of view, just like some other Western travelers questioned the effectiveness of the highly embellished flintlock pistoles men in the Balkans wore in their belts. Sure, a Martini Henry is better than a matchlock, but if we are not dismissing the matchlock as an actual weapon before being replaced by more modern firearms, then we should not dismiss the conical hilted saif just because it was obsolete in the context of modern 19th century warfare.
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Old 1st November 2022, 07:43 PM   #9
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Teo,thank you, these are well thought out and well presented arguments, and I must say, most valid in considering these ideas of weapon vs. non weapon.
It is mindful of the 'flyssa' whose presence with the Kabyles was always regarded as a significant 'weapon' which of course must have been used.

Yet, at least in my example, it is terribly balanced, and the disproportional brass hilt without guard (of course) defies any logical assessment of actual use.
As in many of these kinds of cases, there are no accounts or evidence of their use in combat, despite posed illustrations of Kabyle warriors wearing them.

As I have noted, there are no records (as far as I know, or Peter in his nearly three decades there) of any Omani use of these open hilt broadswords used in combat. He often spoke of the laughter of Omani military figures who were colleagues of his when he suggested the potential of these in battle.
However, the same hilt on the curved saber does beg the question of why? if that type hilt precluded actual use.
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Old 1st November 2022, 10:20 PM   #10
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I just cannot imagine that any ethnic warrior would waste his resources on a separate, purely “dancing”, sword. Military dances were encountered all over Caucasus, among Zaporozhian and other Cossacks, Zeybeks et cet. All of them used their fighting weapons, and not some flimsy implements specifically manufactured for communal dances that occured only limited times per year. Fighting swords were pride and joy of any warrior and were not damaged as a result of a dance. I doubt very much that Tippu Tib would arrange special photosession to brag about his choreographic implement.

I also cannot agree that the absence of a crossguard disqualifies any sword as a battle implement: see not only flissas, but a multitude of Indonesian swords, Ottoman yataghans, Caucasian shashkas or Afghani and Central Asian pseudo-shashkas. BTW, curved saber-like kattaras are a newer variation, when Daghestani masters started exporting shashka blades to South Aravia: after suppression of Shamil’s rebellion by the Russian army the market shrunk precipitously and shashkas became a highly decorated expensive souvenirs fot Russian officers and just tourists. They also exported kindjal blades to India for expensive hunting knives. One had to feed the family:-(

Things must have changed when swords lost their fighting function and were replaced by cheap imitations. That is what we see now in Caucasian and Ukrainian/Cossack choreographic shows.

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Old 2nd November 2022, 01:26 AM   #11
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Ariel, great to have you come into the discussion, and your points are, as always, well observed. I will admit I was a bit reticent to bring up the debates of years back on this, but it is a good topic if we can remain objective, and we can better analyze the actual character and use of these Omani sa'if.

Your analogies are well placed, and your point is well taken, the lack of cross guard indeed does not disqualify a sword in use as a weapon. When I used the flyssa as an example, it was primarily that these (at least examples I have handled) are terribly ill balanced and awkward. Perhaps this is what Burton and Demmin were observing on the long Omani/Zanzibari broadswords noted with the open cylindrical hilt.

it is important to note differences in circumstances however with the practice of 'dancing' with swords and warriors using their own swords in these ceremonies. In the cases you have described with Caucasians, Zeybeks and others, these seem to have evolved perhaps in the sense of the pre game 'inspiration' of football and getting 'ginned up' before battle. Naturally they would use their actual weapons. I do realize however that in the Caucusus (Georgia in particular) I know amazing performances with authentic weapons are done, and this is often the case in other ethnic ceremonies. In India demonstrations of martial skills often use authentic weaponry.

It is important to realize that while these other warrior 'dances' were indeed performed using their own weapons, in the Omani situation the Razha sword dance was part of much larger celebration. In this there was a great deal of pageantry involved, and this involved the notable flexing of bright, gleaming blades causing a notable audible sound and sensation with flashing blades.

While obviously blades are typically regarded as flexible in high quality, these blades were extraordinarily so, and indeed produced locally if I have understood correctly to achieve the theatrical dynamics desired. These events were dramatically impressive as observed by numbers of writers who were able to see them.

The confusion has come from the examples made in the same hilt fashion but using genuine old European blades as a rule for gentlemen in high status, and fashionably worn along with their khanjhars. This is why many examples are with highly decorated scabbards, often with elaborate embellishment.

While basically 'cut from the same cloth' as a form, many were worn by officials and well to do merchants and with sound European blades, while there were various examples used in the ceremonial events, which had nothing to do with those worn publicly. As we know, there are many cases where ceremonial arms and armor are of more theatrical nature, intended for such circumstances...most notably the array of Qajar weaponry.

While the combat and warfare situations of the warriors in the analogies presented are of course well known, in the research from the period of these earlier discussions, I have been unable to locate any campaigns or battles in which these Omani sa'if might have been used.

We know that they were commonly seen in Zanzibar, and apparently worn into the African interior, as witnessed by Burton in 1850s and as described in his "Lake Regions of Central Africa" (Sir F. Burton, p.479)......"swords in East Africa are carried only by strangers, the Wasawahila and the slave factors preferred the 'kittareh' , a curved saber made in Oman and the Hadhramaut or in its stead an old German cavalry blade. The Arabs carry as a DISTINCTION the farangi, a straight, thin, double edged, guardless and two handed sword,about 4 ft. long and sharp as a carving knife".

It does not seem in going through these accounts by Burton, that any warfare occurred in these apparently slave acquisition expeditions, and as noted, Arab 'gentlemen' wore these in Zanzibar, and must have on these ventures as well. In the accounts, the curved sabers preferred by the slave factors and Swahili do not have descriptions of their hilts, but examples we have seen of course suggest they too had the open guardless hilt.

So if these Omani sa'if broadswords were 'warrior' weapons, though being paraded around by Arab 'gentlemen' in a status oriented context, what warfare were they involved in?
The only times these have been observed have been in diplomatic (Frasier, 1821) or expeditionary contexts, not from historic conflicts with Omani 'warriors' participating.

Regarding the flyssa, as an aside. The only 'evidence' ever known of them used as a weapon is in a painting you saw years ago, but there are no accounts of them related in any action that I am aware of. I did find an example in the French Foreign Legion museum in France which was obtained from French campaigns in Kabylia in 1857. However there is nothing saying this was taken 'in battle', and these were well known as items proudly held in households as traditional icons,so probably 'liberated' after taking a location.

On this topic of use of the Omani sa'if (of this cylindrical hilt type) I am, and always have been, purely devils advocate. I simply appreciate viewing and discussing this from all angles, and honestly the observations presented thus far by Teodor and you are compelling.

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Old 2nd November 2022, 05:02 AM   #12
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It does not seem in going through these accounts by Burton, that any warfare occurred in these apparently slave acquisition expeditions, and as noted, Arab 'gentlemen' wore these in Zanzibar, and must have on these ventures as well. In the accounts, the curved sabers preferred by the slave factors and Swahili do not have descriptions of their hilts, but examples we have seen of course suggest they too had the open guardless hilt.

So if these Omani sa'if broadswords were 'warrior' weapons, though being paraded around by Arab 'gentlemen' in a status oriented context, what warfare were they involved in?
The Arab incursions into the Congo with the purpose of acquiring ivory and slaves were, sadly, violent in nature. Looking at "Armies of the 19th Century: Africa; Central Africa" by Chris Peers, he mentions that during the early years of the so-called Congo Arabs in Nyasaland, their firearms were muzzleloaders and therefore after discharging, "their users are sometimes described as charging with their long swords" (page 11). Later, by the 1890s the muzzleloaders were replaced with breechloading repeating firearms and swords were no longer used, with the Congo Arabs avoiding hand to hand combat and relying on superior firepower in battles with the locals. During that time the kingdom Tippu Tip and his heirs established in Congo came in direct conflict with the Congo Free State, which Leopold's colonial troops won, ending Arab presence in the region.

I will admit that I have not, and probably never will read every single account by 19th century Western explorers in order to find references to the use of swords by Zanzibari slavers in the African interior, but small-scale conflict with locals was present, and in the initial stages of the Arab raids it appears that swords were used, and the term "longswords" is intriguing, as the archaic Omani battle swords from the previous centuries do not fit the longsword description, but the conical hilted saifs certainly do.

The saifs I have are all fairly light, in the 1.5-1.75 lbs range (700-800 grams), and unlike the long flyssas, seem fairly well balanced. They tend to be slightly lighter than the takoubas and kaskaras I have, so I am not sure why Burton thought they need to be wielded double handed. Their long blades are of the same trade blade patterns we see on swords in the Sahel and Sudan from the 19th century. If these blades worked on takoubas and kaskaras, we should safely assume they worked with a conical hilt as well.
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Old 2nd November 2022, 05:31 AM   #13
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Teodor, I have not seen the reference you added here, but it would seem you have proven there definitely was potential for these to be used. The note of 'long swords' seems telling, as these are the only swords that could have been meant.
These swords which were assembled by makers for these Omani notables as I have mentioned did use many European blades which were of course substantial and suitable for combative use.
It is the examples with lighter, flexible blades produced for the traditional ceremonies which included sword dances which were not used in any sort of combat purposes as far as I have understood.

As has been shown, the guardless hilt does not disqualify the examples of conical hilt broadswords with worthy blades. The Abbasid type examples of Omani sword were not involved in the activities in the interior of Africa, though they were also known in some cases as commemorative dress swords for prominent figures I think .

I think this adds some important perspective on this topic, thank you!
In accord with you on reading all these accounts but its great we can share those we have consulted, what you added here is most helpful.
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Old 3rd November 2022, 04:43 PM   #14
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Thought I would comment on this topic as I was in fact resident in Muscat, Oman for some time in the early 1970s. I visited the souk in Muttrah several times and saw many of these swords for sale there, both the straight double edged type and the curved single edged pattern. Also displayed for sale were plenty of khanjars, Martini-Henrys, matchlocks etc. There can be no doubt these Omani/Zanzibari swords were intended for combat (in the historic period), and not solely for dancing purposes. Although there was likely also a display element involved, being a part of male costume. I can remember it being said these swords did not have guards to the hilts, being unnecessary because "Africans did not have swords", which of course points to slaving.

Chris Peers writes excellent books, as well as the one mentioned by TVV above, another publication of his is "Armies of the Nineteenth Century: Africa East Africa" Foundry Books 2003, and I attach an extract for information. [Moderators - hope this is acceptable, if not please delete]

There is a potential parallel with these straight Omani/Zanzibari swords and the swords of the Mende people of Sierra Leone, their swords also being without guards to the hilt and who also had involvement in slaving in the 19th century. This was the subject of a previous post and I attach an image of the sword type concerned.
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Old 4th November 2022, 12:42 AM   #15
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Thought I would comment on this topic as I was in fact resident in Muscat, Oman for some time in the early 1970s. I visited the souk in Muttrah several times and saw many of these swords for sale there, both the straight double edged type and the curved single edged pattern. Also displayed for sale were plenty of khanjars, Martini-Henrys, matchlocks etc. There can be no doubt these Omani/Zanzibari swords were intended for combat (in the historic period), and not solely for dancing purposes. Although there was likely also a display element involved, being a part of male costume. I can remember it being said these swords did not have guards to the hilts, being unnecessary because "Africans did not have swords", which of course points to slaving.

Chris Peers writes excellent books, as well as the one mentioned by TVV above, another publication of his is "Armies of the Nineteenth Century: Africa East Africa" Foundry Books 2003, and I attach an extract for information. [Moderators - hope this is acceptable, if not please delete]

There is a potential parallel with these straight Omani/Zanzibari swords and the swords of the Mende people of Sierra Leone, their swords also being without guards to the hilt and who also had involvement in slaving in the 19th century. This was the subject of a previous post and I attach an image of the sword type concerned.

Colin, thank you so much for coming in on this, and it definitely is most important that you also had experience in actually being in Oman, and first hand knowledge of the Mutrah souks.
What you add about those West African broadswords is very spot on, and I had known of these but did not connect them to those of East Africa and the obvious slaving denominator. Adding this to the information Teodor added really does present compelling evidence for use of these, and reasonable explanation for not needing a guard.
Aside from the Maasai having broadswords, indeed most tribes in Africa did not use swords in general.

The question that remains for me is wondering if it is possible that there were a number of examples of these conical hilt swords which were indeed a lighter, rebated group of weapons which were produced ONLY for performances. It seems there are numbers of these kinds of weapons in various circumstances for such purposes.

Is it possible that the confusion about the non viability of the conical hilt sword might apply to these lighter versions, and not the Mutrah assembled examples using the sturdy European blades?
I have recognized all along that any sword with a substantial blade as mounted weapon, despite its wear as a status symbol, could be used in its intended purpose.
This is of course notably the case with small swords, dress swords, court swords and the like.
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Old 4th November 2022, 09:24 AM   #16
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The question that remains for me is wondering if it is possible that there were a number of examples of these conical hilt swords which were indeed a lighter, rebated group of weapons which were produced ONLY for performances. It seems there are numbers of these kinds of weapons in various circumstances for such purposes.
I believe you are correct here Jim, in that modern Omani swords are currently produced purely for display and dancing type purposes. Here is a fairly recent picture of Prince Charles (now King Charles) in Oman with such a sword. It looks pretty simple, light and quite flimsy suitable for dancing...
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Old 4th November 2022, 09:28 PM   #17
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I believe you are correct here Jim, in that modern Omani swords are currently produced purely for display and dancing type purposes. Here is a fairly recent picture of Prince Charles (now King Charles) in Oman with such a sword. It looks pretty simple, light and quite flimsy suitable for dancing...

Thank you Colin!!! This is a PERFECT photo, and you can see the lightweight
blades. These are exactly what what used for the Razha ceremony, which was the sword 'dance'. Apparently part of this is having participants holding the swords vertically and vibrating the blades in unison, with large number at once, a notable sound from what I have understood.

These very simplistic swords were of the same basis form as the more ornamental counterparts that have been discussed with more elaborate decoration and using the substantial European blades. While of course they could be used in defense or other expected use, the likelihood that they were seems incidental. In most cases they simply were worn by merchants, slavers and officials as status symbols.

It has been a long haul trying to establish that with these conical hilt Omani swords, the old 'Highlander' movie adage, "there can be only one" does not apply
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Old 4th November 2022, 10:07 PM   #18
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While of course they could be used in defense or other expected use, the likelihood that they were seems incidental. In most cases they simply were worn by merchants, slavers and officials as status symbols.
I don't see this as being accurate Jim. The flimsy type sword shown above is a modern production, and as already discussed previously in many posts by others, the historic swords were made for and used in combat, this not being an incidental purpose as you state.
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Old 5th November 2022, 02:10 AM   #19
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I don't see this as being accurate Jim. The flimsy type sword shown above is a modern production, and as already discussed previously in many posts by others, the historic swords were made for and used in combat, this not being an incidental purpose as you state.

I see what you're saying Colin. So what is needed is the history of the origin and development of this sword form with conical hilt(as we describe it) and an understanding of why this type hilt was favored. We know the Omani battle sword used in the Nizwa interior by the Ibathi had a guard, as well as some elements seen on some of the simple conical hilt (cuffs on some) of these open guard broadswords.

But what warfare were these intended to be for? That is what I have been trying to discover for many years. While you were there in Oman, and saw these in the souks or elsewhere, were any details given as to what sort of history they may have been involved in. Were there civil disturbances involving tribal warfare? Was Oman under attack and being defended by warriors armed with these?
These are serious questions that I have not yet found answers for, and am hoping perhaps your time there might have experienced some of these topics.

As noted, these were worn by Arab gentlemen in Zanzibar and in trade caravans including slaving groups, but as you further note, the display element is notable. I always picture warriors and combative forces in a different light than well to do merchants and figures of station of course. The 'long swords' used by Congo Arabs in Nyasaland mentioned by Teodor in a 'charge' is interesting, and wondering how these Arabs and the Omani's are connected, so that is worth looking into also.
Africans, as noted, are not typically armed with swords, particularly long swords, so that begs the question.

I dont mean these questions as argumentative, but recognizing you guys clearly have information that exceeds the level of research I reached a number of years ago, and really would like to get back into it with better perspectives.
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Old 5th November 2022, 12:57 PM   #20
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I see what you're saying Colin. So what is needed is the history of the origin and development of this sword form with conical hilt(as we describe it) and an understanding of why this type hilt was favored. We know the Omani battle sword used in the Nizwa interior by the Ibathi had a guard, as well as some elements seen on some of the simple conical hilt (cuffs on some) of these open guard broadswords.

But what warfare were these intended to be for? That is what I have been trying to discover for many years. While you were there in Oman, and saw these in the souks or elsewhere, were any details given as to what sort of history they may have been involved in. Were there civil disturbances involving tribal warfare? Was Oman under attack and being defended by warriors armed with these?
These are serious questions that I have not yet found answers for, and am hoping perhaps your time there might have experienced some of these topics.

As noted, these were worn by Arab gentlemen in Zanzibar and in trade caravans including slaving groups, but as you further note, the display element is notable. I always picture warriors and combative forces in a different light than well to do merchants and figures of station of course. The 'long swords' used by Congo Arabs in Nyasaland mentioned by Teodor in a 'charge' is interesting, and wondering how these Arabs and the Omani's are connected, so that is worth looking into also.
Africans, as noted, are not typically armed with swords, particularly long swords, so that begs the question.

I dont mean these questions as argumentative, but recognizing you guys clearly have information that exceeds the level of research I reached a number of years ago, and really would like to get back into it with better perspectives.
Jim, Oman historically was always a fractious and violent place, with many tribal rivalries, dynastic struggles, uprisings etc. The countryside was/is studded with old fortresses, both large and small. Zanzibar and the East African interior, as we know, was subject to much bloodletting and violence, driven mainly by the slave trade. Even when I was there in Muscat, the rebellion in Dhofar was still current.

To further your studies on the subject, you need to equip yourself with a comprehensive library... the books by Chris Peers and Richard Burton are good. Chris Peers' books have substantial bibliographies. Looking at Ebay, there are a number of books listed there on the history of Oman itself which would be informative. Scouring the internet can also be of use. Oman itself was in fact once split in two - Muscat and Oman.

It was almost half a century ago now, but I can relate an anecdote... I once took an Omani friend (mixed Arab/African heritage) to the souk with me to help bargaining for a Martini-Henry I was after... he said in the past Omanis always went around armed to the teeth with pistols, muskets, swords, daggers etc. Judging by the enormous amount of redundant antique weapons then available, I could believe him !
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Old 5th November 2022, 03:59 PM   #21
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Thanks so much Colin! It must have been incredibly interesting to have been there and experienced all of this first hand. As is well known, for quite some time over years I was researching and posting along with Peter (who wrote as Ibrahiim al Balooshi) here. There was considerable consternation in the discussions involving the character of these conical hilt broadswords, most of which derived from the focus of these used in the Omani 'dance' with swords in traditional ceremonies.

As he was in Oman for nearly 30 years as active British military with Omani forces, and was involved in the antiquities trade for much of that time, his observations of course in my view were well founded. As he had occasion to witness these ceremonies often, as well as being active with Omani forces, he was familiar with current and of course the earlier character of warfare there.
With the antiquities, most of his expertise focused on the khanjhar daggers, but of course extended into the swords as well.

It was in this context that my research in those years now a decade ago were centered. While most of the historical research revealed that these conical hilts seem to have derived in almost a simplified revival of much earlier hilt forms in Arabian context, they did not occur in this hilt form until the 1820s at earliest. Prior to this the Ibathi 'battle swords', with guard and much shorter blades were the primary Omani swords.

These swords prevailed in the limited regions of the very fundamental Ibathi Form of the Islamic Faith, which was situated primarily in the interior of Oman in Nizwa. The coastal regions of Oman, Muscat, were quite different as there were more options to foreign trade and influences. Here too, with the factor of trade, were Omani connections to its Sultanate in Zanzibar.

Here as I recall from research then, was where the Omani situation became more open to change from the more fundamental character in Oman, and the Sultan in Zanzibar began implementing changes in certain aspects of weaponry.

It seems as he began developing his more 'modern' form of Omani character, he included breaking away from the traditional form of Abbasid sword that had remained in use for quite literally a millenium, and adopted this new hilt style.
This was before the mid 19th c. and it seems that the Sultan of Zanzibar was pretty much dictating styles etc. to the Omani base in Muscat, which as you note, was quite separate from the Nizwa interior of Oman.
The sword 'dance' (Razha,, if I recall) was either begun or enhanced as part of his campaign to legitimize and to popularize his regime through regalia and ceremony.

While this is sort of a summarized version of what I recall of all this, I wanted to add it here to explain more of how my positions on these interesting swords developed.

The problems began when it seems there was confusion about battle sword vs. decorative status symbol/dance prop and the character of these being entangled.

As Peter often related, in the time he was there, Oman still remained a place isolated from the outside world, and the people there had little knowledge nor interest in its history. In many ways, it was virtually archaic, and not open to most contact. As I earlier mentioned, when I acquired my example of the 'kattara' (as they were incorrectly termed then) these were virtually unknown in most collections here in the US (this was in the 90s). The only data known on them was in Robert Elgood's "Arms & Armour of Arabia" (1994) and even there any history of these was obscure.

While I have the books by Burton, I need to get the one by Peers. Also, hopefully I can find a good history of Oman from 18th century on, which seems kind of hard to find.

Thanks again for sharing all this, and again, my interest is really piqued to go further in learning on this topic.
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Old 5th November 2022, 05:42 PM   #22
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I looked in Elgood (1994 op. cit.) and found this, which seems to support the use of broadswords by the Omani's, but the hilt style is not noted:

"...James Fraser visited the Omani garrison at Ormuz in 1821 and described how these soldiers of the Imam entirely resembled the Arabs at Muscat. Of their arms he wrote:
The broadsword and target, their chief arms, were interesting, as bearing a strong resemblance to those borne by the Scots Highlanders; but their sword is edged on both sides. A few of these weapons are made at Yemen,but the greater part are procured from Egypt, whither they are brought from different parts of the Meditteranean. Many can be seen with the Solingen mark, and not a few with that of Andrea Ferrara, one of which I endeavored to purchase but could not prevail on the owner to part with it. These swords are sharp and thin, and previous to making use of them in an attack, they make them quiver and ring in the hand with a jerk, while held in an upright position, and then charge with loud shots".


I am curious about this event, and wonder if this was perhaps a diplomatic 'performance' for Fraser's visit, and the 'attack' was simply same.
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Old 5th November 2022, 06:48 PM   #23
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Regarding the Omani sword (kattara, straight sword) :
"...Wellstead describes the sword in 1835:
Upon my return...I found the whole of the tribe..at Benu-Abu-Ali, consisting of about 250 men, assembled for exhibiting their war dance. They had formed a circle, which five or six of their number had now entered.After walking leisurely around for some time, each challenged one of the spectators by striking him gently with the flat of his sword. His adversary immediately leaped forth, and a feigned combat ensued. They have but two cuts, , one directly downward at the head, and the other horizontally across the legs. They parry neither with the sword nor the shield, but avoid blows by leaping or bounding backwards.The blade of their sword is about three feet in length, straight, thin, double edged and as sharp as a razor. As they carry it upright before them, by a peculiar motion of their wrist the cause it to vibrate in a very singular manner, which has a singularly striking effect when they are assembled in any considerable number.
The shield is attached to the sword by a leathern thong, it measures about 14 inches in diameter and is generally used to parry the thrust of a spear or jembeer(sic).
It was part of the entertainment to fire off their matchlocks under the legs of some of the spectators, who appeared too intent on watching the game to observe their approach, and any sign of alarm which escaped the individual added greatly to their mirth".
"Travels in Arabia" (vol. 1&2) J.R.Wellstead, 1838, p.69,70.

I would note here that apparently in 1820-21, Said bin Sultan and the East India Company launched campaigns in the hinterlands of Muscat (SE Oman) against this tribe, and it is noted that the Arabs fought with broadsword and shield. It is stated this was the only land action under this Sultan of Muscat during his long reign.
While unclear what type of broadsword, it is tempting to consider that Fraser in Hormuz noted the similarity of the garrison there to those in Muscat and presumably their broadswords.

It is noted by Wellstead that the shield was attached to the sword by means of a 'leathern thong'..............which may answer the mystery of the aperture which seems to be consistently in the pommel of these conical hilted swords.

In both the Fraser (previous post) and Wellstead accounts, the distinct wrist movement causing the blades of the swords to quiver is intriguing. It does not seem that most broadsword blades from Scottish basket hilts or other European broadswords would be considered 'thin' nor can they be made to quiver as far as I have known. Perhaps it is that I am not aware of whatever wrist action is used to do so?
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Old 6th November 2022, 02:49 PM   #24
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As there is a fair interest on the forum regarding Omani/Zanzibari Arabs and their antique weapons ... here are a couple of images I took quite a while ago at the Musee Royal De L'Afrique Centrale (MRAC) at Tervuren, near Brussels. The photos are of a display of material recovered from Omani/Zanzibari Arabs whilst they were active in the 19th century in the eastern part of what is now The Democratic Republic of the Congo. For reference - previous names for this huge area were - Zaire, Belgian Congo and Congo Free State.

Note - since taking these photos, the MRAC has been substantially altered and I am not sure if the display still exists.

Jerseyman - I hope you don't object to me adding these images to your thread, but they do show some swords...
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Old 6th November 2022, 08:24 PM   #25
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These are amazing pictures Colin, thank you! This is important as the Arabs (Tipu Tip and his slaving cartel) were operating in the part of Eastern Congo that is now Uganda in 1880s. The slaves were traded in Zanzibar. What is important is seeing these weapons which were not only known in Zanzibar, but were from other regions originally.

Case in point is the koummya which is of course from the Maghreb, literally on the other side of the continent. The trade networks were complex and vast, and connected through key centers across the continent where many commodities and slaves were exchanged.

In Burton (1884) the Omani sword is shown along side a short sword we have termed in accord with his reference, a 'Zanzibar' sword, and the Omani conical hilt is included in that classification. The short sword with H type hilt is a s'boula from Morocco, and these traversed the continent apparently also being found in the Amharic armoury in Ethiopia (seen in references on their weapons).

It is interesting that adjacent to Ethiopia, Uganda (part of Congo) and Tanzania, where caravans traveled to Zanzibar, was Kenya. In Kenya are the Maasai, who use of long bladed open hilt sword called 'seme'. I have wondered if these had some association with the long broadswords of Oman and Zanzibar.

I am glad Jerseyman posted his example of the Omani straight sword, as it has given us an opportunity to sort of 'reopen' the case on these swords, and their dynamic and mysterious history. Thank you again Colin for sharing these important details! It seems like a huge jigsaw puzzle that is coming together.

The entry from Burton (attached); the 'Zanzibar' sword (Moroccan s'boula); Moroccan tribesman wearing s'boula.
Tipu Tip, 1880s, with Omani sa'if as discussed, with Zanzibar context.
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Old 7th November 2022, 12:21 AM   #26
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I guess we have hijacked Jerseyman's thread, for which I apologize. Hopefully through the discussion he understands now that he has a real sword, and not a sword like dancing implement.

Colin, thank for the pictures. Interesting to see both a Zanzibari nimcha with an ivory hilt and a conical hilted saif in the display. Hard to tell how these ended up in the museum, but the most likely explanation would be that they were taken as trophies during the conflict between the Congo Free State and the Congo Arabs.
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Old 7th November 2022, 02:45 AM   #27
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I guess we have hijacked Jerseyman's thread, for which I apologize. Hopefully through the discussion he understands now that he has a real sword, and not a sword like dancing implement.

Colin, thank for the pictures. Interesting to see both a Zanzibari nimcha with an ivory hilt and a conical hilted saif in the display. Hard to tell how these ended up in the museum, but the most likely explanation would be that they were taken as trophies during the conflict between the Congo Free State and the Congo Arabs.

Actually I think the discussion has covered the most salient part of acquiring a sword of unique form, which is where are these from, how were they used and who used them.
The discussion has been an attempt to address that and incredible as it may seem, there are variations in the examples of this hilt form which are genuinely intended as sound 'wearing' swords (like this one in OP) and mounted with trade blades as with this Solingen example.....and there are less 'sound' examples which are used in performances. I have tried to describe these in a number of references.

These conical hilted swords, worn in Zanzibar by 'Arab gentlemen' as described by Burton (1884, Demmin, 1877) became popular in Oman (Muscat) as well. They were clearly worn by Tipu Tip and his slaving factors from 1870s-80s in regions of the Eastern Congo (now Uganda) and into Zanzibar, which explains how these were acquired from these regions. Whether they were from the conflicts mentioned is unclear, but it is clear these were forms present from the Tipu Tip activities as well.

I am not sure how discussions which pertain to this 'type' of sword and its history related to places these were used, how they were used, those who used them, and variant forms attributed to them, is 'hijacking' a thread, so unsure of why apologies are necessary.

Your additions from the Peers reference were most pertinent, and of course did refer to 'long swords'. We can presume they were the same conical hilt types worn by the Arab gentlemen, but in the reference I added from Fraser and Wellstead, these were not in battle, but clearly demonstrations and the wrist action to vibrate the blade described.

Its been a good thread and good discussion, and held to objectivity as far as I can see, so I hope Jerseyman has found it as informative as I have. I own one of these as well (in my earlier post), and am glad to know its history, even if it is likely not a 'warriors weapon' as I had thought when I acquired it over 30 years ago. Its ethnographic heritage its what is important.

I think in rereading my post initially responding to the OP, my wording was unclear. What I had intended was to say that while this example appears to be the form with trade blade typically worn by Omani gentlemen, in Zanzibar and Muscat, and was apparently with them as they traveled into the African interior. .....however there were 'lighter' versions used in key ceremonial events in a sword dance.
Still, this has been a great discussion with excellent input, my regrets for my wording in that early post.

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Old 7th November 2022, 04:45 PM   #28
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These are amazing pictures Colin, thank you! This is important as the Arabs (Tipu Tip and his slaving cartel) were operating in the part of Eastern Congo that is now Uganda in 1880s. The slaves were traded in Zanzibar. What is important is seeing these weapons which were not only known in Zanzibar, but were from other regions originally.

It is interesting that adjacent to Ethiopia, Uganda (part of Congo) and Tanzania, where caravans traveled to Zanzibar, was Kenya. In Kenya are the Maasai, who use of long bladed open hilt sword called 'seme'. I have wondered if these had some association with the long broadswords of Oman and Zanzibar.
I wondered when we would get to the Maasi Seme. The conical hilt seems to alter to a shape sloping towards the pommel (more like the Omani hilt we are discussing) as we move into the 20th century from the examples I have seen. I don't know how much the Maasi were raided. I know there are lots of big, old bobo trees that are said to have been seeds planted (well more the seeds were spit into piles like watermelon) by Arab traders camping in the Maasi's neighbors' (Taita) land. I was told that the Arabs would both trade and raid depending on mood and profit. Kind of like land Vikings.
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Old 7th November 2022, 05:26 PM   #29
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I wondered when we would get to the Maasi Seme. The conical hilt seems to alter to a shape sloping towards the pommel (more like the Omani hilt we are discussing) as we move into the 20th century from the examples I have seen. I don't know how much the Maasi were raided. I know there are lots of big, old bobo trees that are said to have been seeds planted (well more the seeds were spit into piles like watermelon) by Arab traders camping in the Maasi's neighbors' (Taita) land. I was told that the Arabs would both trade and raid depending on mood and profit. Kind of like land Vikings.
Exactly thats been kinda the elephant in the room. While there were ancient sword hilt forms in the Meditteranean that were well known in Arab context, and in many ways the Abbasid broadsword had characteristics that are seen on numerous 'conical' hilts, we cannot disregard similar forms extant in Africa.
The squared pommel is of course most well known, however there are examples of the 'minaret' style peaked pommels(as seen on the Ibathi swords of interior Nizwa in Oman), also many have the 'cuff' extending over the blade below the hilt.

I am not sure when the 'seme' originated, but it seems a dramatic coincidence it uses similar open hilt style and broadsword blade.

I would note here that influences traveled far via trade networks, and if we go farther west into the Sahara (recalling the Moroccan weapons which arrived as far east as Zanzibar)....think of the Manding saber of Mali.
Open hilt!! curved blade (as on kittareh).
The Manding were controlling trade factors in these regions.
We have already noted the open hilt broadswords of Sierra Leone and the western sector of Africa's slave trade. I have even seen these with 'kaskara' blades.
In the Sahara, even the Tuareg tribes had a curved blade version of their takouba known as 'aljuinar'. It seems plausible these were somewhat influenced by curved kittareh, and there was ready access to French military and other European blades.

Attached, the Manding saber of Mali; an Omani 'kittareh; the Omani sayf with conical hilt; the Maasai 'seme' .

The Maasai who are of course situated in Kenya, did move into Tanzania to the south, which was of course where Zanzibar groups were traversing these regions into those of the Congo.
While the seme traditionally has a more flared blade (almost spatulate) it is still a broadsword and clearly with open hilt, which does not seem to compromise its use. These are used in hunting, utility, etc.

Here I include the Omani sayf for context, showing that its form and these counterparts have intriguing similarities important and pertinent to its discussion.
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Old 7th November 2022, 06:09 PM   #30
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Form usually follows function, guardless swords like these and the Caucasian shashqa are not inteded for a combat style that requires integral hand protection.
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